On June 14 the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times of London alleged that Britain has withdrawn spies from «hostile countries» because Russia and China had supposedly cracked codes in documents made public by Edward Snowden. Many of these documents showed that the spy agencies of Britain and America had acted with blatant illegality in conducting operations, and since that revelation there has been an energetic and fairly successful campaign by authorities in both countries to try to smear Snowden and convince the world that Uncontrolled Spying is Good for Freedom.
The recent assertions by the Sunday Times named no names and gave no detail. The piece is based entirely on such as «senior government sources» and it is worthwhile to examine the opening paragraphs, if only to highlight truly lousy journalism.
It was the Sunday Times, after all, that went ahead with publication of the absurdly forged ‘Hitler Diaries’ in spite of being told they were fakes, with its owner saying it didn’t matter, because «we’re in the entertainment business». Murdoch was right, commercially, of course, because sales soared as a result of his decision to publish proven rubbish, and it seems that this may have become tradition in a formerly admirable newspaper. In this case of garbage distribution the front page headline was «British spies betrayed to Russians and Chinese», and things went downhill from there when it was asserted that: «Russia and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services».
Western intelligence agencies say they have been forced into the rescue operations after Moscow gained access to more than 1 million classified files held by the former American security contractor, who fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, after mounting one of the largest leaks in US history.
Senior government sources confirmed that China had also cracked the encrypted documents, which contain details of secret intelligence techniques and information that could allow British and American spies to be identified. (The entire mishmash of misinformation and unprovable allegations can be read here).
The piece is startlingly crass, and one of the stupidest claims is that Snowden «fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin». Although it is mandatory in much of the western media to attempt to malign, smear and insult President Putin whenever possible, this particular declaration is a lulu because it is so fatuously false. Snowden left Hawaii and went to Hong Kong where he hoped to arrange asylum but could not stay there and tried to travel to South America via Cuba. For obvious reasons he could not travel via Western Europe, and while transiting Moscow’s international airport his passport was cancelled by Washington. He was granted permission to stay in Russia. The Putin reference is trash journalism at its most pitiful.
It is intriguing that the bizarre non-story was given so much publicity at this particular time, but when it is linked with a Times’ report two days previously that «One of Britain's most wanted terrorists was tracked down and killed in a drone strike after GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters; a British spy agency] used its powers to gather bulk data from the internet to locate him», a pattern begins to appear.
Also on June 12 the BBC reported that «Germany has dropped an investigation into alleged tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The office of federal prosecutor Harald Range said the NSA had failed to provide enough evidence to justify legal action». On the same day the BBC noted that «The UK’s terrorism watchdog David Anderson QC published a review into terrorism legislation which was set up amid public concerns about surveillance sparked by Mr. Snowden’s revelations. He said the country needed clear new laws about the powers of security services to monitor online activity and concluded that the current situation was «undemocratic, unnecessary and — in the long run — intolerable».
There was an uncomfortable amount of intolerable information being made public that did not reflect well on the supposed guardians of freedom, the cowboy intelligence services of the US and the UK, aided by others of the «Five Eyes», the obedient little helpers in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. To those who ordered illegal surveillance operations it was becoming increasingly important that media headlines be devoted to «successes» such as the drone-killing of an alleged terrorist supposedly facilitated by internet spying and other seemingly patriotic but entirely trashy tales based on disinformation from anonymous officials acting on government orders.
Revelations of national spying delinquency continue to appear and it is impossible to deny their accuracy, so, entirely by coincidence, there has been a series of what might be called counter-revelations, such as the hotchpotch of nonsense in London’s Sunday Times last weekend. That travesty of reportage failed to mention the recommendation of Mr. Anderson to the effect that «Each [intelligence-gathering] intrusive power must be shown to be necessary, clearly spelled out in law, limited in accordance with international human rights standards and subject to demanding and visible safeguards. The current law is fragmented, obscure, under constant challenge. It is time for a clean slate».
Mr. Anderson’s report was titled «A Question of Trust» and he made it clear who is not to be trusted. Unlike most heads of government inquiries Mr. Anderson will never be recognized by award of a national honor. He is not, after all, not in the entertainment business.