by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
al qaeda, gchq, john sawers, nsa, propaganda, surveillance, uk

UK Spy Chief Says Al-Qaeda Loving Snowden Leaks, But How Would He Know Unless Viable Intercepts Are Still In Place?

from the are-al-Qaeda-ops-sending-him-mocking-Vine-videos? dept

This short blurb from the current Parliamentary inquiry into the UK's surveillance programs just doesn't add up.

"The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging, they've put our operations at risk. It's clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee, al Qaeda is lapping it up," John Sawers, the head of MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service, told parliament.
Either Sawers is simply assuming al-Qaeda members are relishing the leaks or MI6, GCHQ, etc. still have viable intercepts. The talking points have always been: a) it's legal and subject to oversight and b) the leaks have aided our enemies. Sawers is going with the latter. Here's more:
Lobban said terrorist groups in the Middle East and Afghanistan had been discussing the revelations in specific terms and had discussed moving to other “communications packages”.
If anything, the leaks may have pushed a few operatives off compromised services, but it's highly unlikely those in control of these operations or anyone with any common sense was using widely available commercial services to collaborate and plan further terrorist activities. It's not as if al-Qaeda members thought no one was paying attention to their communications and activities until June 6th of this year. Statements like Sawer's make that assertion. His further comments indicate that intelligence agencies are still picking up useful data. The agencies know which "communications packages" they're tapping and should be able to react by looking towards those they don't. At best, the leaks have only sped along the inevitable. Spying of this magnitude wasn't going to stay secret forever and these agencies should be feeling a bit more grateful Snowden went to the press, rather than the enemy.

Much of what's been uncovered has been speculated on heavily for years. Snowden isn't the first whistleblower to expose surveillance programs. His leaks may be the largest to date, but information has leaked out over the past several years that has, at the very least, indicated most major phone services are compromised (which would lead one to believe data carried along those same lines is similarly compromised). Earlier leaks also pointed to intelligence efforts to install software backdoors in widely used products and, for as long as the NSA has existed, defeating encryption has been a priority, which means any system or service relying on it was likely a target.

There will still be "surface skimmers" that expose terrorist operations by failing to stay below the surveillance radar. Much of what's been exposed by the leaks deals with major corporations and popular services. The NSA is intercepting data from Google and Yahoo, not stuff routed through "darker" alternatives. (Not that it doesn't want those as well...) To state these leaks have aided terrorists is to assume (like others have) that al-Qaeda relies on Google products and compromised telecommunictions services.

Sawer's claim plays to those who buy into the fear these agencies desperately need to sell to avoid losing any of these unfiltered intercepts -- intercepts so "important" to national security that they can't be bothered to be operated with any sort of finesse. The blunt force trauma of these data smash-and-grab programs has done little more than give UK and US agencies way more data than they can feasibly use and turn the public (and the communication services it uses) against the intelligence community.

It serves a double duty for intelligence agencies by turning Snowden into the enemy -- a careless terrorist sympathizer. If these agencies "know" terrorist entities are loving the leaks, then they have viable intercepts still in place. Either that or they're just telling convenient untruths. Either way, it does them no favors. We're well past the point of buying the flimsy justifications and the tired assertion that our nations can only be ensured safety if we cave to intelligence agencies' every demand carries absolutely no weight at this point.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:01pm

    Al Qaeda and paedophiles loving the Snowden leaks.

    Why do government and 'intelligence' officials always go after the same bogey men every time? Perhaps more interestingly, why are huge numbers of people so stupid that they fall for it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Indy, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:05pm


    al-Qaeda: Doesn't spy on U.S. Citizens

    U.S. Government: Spies of it's own citizens.

    I for one welcome Al Qaeda as our protectors! They've harmed me personally much less!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    CK20XX (profile), Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:10pm

    I am reminded of an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

    Calvin: "Do you believe in the devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption, and destruction of man?"
    Hobbes: "I'm not sure man needs the help."
    Calvin: " just can't talk to animals about these things."

    Similarly, the NSA is bent on painting Snowden as the devil, but since the organization has only been held together with scotch tape and ignorance, I doubt there was much damage for Snowden to do that the NSA hadn't already inflicted upon itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:18pm


    Anyone they don't like is either a terrorist or a pedo. They don't like Snowden leak fans hence...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:19pm

    Al Qaeda long ago figured out they were being monitored. That's why it took so long to locate Bin Ladin. He wasn't using the internet himself. He left no trails by either phone or by internet to find.

    If you think for one moment the terrorists haven't figured out by now that phones and the internet is monitored looking for traces of what they are doing, you're living in a paper bag.

    Al Qaeda doesn't need the Snowden revelations. They already knew years ago when their people stopped using cell phones to talk plans, they stopped having those dangerous people killed or picked up. Despite what the NSA and the GCHQ thinks, these terrorists can actually add 2+2 and come up with the answer of 4.

    But when you are searching reasons to cover up the real reason, every possible answer looks better than the truth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:42pm


    What is even worse: Al Quaeda may have read the leaks and taken the necessary repurcautions. Giving them information like the MI6 knowing they are preparing to deal with it, will give them far better information about who is under surveillance and that will unquestionably make them even more prepared.

    In trying to shame Snowden, the guy may have just doubled down on the exact problem he attacked Snowdens leaks for having...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Nastybutler77 (profile), Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:48pm

    My question is: if terrorists are no longer using these services to communicate, why are the NSA & Friends still monitoring them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 1:50pm

    Re: Re:

    That's not exactly new. All through this, the NSA and their defenders have done more to reveal who, where, and how we're spying on terrorists than the leaks have done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 2:00pm


    They tried playing Russian Roulette, but it was too complicated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    ahow628 (profile), Nov 7th, 2013 @ 2:15pm

    On BBC World News on NPR today

    The hostess was talking to a dude from the British (might be the same guy referenced above) and she pointed out the unveiling of those actually in charge of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ and calling them to question was driven by the Snowden reveals. He responded that this whole thing was already planned before the leaks.

    Sounds pretty incredible if you ask me. So prior to 6 months ago there were plans to reveal who the leaders of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ now? Really? You can't be serious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 2:20pm


    That's easy. Because the purpose of the monitoring isn't just to find terrorists. It's for anyone they see as a threat to their power. The terrorists are just the excuse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 2:30pm


    I don't fear al-Qaeda at all anymore. It's the governments of the world that now scare me. The more that comes out about the war on terror, the less I support my government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 2:31pm


    In line with your comment, Tim Cushing said that the NSA should be grateful that Snowden went to the press rather than Al Qaeda. Except, if Al Qaeda knew it was being monitored, why would they ever have revealed it? One point of counterintelligence is to not let the other guy know what you know. Al Qaeda would never have gone to the press, because releasing such information from their perspective was fundamentally stupid. On the other hand, Al Qaeda may be after Snowden since he removed any pretense that they were unaware of the monitoring.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 3:33pm

    did anyone really expect these security heads to say anything different? of course they are going to say what suits them best! they are hardly likely to tell the truth, are they? plus, when asked by a questioner 'can you say that what you have done is legal' only a fucking idiot would expect any answer except 'yes'! jeez! what the hell was expected?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 5:27pm

    I guess he just worked it out, like everyone else (except TD) has worked it out.

    Do you really think they would have stopped surveillance on them?? If you do, well you must be an idiot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    wavettore, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 6:36pm

    NSA from Pinocchioland

    All this should be viewed in a larger context to prevent what is already on the horizon. Indiscriminate monitoring everywhere did not happen with Obama but with George W. Bush, the author of 9/11. The NSA intercepting everyone (even the Pope) was never meant to protect the United States from terrorist attacks. Those few who still believe in the story of Osama Bin Laden will find difficult to realize it but what is been revealed is only part of what is in store for the next big surprise. Since George H. Bush was CIA director, the US secret State agencies had played a double role to get to today when every person is constantly monitored by NSA and other agencies not to report information to the US Government but to feed with all data the embryo of a new superpower. A group of Zionists, like a hidden parallel government, with George Bush still today at the head of secret services in the US, UK and Israel, is the destabilizing force behind most terror events and with classified information at disposal and a private army is plotting what now would seem unthinkable to many. The spokesman for this group in the US Congress is John Mc Cain who reports the given orders weighing on the US administration. The aimed targets for this group are a War of Religion and chaos everywhere so that desperate people will soon invoke a New World Order without even knowing what that is.

    There is only one Solution to this planned chain of events.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 7:02pm

    Al Qaeda is CIA defined

    "We have actually seen chat around specific terrorist groups who, even close to home, discuss how to avoid what they now perceive to be vulnerable communications methods,"

    No you didn't, Bin Laden didn't have an internet connection they used hand messengers.

    We learned from Snowden that you spy on people WITHOUT A SPECIFIC WARRANT. Terrorists would be under no illusion that a warrant could be obtained for them.

    So the claim makes no sense. What you are covering up is the "ILLEGAL" part of what you were doing. The fact you can get a warrant to arrest terrorists, IS WRITTEN RIGHT THERE IN PUBLIC LAW.

    Terrorist 1: "Oh we use Gmail because the CIA won't be able to get a warrant there fore it is secure"
    Terrorist 2: "And lets conference call with Skype so the CIA can find all our people"
    Terrorist 3: "Also we should have a LinkedIn group!"

    "Lawmakers heard that the number of Britons travelling to fight in Syria was in "the low hundreds" and about al Qaeda's growth in north, west and east Africa and in Yemen and Syria."

    Remember "Al Qaeda in Iraq"? The label the US attached to Shia Muslim fighters in Iraq to give them an excuse to attack? But they were Shia attacking Sunni Muslims, and Al Qaeda are Sunni. It made no sense.

    Al Qaeda everywhere is a CIA fiction. They label groups as 'Al Qaeda' affiliated, then go attack them as if they are an army. The current 'want' is Syria, so Al Qaeda is magically defined as being in Syria.

    Who is the leader of Al Qaeda? Without a power structure its like saying who is the leader of 'anonymous', it is whoever the CIA decides to declare the leader, because a vague affiliation of groups doesn't follow orders, they have their own agendas.

    "Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, told lawmakers there were "several thousand" people in Britain who supported or were engaged in violent extremism"

    No there not, because you haven't filed a case against any of them. Where are these court cases? Where are these arrests? You're just a f***ing liar.

    And I can see that you're throwing a veiled threat against Brits that you'll label them as a terrorist if they complain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2013 @ 7:36pm

    Oh boo hoo, ye great defenders of the security of humanity.

    It sounds exactly as it is: guilty little children playing naughty games who have been caught out and are scrabbling for the usual AQ strawman to deflect the ire of the parent - the tax payer.

    These cowboys are still failing to grasp two things. The first is that it's not the 1950s anymore. Expecting Ma & Pa to smile and nod along as you tell them you're taking the farm to keep them safe from the Reds won't suffice. While people may still not go digging, when something surfaces they at least question it.

    Secondly, as much as they want it to be, the true gravity of the situation does not concern "what Snowden did" or what AQ "may" do. It's the obvious elephant in the room. The fact that the very people who own the governments, the bureaucracies and all the little boxes of secrets have been given no say in the advent of their own assets being used covertly against them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Anonymous Howard (profile), Nov 8th, 2013 @ 1:45am

    Re: Re:

    I don't think AQ gives a flying fuck about snowden.

    They're laughing their ass off, sitting back and enjoying a beer (or the middle east equivalent) and watching as the western governments do their job at terrorizing their own people.

    Terrorists win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2013 @ 4:40am

    Re: Al Qaeda is CIA defined

    Why not? They created them in the first place. That's right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Call me Al, Nov 8th, 2013 @ 4:58am

    A secret can't be a deterrent

    I am likely being hopelessly naive here but I'll post anyway.

    Could there not be an angle that all these revelations of what the security services can do could act as a deterrent? I can quite easily imagine someone saying "you know what? with all the stuff these guys can do there is no way I'll get away with this. I give up."

    Whereas if this guy doesn't know what the security services can do then he might not give up.

    I guess I'm going with the "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" route.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    The Real Michael, Nov 8th, 2013 @ 5:14am


    The CIA were responsible for creating and funding Al Qaeda, so what makes you think that they didn't know where their #1 guy was located?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    peter, Nov 8th, 2013 @ 8:58am

    Well he would say that, wouldn't he

    After all what would be the alternative? Saying that none of the revelations hurt any of their terrorism intel gathering? That would not please their Overlords at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    William Chandler, Nov 8th, 2013 @ 10:07am

    Snowden leaks

    the Military/BANKER/Industrial Complex is doing FAR more damage to America then any I'llKidYa plot. More deaths, property destruction, loss of FREEDOM and LIBERTY. JUST like in Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the ONLY way the foul and corrupt CIA can "save" anyone is by killing them.
    Have you noticed that our streets are filled with heroin? A REPEAT of the CIA paying their Mercs in Nam by flooding HOME with heroin, and flooding us with cocaine when they were operating in Central America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 9th, 2013 @ 3:20pm

    Lobban said terrorist groups in the Middle East and Afghanistan had been discussing the revelations in specific terms and had discussed moving to other “communications packages”.

    So, the Snowden leaks are national security threats because they tip off The Terrorists(tm) that they are being monitored, but standing on the floor of the parliament and announcing to the world that the intelligence community is still monitoring them as they are moving to other “communications packages” is not?
    Are these spy chiefs by any chance complete morons?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 9th, 2013 @ 3:45pm

    Re: Well he would say that, wouldn't he

    Well to be fair, if the term "terrorist" is expanded to include every citizen in the world, then they actually makes sense.
    The average Joe and Jane has been blissfully unaware that they are being spied upon and that they are considered to be potential enemies of the state. Once they are informed of this fact they might very well demand a change of how things are done. They might be inclined to point out that there are laws that ought to protect them against government abuses such as these. They might even start voting on people that share these sentiments.
    These are the threats the "intelligence community" is concerned about.
    This was never about "terrorists", ie the kind you hear about on the news, the enemy always was and still is the population of the western world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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