British spy chief warns Snowden data is a 'gift' for terrorists

Tue Oct 8, 2013 5:00pm EDT
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* MI5 cautions against complacency over terrorist threat

* Britain's MI5 chief says Syria of particular concern

* MI5 chief: spies need to intercept suspect communication

* First public speech since his appointment in April

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Revelations by Edward Snowden about British eavesdropping are a gift to terrorists because they weaken the ability of the security services to stop those plotting deadly attacks against the West, the head of the MI5 Security Service said on Tuesday.

In an unusually frank public intervention in the debate over the powers of U.S. and British spy agencies, MI5 Director General Andrew Parker warned that his agents needed to read and listen to suspect communications to foil major attacks.

The extent of U.S. and British surveillance was laid bare in media reports based on previously top secret documents stolen by U.S. National Security Agency contractor Snowden, prompting a spy scandal that pitted Barack Obama against the Kremlin and triggered calls for greater scrutiny of Western agents.

Cautioning against complacency over the threat from militants, especially those returning from the battlefields of Syria, Parker dismissed as nonsense the idea that British spies gratuitously rummaged through private data of the innocent like the secret police of Communist East Germany or North Korea.   Continued...