U.K. Says Snowden Leaks Spur Terrorist Rethink on Communications

Terrorists have been monitored discussing how they should change their communications after leaks by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the head of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters listening post said.

The revelations by Snowden about the scale of the surveillance activities of the U.S. National Security Agency will make the job of monitoring criminal communications more difficult, GCHQ Director Iain Lobban told lawmakers in Parliament in London today.

“We’ve seen chat among specific terrorist groups discussing how to avoid what they now perceive to be vulnerable communications methods,” Lobban said. “The cumulative effect of the global media coverage will make the job we have far, far harder for years to come.”

Snowden’s revelations and allegations that the NSA tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone have led to questions about the role of the U.K. intelligence services in the NSA’s operations. Germany also called in Britain’s ambassador in Berlin two days ago following a newspaper report that the U.K. was intercepting German communications from its embassy in the city.

Lobban was appearing alongside Andrew Parker, director general of MI5, the domestic security service, and the head of MI6, the overseas intelligence agency, John Sawers, at a meeting of the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee. It was the first time Britain’s spy chiefs had been questioned together in public.

‘Lapping It Up’

Sawers, whose agency works to disrupt terrorist activity outside the U.K., said the leaks have helped Islamist extremists planning to attack Britain.

“Al-Qaeda is lapping it up,” Sawers said. “It becomes more difficult to collect the intelligence that this country needs.”

Pedophiles, who are monitored by GCHQ and are active users of encryption and anonymization techniques, have also been monitored discussing the implications of Snowden’s leaks, Lobban said.

“We have seen in the last five months nearly daily discussion among some of our targets,” he said. “Discussing the revelations in specific terms, in terms of communications packages they’ve used or communications packages they wish to move to.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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