'UK pulls out spies as China, Russia crack Snowden files'

'UK pulls out spies as China, Russia crack Snowden files'
China and Russia have cracked the over one million encrypted files leaked by fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing Britain to withdraw its spies from live operations in 'hostile countries' so as not to put their lives in peril, British media reported today.

The Sunday Times and the BBC cited senior government and intelligence officials as saying that MI6 agents, the British intelligence agency which supplies the British Government with foreign intelligence, had been pulled out of live operations in hostile countries, without naming them. The report said the move came after Russia and China were able to decrypt more than one million files held by Snowden, the former American security contractor, 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.

Snowden, 31, a former contractor at the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA), downloaded 1.7 million secret documents from western intelligence agencies in 2013 and released details of sensitive surveillance programmes to the media.

Two weeks after his initial leak in June 2013, Snowden fled Hong Kong for Moscow where he claimed political asylum. Snowden, who is wanted in the US, has remained in Russia since fleeing Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's aides confirmed last night the material was now in the hands of spy chiefs in Moscow and Beijing. A senior Downing Street source said: "It is the case that Russians and Chinese have information. It has meant agents have had to be moved and that knowledge of how we operate has stopped us getting vital information. There is no evidence of anyone being harmed."

The confirmation is the first evidence that Snowden's disclosures have exacted a human toll, The Times said. "Why do you think Snowden ended up in Russia?" said a senior Home Office source. "Putin didn't give him asylum for nothing. His documents were encrypted but they weren't completely secure and we have now seen our agents and assets being targeted."

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