Is the British Government Now Leaking Its Own Secrets?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 23 2013 2:57 PM

Is the British Government Now Leaking Its Own Secrets?

The radar domes of RAF Menwith Hill in north Yorkshire dominate the skyline in Harrogate, England in 2007. The base is reported to be the biggest spy base in the world.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The U.K.'s Independent published this story today about a secret Internet surveillance system in the Middle East run by the British government. From the story:

The Government claims the station is a key element in the West’s “war on terror” and provides a vital “early warning” system for potential attacks around the world.
The Independent is not revealing the precise location of the station but information on its activities was contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden.

But Glenn Greenwald is highly skeptical that the information obtained by the Independent came from Snowden; he thinks the U.K. is doxing its own surveillance secrets now. Snowden himself said he has had no contact with the Independent, and thinks this is an effort to damage his credibility:

It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.

So the options for how the Independent learned of this program are: a) Snowden leaked the material and is lying about it, b) the Independent somehow accessed the Snowden files without the Guardian's consent, c) the British government leaked its own possibly damaging surveillance secrets, or d) someone else with top-secret clearance leaked the information. Option C, the option that Snowden and Greenwald are proposing, is a bit daft: Would British officials be so short-sighted to assume that people would both acknowledge this as damaging information and blame it on Snowden? And if it's not an effort to discredit Snowden, what would the tactical advantage be—to show, in the vaguest of notions, that the War on Terror is working? Option D—a Snowden copycat leaking information that the Guardian and the Post found too compromising to disclose—seems slightly more plausible.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.


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