A Sunday Times article stating that British spies had been "betrayed" to Russian and Chinese intelligence services as a result of Edward Snowden's mass-surveillance revelations to the press is "utter nonsense," claims the whistleblower's lawyer.
Robert Tibbo could not be more straightforward. "There was no possibility of interception. Zero," says the Canadian lawyer from Montreal who has represented Edward Snowden in Hong Kong since June of 2013. That was when the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor leaked classified documents on America's mass surveillance programs to members of the press. Mr. Tibbo's client came under pressure after British sources revealed last weekend that spies were pulled out of operations because China and Russia have cracked Mr. Snowden's files.
"He left this place [Hong Kong] with no data on him", Mr. Tibbo claimed in a telephone interview from Hong Kong on Monday. He was one of the only two people, along with solicitor Jonathan Man, who had any knowledge of Mr. Snowden's whereabouts in the city at the time. In an interview Mr. Tibbo was with Mr. Snowden when the whistleblower left Hong Kong for Russia.
"There was no data in a cloud. He passed the data on to the journalists and that was it. Any actual copy he had with him was destroyed [before he left Hong Kong], precisely to avoid it from being seized or intercepted. I was a witness to all of that. "The Sunday Times, a British newspaper owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, published a story last weekend claiming that Britain was forced to "pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries" as a result of China and Russia having cracked the "top secret cache of files stolen" by Edward Snowden. The article cited only anonymous sources identified as coming from Downing Street, the Home Office and security services.
But there was no such cache, claims Mr. Tibbo. "No one has accessed these files from the Chinese or Russian governments. They've never even had access to any of it. Any speculation to the effect that Mr. Snowden would or may have provided documents to the Chinese or the Russians is false." None of the files that he personally saw referred to the identity of U.S. or U.K. field agents, he added.
Much less was there any possible quid pro quo between Mr. Snowden and the Russian services in exchange for asylum as the Times speculated, says Mr. Tibbo. " Mr. Snowden did not even leave Hong Kong with the intent to seek asylum in Russia. Not at all. His intentions were to go beyond that," Mr. Tibbo explained. "This is completely ridiculous, and just another example of media speculation. No one else was contacted on Mr. Snowden's side to check the veracity of the allegations."
Mr. Tibbo is not the only one slamming the Times story. Glenn Greenwald, one of the reporters to whom Mr. Snowden provided the sensitive files, discarded the article as "filled with falsehoods." He also corroborated that Mr. Snowden has destroyed all copies he had in his possession before leaving for Russia.
In an article he published on The Intercept, a news website he co-founded, Mr. Greenwald called the piece "journalism at its worst" again pointing that all sources referred to were anonymous. Mr. Greenwald also pointed that even in the Times article, Downing Street says that there was "no evidence of anyone being harmed" by Mr. Snowden's revelations. He called the article a "self-negating joke."
The Times also made several factual mistakes, according to Mr. Greenwald. For instance, the claim that Mr. Snowden had downloaded 1.7 million documents, as stated by the Times, has been refuted by former NSA chief Keith Alexander. Claims by the Times that Mr. Greenwald's own partner visited Mr. Snowden in Moscow in 2013 is also incorrect, according to Mr. Greenwald, who said his partner was instead visiting Citizenfour director Laura Poitras in Berlin. Mr. Greenwald also dismissed claims that Mr. Snowden either travelled with or had access to files from Moscow as unfounded speculation.
"If you're going to make such serious allegations, there should be a factual basis," adds Mr. Tibbo. "Now, the onus is on the U.K. government to explain what these allegations are based on. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times have just destroyed their credibility."