Edward Snowden: Russian espionage got ‘less secure’ after leaks

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Edward Snowden quit his post at the NSA to disclose the existence of secret surveillance

US intelligence agencies say Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, provided Russia with intelligence they could not have got without him.

Their detailed conclusions point to one explanation for why Mr Snowden had chosen Moscow over Washington: to create the most vulnerable surveillance target possible.

Another is that intelligence was on Mr Snowden’s mind when he chose to flee the US, where he faced charges of espionage.

For the Kremlin, however, it is a good sign.

Russian weapons experts say they have confirmed that one of Mr Snowden’s benefactors – the Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin – is a major weapons dealer.

SEE MORE: The Snowden Files: How he left the US

A key player

Mr Alptekin used to work for DynCorp, the US-based contracting company that ran surveillance operations in East Europe for the CIA, then for the NSA, before being fired in 2013 when disclosures by Mr Snowden caused an international outcry.

One security source told CNN: “You saw those Russian helicopters that were used in the Crimea, that were also used in the Donbass.”

Those reports of incursions of Russian surveillance drones in Ukraine added to Moscow’s threats to invade the ex-Soviet state.

It also inspired a crisis in trust between the two countries.

DynCorp says it fired Mr Alptekin for “inappropriate behaviour and inappropriate control of company assets”.

Some Russian media reports say it exposed his links to Turkish security firm Gryphon, part of a security network of which Mr Alptekin is the leader.

“When this story broke, it was one of the reasons why people have wanted to move out of Russia and get away from this instability,” says Sergei Markov, an expert in Russian politics.

“He had access to classified data – that is why the US asked the Russian authorities to extradite him but the Russians have decided not to. I’m not sure that it would have worked anyway.”

Taken out of context

Some of the imagery Mr Snowden passed on to Russia was used in other places.

Russia appears to have taken effective advantage of it.

Last week, the US ambassador to Poland was quoted as saying that the Snowden files revealed deep corruption at the heart of Polish military intelligence (ABW).

The cables revealed how some officers were involved in insider plots, with CIA agents being sidelined and others promoted to avoid being implicated in alleged drug trafficking and money laundering.

That is a serious issue in Poland, where Nato is gathering troops for a rapid response force. A graft scandal around the Foreign Ministry has already led to the arrest of several senior politicians.

“It really is one of the most revealing documents in the whole Snowden collection of documents,” the ambassador, Mathew Bryza, said.

“The Russians will be most interested in how the extent of the corruption in ABW.”

It is also possible that Moscow’s advantage in knowledge of the CIA and other intelligence networks was merely a side benefit of Mr Snowden’s leaks.

In the early days of the Russian files, the Russian media reported on a memo to the Kremlin that had referred to Mr Snowden and his revelations about global secret and surveillance networks.

What did it mean?

The memo read: “The fact that the information presented by Snowden is being used in other locations is a potential mechanism of blackmail and it should be prepared for this purpose.”

While it is not clear what the Kremlin or its intelligence services had been prepared to do to discredit Mr Snowden, there were already signs of discontent within the Russian security establishment.

In March 2015, Alexander Bastrykin, head of the FSB, Russia’s domestic spy agency, called for “legal mechanisms which can make possible extradition from Russia to protect from extradition cases and other issues”.

It is likely he was referring to Mr Snowden.

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