Terror plot foiled “in the final few hours” after spooks hack attackers’ phones and emails
An inquiry by Britain’s terror law watchdog David Anderson QC found that police disrupted the plot in the nick of time
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Cops disrupted the plot “in the final hours before the planned attack” after a major operation by hi-tech snooping agency GCHQ , an inquiry by Britain’s terror law watchdog David Anderson QC found.
Mr Anderson’s 192-page report into mass surveillance powers sets out in unprecedented detail a series of cases where GCHQ used snooping on people’s email, phone and internet use to save lives.
It reveals how in the wake of the Paris attacks last November the spy agency went into overdrive, sifting through the emails and phone calls of 1,600 different targets to spot “further attack planning” across Europe.
The work “enabled CCHQ to identify other extremists based in Syria and suspected of planning terrorist attacks against the West,” Mr Anderson’s report says.
In another case study the report tells how during the Afghan campaign a 50-strong team at GCHQ mounted a massive operation to help the SAS rescue Western hostages held by the Taliban.
The spooks sifted through a mass of communications data to find details of the armed group which held the hostages and then hacked their phones and emails “to gain insight into the group’s intent”.
The report goes on: “This work enabled GCHQ to locate the group, monitor it and establish the group’s links with known terrorist networks.
“Within 72 hours of the kidnapping, the hostages had been located. Analysis of the content of the communications of the kidnappers, obtained through bulk interception, indicated that the hostages’ lives were in imminent danger.
“This information was passed swiftly to a COBRA meeting and the Prime Minister authorised a rescue attempt by UK military forces. The hostages were subsequently successfully rescued.”
The report concludes that bulk data collection powers “play an important part in identifying, understanding and averting threats in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and further afield” and must be retained.
It was warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Theresa May , who has been pushing for extra powers for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ through her controversial ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – now rebranded as the Investigatory Powers Bill.
It is currently making its way through Parliament and will be debated in the House of Lords later this year.
“Mr Anderson’s report demonstrates how the bulk powers contained in the Investigatory Powers Bill are of crucial importance to our security and intelligence agencies,” the PM said.
“These powers often provide the only means by which our agencies are able to protect the British public from the most serious threats that we face. It is vital that we retain them.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Andy Burnham also welcomed the report but urged Mrs May to accept Mr Anderson’s recommendation that a special panel be set up to ensure spy laws keep pace with changing technology.
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