Stories relating to intelligence are the “toughest nut to crack,” said Tom Harper of the Sunday Times of London in an interview yesterday with CNN’s George Howell. Harper is the lead reporter on a Sunday Times story alleging that Russia and China have “cracked” files that were “stolen” by Edward Snowden, a turn of events that forced MI6 to reassign some agencies in key countries. All that, from “senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services,” reported the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times.
That story has come in for a beating from The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald: “Aside from the serious retraction-worthy fabrications on which this article depends — more on those in a minute — the entire report is a self-negating joke,” writes Greenwald.
If you don’t have time for Greenwald’s merciless condemnation, try the CNN interview. Though CNN’s Howell doesn’t appear to be out to discredit Harper’s work, he accomplishes that end just by asking obvious questions about the story. Mind you — when print reporters get a chance to speak about their work on television, it’s often hard to shut them up. They want to tell a new audience about all the details they couldn’t fit into their story, all the stuff that their stupid editor deleted, all the atmospherics. In this particular iteration, however, Harper has little to offer.
Asked how the files were breached, Harper responded, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Asked about the nature of the files, Harper responded, “That’s not something we’re clear on, so we don’t go into that level of detail in the story. We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government at the moment.”
Asked whether the files were hacked or whether Snowden handed them over to officials in Hong Kong or Russian, Harper responded, “I’m sorry to repeat myself…but we don’t know…it could be either, it could be another scenario.”
Asked whether the MI6 agents were under threat or were moved for precautionary purposes, Harper responded, “Again, I’m afraid to disappoint you, we don’t know.”
Asked as far whether the Sunday Times had any evidence to substantiate these claims, Harper responded, “No. We picked up on the story a while back from an extremely well-placed source in the home office.”
Harper finished his time on CNN by capably summing up his (lack of) reporting: “Unless you actually have leaked intelligence documents like Snowden had, it’s very difficult to say anything with certainty.”