UK Police Spying Expert Heading Probe into Snowden Leak Journalists

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Back in July, London's Metropolitan Police admitted that it was still conducting a criminal investigation it launched two years ago into journalists who have reported on Edward Snowden's leaked documents.

Since then, I have been trying to find out more details about the investigation through the Freedom of Information Act. The Met is refusing to disclose virtually anything about the probe, but recently it did provide me with one new detail:
Specialist Operations under the direction of AC Mark Rowley is the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] unit involved in the investigation related to the Snowden documents.
Rowley (pictured below) has taken over the Snowden investigation from Cressida Dick, the Met's former head of Specialist Operations, who quit the force in December last year to take up a secret new job at the Foreign Office. The Met confirmed this in an emailed letter it sent me late last month (I'd have written about it sooner but have been a bit swamped with other projects).

Rowley is an expert in covert surveillance methods and pioneered the development of new police spying techniques across the UK while working as a detective superintendent in the 1990s with the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Notably, he recently made clear he has no qualms about monitoring journalists' communications if he deems it necessary to “chase down criminals." He has also boasted about the London police being at the “cutting edge” of covert surveillance through the use of “specialist hardware and software.” (These specialist tools include powerful portable spying devices the Met uses to monitor mobile phone communications across targeted areas of London, as I reported back in 2011.)

The Met first announced it had launched an investigation related to the Snowden documents in August 2013, saying the criminal probe was being headed by its Counter Terrorism Command, which is a division of the Specialist Operations department. In December 2013, Rowley's predecessor Cressida Dick acknowledged during a parliamentary hearing that the investigation was looking at whether reporters at The Guardian had committed criminal offenses for their role in revealing secret surveillance operations exposed in the Snowden documents.

For almost seven months earlier this year, the Met refused to confirm or deny whether the investigation remained ongoing, repeatedly claiming doing so would be “detrimental to national security.” But the force performed a sudden volte-face on its position in late July following an intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office, the public body that enforces the UK’s freedom of information laws.

I'm currently seeking more information about the investigation, such as details about how much money it has cost the taxpayer to date and the names of outside agencies or contractors that have assisted. The Met has so far refused to release this information — again spuriously claiming that doing so could somehow jeopardise national security — but I have lodged an appeal in an effort to have this decision reversed. Will post updates as and when I have them.

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