Terrorists ‘rubbing their hands with glee’ at Snowden leaks, says UK spy chief

Three British spy chiefs - Andrew Parker the head of M15, John Sawers, the head of M16, and Iain Lobban GCHQ director - attend a hearing at parliament, Thursday Reuters

LONDON - Terrorists are “rubbing their hands with glee” over the information leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, a senior British spy said Thursday.

"The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging, they've put our operations at risk,” John Sawers, the head of MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service, told a committee of lawmakers in parliament.

He was one of three U.K. intelligence chiefs being questioned in public for the first time.

“It's clear that [Britain's] adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee, al Qaeda is lapping it up," Sawers said of the Snowden leaks.

Read more on this story at ITV News

The bosses were being questioned by the parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee in the wake of concerns at the extent of surveillance by both British and U.S. agencies, including the harvesting of data on the phone calls and emails of private citizens.

The head of Britain’s NSA counterpart, GCHQ, insisted the monitoring of email traffic was proportionate and legal, according to ITV News.

"We do not spend our time listening to the telephone calls or reading the emails of the majority," Sir Iain Lobban told the committee, adding: “We are subject to the law."

The committee was also told that Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, had disrupted 34 terrorist plots "at all sizes and stages" since the July 7, 2005 suicide bomb attacks on London’s bus and subway system that killed 52 people.

The committee hearing was broadcast on television with a two-minute time delay to prevent the inadvertent release of sensitive secrets.

ITV News is the U.K. partner of NBC News.