The Sunday Times produced what at first sight looked like a startling news story: Russia and China had gained access to the cache of top-secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Not only that, but as a result, Britain’s overseas intelligence agency, the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6, had been forced “to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries”.
These are serious allegations and, as such, the government has an obligation to respond openly.
The story is based on sources including “senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services”. The BBC said it had also also been briefed anonymously by a senior government official.
Anonymous sources are an unavoidable part of reporting, but neither Downing Street nor the Home Office should be allowed to hide behind anonymity in this case.