The British authorities forced the Guardian newspaper to destroy material leaked by Edward Snowden, its editor has revealed, calling it a “pointless” move that would not prevent further reporting on U.S. and British surveillance programs.
Rusbridger says he spoke to senior Whitehall officials about this.
Q: Did this go straight to Number 10?
Yes, says Rusbridger.
Q: And they said destroy the material or give it back to them?
Yes, says Rusbridger. He told them that the Guardian had other copies of the material abroad. That is why the paper was prepared to comply with the demand for the UK version to be destroyed.
That’s it. The interview is now over.
The detention of David Miranda at Heathrow is continuing to generate a fierce debate, in the UK and around the world, about terrorist legislation, the role of the state, and the rights of journalists, and others, to associate freely and to disseminate information. I’ll be rounding up all the best comment from the papers and from the internet, as well as reporting on any fresh developments.
Here’s are four items to start with.
• Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor, explaining how “shadowy Whitehall figures” threatened the Guardian with legal action because of the revelations from Glenn Greenwald, Miranda’s partner, about the security services in the US and in the UK, and about how this led to hard drives being destroyed in a Guardian basement.
The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”
During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian’s reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?
The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
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