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Government Agents Went to the Guardian Offices and Oversaw Smashing of Hard Drives to Erase Snowden Files

The Guardian newspaper's editor says that the British government has tried to intimidate the media outlet into halting their reporting on the National Security Agency.
 
 
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The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger.
Photo Credit: Francesco Alesi/Flickr

 

Two officers from a British intelligence agency oversaw the destruction of hard drives at The Guardian newspaper’s office last month in an effort to stop the paper from reporting on the documents that Edward Snowden gave them. The account was reported yesterday by The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger.

Rusbridger describedvarious attempts at intimidation that the British government made before he agreed to finally destroy the hard drives. In an interview with the BBC, Rusbridger explained that "given that there were other copies and we could work out of America, which has better laws to protect journalists, I saw no reason not to destroy this material ourselves rather than hand it back to the government." Rusbridger said that the alternative to destroying the hard drives--a move forced by the government--was a court case with little prospect of winning. 

"It seemed to me fruitless to go through that exercise of fighting that case, which would have meant that we could not write about the Snowden material when there were other copies. So it's simply a matter of transferring our reporting to America," the Guardian editor said to BBC.

Two months ago, a senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister called Rusbridger and demanded that the paper return or destroy documents exposing the National Security Agency’s surveillance. A month later, Rusbridger received another phone call from the government. “ You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back,” the official allegedly said.

More meetings with British government officials occurred, with an official telling Rusbridger, “you've had your debate. There's no need to write any more.” According to The Guardian editor, the British government official also said that Britain would try to shut the paper’s reporting down through a legal maneuver. Rusbridger informed an official that any attempt at shutting down the paper in Britain would not matter, given the fact that their reporters could operate from around the world and that Glenn Greenwald lives in Brazil. The government 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,” writes Rusbridger.

The account in The Guardian was published after Greenwald’s husband David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, was detained in Britain for 9 hours under a UK anti-terrorism law and questioned about his partner’s reporting. Rusbridger vowed that the detention--and seizure of documents Miranda was carrying--would not deter The Guardian.

“We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London,” wrote Rusbridger. “The seizure of Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald's work.”

Still, The Guardian editor had a warning: “We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting – indeed, most human life in 2013 – leaves too much of a digital fingerprint. Those colleagues who denigrate Snowden or say reporters should trust the state to know best (many of them in the UK, oddly, on the right) may one day have a cruel awakening. One day it will be their reporting, their cause, under attack.”

 

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

 
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