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UK govt forced Guardian to destroy hard drives in effort to stop Snowden leaks

UK govt forced Guardian to destroy hard drives in effort to stop Snowden leaks

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger revealed Monday that security experts with the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) entered the Guardian’s building weeks ago and oversaw the destruction of hard drives containing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In a post published at The Guardian, Rusbridger detailed the recent detention of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda at a London airport, describing Miranda’s role in assisting Greenwald with his work, though not in a professional journalist capacity.  Miranda had spent the prior week in Berlin with filmmaker Laura Poitras, Greenwald’s collaborator in much of the Guardian’s NSA surveillance reporting prompted by Snowden’s leaked documents.  Several pieces of Miranda’s electronics equipment were confiscated during the incident.

Also included in Rusbridger’s post was the more surprising revelation that UK authorities had previously spoken with Guardian personnel over two months ago, warning them to turn over or destroy the NSA materials the outlet had in its possession.  Shortly thereafter, their hard drives were destroyed in the basement of The Guardian’s building.

From Rusbridger’s post at The Guardian:

A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

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.

Rusbridger emphasized that neither of the incidents will have any effect on The Guardian’s coverage of NSA surveillance activities, as with any operation that deals with digital information, coverage was being conducted from multiple locations.  While this didn’t seem to deter officials from destroying and confiscating materials, it likewise won’t deter any outlet from continuing to report on the subject.

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Comments

legacyrepublican | August 20, 2013 at 3:08 pm

The Genie, Pandora, Snowden are all out of the box guys.

The thing to remember is that the Brits don’t have a First Amendment…

They aren’t called citizens either. The term is still, subjects.

Elections have consequences, and when they don’t, insurrections do.

It’s kind of butt-simple stupid to think that those were the only copies.

    MrE in reply to pjm. | August 20, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    I’m sure the Brits know that; likely, they did that as a show of support / friendship with the US, knowing all the while it was futile.

      walls in reply to MrE. | August 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      It was probably done for many reasons, one being a warning and show of force to other potential leakers. But such jackbooted thug actions would not serve to frighten me … but rather, serve only to fortify and solidify my resolve.

I’d call it an expression of irritation with the Guardian as well.

What ever happened to charges followed by jury and trial. No they just go skip all that and destroy private property? Seriously?

Well the Guardian hasn’t exactly been a shining defender of freedom of the press in Britain (flashback: yes, they actually called for the licensing of the press during the Leveson hoo-haa), so it’s hard to have that much sympathy for them. Sorry.

Their jihad against the Murdoch press and their glee in seeing the Crown trounce them doesn’t exactly put them on the high moral ground.

See Brendan O’Neill, “The amazing double standards of the Miranda affair”“For the Guardian to complain of a war on journalism is extraordinary; it helped to start this war that it’s now falling victim to.”

He closes with this #TeachableMoment for the Guardian:

The lesson of the Miranda affair is pretty straightforward: don’t ever cheer state assaults on the press and press freedom, because in doing so you will empower the state to be the judge, jury and executioner of journalism and to clamp down on every hack it feels uncomfortable with – including, eventually, you.

As moms everywhere are wont to say, “I hope we’ve all learned something from this.”

“You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

Which is pretty much the attitude I’ve seen from much of the right and left since the story first broke. “It’s okay folks, move along… let your betters take care of you”.

That’s a disgusting, vile and dangerous attitude to see expressed in the USA.

BannedbytheGuardian | August 21, 2013 at 12:16 am

Firstly Greenwald is Dumb to think Miranda would not be tracked.

Secondly it is customs & they can take anything they like that you bring onto their soil. Transit zones are still territory & only a travel convenience not outside that nation’s laws.

My original take was to be a bit wary of what Snowden is / claims until further details emerged.

But I always knew what the Guardian was . I mean really – fancy banning me.

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to BannedbytheGuardian. | August 21, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Maybe this is exactly what the Guardian and Greenwald planned and hoped with happen.

    Does Greenwald and the Guardian have a book publishing deal and or book coming out soon?

Doesn’t Snowden have all of his info on his laptop? Isn’t Snowden in Russia? Doesn’t Russia have all of the info on Snowden’s laptop? Isn’t it easy to copy data from a hard drive onto other media storage devices like thumb drives? So, what does British security think it’s accomplishing?

A trove of top secret information is potentially devastating to a nation’s security, ours or the UK’s, and both have laws to prevent the illegal accessing, possessing, or transmitting of this information – which can include sources and methods, and the names of informants and agents whose lives could be at risk.

Hobble the ability to stop terrorist attacks, people will die.

The small portion of Greenwald and Snowden’s releases have to do with privacy issues. Most of it deals with foreign issues that have nothing to do with domestic spying at all.

Miranda’s tickets were paid for by the Guardian, he lives with Greenwald, and he went to pick up Snowden’s files from the video producer who taped his first interview. And he did have them.

That is called “espionage.” The wonder isn’t the guy was detained, the question is why was he released?

90% of what you’ve heard about the detention is typical Greenwald lies, it is amazing people keep swallowing the crap he spews given his long record of dishonesty. Read John O’Sullivan at NRO for a more balanced account: http://po.st/JNjCbe

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Estragon. | August 21, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    “Most of it deals with foreign issues that have nothing to do with domestic spying at all.”

    Things that make you go hmmmmmmmm……..

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