UK authorities reportedly raided the Guardian’s office in London to destroy hard drives in an effort to stop future publications of leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger revealed in a Monday article posted on the British newspaper’s website that intelligence officials from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) told him that he would either have to hand over all the classified documents or have the newspaper’s hard drives destroyed.
After more talks, two “security experts” from GCHQ – the British version of the National Security Agency – visited the Guardian’s London offices.
Rusbridger wrote that the government officials then watched as computers, which contained classified information passed on by Snowden, were physically destroyed in one of the newspaper building’s basements.
“We can call off the black helicopters,” Rusbridger said one of the officials joked.
Another source familiar with the event confirmed to Reuters that Guardian employees destroyed the computers as UK officials observed.
During negotiations with the government, Rusbridger said that the newspaper could not fulfill its journalistic duty if it satisfied the authorities’ requests.
But GCHQ reportedly responded by telling the Guardian that it had already sparked the debate, which was enough.
“You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more,” Reuters quoted the unnamed official as saying.
In the article, Rusbridger explained that because of existing “international collaborations” between journalists, it was still possible to report the story and “take advantage of the most permissive legal environments.”
“I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations…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 [reporter Glenn] Greenwald lived in Brazil?” wrote Rusbridger.
“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.”
Rusbridger pointed out that the whole incident felt like a “pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age.”
The news comes after Sunday’s international incident during which David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was held at Heathrow airport under the UK Terrorism Act for the maximum time allowed before pressing charges. Greenwald was the reporter who exclusively broke the Snowden story.
The editor promised that the Guardian will “continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.”
Another US security source told Reuters that Miranda’s detention was meant to send a message to those who received Snowden’s classified documents, about how serious the UK is in closing all the leaks in relation to the whistleblower’s revelations.
Greenwald, who first published secrets leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, responded by promising to release more documents. He added that the UK would be “sorry” for detaining his partner for nine hours.
Snowden, who has been granted asylum by Russia, gave Greenwald up to 20,000 documents with details about the US National Security Agency and the UK’s GCHQ surveillance operations.
‘US is the intellectual author behind detention of Miranda’
Lawyer Eva Golinger told RT that the UK has violated all concepts of freedom of the press. “We are talking about a media outlet. Journalists and their spouses and partners being detained and interrogated. So clearly there has been a decision made that everything related to Edward Snowden must be captured no matter what, violating anyone’s right under any country’s laws.”
Golinger believes that government’s pressure on journalists could inspire some to cover the topic of government surveillance even more, instead of discouraging them to do so.
“The more principled the people reporting are, the more they will continue to pursue that work in the face of threat. Such cheap threats and intimidation give people even more reasons to continue doing what they are doing because it shows that those in power are clearly frightened of the information that is being put out,” she explained.
“At the same time it could certainly intimidate other journalists and create the environment of self-censorship, where many would be unwilling to take the risks that are involved with national security reporting, particularly when it comes to the US.”
Golinger argued that US is the “intellectual author behind the detainment of Miranda.”
“We are talking about a search and capture that is going on for Edward Snowden and it is the US that is leading that effort. It is not the UK or other European nations, they are merely abiding by the wishes of the US…What I believe is that Washington has simply put out a request to all of its allies that anyone related to Edward Snowden must be detained if they come into your territory and the UK abided by that and did their duty.”