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Editor of 'The Guardian' Reveals Destruction of Snowden Material—and New Threat to Journalism | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Editor of 'The Guardian' Reveals Destruction of Snowden Material—and New Threat to Journalism


Glenn Greenwald. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

I have to agree with media maven Jay Rosen who on Twitter called the revelations in this column, starting in the ninth paragraph, the most significant journalism (or anti-journalism) news in a long time. It’s a piece posted last night at The Guardian by its editor Alan Rusbridger and now it’s gone viral and drawn cries of concern and outrage across the media map.

Rusbridger on the BBC this morning added this comment: “Once you start conflating terrorism and journalism, as a country you are in trouble.”

To cite just one other reaction, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, Kirsty Hughes, warned: ‘Using the threat of legal action to force a newspaper into destroying material is a direct attack on press freedom in the UK. It is unclear which laws would have been used to force the Guardian to hand over its material but it is clear that the Snowden and NSA story is strongly in the public interest. Coming on the back of the detention of David Miranda, it seems that the UK government is using, and quite likely misusing, laws to intimidate journalists and silence its critics.”

But the threat certainly crosses the ocean.

Rusbridger opens his opus by recounting a famous WikiLeaks episode that involved a thumb drive—as depicted in the upcoming feature movie about Assange—that he was involved in, and then moves on to the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda at Heathrow this past weekend. He then reveals what happened in his own dramatic dealings with the UK government in the past two months over the paper’s Snowden reporting, including the smashing of a laptop, and the perilous future of such reporting. Read it and weep. (Also, here’s David Miranda’s first interview since the Heathrow incident. And a round-up of Brit editorials vs. Miranda detention.) Here’s how Reuters is reporting it:

The editor of the Guardian, a major outlet for revelations based on leaks from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, says the British government threatened legal action against the newspaper unless it either destroyed the classified documents or handed them back to British authorities.

In an article posted on the British newspaper’s website on Monday, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said that a month ago, after the newspaper had published several stories based on Snowden’s material, a British official advised him: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.”

After further talks with the government, Rusbridger said, two “security experts” from Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the ultra-secretive U.S. National Security Agency, visited the Guardian’s London offices. In the building’s basement, Rusbridger wrote, government officials watched as computers which contained material provided by Snowden were physically pulverized….

The Guardian’s decision to publicize the government threat—and the newspaper’s assertion that it can continue reporting on the Snowden revelations from outside of Britain—appears to be the latest step in an escalating battle between the news media and governments over reporting of secret surveillance programs.

Rusbridger does point out, more than once, that the “pulverizing” action shows how little the authorities understand modern communications, as the material on the laptop exists at other locations and The Guardian will go on publishing material, just not from its London office.

I’ll post more reactions below as the day continues.

McClatchy uncovered more revelations about Obama’s “insider theat program”—but unlike The Guardian’s investigations, this news is going almost entirely unreported.

My book on Bradley Manning (with Kevin Gosztola) is the only one that covers the full story—from the leaks to current trial. My new ebook on Kurt Vonnegut has just been published.

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