Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden have struck back at an Independent story purportedly written from a Snowden leak — and at the UK government. Earlier today, The Independent reported that the UK’s GCHQ agency operated a secret surveillance station somewhere in the Middle East, apparently breaking its first piece of news from Snowden’s findings. The station was allegedly used for tapping directly into fiber optic cables in the region, collecting data for the UK’s comprehensive Tempora program about the “‘political intentions of foreign powers,’ terrorism, proliferation, mercenaries and private military companies, and serious financial fraud.”
But the story went beyond the location of the base. The Independent claimed it was doing something The Guardian couldn’t: publishing information from Snowden’s documents. “The Independent understands that The Guardian agreed to the government’s request not to publish any material contained in the Snowden documents that could damage national security,” it wrote, claiming that editor Alan Rusbridger had agreed to “restrict the newspaper’s reporting” at the same time he allowed government agents to destroy The Guardian’s hard drives.
This morning, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden responded, bluntly denying that Snowden had worked with The Independent and suggesting that the UK government intentionally leaked information in a smear campaign. “I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger.” said Snowden in a statement. While Snowden has revealed details of several surveillance programs, he has stopped short of describing anything as concrete as a base location.
“It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others,” he said, asking the government to explain why it had done something that would be considered criminal from a private citizen.
Greenwald, meanwhile, said that the allegation of a Guardian print ban was untrue, though The Independent reported that a paper spokeswoman declined to comment. “Speaking for myself, let me make one thing clear: I’m not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents. I would never agree to any such limitations. … I’m working hard on numerous new and significant NSA stories and intend to publish them the moment they are ready.”
While The Independent’s report raised worrying questions, Greenwald’s refutation raises even more. Most importantly, was the information The Independent published true? Snowden is adamant that the leaks didn’t come from him, but he doesn’t make further claims about their veracity. The accusations that the leaks are “harmful,” however, could suggest that he knows or suspects that the base exists, even if he didn’t leak the documents. And while it’s not clear that he has anything to back his belief that the UK government is behind the story, there’s no question that it’s already stepped up a growing campaign against Greenwald and The Guardian.