UK launches parliamentary inquiry into Guardian’s NSA leaks


David Cameron (Reuters / Phil Noble)
David Cameron (Reuters / Phil Noble)

Britain is to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the Guardian newspaper’s leaks by Edward Snowden as part of a broad counter-terrorism inquiry. The probe was announced hours after PM David Cameron called the leaks “dangerous” for national security.

Addressing the UK parliament Wednesday, Cameron accused the newspaper of damaging national security by publishing sensitive data provided by the former NSA contractor.

“The plain fact is that what has happened has damaged national security,” Cameron said.

Then, in a rather strained line of logic, he argued that the Guardian had admitted to threatening national security when it agreed to destroy their stored NSA files when requested to do so by UK authorities.

“The Guardian themselves admitted [to the potential risks to national security] when they agreed, when asked politely by my national security adviser and Cabinet Secretary [Sir Jeremy Heywood] to destroy the files they had, they went ahead and destroyed those files. So they know that what they are dealing with is dangerous for national security.”

The Guardian revealed in August that experts from Britain’s electronic intelligence agency GCHQ had supervised on July 20 the destruction of all electronic devices on which its Snowden material had been saved. Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, said that prior to that “a man from Whitehall” confirmed to him that if the materials were not handed over or destroyed “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 the Guardian was working.

The British daily, in an attempt to resist pressure from UK authorities who have demanded the US intelligence data be destroyed, granted the New York Times access to some of the classified National Security Agency documents.

“In a climate of intense pressure from the UK government, The Guardian decided to bring in a US partner to work on the GCHQ documents provided by Edward Snowden. We are working in partnership with The New York Times and others to continue reporting these stories,” the Guardian said in a statement in August.

Alan Rusbridger (Reuters / Stefan Wermuth)

Two days after the Guardian destroyed their UK-based copies of the Snowden materials, the paper’s editor Alan Rusbridger said he alerted British authorities that the New York Times and the US-based independent, investigative journalism outlet ProPublica had received copies as well.

Snowden handed over thousands of intelligence documents to the Guardian in May that revealed a vast Internet surveillance program carried out by GCHQ and its US counterpart, the National Security Agency (NSA).

The revelations pulled the rug out from under a top-secret GCHQ operation, codenamed Tempora, that is able to “tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fiber-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analyzed,” the Guardian reported.

Cameron’s comments were in response to a question by Liam Fox, the Conservative former defense secretary, who called for an inquiry, but not a full-blown criminal investigation of the Guardian’s actions: “Can we have a full and transparent assessment about whether the Guardian’s involvement in the Snowden affair has damaged Britain’s national security?” he asked.

Fox said it was “bizarre” that people said to have participated in a recent newspaper phone hacking scandal in Britain have been prosecuted, while other people who left the intelligence community more vulnerable were merely “opening a debate.”

A number of British officials have claimed in recent days that the intelligence secrets leaked by Snowden are harmful to Britain’s security.

Last week, Nick Clegg, Britain’s deputy prime minister, said the Snowden leaks had been a “gift” to terrorists, increasing their ability to launch an attack on the UK.

Andrew Parker, the newly appointed director of Britain’s MI5 domestic security service, also said Snowden’s leaked information had caused huge damage and handed “the advantage to the terrorists.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian has passionately defended its right to publish the Snowden leaks, which it began releasing in June.

Rusbridger said the Guardian was entitled to report on invasive technologies beyond anything “Orwell could have imagined.”

“If you read the whole of Andrew Parker’s speech it is a perfectly reasonable speech and it is what you would expect him to say,” Rusbridger told BBC Radio 4 last week. “If you are on the security side of the argument you want to keep everything secret, you don’t want a debate and you don’t want the press or anyone else writing about it.”

Rusbridger added, however, that “MI5 cannot be the only voice in this debate.”

Following Cameron’s remarks in parliament, The Guardian reported that the Home Affairs Committee would include the newspaper’s decision to publish the leaked material in a sweeping investigation into counter-terrorism measures.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the committee, was quoted as saying that it would investigate “elements of The Guardian’s involvement in, and publication of, the Snowden leaks” hours after the prime minister suggested a select committee might examine the issue.

The pressure facing the Guardian seems to give credence to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s fears for the fate of journalists who assisted the former NSA contractor in divulging top-secret information.

Assange, in an exclusive interview with RT, suggested that investigative journalism may face “extinction” due to journalists who expose abuses in the United States and elsewhere “being treated as terrorists or enemies.”

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