Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger revealed last night that ‘GCHQ security experts’ oversaw the destruction of hard drives in the basement of The Guardian’s offices after he refused to hand over material related to reports about Edward Snowden and the NSA. According to Rusbridger, the GCHQ experts wanted ‘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.’
Having been initially contacted by a ‘very senior’ government official who claimed ‘to represent the views of the Prime Minister,’ Rusbridger met with the man, who demanded ‘the return or destruction of all the material we were working on.’
While the tone of the meetings was ‘steely but cordial,’ that changed when Rusbridger refused to comply.
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.”
Having been told that the government would go to court to force the newspaper to hand over material and prevent it reporting further on the story, Rusbridger explained that the data was backed-up abroad and that most of the Guardian’s reporting on Snownden was being done from New York. ‘The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred,’ wrote Rusbridger.
Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London.