UK Gov't Forces Guardian To 'Destroy' Hard Drives With Snowden Info; Guardian Says Reporting Continues From NY

by Mike Masnick
Aug. 20, 2013

Apparently, the UK government is now hellbent on demonstrating how broadly it will try (and fail) to censor the press these days. By now you've heard that the UK government detained David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald's partner, under an anti-terrorism law, all as a ruse to seize his electronic media and to intimidate Greenwald. In response, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has revealed some of the pressure he's received from the UK government for reporting on this story, leading to an absolutely ridiculous situation in which the UK equivalent of the NSA helped the Guardian destroy some physical hard drives for no reason other than that they didn't want anyone reporting on the leaked Snowden documents from within the UK. The impact on actual reporting, of course, was nil. First came the demands:
A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

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."
Got that last bit? You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more. That's not just obnoxious but it shows the way the intelligence folks are dealing with these revelations: "okay, let some people talk about a little bit, and then shut them up and let's get back to the spying." From there, things got even worse, with the UK government basically telling The Guardian they had no choice but to "destroy" the documents:
During one of these meetings I asked directly whether 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 we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government's intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK.
If anyone believes in freedom of the press, this should be incredibly important -- and the statements by the UK government should be offensive. The government flat out told the paper that it would basically shut down the publication if it didn't abide by the government's wishes to destroy key research for reporting and stop its continued efforts to report on these issues of immense importance to the public.

Of course, to anyone who's in touch with reality knows, banning the reporting of the subject in the UK is both stupid and meaningless. It's stupid because it's a "head in the sand" approach to things, which never works. Furthermore, it was only a matter of time until the details of this came out and the UK government was revealed for their thuggish police-state, free press-suppressing ways. And, it's meaningless because the world is global. The Guardian doesn't need to report on this stuff from the UK, especially since Greenwald is already based in Brazil.
I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. 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 Greenwald lived in Brazil?
But, no matter to the government spooks. They demanded a destroyed hard drive, so a destroyed hard drive is what they got:
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. "We can call off the black helicopters," joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
Rusbridger notes that this was a particularly "pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age," but I'd go even further than that. The symbolism of brainless, impotent thuggery for the sake of pure bullying, rather than having any intended impact, says quite a lot about the UK government, the GCHQ, and how far behind the times they are. Rusbridger uses this horrifying story to note that the similar stealing of David Miranda's technology won't stop the reporting either -- but one hopes that it will lead people in the UK to rise up and speak out against such police-state intimidation tactics, and to demand serious reforms to protect basic freedoms and the value of investigative journalism.

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