British Snoops to The Guardian: Nice Little Newspaper You Got. It'd Be a Shame if Something Happened to It

Alan RusbridgerThe GuardianThis morning, with regard to the detention of David Miranda, NSA-busting journalist Glenn Greenwald's partner, by British authorities at London's Heathrow airport, and the theft of his property by the same goons, I suggested that the whole infuriating incident was a crude effort to deter journalists from further scrutinizing the surveillance state. The unusual questioning of Miranda about Greenwald's journalistic endeavors for the full nine hours allowed under a British law targeted at potential terrorists was a strong indicator that intimidation was the ultimate goal, but not proof positive. Now, though, we have more evidence that British authorities are leaning heavily on The Guardian as well as Greenwald in an effort to shut off the flow of revelations that are almost as embarrassing to the U.K.'s GCHQ as to America's NSA. In fact, British spooks have actually been over to that newspaper's office to smash things. I kid you not.

According to Alan Rusbridger (pictured at right), editor of The Guardian:

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."

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. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. 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?

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.

That passage comes from a longer piece in which Rusbridger addresses the Miranda detention as an act of intimidation. He writes, "The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it."

And, in fact, Reuters separately reports:

One U.S. security official told Reuters that one of the main purposes of the British government's detention and questioning of Miranda was to send a message to recipients of Snowden's materials, including the Guardian, that the British government was serious about trying to shut down the leaks.

That the act was intended as a public message certainly makes more sense than the suggestion that U.K. intelligence authorities are unaware that, in the Internet age, a story reported by an American reporter living in Brazil working with a colleague (Laura Poitras) in Germany, based on information delivered by a whistleblower who has taken refuge in Russia, can be cut off by threatening a single British newspaper. That's especially apparent when you consider that the British newsaper in question, The Guardian, is perhaps the most internationally diversified in the world, partially with the deliberate intention of evading the legal controls of any one jurisdiction. This wasn't a serious attempt to stop The Guardian from publishing stories about the intelligence community; it was a baseball bat across the knees as a lesson to all journalists.

Baseball batSpitzgogo_CHENWhat's remarkable about this is that the NSA story is being heavily reported by a British newspaper subject to much tighter legal restrictions than those endured by American journalists. When the U.S. government snoops on reporters, it does so secretly and has to pretend at remorse when caught. British authorities smash your computers and threaten a regime of press regulation.

In fact, though, Rusbridger reports once taking former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller to task for not picking up on Wikileaks revelations, yelling, "we have the thumb drive, you have the first amendment." That may be self-congratulation, but it squares with the bizarre phenomenon of the Washington Post editorial page calling for an end to NSA revelations, many of which were appearing in the same newspaper's own pages.

If you're not going to use the First Amendment, what good is the damned thing?

But the Post continues to report the story, despite its editorial page. Just last week, it told us of privacy violations by the NSA and the relatively toothless nature of the secretive court intended to oversee all of this creepiness.

Intimidation often works. But really crude and public efforts to intimidate people who already expect the worst of you are a very likely bet to backfire.

Update: U.S. officials concede that they were given a "heads-up" about the detention of David Miranda by the British government, essentially eliminating the possibility that this was low-level overreaching.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Christophe||

    Fuck the Brits. If it wasn't clear already, it's now obvious they live in fucking island jail.
    Never setting foot there.

  • Finrod||

    Amen.

  • Diane66||

    my classmate's step-sister makes $65/hour on the internet. She has been laid off for 10 months but last month her pay was $19462 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here.... WWW.CNN13.COM

  • Flatulent Monkey||

    Few hours my ass, 300 hours in a month to get that pay. Not interested in diddling myself for 70 hours a week...

    My cap is 40 hours.

  • robc||

    fucking island jail

    Airstrip One.

  • Sevo||

    ..."White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the United States did not request the detention and was not involved in the decision."...
    http://www.sfgate.com/news/pol.....743757.php

    How many holes are there in *that* statement?

  • Xenocles||

    Left off the "...as far as you know, we think."

  • PH2050||

    C'mon man, the WH just lucked out.

    *snicker*

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    The fucking HAIRY hand of the adminstration......

  • Irish||

    While the Guardian is going to war over an international surveillance state, do you guys want to know what American news outlets are discussing? Really important issues, like the fact that Ted Cruz used to gamble in college!

    Cruz also angered a number of upperclassmen his freshman year when he joined in a regular poker game and quickly ran up $1,800 in debt to other students from his losses. Cruz’s spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said Cruz acknowledges playing in the poker games, which he now considers “foolish.”
    “He went to his aunt, who worked at a bank in Dallas, and borrowed $1,800 from her, which he paid in cash and promptly quit the game,” Frazier told The Daily Beast, explaining that Cruz worked two jobs and made monthly payments to his aunt for the next two years to repay the debt.

    He paid off his debt? How...responsible.

    In addition to Mazin and Leitch, several fellow classmates who asked that their names not be used described the young Cruz with words like “abrasive,” "intense," “strident,” “crank,” and “arrogant." Four independently offered the word “creepy,” with some pointing to Cruz’s habit of donning a paisley bathrobe and walking to the opposite end of their dorm’s hallway where the female students lived.

    HISTORY'S GREATEST MONSTER!

  • Sevo||

    C'mon! No Kardashian dirt?

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Cruz also has automatic Canadian citizenship.

  • XM||

    He's renouncing that Canadian citizenship, I hear.

  • ||

    He denies being a Canadian citizen, but Canadian law says otherwise.

  • Archduke Trousersenthusiast||

    I heard him say 'eh'

  • Irish||

    I hope it's Cruz/Paul in 2016 so that the Republican ticket will be Aqua Buddha and the Paisley Bathrobe. It sounds like a gay super hero team that someone came up with in the late '70s.

  • ||

    Do you mean Paul/Cruz? Because Cruz is good, but Paul has a much better chance.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Did he bully a gay classmate into committing suicide 20 years later?

  • Silly ol' Bear||

    Name me one person who didn't bet at college, heck, we bet on football and baseball every few days! *lol* The MSM doesn't want to report ANYTHING, ANYTHING, that might let our loser-in-charge look bad!

  • Spartacus||

    Me. I never bet on anything in college. I saved my meager funds for alcohol and drugs.

  • ant1sthenes||

    "But really crude and public efforts to intimidate people who already expect the worst of you are a very likely bet to backfire."

    I seriously doubt it. People have been trained from birth in democracy to solve their problems by voting, or by activism aimed at getting other people to vote. When that democracy is just the velvet glove over the iron fist of a nearly unaccountable caste of mandarins and enforcers, people really have no idea what to do about it.

    Nor do I, really. I don't know that anything short of government implosion or violent revolution can work, I doubt either will lead to something better, and the mandarins are working through paramilitary armament and citizen disarmament in parallel to eliminate the possibility of the latter.

  • Christophe||

    The scariest part is that they can probably start ramping up the intimidation, and they'll never have to answer for it.
    When other journalists openly call for Greenwald to face prosecution, it would be trivial for the UK Gov to demand he be cut off. Maybe they'll revoke his passport too. This can get really ugly really fast, and no one can really push back.

  • juris imprudent||

    The Brits gave up the means to resist tyranny, hope they enjoy how that works out for 'em.

  • Finrod||

    As the old saying goes: soap box, ballot box, jury box, ammo box. Use in that order.

  • Sevo||

    ..."we have the thumb drive, you have the first amendment."...

    He forgot that 'you' are also the lap dog of the government.

  • CatoTheElder||

    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."

    This weekend the British officials made it clear that the party's over.

  • PH2050||

    "one of the main purposes...was to send a message"

    Typical gang behavior.

  • juris imprudent||

    Like a typical gang - scared shitless that their bravado and intimidation don't work and have to be backed up.

  • Nazdrakke||

    I'd be comforted by that if I didn't know better.

    We're stumbling slowly, but steadily towards some form of authoritarian society. What we have now are the baby steps, the transitional phase, the period where the consciousness shifts from the old to the new. Many in the ranks of the political class and their henchmen will be unable to truly make the transformation; telling themselves soothing lies as they stand aside for those, smaller in number, but effectively unopposed, set them aside and seize control.

    For all the fecklessness, self-deception, careerism, graft, and foolishness there is an undercurrent that is moving inexorably and the system has nothing in the arsenal to stop it. Representative government requires a cooperative populace, which, along with moar free shitz, is its' fatal flaw.

  • Cytotoxic||

    But you're wrong. There is opposition, and it's growing in size and effectivity in America. Britainland is just fucked but America isn't.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Wish I was. All the, I don't like the word forces because it's more organised a term than the reality deserves; let's say mentality of control has to do is more or less continue as they have for another two generations at most and what you or I think of as freedom will be extinguished in America.

    Just do a mental review of the last century of American history. Which place does the needle always return to?

    I'd like to believe that America is unique, and I suppose in some (important) was it has been, but I've studied too much history to believe that it will be enough in the end.

    I want to be wrong, and will work to be wrong, and their's always a chance, but I'm not holding my breath for the Libertarian Great Awakening when the Oh Fuck, What the Hell Happened Gnashing of Teeth is approaching me with it's gun drawn.

  • Brett L||

    I don't understand. Name a name. Have the libel trial. The Guardian might lose but that's just some money and a written apology.

  • ||

    as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro

    I like macs. Easy to use tend to be more reliable has an OS that is not Windows 8.

    Still i get a little joy out of imagining a left wing journalist having to sweep up the destroyed remains of his little status symbol.

  • Redmanfms||

    Uh, what?

    You think the GCHQ are the good guys in this?

  • ||

    He didn't say that. I think it's more about the irony of the liberal press being hassled because of their bothering the Obama administration, which previously had their full support.

  • ||

    In this? No

    In anything? mostly no

    Still does not mean I have like the Guardian.

    Asshole statists 99% of the time. Excuse me if i don't bow down and suck their cock for the rare times they do not suck.

  • ||

    I thank the gaurdian. They are responsible for me realizing that the whole AGW thing is an outright scam.

    They published a computerized rendition of the earth supposedly showing the loss of polar ice and claimed it was a photograph. At first glance and ignorant or non-thinking person might be convinced, but a little examination and thought showed it to be fake as hell.
    That is when I realized that the whole thing was a lie.

  • ||

    So you are thanking the Guardian for making a lie that you were able to catch?

  • ||

    *Bangs on Corning's sarc meter*

    What the fuck is wrong with this thing? Damn needle is stuck.

  • Archduke Trousersenthusiast||

  • ||

    I am pretty sure that no matter what I say about that dog I will be called a racist.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Racist.

  • Dweebston||

    Suthen, as in southern? And the sobriquet "boy" clearly invokes racial hostility, even if used ironically. Especially if used ironically: you're not according it proper deference.

    Definitely racist.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    The one dog in America that's safe from the cops/DEA.

  • jesse.in.mb||

    Until he needs the nations sympathy.

  • Finrod||

    Or an emergency meal.

  • ||

    Why do incoming presidents have to get a dog? Is having a dog supposed to make us think they have a warm fuzzy side? Is it because they want a friend in washington? I wonder how many recent presidents actually pet their dogs when the cameras are not around. Reagan maybe.

    Has it occurred to anyone that none of those fuckers had a dog before they got to the whitehouse? Or am I wrong, did any of them have a dog before winning the presidency?

    I dont trust people who dont have a dog by choice.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    I'm pretty sure Bush genuinely loved dogs and would actually take the time to play with his.

    I don't see Obama or Clinton doing that because to me they both seem too self-absorbed to bother with a dog.

  • carol||

    Does the puppy get her own plane or is she forced to double up with Bo?

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    Air Force 4: Barry 1, Michelle 2, Bo 3, New Dog 4.

  • ||

    I wonder if we can get a picture similar to this:

    http://www.lostrepublic.us/Graphics/Mayday wants more government.jpg

    and put in Guardian journalists in place of protestors.

  • ||

    SF'd.

  • ||

    Cut and paste works...or try this one:

    http://www.eastvalleynewsnet.c.....rnment.png

  • ||

    So it does. My mistake. Thanks for the alternate as well.

  • juris imprudent||

    ...than those endured by American journalists.

    Yes, but those Brit journalists don't have to pull off the Presidential phallus in order to catch their breath. Which would you rather endure?

  • ||

    Only idiots think dual citizenship may pose problem if Ted Cruz seeks presidency:

    Detractors have derided Cruz as “Canadian Ted,” saying he can’t run for president because he wasn’t born on U.S. soil.

    Cruz, a Harvard-trained lawyer and former clerk for the U.S. chief justice, disagrees. He reasserted last week that being an American by birth makes him eligible.

    But remember, the only reason people accused Obama of not being native-born is racism.

  • PH2050||

    Cruz needs a tan, is what you're saying?

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    The Birthers are a small, but vocal minority that gets a disproportionate amount of media attention because they are a side show attraction.

    Liberals have this habit of viewing the worst in their opponents and casting a wide generalization, which is why they are genuinely convinced that all Tea Partiers/Obama detractors are birthers and racists.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Meh, conservatives do the same TEAM shit. The birthers get attention because they are a useful tool of distraction.

  • Redmanfms||

    Meh, conservatives do the same TEAM shit.

    True, though the lunatic fringe in Team BLUE seems to have a whole lot more influence than the birther crowd does on Team RED.

  • Killazontherun||

    As much as they love to ridicule Republicans for being the stupid party of stupid people who are so stupid they even elected Michelle Bachmann as a rep, they conveniently look over the fact no one in the Republican party ever made Bachmann Speaker of the House.

  • Killazontherun||

    Yeah, I even check the site when I have to take a wiz in the middle of the night. Sue me!

  • ||

    All my life I had the impression that Journalists cared about the first amendment and that if threatened they would fight tooth and nail to defend it. I was foolish. I have lately come to realize that most journalists, most not all, dont give a flying shit about free speech. They are perfectly happy being propagandists and shills for the government. See David Gregory and Steven Grunwald.

  • ||

    Not just happy about it, but aspire to it.

  • ||

    I thought that was Michael Grunwald.

    State-fellating seems to be "in" right now with progressives. Something to do vwith having a black socialist as president.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I have lately come to realize that most journalists, most not all, dont give a flying shit about free speech.

    Not true at all.

    Most journalists actively hate the idea of free speech because it means competition for them.

  • rxc||

    They were happy with the first amendment when they controlled the presses. Then Al Gore invented the internet and it all went to hell. Now they want the first amendment to only apply to "real" journalists, as defined by the NYT and the WP.

  • ||

    This.

    There are still people out there who think that FOX news shouldn't be allowed to report things the government doesn't like because they aren't "real" journalists.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    I think Sean Hannity should marry Rachel Maddow.

  • J_B||

    Government goons gotta sleep some time.

    It's good to remember that, and good to make them remember that.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    As much as I deplore the implied violence of this statement, I can't help but admit much the same thing occurred to me.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    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."

    So a British government goon issues thinly veiled threats to a British media company to get it to stop publishing information that is embarrassing to the executive of the American government.

    And some people still say that the US is not an empire.

  • Cytotoxic||

    It isn't.

  • Fluffy||

    It's an absolutely irrelevant semantic argument, at this point.

    The United States is not an empire in the same way that Augustus was not a king.

    It was politically impossible for Augustus to officially call himself a king, so he combined alternative institutions with different names to become a king in all but name. That worked, because it was the word king most Romans had a real problem with; if you could achieve effective monarchy while using non-"triggering" titles, they were content.

    A couple of centuries from now there will be an incredibly common word everyone will immediately understand that will succinctly label exactly what the United States is right now. But it's not given to us to know that word, because we're actually living in it.

    If the word "empire" is a triggering one for you, Cyto, don't worry. A new word will be along eventually.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Not an empire, maybe, but an absolute hegemony.

    The US hegemony is diplomatic, military, and civil. The first two are obvious. E.g. of the latter, the IRS' reach extends globally to such an extent that foreign banks will not do business with Americans.

  • jesse.in.mb||

    Today's NewsMax headlines from the sidebar (for my friends here who have filtered ads [shame on your from taking money out of Welch's pocket!])

    Christie: Homosexuality Inborn, Not Sinful
    Oh noes, the powerful evangelical block is rejecting a possible Christie bid!

    Ted Cruz's Birth Certificate Published, Controversy Grows
    NewsMax concludes Cruz is NOT a US citizen OR IS HE!? (seriously the article made no real point)

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    [] Christie [] Is Christie planning to out himself and campaign as the first "Fat Fuck Gay Republican President"?

    [] Cruz [] Once they establish that the Birth Certificate has been thoroughly layered in Photoshop, with several incompatible fonts and obviously forged, he will be cleared to run.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Derp derp.

  • MappRapp||

    Dude seems to know whats going on over there. Wow.
    www.Anon-Prime.tk

  • db||

    Wait, so, did the Guardian destroy the data or not? Is it now lost to the world, or were they only compelled to destroy the hardware that held certain copies? I didn't RTFA but does this mean no more revelations?

  • db||

    Obviously anyone smart would have made multiple copies and placed some beyond the jurisdiction of the British authorities. What's to stop Greenwald or Snowden or some other unknown custodian from sending fresh copies to the Guardian's UK offices?

    Do the authorities really have such little understanding of the nature of data? This really is the essence of FYTW.

  • Andrew S.||

    At the time this all broke, I thought I had read that he had given encrypted copies to multiple parties, including Wikileaks.

  • Silly ol' Bear||

    I am not sure who is dumber, the British Govt or the Guardian. I make backup files all the time. Sure, go ahead, be my guest! Destroy all those hard drives. I just won't tell you about all the copies I made. Dumb, dumber, and dumbest! They need to make a sequel!

  • ||

    The increasingly thuggish behavior of US authorities with regards to this story is seriously alarming.

    Revolking the whistleblowers passport, charging him with espionage and labeling him a traitor, forcing him to seek asylum in a foreign country?

    Threatening email providers who refuse to snoop on clients with jail time? Threatening them with prosecution for shutting down rather than snoop?

    Illegally detaining journalists' husbands and wives to intimidate the press into silence?

    What the FUCK is going on here?

  • ant1sthenes||

    Mask coming off. We live in interesting times.

  • A Frayed Knot||

    One might also consider not using one's partner/husband/boyfriend as a mule for illegally transporting classified materials, but hey what do I know, I'm not participating in the perpetual fellation of Snowden and Greenwald.

    And while I agree that the UK govt. is stepping over the line here, what should they do? Ask the Guardian to please please pretty please with sugar plum sauce on top, don't publish data on our espionage activities? It's one think to expose the domestic spying that the US (and the UK?) has been doing, it's another to expose the details of their espionage activities.

    As for the Guardian, it's the Mos Eisley of media outfits and has never found a non-western fascist it never liked, so I won't shed a tear when they get a taste of what they support.

  • ant1sthenes||

    "And while I agree that the UK govt. is stepping over the line here, what should they do?"

    Not violate the law and norms of human decency, and if they do, come clean and ask forgiveness instead heading deeper down the dark path that ends in gulags?

  • Free Society||

    Where's Tony or that buttplug? If George Boosh were in charge, they'd be cheering the leaks from roof-tops. When their Dear Leader is facing that scrutiny though, it's a false scandal.

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    tony, bp and the rest of the paid sock puppets totally approve of all of this Nazi/Stalinist Big Govt behavior.

  • Jake W||

    What's new here? Government thugs? Might makes right? FYTW and all that jazz?

  • Jake W||

    Come to think of it, this reminds me of how the US handled bootleggers during prohibition. We didn't have the internet to spread the word about it then, but some nasty things were done to good people on behalf of the state.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement