Watch the Brits Stupidly Force a Newspaper to Destroy Computers Because of Snowden

Your monitor is now tainted. Please destroy after viewing this image.The GuardianThere have been a number of low points in the tone-deaf responses from government officials in the wake of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing. It’s hard to pick the worst – though the failure to fire Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for lying to the Senate and anonymous intelligence officials expressing their desire to murder Snowden would certainly be up there (down there?).

Over in Britain, probably one of the stupidest responses to this mass surveillance scandal so far happened last summer, when the country’s spy agency went over to the offices of The Guardian, the newspaper where journalist Glenn Greenwald first broke the story, and ordered them to physically destroy computers that were tainted – so to speak – with the documents Snowden leaked.

That Greenwald was not in England and the destruction of the computers would not stop the flow of Snowden’s data didn’t seem to matter. Today The Guardian released video showing the destruction of the computers, along with more details about the newspapers’ interactions with the government, which was threating to shut them down:

The government's response to the leak was initially slow – then increasingly strident. [Guardian Editor Alan] Rusbridger told government officials that destruction of the Snowden files would not stop the flow of intelligence-related stories since the documents existed in several jurisdictions. He explained that Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian US columnist who met Snowden in Hong Kong, had leaked material in Rio de Janeiro. There were further copies in America, he said.

Days later Oliver Robbins, the prime minister's deputy national security adviser, renewed the threat of legal action. "If you won't return it [the Snowden material] we will have to talk to 'other people' this evening." Asked if Downing Street really intended to close down the Guardian if it did not comply, Robbins confirmed: "I'm saying this." He told the deputy editor, Paul Johnson, the government wanted the material in order to conduct "forensics". This would establish how Snowden had carried out his leak, strengthening the legal case against the Guardian's source. It would also reveal which reporters had examined which files.

With the threat of punitive legal action ever present, the only way of protecting the Guardian's team – and of carrying on reporting from another jurisdiction – was for the paper to destroy its own computers. GCHQ officials wanted to inspect the material before destruction, carry out the operation themselves and take the remnants away. The Guardian refused.

You can watch the video here. As is obvious by now (and was obvious to everybody at the time) the destruction did not stop the flow of information from Snowden to the public.

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.

  • ||

    the destruction did not stop the flow of information from Snowden to the public

    Seeing as that's not what this was about, it doesn't really matter. This was heavy-handed payback and bullying for being Snowdon's leak point.

  • ||

    Yep. Government agents can be idiots, but they're not so stupid as to believe smashing a few computers would stop any further information from being released. This was simply punishment without the legal niceties. In other words, FYTW.

  • kinnath||

    I'm guessing this was more of a CYA operation. If the Guardian destroys all the physical copies in the UK, then the mid-level bureaucrats in the intelligence agencies can't be held accountable by the upper levels for any further publications.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    With the threat of punitive legal action ever present, the only way of protecting the Guardian's team – and of carrying on reporting from another jurisdiction – was for the paper to destroy its own computers.

    I thought the British government had ordered them to destroy the computer drives, but they're saying that the paper destroyed their own computers because of the threat the government made?

  • db||

    I think it was done to allow them to continue publishing "from a different jurisdiction" by enabling them to say it couldn't have been done from their UK facilities becausr the data storage in that jurisdiction had been destroyed. Obviously it makes no sense from a technical standpoint, but from a legal position, how can you publish or disseminate information from a jurisdiction where the information doesn't physically exist. (I know, I.know.)

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So it's somewhere in between what I initially thought and what I read that article to mean. Illogical on either side and all the way through the middle.

  • wareagle||

    nice newspaper you have. Be a shame if something happened to it.

  • Uncontrollably||

    So a person should burn an incriminating computer as opposed to only smashing it to bits. Cheerio.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I don't think that British Intelligence understands how the internet works.

  • ||

    the IT guys are probably smirking their asses off right now.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Moss and Roy didn't get a good story out of it.

  • The Knuckle||

    Their grasp of the internet is about as good as their understanding of modern dental hygiene.

  • dinkster||

    I wonder if they have have a fleeting insight that maybe, just maybe, they are acting like Stalinist revolutionaries.

  • ||

    People who have good intentions will tell themselves that those Stalinists might have been on to something.

  • Invisible Finger||

    "Say what you want about Stalin, but he did kill a lot of lowlifes."

  • Paul.||

    country’s spy agency went over to the offices of The Guardian, the newspaper where journalist Glenn Greenwald first broke the story, and ordered them to physically destroy computers that were tainted – so to speak – with the documents Snowden leaked.

    This is the kind of public/private partnership with media that so many progressive media critics in this country hope for.

  • wareagle||

    so, economic development, right? Broken computers broken windows.

  • Christophe||

    The book also reveals that the British security service MI5 was behind the controversial detention of David Miranda, Greenwald's partner, at Heathrow airport last August. Miranda was detained under schedule 7 of the UK's Terrorism Act 2000, despite having no connection to terrorism. He was carrying heavily encrypted Snowden material at the time. MI5 tried to conceal its role in the affair, telling the police at Heathrow in a briefing: "Please do not make any reference to espionage activity. It is vital that MIRANDA is not aware of the reason for this ports stop."

    Did they really think their motivation wouldn't be immediately obvious?
    TOP. MEN.

  • sarcasmic||

    Professional liars are going to lie.

  • Michael Price||

    If you can't prove it, you're not really "aware" of it, you just suspect. Admittedly the suspicion would be about as strong as Superman on steroids but technically you don't "know".

  • Jordan||

    Yet the Guardian still wholeheartedly supports government licensing of the press.

  • Brett L||

    That's different. The government is SUPPOSED to set up regulatory barriers to protect olde and established businesses.

  • Paul.||

    Absolutely. Imagine had this story been broken by a bunch of unaccountable TeaBloggers?

  • JPyrate||

    "We can do this nicely or we can go to law".

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha /inhale Hahahahahahahaha

  • BigT||

    Celsius 233, or more appropriately for the PVC, 577.

  • Sam Grove||

    So many people refuse to believe how stupid government can be, so government must continually prove the case.

  • JD||

    Just put the millions of documents on WikiLeaks already and be done with it.

  • Chewbama||

    I can almost picture a GCHQ higher-up struggling to fashion a voodoo doll into the shape of a laptop.

  • John S.||

    What's that saying about "government intelligence"?

  • Jillian Becker||

    Don't weep for The Guardian. It is the British house mag of both enemies: Islam and Red Statism.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

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

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement