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