Guardian ed “cannot explain” why GCHQ wanted their computers destroyed


12:52 am - August 20th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, in an extraordinary piece published tonight, wrote:

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.

“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.”

Wait… what? Why was this not reported by the newspaper earlier? And why was this anecdote buried halfway down a piece weeks later?

But put that aside for a moment. Two key questions arise from those paragraphs above: first, why did the Guardian not report this when it happened? second, why didn’t they fight it in court?

The answer to the first question seems to be that he was stopped from reporting on the incident. When asked in the comments what he made of the officials’ reactions to what happened, Alan Rusbridger writes:

I can’t explain their actions, sorry.

On the second point, it looks like the reason the Guardian didn’t report on this, or fight it, is because they wanted to avoid the courts.

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Let’s see if all the newspapers that were crying about press freedom earlier say something about this incident now.


Update: the headline has been amended to reflect new information.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Don’t hold your breath. The only time they [the right] cry press freedom, is when they’re slammed for invading privacy in order to investigate stories that are not in the public interest.

They’re simply not interested in serious investigative journalism which would inform the masses.

This isn’t just a press freedom issue. Its more like a ‘how long till we look like the GDR’ issue. And by some definitions, I am on the right.

3. Richard Carey

@ HollieT,

“Don’t hold your breath. The only time they [the right] cry press freedom, is when they’re slammed for invading privacy in order to investigate stories that are not in the public interest.”

This is not about left or right. It is about the power of the state (and its corporate allies) versus an open society. If only all those politically motivated people who consider themselves leftwing could turn their fire on the real enemy, then we might stand a chance. The same applies to right-wing and conservative people.

@ Nick,

“This isn’t just a press freedom issue. Its more like a ‘how long till we look like the GDR’ issue.”

We’re there already. It’s just a more sophisticated model.

More proof that Rusbridger is a waste of space.

I notice that the Scotland Yard is also saying that the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner was legal. I expect it was, as are many abuses of power, such as this.

6. Paul peter Smith

@3 Richard Carey
Add to this story the little gem that Scotland Yard have declared the detention of a journalists partner as ‘ legally and procedurally sound’ and you get an idea of the kinds of laws and procedures we have in place.

7. Richard Carey

@ Peter Paul Smith,

how comforting. I’m sure they said something similar when they dragged off Walter Wolfgang for heckling Jack Straw.

Perusing the Enabling Act 1933 sorry Terrorism Act 2000 Freudian slip there I discover ironically enough that the definition of terrorism describes exactly what the British state is currently engaged in with regard to whistle-blowers and journalists:

“Section 1. – (1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where […]the use or threat is designed to […] intimidate the public or a section of the public, and (c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [, racial][3] or ideological cause.”

8. Paul peter Smith

@ Richard Carey
Those politicians keen to arm Syrian rebels also need to be careful. Under the conditions of the NDAA and other lawful procedures, William Hague is technically a legitimate target for a drone strike. As is anyone who may be attending the same wedding or the emergency services that turn up to the first drone strike.

9. the a&e charge nurse

Hey, I seem to remember some liberals were cheering when an unpleasant character was arrested by the police for walking in a public place.
Lets not forget abuse of power can take many forms – all seemingly legal of course, unless you have extremely deep pockets to fight your case in court.

10. Paul peter Smith

@9 A&ECharge nurse
Those people were not Liberals with a big ‘L’, they were lefties with a small brain.

11. Man on Clapham Omnibus

Its all about context. World capitalism is collapsing for the want of raw materials. The US/UK axis will kill ,torture, incite internal division within states, support rogue and undemocratic states, create terror organisations and go to war to maintain global hegemony in order to secure these raw materials.
Whilst this activity has gone on for donkeys years,the perception of peak oil by the US has led to an intensification of aggressive effort on the part of that country and the UK in the guise of a ‘war on terror’. Whilst this moniker provides a convenient backdrop for foreign wars it also serves to place scrutiny on potential internal dissent. Hence these war like countries are now on a permanent war footing and on a permanent state of alert.
Because the whole purpose of the resource wars is to provide input to the oligarchic corporations that now control ,frame and manipulate modern politics, the ‘enemy within’ are no longer just potential threats to security but also opponents of ‘social injustice’ insofar as it threatens to impede capital accumulation. Hence the latest attack on trades unions.Thus the whole population of the UK within the ‘securitized state’ are potentially the enemy within.
So what you need to do to be a good citizen is this;do not buy the Guardian.Don’t join the Labour Party.Dont come on to this website or join a trades union.Dont be smart and on any account be a Journalist (except for the Mail).
Once every 5 years you should listen to 3 (or so) people dressed in smart suits for about 3 weeks (only if you want to mind) who will promise you things that they have no intention of delivering. You will vote for one them. The one that wins will continually tell you lies and sometimes we will go to war for reasons you will never understand.There will eventually be a commission of inquiry but it will never be allowed to report.
Meanwhile, the occasional citizen will disappear. They will firstly be ‘a suspect’ but if tortured become a ‘state embarrassment’ After that they cannot be seen again unless their case is dealt with in secret.With a bit of luck they may starve themselves to death and save the state the legals fees.
After a bit, it will seep into the consciousness that in fact the true enemy within is the state itself but with a cop,a camera and a tank on every corner you will not want to do anything about it.Having arrived down the true Road to Serfdom you enter what is now known as a modern democracy. This is the context.

Oops! That link is already in the article. Sorry.

14. Richard Carey

@ 11,

I could agree with much of what you are saying, but:

“Its all about context. World capitalism is collapsing for the want of raw materials.”

I am sure this is not the case. There is no lack of raw materials. In fact new resources are constantly being discovered, but the development of these resources is not happening in many cases. Some of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world are sitting on vast potential wealth – Haiti, Zambia, Afghanistan to name three. The crisis in world capitalism is due, I believe, to the monetary and banking system, which has never got back to a sound basis since the First World War and the abandonment of the Gold Standard, the chief virtue of which being that governments and banks did not have control over the money supply in the way that they do now, and have done for many decades now, especially since 1971.

You may wish to stick to your analysis of ‘the context’, and others may wish to take issue with my version too, but it’s probably worth concentrating on the parts where we agree.

15. Paul peter Smith

@MOCO
Scarcity memes are one of the main tools being used to frighten people into accepting ever greater losses of freedom (along with the war on terror and the engineered financial crash). Pretty much the only major resource that is truly scarce is fresh water. Otherwise, thats a pretty good description of where we very nearly are.

16. Man on Clapham Omnibus

14. Richard Carey

The shortages I refer too were at a number of levels. Certainly, there are many discoveries of new resources and indeed there is a lot of evidence that the US/UK governments,particularly in relation to oil have vigorously pursued attempts to monopolise those resources to the extent of initiating 2 wars. Blair,it is argued, has done a lot of PR for the some of the ‘Stans’ ,making despotic regimes look more acceptable to enable trade deals with the west.
The backstop to all productive capacity is oil,importantly that includes the mass production of food.
So whilst I accept the abundance of minerals this has to be carefully considered in relation to the demands of world populations and the ability of certain countries to extend military power in order to secure it.It would be nice to add constraints to that (global warming ones that is) but somehow I dont think there will be any. We are in a world of peak oil,peak food,peek land which are increasingly being militarised and fought over.

The point you make in respect of the monetary system I entirely accept. We are now in a position that money can money without recourse to any productive yardstick. In my view this isn’t even capitalism. Not sure about gold though! My understanding is that money supply is largely controlled through banks by the allocation of credit which has been principally the problem.

I personally think banks should be forced to provide credit only to capitalist production. The investment banksters should go and do a bit of honest work for a change. There are few pot holes at the bottom of my road that need filling!

Nice if Bob B could step in at this point.

17. the a&e charge nurse

[11] ‘The US/UK axis will kill ,torture, incite internal division within states, support rogue and undemocratic states, create terror organisations and go to war to maintain global hegemony in order to secure these raw materials’ – you forgot to add that in a world divided between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, many of the haves would not wish to forgo the material benefits such arrangements bestow upon them (even if they try to kid themselves that the daily mail made them do it) – this is the faustian pact most in the west have made with the global corporations.

I suppose the pact might change if a sufficiently large proportion of western europe suffers the same fate as those living on subsistence wages in other parts of the world – but so far the likes of the dirty digger have been far to clever at manipulating the public mood for the basic structural dynamics to alter very much?

18. Man on Clapham Omnibus

15. Paul peter Smith

I think you will find that scarcity is a relative word.
In a world where the majority of currently exploitable oil wells have reached their peak (some in the mid 1990’s from memory) it leaves some remaining ones to be exploited. But the big caveats are the emerging economies and fossil fuel burning constraints. If oil was so abundant we wouldn’t have tar sands and fracking or indeed placing wells in the rain forest.
We are, I think, in a point in time where sufficient resource needs to be directed to renwables. If we don’t act soon we will run out of the productive capacity to create the infrastructure of the future.

19. the a&e charge nurse

[18] ‘If we don’t act soon we will run out of the productive capacity to create the infrastructure of the future’ – it’s too late, we already have.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZT6YpCsapg

20. Man on Clapham Omnibus

17. the a&e charge nurse

‘I suppose the pact might change if a sufficiently large proportion of western europe suffers the same fate as those living on subsistence wages in other parts of the world ‘

Nope. That’s the whole point of the securitisd state. It’ll be managed in the way that any poor state is managed. We will be a bit like the Camen Islands except some of us are white.

The way I see it is there will be the Monarchy,a few oligarchs, a management class, G4s and Serco and then the rest of the population many of whom will be on subsistence. Bit like now except worse.

21. Man on Clapham Omnibus

19. the a&e charge nurse

I have to say ever since I was involved with system dynamics I have never understood the arguments against Malthus.

22. Man on Clapham Omnibus

7. Richard Carey

someone should go round and arrest them.

And now the Home Office press weasel his issued the following statement: “government and police have a duty to protect the public”, from guardian stories involving Ed Snowdon apparently.

Seems Rusbridger, as Kenan Malik points out in his tweets, has sold the Guardian’s reputation, such as it is, to the government thugs who – wait for it “intimidated” him.

What with this nonsense – NSA Nutjob: Anatomy of a Fake ‘Observer’ Story and this article – The left must challenge Greenwald does the paper have any credibility left?

23 Cylux –

all very reassuring, but as @ 7. Richard Carey explains, under the Terrorism Act, it is clear that state forces are committing terrorism, since they:

“use or threat of action where […]the use or threat is designed to […] intimidate the public or a section of the public, and (c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [, racial][3] or ideological cause.”

In exercising their duty to protect the public, the Home Office should really be arresting those agents under this act.

26. Paul peter Smith

@ MOCO
I see what you mean about the meaning of the word, but much of the scarcity is manged. If you speak to a Russian Geologist they will tell you that the jury is still out on where oli comes from, they have several abiotic theories as to how oil is formed. They practise what they preach too, Russian oil wells are only exploited until the pressure drops to a certain level then they temporarily cap them and leave them to re-charge, which they do. The western model is to suck em dry, cap em and forget em on the assumption that theres no point going back. I’m not suggesting that the Russians are right but it highlights the problem i do have with Malthus. His conclusions are drawn from an initial assumption that we are in full possession of every fact we will ever need and that human ingenuity counts for nothing. He thought the world would starve to death in his own time because of all the useless eaters, he was kind of right about over population he just got the wrong end of the social ladder. The excess population in his time, as now, are mostly the non productive elites, who consume disproportionately, retard true progress and contribute nothing other than sponsoring a few artists.

@25 pps

“The excess population in his time, as now, are mostly the non productive elites, who consume disproportionately, retard true progress and contribute nothing other than sponsoring a few artists.”

An attitude just as sinister as the converse. I firmly believe Kurt Vonnegut was right when he said we were here to fart about.

28. Man on Clapham Omnibus

25. Paul peter Smith

abiotic theory reminds me of the fairy tale of the pot and the porridge. Sadly like the porridge it is not generally recognised that oil is continuously generated at usable rates simply because wells do run out,hence the notion of peak oil.

I think its the Hubbert Curve which is the empirically proven guide to the depletion of reserves.

The biggest question is do we want endless oil? Anyone worried about Global warming would say no.

As to the issue of Malthus I would say that all resources are finite.If he underestimated the capacity , which I think was Engles criticism at the time, then all his problem was one of timing not of principal.

There may be issues regarding entropy that come to mind but I havent thought this though yet.

29. Man on Clapham Omnibus

26. Cherub

I thought our purpose was just to reproduce.

30. Planeshift

“The only time they [the right] cry press freedom, is when they’re slammed for invading privacy in order to investigate stories that are not in the public interest. ”

Plenty of right wing journos are pissed off at this as well. Issue is more editorial decisions of proprieters. Restrictions on ability of tabloids to hack into private lives of celebs and murder victims harms profitability of media because the business model of tabloids is sensentionalist celeb gossip. Restrictions on ability to hold security services to account don’t harm profitability, because they can never be the daily bread of any newspaper. Hence the editorial decision of tabloids to ignore the issue.

31. Paul peter Smith

@ Cherub
I’m not suggesting we make a list and start rounding up aristo’s, just pointing out that the definition of a useless eater is open to interpretation. I also think Vonnegut was onto something, very much like some philosophers connecting a sense of humour with the possession of a soul.

@ MOCO
I’m not convinced about abiotic theory either, maybe the Russians just manage their reserves more sustainably (not a bad philosophy) and limitless oil would be a disaster whether you take the AGW view or as a brake on development of other technologies. I was just using it as an example of a change in understanding or use can extend the life of a resource beyond the best estimates of the best experts. Necessity is the mother of invention or needs must as the devil drives whichever you prefer but we have our best ideas when it looks like were most screwed. Malthus gave up on us because in his pathetically limited Elizabethan world view he couldn’t think of a solution so obviously no one else could, stupidity on top of arrogance draped in ignorance.

32. Man on Clapham Omnibus

30. Planeshift

‘Plenty of right wing journos are pissed off at this as well’

How do you know this?

Cylux: “I notice that the Scotland Yard is also saying that the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner was legal. I expect it was, as are many abuses of power, such as this.”

Absolutely. I’m sure that when the Gestapo detained jews, Social Democrats, Communists, gays and the like in Germany after January 1933, the Gestapo could also justly claim to have been acting with the law. Btw weren’t GCHQ and the Police relying on laws passed by the Labour government to detain David Miranda and to order the detruction of the Guardian’s computers – principally the Terrorism Act 2000?

As Dr Goebbels used to say: Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear.

This is the government they wanted

35. Planeshift

“How do you know this?”

I don’t. I made an assumption that many are pissed off about it because of all the noise they made on leveson and the re-assurances made on here by libertarians that right wing libertarianism is genuinely interested in issues of liberty beyond that of getting away with speeding tickets and drunk driving.

Was rather hoping those who have expressed such views would be able to link to right wing journo’s complaining about this.

😉

Seriously though, I do think many right wing journos will privately be pissed off at this – most are quite capable of realising that freedom of the press means you have the right to report whistleblowing without intimitation.

@31 pps

Abiotic theory is just wishful thinking. Oil is a fossil fuel. Even if it wasn’t it would eventually run out. If depleted wells refill its just because small deposits percolate into the well space from porous strata over time.

Regarding Malthus, he simply understood exponentials. In a finite system there is a limit to growth. His timing was wrong because we’ve been lucky so far. Now we’re up against far tougher limits from loss of biodiversity, climate change and environmental degradation. The 21st century is going to be interesting!

37. Paul peter Smith

@36 Cherub
‘ may you live in interesting times ‘ as the old Chinese curse goes. But dont worry about feeding the world, I’ve just been on a Monsanto site and they assure me that they’ve got it covered if we’d just buy their magic beans. What did I say about our best ideas coming when most needed? Obviously that statement needs some more thinking about or a couple of caveats.

38. Deirdre Shaw

I suggest that your readers actually absorb the article by Alan Rusbridger in the online Guardian, which is fully linked from a display on the front page, rather than depend on your smoke and mirrors interpretation and your reliance on Twitter:

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/aug/20/guardian-editor-alan-rusbridger-nsa

The rational interpretation for the order to destroy Guardian computers is that Britain’s security services wanted to punish the Guardian for its journalism about the Wikileaks. Given how much information is already out there or stored abroad in accessible places, no other interpretation is credible.

40. Richard Carey

@ Bob B,

“The rational interpretation for the order to destroy Guardian computers is that Britain’s security services wanted to punish the Guardian”

Punish? Or intimidate perhaps.

41. sackcloth and ashes

This doesn’t make any sense at all.

(1) If Alan Rusbridger is saying that he has been repeatedly threatened by senior officials to hand over the Snowden material or else, why didn’t he say so sooner? These threats are by his account two months old.

(2) Did he consult the GMG’s Chair, Amelia Fawcett, or the CEO, Andrew Miller, to inform them that HMG is trying to muzzle their flagship newspaper, and to ask on a matter of policy how the GMG should respond? Submit or fight?

(3) During the course of his conversations with these unnamed officials (representing a government the ‘Guardian’ opposes, by the way), Rusbridger makes it clear that in practical terms the government cannot stop the paper from reporting the NSA/GCHQ, and that the Snowden material has been disseminated across the internet. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist covering the story, lives in Brazil and is beyond the reach of UK law. But he consents to a meaningless exercise in which computers belonging to the ‘Guardian’ are physically destroyed (hence the quote in the story ‘[really] smashing up computers turns out to be quite messy work). Did he authorise this, and make sure that from a legal perspective that he would not be subject to any claims relating to criminal damage?

(4) As this story unfolds over the past two months Rusbridger misses every opportunity to summon any ally in the political, legal and civil liberties world who would either commit themselves to defend press freedom against official intimidation by the British government, or would miss no opportunity to embarrass the coalition. He does not give Ed Miliband or any Labour MP the opportunity to ask questions under parliamentary privilege about GCHQ and the government harassing a respected national newspaper. He does not try to get Michael Mansfield or Gareth Pierce involved. He does not try to get Shami Chakrabarti onside, and he doesn’t even try to contact potentially sympathetic figures within the coalition (such as Nick Clegg or David Davis) who have a demonstrated commitment to free speech, and have gone on record to express their concerns about the excessive exercise of state power. How weird.

(5) Rusbridger’s claim is that he submitted to official pressure because otherwise the ‘Guardian’ would not be able to report on Snowden’s disclosures. Was this the legal advice he received, and who gave it? Furthermore, if the Snowden material was overseas then what means did HMG have to stop their publication?

(6) On an undisclosed day, two ‘security experts’ turn up at King’s Place to destroy the sacrificial desktops and lap-tops. GCHQ has no law enforcement powers, so unless they are accompanied by Inspector Knacker waving a warrant, what stops ‘Guardian’ security and employees from barring their access to the building? Did anyone else witness their entry and exit into the building, and their destruction of the computers? Were they supervised once on site? And above all did Fawcett and Miller approve the vandalism of GMG property?

(7) Finally, these GCHQ goons willingly involve themselves in a meaningless exercise despite the fact that it will do nothing to stop the Snowden leaks, and is a piece of pointless theatre. They are also too stupid to realise that if you want to destroy the information on a computer hard-drive you don’t pulverise the thing, because the data can still be recovered. Drives are destroyed electronically.

If this story picks up and becomes a political furore, then that will confirm that Rusbridger is right, and that the current government is responsible for an egregious assault on the basic principles of freedom of the press. But I suspect that it will disappear, because I think that Rusbridger might just be – erm – embellishing the facts somewhat.

40

“Punish? Or intimidate perhaps.”

The Guardian was and is hardly likely to be intimidated. Alan Rushbridger, the Guardian editor, was on the BBC Radio4 News at 1 o’clock today saying the order to destroy the Guardian’s computers was patently daft because the Wikileak information was also stored abroad in accessible places where Britain’s Terrorism Act 2000 didn’t reach. Btw Jack Straw was the Labour Home Secretary who pushed that legislation through Parliament but we haven’t heard from him yet. A telling insight is that schedules to that Act make clear that the normal laws protecting persons and property from abuses of power by security services don’t apply to transport transit facilities, which is where David Miranda was detained and his property confiscated while he was en route flying back to his home in Brazil.

If the Police and the Security Services – presumably with government approval or at least a nod – seriously want to protect Britain from this supposed dire threat to Britain’s national security, they must surely be impatient to indict Alan Rushbridger and bring him before the courts. Their downside is that treason is no longer a hanging offence.

43. paul canning

Gee. Derp central here.

@Bitethehand thanks for plug, my post ‘The left must challenge Greenwald’ is here http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-left-must-challenge-greenwald.html

Sorry. What??? Why in the name of f*** is everyone having a go at the editor of a paper who has leaked stories to try and protect all of our freedoms and then been intimidated by violent thugs for doing so? Excuse me, but on what planet is it ok for you to be having a go at him? Why are you suspicious of him? Why are you ignoring the WHOLE POINT OF THE STORY – that journalists and their friends and families are now being intimidated, threatened and bullied and having their evidence destroyed by the state?? Where are your heads? Why do you not understand what is happening here? Why on earth are you picking at the man who’s doing the right thing. He EXPLAINED why he didn’t want to report it and take it to court – because that would mean nothing could be published in the time that the case was going through court and the STORY, the information that needs to come out is far more important at this point. Government/police/secret service thuggery speaks for itself, but no one is listening!

In the BBCR4 news at 1 o’clock today, David Davis, the well-known Conservative MP, spoke up in defence of the Guardian.

Surely Jack Straw, who pushed the relating Terrorism Act 2000 through Parliament, is going to speak up about the detention of David Miranda while he was in transit flying back to his home in Brazil.

David Miranda wasn’t stopped because he was Glenn Greenwald’s partner. He was stopped because he was suspected of carrying classified information highly detrimental to the UK national interest. And if we don’t stop people because of that, who do we stop?

47. Richard Carey

@ Bob B,

“The Guardian was and is hardly likely to be intimidated.”

The Guardian is an entity with no emotions, so certainly it cannot be intimidated, but the human beings who work within it can be intimidated. That is what Rusbridger was saying in part (whatever the truth of the matter), that people in the government were threatening him to shut up on the story.

Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings was talking about how the US government had declared war on journalism, and the Snowden business illustrates how the secret state in the USA and Britain are joined at the hip. Unfortunately we won’t be able to find out Hastings’ view on this particular story, since his car exploded in LA a few weeks after his comments.

46

“David Miranda wasn’t stopped because he was Glenn Greenwald’s partner. He was stopped because he was suspected of carrying classified information highly detrimental to the UK national interest.”

If the supposed secret information is that the NSA, in America, and GCHQ, in Britain, eavesdrop on communications that really isn’t secret or news. Try this very old news report from 1986-87 (really) about the Zircon Spy satellite:

“An investigative programme into a ‘state secret’ about the funding of a spy satellite proved too hot for the BBC to handle. The Government, the security services and the BBC’s Governors were jittery about the Secret Society series, and particularly the Zircon satellite exposé that controversial freelance reporter Duncan Campbell was working on with BBC Scotland.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/resources/bbcandgov/zircon_affair.shtml

For more, try Googling on Zircon and Duncan Campbell. Those of us who recall that stuff about Zircon have continued to assume that GCHQ continues to hoover up communications data and search it for key words using high-speed computers.

@25

In exercising their duty to protect the public, the Home Office should really be arresting those agents under this act.

Should be, yes. Though at this point I am no longer surprised that they won’t.

50. sackcloth and ashes

‘Why in the name of f*** is everyone having a go at the editor of a paper who has leaked stories to try and protect all of our freedoms and then been intimidated by violent thugs for doing so?’

Because I for one have doubts about whether the second part of that sentence actually happened. See my comments above.

‘Excuse me, but on what planet is it ok for you to be having a go at him?’

If Rusbridger is telling the truth, then it’s not OK to have a pop at him. But it is legitimate to ask why he hasn’t named the ‘officials’ who threatened him over the phone and face-to-face, and why it was that he supinely accepted the needless destruction of office property instead of referring the bully-boys to the case of Arkell versus Pressdram, and then saying ‘We’ll see you in court. Stand by to look as monumentally dickish as Sir Robert Armstrong did over ‘Spycatcher”.

‘Why are you suspicious of him?’

Because I’m familiar with cases in which journalists have embellished their reportage for their own self-promotion or for other reasons (Johann Hari). I’m also aware that the ‘Guardian’ made two claims about Miranda’s detention which were false. The first was that Miranda was being spitefully harassed because he was Greenwald’s partner (he was, in fact, being a courier for Greenwald to Snowden, and was claiming expenses from the Graun). The second was that Miranda was refused access to a lawyer (whereas in fact he was offered access, but declined).

I’m also aware that the ‘Guardian’ also had to backtrack from Greenwald’s initial claims that PRISM ‘allows the NSA, the world’s largest surveillance organisation, to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders’ (http://bobcesca.thedailybanter.com/blog-archives/2013/06/the-guardian-walks-back-prism-allegations.html). So that’s three porkies they’ve told already.

‘Why are you ignoring the WHOLE POINT OF THE STORY – that journalists and their friends and families are now being intimidated, threatened and bullied and having their evidence destroyed by the state??’

See my comments above. Miranda was arrested for a specific reason, which was that he was carrying classified material that had been acquired illegally by Snowden. Now what that material contains is an interesting question in its own right; if it contained NSA-GCHQ of decrypts from either suspected terrorist cells or (say) Russian SIGINT I’m not sure I’ll cheer either Miranda or Greenwald from the rooftops. If it (say) shows that NSA-GCHQ have been bugging Amnesty International, CND, Greenpeace and His Holiness the Pope, I’d be more sympathetic. The fact of the matter is that no state – even democratic ones – allows you to make off with classified material, and if you pinch it and make your way through an airport on its soil you can expect to have your collar felt. That’s life.

‘He EXPLAINED why he didn’t want to report it and take it to court – because that would mean nothing could be published in the time that the case was going through court and the STORY, the information that needs to come out is far more important at this point’.

Really? Are there any precedents for this? The Spycatcher and ABC court cases did not stop the British press from reporting on (respectively) MI5 and GCHQ. Far from it. In fact, it drew attention to both these services. Did Rusbridger receive specific legal advice from the GMG’s lawyers that the British government would be able to muzzle the Graun’s reportage on Snowden – even though the documents were out in the ether, and their star reporter was out of UK jurisdiction in Brazil? Because that sounds quite bizarre to me.

You also forget that this is not the first time Rusbridger has faced down legal threats from people in high places. He took on Jonathan Aitken in court even though the latter’s (false) case of libel threatened to cripple the ‘Guardian’ financially, and didn’t give any ground over Wikileaks. He also missed every opportunity to publicise the threats he was receiving and to get the weight of popular outrage and legal and political support he would get. Either he has just suddenly lost his spine and his brain, or his claims need closer scrutiny.

‘Government/police/secret service thuggery speaks for itself, but no one is listening!’

If the British government and security/intelligence services (note the absence of any reference to the police in Rusbridger’s accounts – no threat of Special Branch raiding with warrants there) have acted in the way the ‘Guardian’ editor did, then I’d accept your point. But if this story blows over, if no other newspaper or agency picks it up, if the Beeb drops it, and if none of the awkward squad in Parliament raise hell over it, then you can be sure that the whole claim by Rusbridger was a fabrication. Watch this space.

51. sackcloth and ashes

‘The Guardian is an entity with no emotions, so certainly it cannot be intimidated, but the human beings who work within it can be intimidated. That is what Rusbridger was saying in part (whatever the truth of the matter), that people in the government were threatening him to shut up on the story’.

Except Rusbridger, as noted, stood firm over Aitken and Wikileaks. But in this case he rolls over, which is out of character to say the least.

‘Unfortunately we won’t be able to find out Hastings’ view on this particular story, since his car exploded in LA a few weeks after his comments’.

That ‘car explosion’ may have had something to do with the fact that he was involved in a high-speed crash. It’s worth noting here that even his family accept that it was an accident.

52. Richard Carey

@ 50,

“Miranda was arrested for a specific reason, which was that he was carrying classified material that had been acquired illegally by Snowden.”

He was arrested under the Terrorism Act, which is only applicable if he was a suspected terrorist. He wasn’t. He was a suspected journalist.

In the search for Osama Bin Laden, the CIA very sensibly focused on looking for his means of communications with the al-Qaeda network. From interrogatimg captives, they learned that Abu Ahmed was a trusted courier and set about finding him and tracking him. Tailing him led to that place in Abbottabad which had no telephone or internet connections so they put that under close surveillance and then staged that SEAL raid on 2 May 2011. Try the movie: Zero Dark Thirty.

We seem to have forgotten about a whole series of convictions in Britain of Islamic terrorists prior to the recent Woolwich atrocity:

An Algerian man with suspected al-Qaeda links has been found guilty of downloading information on how to blow up a passenger jet. [BBC website November 2005]

Five men have been jailed for a bomb plot linked to al-Qaeda that could have killed hundreds of people in Britain. [BBC website April 2007]

Three guilty of airline bomb plot bigger than 9/11 [Telegraph September 2009]

Britain’s largest and longest running terrorist investigation has come to an end with the conviction of three British Muslims for planning to become suicide bombers in an al-Qaeda plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners. [Telegraph July 2010]

A gang of Muslim extremists inspired to launch a deadly UK terror campaign by hate preacher Anjem Choudary were jailed for a total of nearly 95 years today. [Telegraph February 2012]

Three would-be suicide bombers who plotted to carry out an attack to rival the 7 July and 9/11 atrocities have been found guilty of terrorism charges. [BBC website February 2013]

What first alerted the security services to these cases?

sackcloth and ashes,

Miranda was arrested for a specific reason, which was that he was carrying classified material that had been acquired illegally by Snowden.

1. Miranda wasn’t arrested.

2. The “Power to stop, question and detain” is solely for the purpose of determining if the person “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. Use outside that purpose is unlawful.

The fact of the matter is that no state – even democratic ones – allows you to make off with classified material, and if you pinch it and make your way through an airport on its soil you can expect to have your collar felt. That’s life.

Not under Schedule 7 Terrorism Act 2000.

55. Richard Carey

@ 51,

I am not in any position to know what has gone on with Rusbridger, and I suspect neither are you. What is not in any doubt is that the British state is using anti-terror laws to attack whistle-blowers and journalists who lift the lid on the many crimes and abuses of power that it commits under cover of protecting us fwom evil-doers. Quis custodiet etc.

As for Hastings’ death, likewise neither you nor I know exactly what happened, but there are reasons to suspect there may have been foul play, given the unusual circumstances of the crash. In any case, it certainly doesn’t invalidate what Hastings was saying prior to his death.

Try the latest news from the Indy:

David Cameron instructed the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to contact The Guardian to spell out the serious consequences that could follow if it failed to hand over classified material received from Edward Snowden, it can be revealed.

Senior Whitehall sources confirmed to The Independent the Prime Minister’s central role in trying to limit revelations about UK and US intelligence operations contained in information the whistleblower received from the National Security Agency.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/cabinet-secretary-dragged-into-edward-snowden-row-8777216.html

In the BBC interview with Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, he said the Wikileak information held on Guardian computers was also available abroad in countries where the provisions of the Terrorism Act of 2000 didn’t apply so the information hadn’t been destroyed when Guardian computers were destroyed on the instructions from GCHQ. The destruction was therefore pointless and served no purpose.

Try this just out from the Guardian:

Guardian editors on Tuesday revealed why and how the newspaper destroyed computer hard drives containing copies of some of the secret files leaked by Edward Snowden.

The decision was taken after a threat of legal action by the government that could have stopped reporting on the extent of American and British government surveillance revealed by the documents.
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/20/nsa-snowden-files-drives-destroyed-london

It’s pretty evident that the government’s intervention on this was malicious and has backfired.

It’s evident the vaunted checks and balances of democracy – separation of powers, public participation, the press – do not function as advertised when it comes to secret programmes.

It’s now acknowledged fact there is (potentially unlawful / unconstitutional) clandestine mass electronic surveillance being conducted by state agencies in supposed ‘modern liberal democracies’ on their own populations – or partners’ populations so as to circumvent the law – with the secret cooperation of companies, and insufficient if any debate, a lack of scrutiny, a lack of accountability, as well as official “nothing to see here, it’s all fine” pronouncements (only prompted by Snowden, Greenwald et al) that are misleading at best.

59. Paul peter Smith

When the first wave of ‘anti terrorist’ legislation came in after 9/11 the majority of those who got the sharp end were animal rights protestors involved in the anti vivisection movement.
What was it that fella said about not giving a monkeys when they came for the Jews?

For decades, at least since news from 1986/87 about the Zircon spy satellite leaked, I have taken it for granted that GCHQ snooped on communications.

Bletchley Park successfully and secretly broke Germany’s Enigma code for military wireless communications during WW2 and that speeded up the ending of the war. It’s naïve to have expected those practices and skills to have been abandoned with the ending of the war, not least because of the following Cold War and the discovery of the Cambridge spies – Burgess, Maclean, Kim Philby, Blunt and John Cairncross.

The hunt for internet child pornographers is a perfect cover for snooping on internet use although I suspect that a proscription on the Catholic church and its educational and care establishments would have been a more effective policy option.

“But if this story blows over, if no other newspaper or agency picks it up, if the Beeb drops it, and if none of the awkward squad in Parliament raise hell over it, then you can be sure that the whole claim by Rusbridger was a fabrication. Watch this space.”

What utter bollocks. Are you not aware that the BBC are just a propaganda machine for the government now? They get all their ‘news’ directly from Tory HQ. If the Beeb doesn’t cover a story, you can actually be pretty damn sure that it IS important.

Bob B,

I’m not entirely sure what your point is, but if it’s the tired line that it’s ok for us all to give up all freedoms because of such stories, (which could well be fabricated), about possible terrorist attacks, then, sorry, it’s just not working for me any more.

Woolwich was a False Flag operation. As I also suspect 7/7 and 9/11 were too. Roll on the ‘nutbag conspiracy theorist’ insults.

The fact is that I, and a growing number of people are 10 times more afraid of the authorities and their immense power to ruin our lives than of any terrorist attack.

A bomb would be swifter and less painful than the despicable corporate fascist world we have now entered into with our freedoms and standards of living being eroded daily and the secret services infiltrating every activist movement there is and probably also employing people to write a whole lot of bullshit on forums like these.

I refuse to be scared. I’m not frightened of terrorists. If I’m frightened of anything, it’s the police, government and secret services terrorising us with their propaganda and protecting greed and corporate power at all costs.

Oops, just re-read your stuff Bob B. Don’t think that was the point you were trying to make.

The piece linked to @43 is very interesting.

@64 Though not quite as interesting as his following post doing a fair bit of whataboutery on the current lgbt rights situation in Russia.

sackcloth and ashes,

The second was that Miranda was refused access to a lawyer (whereas in fact he was offered access, but declined).

AFAIK he was offered a lawyer (which is unusual because the law doesn’t require it), which he declined in favour of speaking to his own lawyer, who turned up and was blocked from speaking with Miranda until the last hour of the nine hour detention.

67. sackcloth and ashes

‘Are you not aware that the BBC are just a propaganda machine for the government now? They get all their ‘news’ directly from Tory HQ. If the Beeb doesn’t cover a story, you can actually be pretty damn sure that it IS important’.

[Pauses for breath after outburst of uncontrollable laughter].

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dearime …

If your proposition is true, Emily, can you explain to me why the BBC News made Miranda’s detention its lead item, and why it publicised Rusbridger’s claims?

‘Miranda wasn’t arrested’.

My mistake. I should have said ‘detained’.

‘The “Power to stop, question and detain” is solely for the purpose of determining if the person “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. Use outside that purpose is unlawful’.

Looking at the CT Act and its applications Miranda could have been hauled in under 1.e, and as far as processes are concerned Plod could have used the following:

‘4.Possessing information for terrorist purposes or collecting information of a kind to provide practical assistance to a person committing an act of terrorism. This includes having manuals about making explosives. The information can be in any form, written, photographic or electronic (Sections 57 and 58, Terrorism Act 2000).

6.Failing to disclose information which a person knows or believes might be of material assistance in preventing an act of terrorism or in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of a person involved in an act of terrorism (Section 38B, Terrorism Act 2000)’.

http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/prosecution/ctd.html

Bad law? I’m inclined to agree. Abuse of legislative powers? Nope.

‘Woolwich was a False Flag operation. As I also suspect 7/7 and 9/11 were too. Roll on the ‘nutbag conspiracy theorist’ insults’.

They’d be superfluous. Completely.

‘A bomb would be swifter and less painful than the despicable corporate fascist world we have now entered into with our freedoms and standards of living being eroded daily and the secret services infiltrating every activist movement there is and probably also employing people to write a whole lot of bullshit on forums like these’.

You have never experienced either a bombing or a truly fascist/totalitarian state, so please spare us your posturing.

‘As for Hastings’ death, likewise neither you nor I know exactly what happened, but there are reasons to suspect there may have been foul play, given the unusual circumstances of the crash’.

So give us the evidence to suggest that it was anything other than an accident.

‘The decision was taken after a threat of legal action by the government that could have stopped reporting on the extent of American and British government surveillance revealed by the documents’.

I’m stuck here. How could the UK government stop reportage on Snowden if the material had been disseminated beyond British jurisdiction, and whilst Greenwald was resident in Brazil?

Furthermore, the ‘Guardian’ states that ‘[there] was no written threat of any legal moves’, so according to them they decide to smash up some of their computers on the basis of a potential injunction rather than an actual one.

None of this is making any sense.

sackcloth and ashes,

‘The “Power to stop, question and detain” is solely for the purpose of determining if the person “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. Use outside that purpose is unlawful’.

Looking at the CT Act and its applications Miranda could have been hauled in under 1.e,

Assuming you mean S1(e) Counter-Terrorism Act: Power to remove documents for examination
(1)This section applies to a search under any of the following provisions—
(e)section 7A, 7B or 7C of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (c. 2) (searches in connection with control orders);

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/28/section/1

How is that relevant?

In any case, he wasn’t hauled in under another provision in another Act, he was detained under Schedule 7 TACT. The authorities aren’t free to detain people on one ground just because there might be a law that allows them to do something on another ground.

and as far as processes are concerned Plod could have used the following:

’4.Possessing information for terrorist purposes or collecting information of a kind to provide practical assistance to a person committing an act of terrorism. This includes having manuals about making explosives. The information can be in any form, written, photographic or electronic (Sections 57 and 58, Terrorism Act 2000).

Again, Miranda wasn’t detained on that basis. And if he were, he would have had to be arrested and he would have the rights of a suspect.

Abuse of legislative powers? Nope.

If it was an unlawful use of the power to detain it’s difficult to see how it wasn’t an abuse.

sackcloth and ashes,

‘The decision was taken after a threat of legal action by the government that could have stopped reporting on the extent of American and British government surveillance revealed by the documents’.

I’m stuck here. How could the UK government stop reportage on Snowden if the material had been disseminated beyond British jurisdiction, and whilst Greenwald was resident in Brazil?

The UK gov could ask a court to stop the Guardian publishing in the UK.

Furthermore, the ‘Guardian’ states that ‘[there] was no written threat of any legal moves’, so according to them they decide to smash up some of their computers on the basis of a potential injunction rather than an actual one.

Carl Gardner speculates “whether the Guardian was facing an “official direction” for the return or disposal of the material under section 8(5) of the Official Secrets Act 1989.”

None of this is making any sense.

Possibly because you don’t know what you’re talking about.

70. sackcloth and ashes

‘The UK gov could ask a court to stop the Guardian publishing in the UK’.

How would that stop the online publication of Snowden’s material by Greenwald or any other source?

The ‘Guardian’ will still get the kudos for having their journalist publicise Snowden’s revelations, and would also have the credit gained from standing up to government bullying. It would be win-win for them.

In the pre-internet age it was quite hard for Duncan Campbell and the defendants in the 1977 ABC Trial to prove their case and defeat the Official Secrets Act. But now, what kind of legal advisor suggests that HMG can seriously shut down reportage on the NSA-GCHQ take that Snowden delivered – either legally or practically. We are into ‘Horse/Stable Door/Bolted’ territory here.

‘If it was an unlawful use of the power to detain it’s difficult to see how it wasn’t an abuse’.

Again, I make my point about the use of existing anti-terrorism legislation. The wording clearly gave the police the legal top-cover to detain Miranda for 9 hours at Heathrow. I would accept the conclusion that the 2000 Act is bad law, and would actually think that there are good grounds for its reconsideration and repeal. But if Plod wanted to act in the letter (and not the spirit) of legislation they had plenty of grounds to do so, which is something that Her Majesty’s Opposition has conveniently forgotten, seeing as they passed the relevant laws in the first place.

National Security is a complicated rationale for the detention and interrogation of David Miranda for nine hours and the confiscation of his laptop and other electronic equipment. Why don’t Cameron, May and Clegg just claim that the Police were acting with Divine Guidance?

Who could fault that?

Recall how John Yates of the Metropolitan Police ended the phone-hacking inquiry because “there is no new evidence”?
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/jul/12/john-yates-phone-hacking-questions

How would that stop the online publication of Snowden’s material by Greenwald or any other source?

It wouldn’t, obviously.

The wording clearly gave the police the legal top-cover to detain Miranda for 9 hours at Heathrow.

Only if the purpose was to determine whether he was involved in terrorism and/or his property was involved in terrorism.

But if Plod wanted to act in the letter (and not the spirit) of legislation they had plenty of grounds to do so

Even if that were true (the examples you gave don’t support your argument) they didn’t use the other sections, they used Schedule 7, and if they had used other sections Miranda would have had more rights, because they would have had to arrest him with all that entails. For example, they wouldn’t have been free to deny him access to his lawyer (unless they argued he was involved in a serious act of terrorism), they would have been obliged to show him the recording of the interview and he would have a right to silence (refusing to answer questions under Schedule 7 is punishable by imprisonment).

I suggest they used Schedule 7 because he wasn’t committing an arrestable offence and/or it was convenient for them to do so because they could deny him access to his lawyer, steal confiscate his equipment, not show him a recording of the interview, and deny him the right to silence.

Plainly an abuse if their purpose was not to determine whether he was involved in terrorism.

How come this has been taken down from the front page?


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