White House says it would be ‘difficult to imagine’ US authorities adopting GCHQ tactic of demanding destruction of hard drives – Published on The Guardian, by Nicholas Watt, Spencer Ackerman, Josh Halliday and Rowena Mason, August 21, 2013 (Linked with our new blog: politics for the 99%).
The White House distanced itself from Britain’s handling of the leaked NSA documents when representatives said it would be difficult to imagine the US authorities following the example of Whitehall in demanding the destruction of media hard drives.
As a former lord chancellor said the Metropolitan police had no legal right to detain the partner of a Guardian journalist at Heathrow airport under anti-terror laws, the White House suggested it would be inappropriate for US authorities to enter a media organisation’s offices to oversee the destruction of hard drives … //
… (watch the video with Alan Rusbridger, 6.34 min) …
… Downing Street confirmed that the PM was also informed. “We were kept abreast in the usual way,” a No 10 source said. “We do not direct police investigations.”
The double confirmation, which followed a statement from the White House on Monday that it was given a “heads up” about the detention, marked an abrupt change of tactics by the government. Officials had declined to answer questions about the affair on the grounds that it was an operational police matter.
The government switched its response from it being an operational police matter after the Guardian disclosed GCHQ’s role in overseeing the destruction of the hard disks in a basement of the newspaper’s London office. A few hours before the White House statement, Rusbridger said it would be impossible to imagine a similar demand to destroy hard drives in the US.
He told the BBC News channel: “The British government has moved against the Guardian in a way that would be simply undoable in America. America has the first amendment and it has no prior restraint … The British government explicitly threatened prior restraint against the Guardian – ie that they would go to the courts to injunct us and to cede the material which would have the effect of preventing us from writing about it.”
Rusbridger added in an interview with The World at One on BBC Radio 4: “It was quite explicit. We had to destroy it or give it back to them.”
Rusbridger launched a strong defence of the Guardian’s decision to comply with the request to destroy the hard drives after Index on Censorship described the action as “very disturbing”. He told Channel 4 News: “Rather than return the material to the government I said we would destroy it in the knowledge that we already had copies in Brazil and in America. It seemed to be our duty to this material and to the public is to go on reporting. If we had waited for the courts to come in, judges would have been in control of that information.”
Former shadow home secretary David Davis said No 10’s confirmation that David Cameron was given notice of the detention of Miranda meant that ministers had, in effect, approved of his treatment. Davis told The World at One: “They didn’t direct it, nobody is suggesting they directed it. But they approved it by implication. If the home secretary is told this is going to happen and she doesn’t intervene then she is approving it.”
May told the BBC: “No. We have a very clear divide in this country – and I think that is absolutely right – between the operational independence of the police and the policy work of politicians. I, as home secretary, do not tell the police who they should or should not stop at ports or who they should or should not arrest … I am pleased we live in a country where there is that separation.”
Miranda was stopped at Heathrow en route to Rio de Janeiro, where he lives with Greenwald, who has written a series of stories for the Guardian revealing mass surveillance programmes by the NSA. He was returning to their home from Berlin when he was stopped, allowing officials to take away his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.
During his trip to Berlin, Miranda met Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has been working with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda’s flights. Miranda is not a Guardian employee but often assists Greenwald in his work.
Greenwald’s partner David Miranda on his detention under terror laws – video, 1.20 min;
NSA files: why the Guardian in London destroyed hard drives of leaked files, on The Guardian, by Julian Borger, August 20, 2013.