In a session of intensive, wide-ranging — and often hostile — questioning by the United Kingdom’s House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee chaired by Keith Vaz of the Labour Party, the Editor-In-Chief of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, gave a spirited defence of his decision to publish a series of investigative reports that illuminated the extent of the mass secret surveillance of the key intelligence agencies of the U.K. and the United States.
The Guardian has been under considerable pressure from sections of the political establishment, intelligence agencies and the media for having published material – that they shared with The New York Times and Pro Publica in the U.S. – that was released by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, which allegedly compromised the country’s security.
On a question from Mr. Vaz on whether the security of individuals mentioned in the 53,000 documents that The Guardian had access to and published from were compromised, Mr. Rusbridger said that The Guardian redacted all names from the documents before publishing. Mr. Vaz asked Mr. Rusbridger’s response to MI chief Andrew Parker’s observation that the revelations were a “gift” to the U.K.’s enemies. The latter replied that these were vague and unspecific allegations “not rooted in specific stories”.
Mr. Rusbridger quoted Norman Baker, the Home Office Minister, and several other senior intelligence officials from both the U.K. and U.S. administration officials, all of whom said that this had not happened. Several times in the course of the session, Mr. Rusbridger said that his newspaper had spoken with at least 100 people within the governments of both countries, including with Downing Street and the White House.
Comparing the official response to the media leaks in the U.K. and the U.S., Mr. Rusbridger said that in the U.S. those most disturbed by the revelations were those who passed the laws that were used to justify government snooping in the first place. “For example, James Sensenbrenner, the author of the US Patriot Act. He was appalled that it was being used for something he regarded as unAmerican,” he said.
At one point in the questioning, Mr. Rusbridger held up a copy of the book Spycatcher by Peter Wright, a former MI5 agent. He recalled the “ridiculous” situation where the U.K. tried to stop the publication of a book that was being published elsewhere in the world. “That was the point of giving the files to the NYT – to avoid a similar situation.” When asked by Mark Reckless (Conservative) if he thinks he should be prosecuted for sharing files with persons outside the U.K., Mr. Rusbridger said “That depends on your view of a free press.”
Quoting the General Consul of the NSA, who said that though he didn’t want to see the documents in the public realm, once in the hands of the press, the press should be protected, Mr. Rusbridger said: “That is a wonderful thing about America and it is a lesson we are still learning in this country.”
“If the U.S. President calls for a review of intelligence services on the basis of information that newspapers published, then we are doing is something that oversight mechanism failed to do.”
Only 26 files from the mountain of files Mr. Snowden released were published by The Guardian, said Mr. Rusbridger who ended by saying that they would continue to report responsibly but “will not be put off by intimidation.”
Apart from Mr. Vaz, the committee included Ian Austin (Labour), Nicola Blackwood (Conservative), James Clappison (Conservative), Michael Ellis (Conservative), Paul Flynn (Labour), Lorraine Fullbrook (Conservative), Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat), Yasmin Qureshi (Labour), Mark Reckless (Conservative) and David Winnick (Labour).