The British government, through its NSA-equivalent GCHQ, within the last couple weeks, went to the headquarters of the Guardian and destroyed journalists' hard drives, purportedly those containing information leaked by Edward Snowden. And, according to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, told the global news organization, "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."
Question: Are you okay with this happening in the U.S.?
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger:
The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."A commenter quickly asks:
The man was unmoved. 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.
Wait...did this really happen? ...Rusbridger, who is commendably all over the comment thread:
yes, it really happened...I don't know about you, but I find this...what's that word...
Oh screw it.
Update 2: The Guardian has an update on this. A more accurate telling is they were given the option of either turning the hard drives over to the GCHQ or destroying them with GCHQ agents present. That, for us, is a distinction without a difference.
It resulted in one of the stranger episodes in the history of digital-age journalism. On Saturday 20 July, in a deserted basement of the Guardian's King's Cross offices, a senior editor and a Guardian computer expert used angle grinders and other tools to pulverise the hard drives and memory chips on which the encrypted files had been stored.
As they worked they were watched by technicians from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) who took notes and photographs, but who left empty-handed.
The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, had earlier informed government officials that other copies of the files existed outside the country and that the Guardian was neither the sole recipient nor steward of the files leaked by Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor. But the government insisted that the material be either destroyed or surrendered.
Rusbridger goes on to make a few points:
• The British GCHQ are incredibly stupid. Like Keystone Digital Cops stupid: did they really think the Guardian hadn't backed their digital material up? Remember, these are the guys telling us, "You don't need to know what we're doing, just trust us—cuz we're here to protect the nation!"
• More importantly: journalists need to start getting that this is very, very serious:
The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like "when".• #Rusbridger
Update: Pertaining to my question up top, "Are you okay with this happening in the U.S.?"
Seriously, say this out loud. A Western gov't just raided a newspaper's offices. To destroy their hard drives.WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?— Julian Sanchez (@normative) August 20, 2013
Note: Let's note that this wasn't a "raid" by GCHQ. It was a meeting, or series of meetings, according to the Guardian, with GCHQ agents, during which said agents ordered destruction of hard drives in their presence. Sanchez's point stands, aside from this. (Thank you to Inland for pointing out this error.)