The Washington Post reports: Living in self-imposed exile in Russia, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden may be safely beyond the reach of Western powers. But dismayed by the continued airing of transatlantic intelligence, British authorities are taking full aim at a messenger shedding light on his secret files here — the small but mighty Guardian newspaper.
The pressures coming to bear on the Guardian, observers say, are testing the limits of press freedoms in one of the world’s most open societies. Although Britain is famously home to a fierce pack of news media outlets — including the tabloid hounds of old Fleet Street — it also has no enshrined constitutional right to free speech.
The Guardian, in fact, has slipped into the single largest crack in the free speech laws that are on the books here — the dissemination of state secrets protecting queen and country in the British homeland.
A feisty, London-based news outlet with a print circulation just shy of 200,000 — albeit with a far bigger footprint online with readers in the many millions — the Guardian, along with The Washington Post, was the first to publish reports based on classified data spirited out of the United States by Snowden. In the months since, the Guardian has continued to make officials here exceedingly nervous by exposing the joint operations of U.S. and British intelligence — particularly their cooperation in data collection and snooping programs involving British citizens and close allies on the European continent.
In response, the Guardian is being called to account by British authorities for jeopardizing national security. The Guardian’s top editor, Alan Rusbridger, is being forced to appear before a parliamentary committee Tuesday to explain the news outlet’s actions. The move comes after British officials ordered the destruction of hard drives at the Guardian’s London headquarters, even as top ministers have taken to the airwaves to denounce the newspaper. Scotland Yard has also suggested it may be investigating the paper for possible breaches of British law.
The government treatment of the Guardian is highlighting the very different way Britons tend to view free speech, a liberty that here is seen through the prism of the public good and privacy laws as much as the right to open expression.
Nevertheless, the actions against the paper have led to growing concern in Britain and beyond. Frank La Rue, the U.N. special rapporteur on free expression, has denounced the Guardian’s treatment as “unacceptable in a democratic society.” The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, a Paris-based trade association, will send a delegation of “concerned” publishers and editors from five continents to London in January on a “U.K. press freedom mission.” [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Israel should avoid taking any action that would undermine the interim nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers at the weekend, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.
Urging world leaders to give the interim deal a chance, Hague said it was important to try to understand those who opposed the agreement. But he urged Israel and others to confine their criticism to rhetoric.
“We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned,” Hague told parliament.
The Guardian reports: The phone, internet and email records of UK citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing have been analysed and stored by America’s National Security Agency under a secret deal that was approved by British intelligence officials, according to documents from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In the first explicit confirmation that UK citizens have been caught up in US mass surveillance programs, an NSA memo describes how in 2007 an agreement was reached that allowed the agency to “unmask” and hold on to personal data about Britons that had previously been off limits.
The memo, published in a joint investigation by the Guardian and Britain’s Channel 4 News, says the material is being put in databases where it can be made available to other members of the US intelligence and military community.
Britain and the US are the main two partners in the ‘Five-Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Until now, it had been generally understood that the citizens of each country were protected from surveillance by any of the others. [Continue reading...]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: Britain has a long tradition of a free, inquisitive press. That freedom, so essential to democratic accountability, is being challenged by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom. Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute The Guardian newspaper for its publication of information based on National Security Agency documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden. The New York Times has published similar material, believing that the public has a clear interest in learning about and debating the N.S.A.’s out-of-control spying on private communications. That interest is shared by the British public as well.
In the United States, some members of Congress have begun pushing for stronger privacy protections against unwarranted snooping. British parliamentarians have largely ducked their duty to ask tough questions of British intelligence agencies, which closely collaborate with the N.S.A., and have gone after The Guardian instead.
Alan Rusbridger, the newspaper’s editor, has been summoned to appear before a parliamentary committee next month to testify about The Guardian’s internal editorial decision-making regarding the Snowden information. Members of Parliament have also demanded information on the newspaper’s decision to make some of the leaked information available to other journalists, including those at The Times. That should be none of Parliament’s business. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard detectives are pursuing a criminal investigation into The Guardian’s actions surrounding the Snowden leaks.
These alarming developments threaten the ability of British journalists to do their jobs effectively. Britain’s press has long lacked the freedoms enjoyed by American newspapers. Now it appears they are less free from government interference than journalists in Germany, where Der Spiegel has published material from the Snowden leaks without incurring government bullying.
The global debate now taking place about intelligence agencies collecting information on the phone calls, emails and Internet use of private citizens owes much to The Guardian’s intrepid journalism. In a free society, the price for printing uncomfortable truths should not be parliamentary and criminal inquisition.
The Guardian reports: Police sought to launch a secret operation to spy on the political activities of students at Cambridge University, a covertly recorded film reveals.
An officer monitoring political campaigners attempted to persuade an activist in his 20s to become an informant and feed him information about students and other protesters in return for money.
But instead the activist wore a hidden camera to record a meeting with the officer and expose the surveillance of undergraduates and others at the 800-year-old institution.
The officer, who is part of a covert unit, is filmed saying the police need informants like him to collect information about student protests as it is “impossible” to infiltrate their own officers into the university.
The Guardian is not disclosing the name of the Cambridgeshire officer and will call him Peter Smith. He asks the man who he is trying to recruit to target “student-union type stuff” and says that would be of interest because “the things they discuss can have an impact on community issues”. [Continue reading...]
Hugh Muir writes: The specifics of the Cambridge case will shock, but there is a now familiar narrative of how the secret snoopy state seeks to monitor the legitimate activity of those who might ask questions of it. This appears to be activity undertaken with little or no public consent or oversight. How much of this is going on? What are the guidelines? Are they adhered to by forces up and down the country? Is there central control? Who controls the information and how long is it kept? No doubt the Association of Chief Police Officers has rules but what do you know of the legislative framework? Who keeps the practice honest and ensures that the objective is the maintenance of law and order rather than the policing of irksome ideology? This week we learned of Green party London Assembly member Jenny Jones being monitored by Scotland Yard for attending legitimate left-leaning protest events. Are others so targeted? We don’t know. We should.
But this is also another example of the attempt by those in power to enlist citizens as agents of the state. In universities up and down the country there has been a considerable effort to cultivate assets capable of monitoring young Muslim students considered at risk of radicalisation. The government’s Prevent programme, and its deradicalisation arm Channel, has drawn on the university establishments themselves: lecturers and bureaucrats as surveillance assets. The result is predictable. Yesterday Ratna Lachman, director of the human rights group Just West Yorkshire, told a Society for Educational Studies seminar of fears that some universities have become “Islamophobic spaces” for those who now regard them as “extensions of the security arm of the state”.
The government orders landlords to report illegal immigrants; property owners as surveillance assets. GPs to check the legal status of those they might treat; medical staff as surveillance assets. As the state shrinks in size, as the prime minister says it will, it needs an army of narks to engage in surveillance and policing in a different sphere. Maybe that’s part of his big society. [Continue reading...]
Kenan Malik writes: Last month, two figures at the heart of Britain’s political and journalistic establishment went on trial.
Rebekah Brooks is the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International and a close friend of Prime Minister David Cameron. Andy Coulson was editor of the now defunct tabloid News of the World and Mr. Cameron’s former director of communications.
Ms. Brooks and Mr. Coulson face various charges of conspiracy to intercept voicemail, bribe public officials and pervert the course of justice, counts that arise from the “phone hacking” scandal, in which journalists were discovered illegally tapping mobile phones of both celebrities and the public. It will be one of Britain’s most significant criminal trials in years.
On the same day that Ms. Brooks and Mr. Coulson appeared in court, Mr. Cameron issued barely veiled threats against the Guardian newspaper. If the Guardian did not “demonstrate some social responsibility,” he warned, “it would be very difficult for the government to stand back and not to act.” What drew Mr. Cameron’s wrath was the newspaper’s role in publishing the revelations of the American whistle-blower, Edward Snowden.
The Guardian revelations have led to a concerted campaign of denunciation by the security forces and politicians. Andrew Parker, head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, claimed that the Guardian had handed “the advantage to the terrorists.” Lord Carlile, the government’s former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has accused the newspaper of committing a “criminal act.”
What links the trials of Ms. Brooks and Mr. Coulson and the political campaign against the Guardian is that both are key moments in the fraught debate in Britain about press regulation — and the schizophrenia among commentators toward such regulation. Both left and right demand freedom for journalism of which they approve. Both want to regulate the press they deplore. And both are helping erode the freedoms of Britain’s newspapers. [Continue reading...]
Jonathan Freedland writes: Think of it as the ‘‘Skyfall’’ session. In a committee room of the House of Commons, the heads of the British secret services appeared on Thursday before a panel of M.P.’s in what might have been a re-enactment of that scene from the latest Bond movie — minus the shootout.
Even without gunfire, it was not short of drama. The mere sight of the heads of Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, along with the director of its listening post, G.C.H.Q., was spectacle enough. This was their first joint appearance in public, addressing a parliamentary intelligence and security committee whose hearings had, until now, always been held behind closed doors. (Indeed, little more than 20 years ago even the names of the intelligence chiefs were a state secret.)
That fact alone guaranteed coverage on the evening news. Which meant a rare focus on the topic that provided the session’s most electrifying moments: the Edward Snowden affair. Rare because the dominant British reaction to the revelations provided by Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, has been a shrug of indifference. The Guardian helped break the story — that the N.S.A. and G.C.H.Q. (Government Communications Headquarters) have engaged in mass surveillance of American and British citizens online — and has covered it intensely, but the rest of the British media have largely steered clear. In Parliament, a few maverick individuals have raised concerns about civil liberties and privacy. When others have mentioned the subject, it’s mostly been to accuse The Guardian of damaging national security, rather than to ask whether the intelligence agencies have gone too far.
What explains this reaction — so at odds with the response in the United States, where Congress is reviewing its oversight arrangements and where everyone from President Obama on down has acknowledged that a debate is necessary, if not overdue, and so at odds with, say, Germany, where memories of Stasi eavesdropping ensure revulsion at the notion of all-seeing surveillance? The answers say much about the current political landscape of Britain — and much of what lies beneath. [Continue reading...]
The Independent reports: Concerns were raised tonight that Britain operates a top-secret listening post from its Berlin embassy to eavesdrop on the seat of German power.
Documents leaked by the US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden show that GCHQ is, together with the US and other key partners, operating a network of electronic spy posts from diplomatic buildings around the world, which intercept data in host nations.
An American intercept “nest” on top of its embassy in Berlin – less than 150 metres from Britain’s own diplomatic mission – is believed to have been shut down last week as the US scrambled to limit the damage from revelations that it listened to mobile phone calls made by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But the NSA documents, in conjunction with aerial photographs and information about past spying activities in Germany, suggest that Britain is operating its own covert listening station within a stone’s throw of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, and Ms Merkel’s offices in the Chancellery, using hi-tech equipment housed on the embassy roof.
The potentially toxic allegation that Britain has a listening station in the capital of a close European Union ally will test relations between London and Berlin only days after the row between Germany and the US about its own clandestine activities. Jan Albrecht, an MEP for Germany’s Green Party and a leading campaigner on privacy and data protection, told The Independent: “If GCHQ runs a listening post on the top of the UK’s Berlin embassy, it is clearly targeting politicians and journalists. Do these people pose a threat?
“The EU has asked David Cameron’s Government to explain the activities of GCHQ in Europe but it has declined to do so, saying it does not comment on activities in the interest of national security. This is hardly in the spirit of European co-operation. We are not enemies.” [Continue reading...]
Simon Jenkins writes: What separates a necessary defender of the British state and a Stasi in the making? Seventy world human rights organisations today write to the British prime minister, deploring his response to recent revelations of what his spies have been up to. His response, in their view, has been “to condemn rather than to celebrate investigative journalism“.
David Cameron’s remarks have been extraordinary. They have contrasted with the American response to the same revelations about what are closely allied electronic spying agencies, the NSA in America and GCHQ in Britain. Washington, from president to congress to the press, has accepted that democratic and judicial oversight has broken down. Internet and phone traffic has been comprehensively hacked and stored, to be accessed globally by hundreds of thousands of staff. The system appears both insecure and out of control. Not a voice in America, not even the agencies themselves, opposes urgent reform.
In Britain there has been no questioning, only a hysterical rubbishing of the press. Even reporting the revelations has been said to jeopardise national security and “put lives at risk”. Parliamentary oversight has been made to look puny and ignorant. There is not talk of investigating the intelligence community, only of whether the press should be prosecuted. This is not a free state at work. [Continue reading...]
The Observer reports: Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war.
Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Art, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility.
When intelligence filtered back to the Tory government on the Russians’ reaction to the exercise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ordered her officials to lobby the Americans to make sure that such a mistake could never happen again. Anti-nuclear proliferation campaigners have credited the move with changing how the UK and the US thought about their relationship with the Soviet Union and beginning a thaw in relations between east and west.
The papers were obtained by Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an organisation that campaigns against nuclear proliferation, who said that the documents showed just how risky the cold war became for both sides.
“These papers document a pivotal moment in modern history – the point at which an alarmed Thatcher government realised that the cold war had to be brought to an end and began the process of persuading its American allies likewise,” he said.
“The Cold War is sometimes described as a stable ‘balance of power’ between east and west, but the Able Archer story shows that it was in fact a shockingly dangerous period when the world came to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion.”
Able Archer, which involved 40,000 US and Nato troops moving across western Europe, co-ordinated by encrypted communications systems, imagined a scenario in which Blue Forces (Nato) defended its allies after Orange Forces (Warsaw Pact countries) sent troops into Yugoslavia following political unrest. The Orange Forces had quickly followed this up with invasions of Finland, Norway and eventually Greece. As the conflict had intensified, a conventional war had escalated into one involving chemical and nuclear weapons.
Numerous UK air bases, including Greenham Common, Brize Norton and Mildenhall, were used in the exercise, much of which is still shrouded in secrecy. However, last month Paul Dibb, a former director of the Australian Joint Intelligence Organisation, suggested that the 1983 exercise posed a more substantial threat than the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. “Able Archer could have triggered the ultimate unintended catastrophe, and with prompt nuclear strike capacities on both the US and Soviet sides, orders of magnitude greater than in 1962,” he said. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The detention of the partner of a former Guardian journalist has triggered fresh concerns after it emerged that a key reason cited by police for holding him under terrorism powers was the belief that he was promoting a “political or ideological cause”.
The revelation has alarmed leading human rights groups and a Tory MP, who said the justification appeared to be without foundation and threatened to have damaging consequences for investigative journalism.
David Miranda is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who – often in collaboration with the Guardian – has broken many stories about the extent and scope of spying by the US National Security Agency. Miranda was stopped at Heathrow airport in August and held by the Metropolitan police for nine hours while on his way home to Brazil.
Miranda, it has been claimed, was carrying some 58,000 encrypted UK intelligence documents. He had spent a week in Berlin visiting a journalist, Laura Poitras, who has worked with Greenwald on many of his stories, which have been based on information leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Now documents referred to in court last week before a judicial review of Miranda’s detention shine new light on the Metropolitan police’s explanation for invoking terrorism powers – a decision critics have called draconian. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: British authorities claimed the domestic partner of reporter Glenn Greenwald was involved in “terrorism” when he tried to carry documents from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden through a London airport in August, according to police and intelligence documents.
Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained and questioned for nine hours by British authorities at Heathrow on August 18, when he landed there from Berlin to change planes for a flight to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
After his release and return to Rio, Miranda filed a legal action against the British government, seeking the return of materials seized from him by British authorities and a judicial review of the legality of his detention.
At a London court hearing this week for Miranda’s lawsuit, a document called a “Ports Circulation Sheet” was read into the record. It was prepared by Scotland Yard – in consultation with the MI5 counterintelligence agency – and circulated to British border posts before Miranda’s arrival. The precise date of the document is unclear.
“Intelligence indicates that Miranda is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security,” according to the document.
“We assess that Miranda is knowingly carrying material the release of which would endanger people’s lives,” the document continued. “Additionally the disclosure, or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism…” [Continue reading...]
Member of Parliament Tom Watson writes: Spymasters past and present have been busy of late condemning Edward Snowden and the Guardian. The “most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever” is how Sir David Omand described the whistleblower’s leaks of confidential data.
The MI5 chief, Andrew Parker, stopped short of a direct attack on the Guardian for exposing GCHQ’s data surveillance programme Tempora, but his speech claimed that publishing such information gives terrorists the ability “to strike at will”.
Even some sections of the media have taken the side of the spooks. The Daily Mail said the Guardian had shown a “lethal irresponsibility”. Now the police have been asked by Tory MP Julian Smith to investigate the Guardian, while Liam Fox has successfully called on parliament to do the same with the support of the prime minister.
In truth, the Guardian is under attack for carrying out its public duty. It acted courageously, in the public interest, to uncover and reveal a government programme that has gained access to the private communications of millions of individuals. Tempora has been mining our internet communications data, en masse, without public knowledge or any kind of public debate. So the newspaper should be thanked for bringing this to our attention so that we can now have a proper conversation about whether mass surveillance is necessary and proportionate in the fight against terrorism. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: A powerful group of MPs will investigate the Guardian’s publication of stories about mass surveillance based on leaks by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, as part of a wider inquiry into counter-terrorism.
Keith Vaz, the Labour head of the Commons home affairs committee, said he would look into “elements of the Guardian’s involvement in, and publication of, the Snowden leaks” hours after the prime minister suggested a select committee might look at the issue.
It had emerged the matter would be considered by Vaz’s parliamentary committee after former Tory cabinet minister Liam Fox asked him to investigate what damage the Guardian may have caused to national security.
“I have received a letter from Liam Fox requesting that the home affairs select committee consider elements of the Guardian’s involvement in, and publication of, the Snowden leaks,” Vaz said.
“I will be writing to assure Dr Fox that the committee is currently conducting an inquiry into counter-terrorism and we will be looking at this matter as part of it.”
A spokesman for Vaz could not confirm whether Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor-in-chief, would be called to give evidence, saying this would be a matter for all committee members to decide. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: David Cameron has encouraged a Commons select committee to investigate whether the Guardian has broken the law or damaged national security by publishing secrets leaked by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
He made his proposal in response to a question from former defence secretary Liam Fox, saying the Guardian had been guilty of double standards for exposing the scandal of phone hacking by newspapers and yet had gone on to publish secrets from the NSA taken by Snowden.
Speaking at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Cameron said: “The plain fact is that what has happened has damaged national security and in many ways the Guardian themselves admitted that when they agreed, when asked politely by my national security adviser and cabinet secretary to destroy the files they had, they went ahead and destroyed those files.
“So they know that what they’re dealing with is dangerous for national security. I think it’s up to select committees in this house if they want to examine this issue and make further recommendations.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian knew that they were dealing with goons acting on the orders of Cameron’s intelligence chiefs who wouldn’t take no for an answer. They also knew that destroying the hard drives in question had no security significance whatsoever, given that copies of the files on those drives were all safe outside the UK.
On July 18th, [editor, Alan] Rusbridger received a call from Oliver Robbins, the U.K.’s deputy national-security adviser, alerting him that agents would be coming to the Guardian’s offices to seize the hard drives containing the Snowden files. Rusbridger again explained that the files were also on encrypted computers outside England, but his reasoning did not sway Robbins. Rusbridger asked if, instead, his staff members could destroy the files themselves, and Robbins consented. That Saturday, Rusbridger told associates to take the five laptops from the bunker to the basement and to smash the hard drives and circuit boards in front of two agents from the GCHQ.
If Cameron wants to draw any lesson from the incident, it should be that the editor of The Guardian is smarter than his own deputy national security adviser. By agreeing to let the drives get destroyed, the British government threw away its best opportunity to discover which files Snowden had taken — something that neither the NSA nor GCHQ has ever been able to establish.