Highlights from Guardian editor’s Parliament hearing

December 3, 2013
Category: Uncategorized


On Tuesday, Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger went before an anti-terrorism hearing in the House of Commons. There, he was asked about information the newspaper had and published on the NSA from Edward Snowden and whether he loved his country.

Here’s a best-of from the exchange, from the recording of the hearing on Guardian reporter Paul Owen’s live-blog, as well as some tweets from journalists following along.

Chair Keith Vaz: “Mr. Rusbridger, to start with, just some facts, then members of the committee will come in and probe you on a number of issues. Can we just be clear at the start because there was a reference made to some newspapers that you’ve been compelled to come here against your wishes. We wrote to you and invited you to come here and you are here as part of that inquiry. You don’t feel under any compulsion do you?”

Rusbridger: “I wasn’t aware that it was optional, but I’m glad to be here anyway.”

From Owen:

Vaz: “Some of the criticism against you and the Guardian have been very very personal. You and I were both born outside this country, but I love this country. Do you love this country?”

Alan Rusbridger: “We live in a democracy and most of the people working on this story are British people who have families in this country, who love this country. I’m slightly surprised to be asked the question but yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things.”

Keith Vaz: “So the reason why you’ve done this has not been to damage the country, it is to help the country understand what is going on as far as surveillance is concerned?”

Alan Rusbridger: “I think there are countries, and they’re not generally democracies, where the press are not free to write about these things and where the security services do tell editors what to write, and where politicians do censor newspapers. That’s not the country that we live in, in Britain, that’s not the country that America is and one of the things I love about this country is that we have that freedom to write, and report, and to think and we have some privacy, and those are the concerns which need to be balanced against national security, which no one is underestimating. And I can speak for the entire Guardian staff who live in this country that they want to be secure too.”

Keith Vaz: “Thank you so much, that’s very clear.”

Next, Julian Huppert begins his questioning, starting with saying that he thinks The Guardian “has done a great service to the public debate in this country.”

Huppert: “If when you were given the documents you had refused them and sent them back, say, what do you think would have happened to the information? Would it have been silenced or would it have been published in some other mechanism?”

Rusbridger: “Well that’s why I wanted the initial context to be understood. By the way, I don’t think there’s an editor on earth who, offered this material, would have sent it back unseen. Most editors, we asked 30 editors, leading editors in the world, to talk about this difficulty of handling secret material and they were all familiar with doing it, and they all said they would have done what The Guardian did. You look at it and you make judgements. People talk about mass dumps of data. We published I think 26 documents so far, out of the 58,000 that we’ve seen, or 58,000 plus. So we have made very selective judgements about what to print.”

Glenn Greenwald had copies of the material in Rio, Rusbridger said. Laura Poitras had a copy in Berlin, the Washington Post had copies.

Rusbridger: “The thought that this material wouldn’t have been published is ridiculous.”

Next, Michael Ellis questioned Rusbridger.

Ellis: “Mr. Rusbridger, it isn’t only about what you’ve published. It’s about what you’ve communicated. That is what amounts, or can amount, to a criminal offense. You have caused the communication of secret documents. We classify things as secret and top secret in this country for a reason. Not to hide them from The Guardian, but to hide them from those who are out to harm us. But you’ve communicated those documents.”

Vaz: “Uh, Mr. Ellis, is that a question?”

Ellis: “If you’d known about the Enigma Code during World War II would you have transmitted that information to the Nazis?”

Rusbridger: “That is a well-worn red herring if you don’t mind me saying so, Mr. Ellis. I think most journalists can make a distinction between the kind of thing you’re talking about, the Enigma Code or the travel of troop ships. This is very well-worn material that’s been dealt with by the Supreme Court, and that you learn when you do your NCTJ course. I can make those distinctions, Mr. Ellis, thank you.”

Vaz: “The ceremony that took place in your basement, the secret ceremony attended by yourself and others, how many people were there?”

Rusbridger: “There were two from the GCHQ side and I think two or three from The Guardian.”

Vaz: “And you all just broke up the hard drives and the laptops, is that right?”

Rusbridger: “Yeah. It’s harder to smash up a computer than you might think. I believe they had a giant food mixer, things like food mixers into which you can drop the computer.”

Vaz: “So the food mixer was brought to the basement?”

Rusbridger: “No, we did it with Black and Deckers.”

Vaz: “Yes. And was there any point to that exercise. If you had the documents anyway and you were going to publish them?”

Rusbridger: “… I was completely clear with the cabinet secretary that there were copies elsewhere and the destruction of these computers was not going to stop reporting … I accept this was a hard choice for the government. I think they were balancing a free press with security, I understand the nature of the choice. But the point was that I think, the alternative to newspapers, and you can criminalize newspapers all you like and try to take them out of this, the next leaker, the next Edward Snowden, the next Chelsea Manning, won’t go to newspapers, they’ll just dump the stuff on the internet.”

Vaz: “Yes, we understand, that’s a wider point, just, on the ceremony…”

From Owen:

Is Britain neurotically secretive, Flynn asks.

Rusbridger says a lot of this stuff is embarrassing rather than threatening to national security.

Would he agree he has achieved an important public service? It’s self-evident, says Reusbridger, if the president of the US calls a review of everything to do with this and that information only came to light via newspapers then newspapers have done something oversight failed to do.

At the end, Rusbridger was asked if The Guardian would continue publishing in the face of apparent intimidation?

“We have been working slowly and responsibly through this material with some of the best journalists in the world, 100 contacts with government and agency sources, so we will continue to consult them. We’re not going to be put off by intimidation, nor will be behave recklessly.”


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