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Guardian editor defends publication of NSA leaks in the face of tough questioning

Alan Rusbridger said he was “surprised” when committee chairman Keith Vaz asked him: “Do you love this country?”

"We are patriots, and one of the things we are patriotic about is democracy, " explained Alan Rusbridger.
Image: PA Wire

THE EDITOR OF the Guardian newspaper has defended the publication of leaks by Edward Snowden, insisting during fierce questioning from lawmakers that it had not put any lives at risk.

Alan Rusbridger insisted he was a “patriot” when he was asked by a parliamentary committee if he loved his country.

Britain’s spy chiefs told lawmakers last month that the Guardian’s publication of leaks by former US National Security Agency contractor Snowden had helped Britain’s enemies.

“This stuff may be politically embarrassing but there’s nothing here that is risking national security,” Rusbridger said in the televised hearing of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

It is important context that editors of probably the world’s leading newspapers in America, the Washington Post and the New York Times, took virtually identical decisions. So this is not a rogue newspaper.

Rusbridger said that only around 1 per cent of the 58,000 secret documents passed to the Guardian and other papers by Snowden had been published.

The rest were “secure” he said. He declined to reveal in public where they were kept, saying that he would write to the committee to tell them if they wanted.

Asked if the Guardian was responsible for revealing the names of intelligence agents, Rusbridger said the paper had “published no names and we have lost control of no names.”

Rusbridger said he was “surprised” when committee chairman Keith Vaz asked him: “Do you love this country?”

“We are patriots, and one of the things we are patriotic about is democracy and the nature of our free press,” Rusbridger hit back.

The committee is questioning Rusbridger as part of its investigation into counter-terrorism.

The revelations in the Guardian, the Washington Post the New York Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel are based on files leaked by Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Over the past six months the reports have laid bare the scale of spying by the US and other countries, often on their own allies, in some cases sparking major diplomatic rows.

The heads of Britain’s main intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 and GCHQ warned last month that Al-Qaeda and other enemies were “lapping up” Snowden’s revelations and were using them to change the way they operate.

imageEditor of The Guardian newspaper Alan Rusbridger gives evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Pic: PA Wire

Some of the MPs pressed Rusbridger, 59, on whether he had committed a criminal offence for communicating secret information containing details about GCHQ staff out of the country, namely to journalists at the New York Times.

“I think it has been known to the government, apparent to the government for many months, that the material that Mr Snowden leaked included a good many documents that had names of security people working for both the NSA and GCHQ,” Rusbridger said.

“I told the cabinet secretary in mid-July that we were sharing this with the NYT. Self-evidently they work in New York.”

Rusbridger pointed out that GCHQ officials had later supervised the destruction of computer hard drives and other equipment containing the Snowden files at the Guardian’s offices in London.

Vaz asked him if the Guardian was the subject of a police investigation, to which the editor replied: “I don’t know.

“Scotland Yard say that they are holding an investigation into the matters generally, no one has told us whether that includes the Guardian or not.”

Ahead of the parliamentary hearing, Rusbridger tweeted a “v nice letter” of support from Carl Bernstein, the veteran US journalist who helped break the Watergate scandal.

Bernstein said the hearing appeared to be “an attempt by the highest UK authorities to shift the issue from government policies and excessive government secrecy in the United States and Great Britain to the conduct of the press”.

© – AFP 2013

Read: Guardian editor faces grilling over Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks >

Read: “Our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaeda is lapping it up.” – MI6 >

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