MPs today got Alan Rusbridger to admit a number of things he, and his paper had previously denied.
Firstly, that he shipped the names of GCHQ agents abroad to newspapers and bloggers. Mr. Rusbridger was reminded that this was a criminal offence, and said he had a public interest defence. He also, however, kept arguing that he hadn’t published any names, which rather blows up his public interest defence – it’s self-evident that you don’t need the names of intelligence agents to report on GCHQ spying, so why not redact them?
The fact is, Rusbridger did acknowledge that it put GCHQ agents at risk when he first shipped files to ProPublica. He redacted the names of GCHQ agents from those files, and he promised the government he had done so, so when he claims nobody from the government asked him about shipping names, it’s possibly because they made the mistake of believing him.
Rusbridger replied that the files contained information that citizens in a democracy deserved to know, and he assured Heywood that he had scrubbed the documents so that no undercover officials were identified or put at risk.
If British papers had the guts to question members of their own club, they would ask Rusbridger why he scrubbed these documents – his answers to Parliament have said that only publication would be risky – and why he admitted to Heywood that undercover officials would be put at risk if he identified them.
In Parliament today when asked why he didn’t redact the names he said there were 58,000 documents – essentially, he could be bothered to go through the <100 files he FedExed to ProPublica, but could not be bothered to go through the entire batch he sent to the NYT.
Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.
Perhaps worst of all, Rusbridger confirmed my very worst suspicions, which were that he hadn’t even read through the top secret files before shipping them. He redacted no names; he redacted no operational details; he didn’t even read them. And by “he” I mean any employee of the Guardian. Nobody at that paper read the 58,000 documents through, not even once, before sharing them in bulk.
A solid British press would ask these questions – let’s hope I am pleasantly surprised.
Because no Guardian journalist even read the files, they do not know how many agents’ names are now out there. And I suspect that it is a lot worse than agents’ names. The Guardian’s August story about life inside GCHQ (gay and lesbian clubs, fundraisers, etc etc) revealed so much detail that it seems highly probable the 58,000 files contain the following: agents’ names, names of members of their families, home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, Skype accounts and other contact details. The Guardian’s piece on sports days and teams, family days out etc implies that all this personal information is in those 58,000 files. Will any paper ask if it is in there?
Rusbridger also forced another paper, the Daily Mail, to run a “correction” of its story on names, denying that the Guardian had shipped the names, on Oct 9th:
An earlier version of this article indicated that the number of files the Guardian FedExed to America was tens of thousands; the Guardian has since indicated that it numbered less than 100.
The newspaper also said that the files it FedExed to America did not contain any names of British spies.
This was another attempt to hoodwink the British press, just like their fake reporting on the “Miranda innocent spouse” story. Today, Rusbridger admitted Miranda was paid to be a courier. He could hardly deny it, after Miranda threw him under the bus on Buzzfeed, stating that the Guardian originally wanted to use a staffer to fly the files to Brazil, had baulked at the illegality, then Rusbridger had suggested FedExing the lot, and finally chose to pay Miranda to do it.
But will other papers call them on their bullshit? It seems unlikely.
At least we now have the truth, something many of my followers on Twitter have been denying for months, ever since I first raised the spectre of the names of our agents being shipped abroad. Those names are completely unnecessary to the story, and to the reporting. With a modicum of patience Rusbridger could have followed the responsible course he took with the ProPublica scrubbing. But he chose not to bother.
Communicating, and not just publishing, the names is a clear offence under the Terrorism Act 2000. There’s a public interest defence. I would hope the police will interview Rusbridger and ask what public interest required him not to redact the names. I would hope the government, and GCHQ, ask him to tell them all the names of the agents they have shipped around the world, to more places than America – for example, they gave the GCHQ files to Glenn Greenwald, and they are responsible for whatever Greenwald publishes with them.
Lastly, what the Guardian should do is give GCHQ its own copy of the files, so they can take steps to protect national security. Thanks to the Guardian, hundreds of bloggers, journalists and all their friends and contacts have access to these files – what harm can it do to let GCHQ have them too? Of course, the exposed agents need to know. But all the security secrets need also to be known. Such a move wouldn’t prevent the NYT, or the Guardian or ProPublica from publishing, so there is no journalistic reason not to share the files. But it’s abundantly clear that the FSB control Edward Snowden and have access to all his files – and therefore the Guardian should let GCHQ know what is now in the Russians’ hands.
The government must not be afraid of the press, nor the press of the government. The Govt should seek an injunction for copies of the material to be provided to GCHQ. It could not stop the NYT publishing, and so there is no press freedom argument left; but there is a very clear national security argument. Moreover, of his own volition, Alan Rusbridger should tell GCHQ what names are out there – not just of our agents, but of their families, and if home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers or any other identifying material is in those documents. I bet that it is in there, that Alan Rusbridger knows so, and that he has failed to disclose this to the men and women in danger. And I remind readers that when it comes to what the Guardian has been covering up, I have, most unfortunately, been right every time.
P.S. – this will be the last of my blogs here. This was set up as a general holding blog after Jux shut down and before I set up a new themed site; I planned to blog on politics, but being the first person to call bullshit on the Guardian’s “Miranda wronged spouse” story I had to follow it where it led. Today’s admissions in Parliament by Rusbridger of everything I have been arguing seem like a natural place to close the account. I am grateful I have been able to expose that paper’s many lies, and the contempt they have for our agents at GCHQ. For all those of you men and women who work there, I hope you will remember that many more people are with you than against you, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for defending us, whatever millionaire editors and their media cronies are happy to expose you. Please remember that what you do is about our country, not some peacocking middle-class men from Hampstead. God bless all of you, who don’t get celebrated on Remembrance Day and who don’t wear uniforms, and who have nobody out there to speak for you. Julian Smith MP and his colleagues in Parliament, and Labour and Tory MPs on the Committee, have done their best for you today. Once again, thank you.
PPS – on that 850,000 figure, it is another lie by Alan Rusbridger. That is according to him the total number of people with Top Secret clearance in the US and UK – but as he knows, all intelligence agencies operate on a “Need to Know” basis only. Being cleared Top Secret doesn’t give you the right to view GCHQ materials or files unless you have a direct need to know about them. That is called “compartmentalization” and it is a basic principle of intelligence. Rusbridger knows this, but continues to lie and use this fake 850k figure. It fits perfectly with his paper’s pattern of lies and deceit as to their handling of this story.