UK

Only 1% of Snowden files published - Guardian editor

  • 3 December 2013
  • From the section UK

Only 1% of files leaked by former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden have been published by the Guardian newspaper, its editor has told MPs.

But Alan Rusbridger told the Home Affairs Select Committee the Guardian was not a "rogue newspaper".

He insisted the paper's journalists were "patriots" and he hailed the UK's democracy and free press.

A government spokesman said later it still believed that publishing the material had damaged national security.

Mr Rusbridger told MPs that senior officials in Whitehall, the US administration and the US senate's intelligence committee had told the paper "no damage" had been caused.

He also said criticism about damage to national security made by intelligence chiefs at a different committee hearing last month had been "very vague and not rooted in specific stories".

"There are different views about this," he said. "It's impossible to assess because no one has given me specific evidence."

Asked by committee chairman Keith Vaz MP if he "loved this country", Mr Rusbridger said he was "slightly surprised to be asked".

"We are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of the democracy and the nature of a free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things," he said.

He added: "There are countries - and they are not generally democracies - where the press are not free to write about this and where the security services do tell editors what to write.

"That's not the country we live in, in Britain... and it's one of the things we love about the country."

Mr Rusbridger said he was not a lawyer and so could not answer a question by Conservative MP Michael Ellis about whether he had broken the Terrorism Act by sharing information listing the names of security officials abroad with other newspapers.

The Guardian editor said the paper had "made very selective judgments"' about what to publish from the files taken by Mr Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), and had not revealed the names of any officials.

"We have published I think 26 documents so far out of the 58,000 we've seen," he said.

He said stories in publications including the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel had prompted much-needed debate about the scale of intelligence activities and exposed the limits of laws drawn up in the pre-internet era.

Among the stories carried by the Guardian were revelations that agencies were able to tap into the internet communications of ordinary citizens, that the NSA had monitored the phones of 35 world leaders, and that embassies had been the targets of US spies.

"Newspapers have done something that oversight has failed to do," said Mr Rusbridger.

The Guardian had come under pressure from the UK authorities in a way that would be "inconceivable" in the US, he added.

Mr Rusbridger told the committee: "There's stuff in there about Iraq, Afghanistan, we're not even going to look at it. That's not what Edward Snowden was doing when he wanted responsible journalists to go through this material.

"We've been working slowly and responsibly through this material, with some of the best journalists in the world, 100 contacts with government and agency sources, we will continue to consult them but we're not going to be put off by intimidation - but nor are we going to behave recklessly."

In a statement issued after the committee ended, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "Nothing we've heard today from Alan Rusbridger changes the facts or the government's position.

"The Guardian's publication and non-secure storage of secret documents has had a damaging affect on our national security capabilities."

Later, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick told the committee that officers were examining material seized from the partner of a former Guardian journalist at Heathrow Airport in August to see if possible offences had been committed.

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