Watch Guardian Editors Destroying Snowden Hard Drives Under The Watchful Eye Of GCHQ (Video)

Footage released of Guardian editors destroying Snowden hard drives (Guardian, Jan 31, 2014):

GCHQ technicians watched as journalists took angle grinders and drills to computers after weeks of tense negotiations

New video footage has been released for the first time of the moment Guardian editors destroyed computers used to store top-secret documents leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Under the watchful gaze of two technicians from the British government spy agency GCHQ, the journalists took angle-grinders and drills to the internal components, rendering them useless and the information on them obliterated.

The bizarre episode in the basement of the Guardian’s London HQ was the climax of Downing Street’s fraught interactions with the Guardian in the wake of Snowden’s leak – the biggest in the history of western intelligence. The details are revealed in a new book – The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man – by the Guardian correspondent Luke Harding. The book, published next week, describes how the Guardian took the decision to destroy its own Macbooks after the government explicitly threatened the paper with an injunction.

In two tense meetings last June and July the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood, explicitly warned the Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, to return the Snowden documents.

Heywood, sent personally by David Cameron, told the editor to stop publishing articles based on leaked material from American’s National Security Agency and GCHQ. At one point Heywood said: “We can do this nicely or we can go to law”. He added: “A lot of people in government think you should be closed down.”

Downing Street insiders admit they struggled to come to terms with Snowden’s mega-leak, and the fact that the 29-year-old American was able to upload top secret British material while working at an NSA facility in faraway Hawaii. Snowden wasn’t even a full-time NSA employee, but a private contractor, one of 850,000 Americans with access to top secret UK information. “We just sat up and thought: ‘Oh my God!'” one Downing Street insider said.

Some five weeks after Snowden first leaked classified NSA and GCHQ material, the British government still had no clue of the scale of the security breach. It was working on the assumption that a small amount of material had been lost.

A small team of trusted senior reporters examined Snowden’s files in a secure fourth-floor room in the Guardian’s King’s Cross office. The material was kept on four laptops. None had ever been connected to the internet or any other network. There were numerous other security measures, including round-the-clock guards, multiple passwords, and a ban on electronics.

The government’s response to the leak was initially slow – then increasingly strident. Rusbridger told government officials that destruction of the Snowden files would not stop the flow of intelligence-related stories since the documents existed in several jurisdictions. He explained that Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian US columnist who met Snowden in Hong Kong, had leaked material in Rio de Janeiro. There were further copies in America, he said.

Days later Oliver Robbins, the prime minister’s deputy national security adviser, renewed the threat of legal action. “If you won’t return it [the Snowden material] we will have to talk to ‘other people’ this evening.” Asked if Downing Street really intended to close down the Guardian if it did not comply, Robbins confirmed: “I’m saying this.” He told the deputy editor, Paul Johnson, the government wanted the material in order to conduct “forensics”. This would establish how Snowden had carried out his leak, strengthening the legal case against the Guardian’s source. It would also reveal which reporters had examined which files.

With the threat of punitive legal action ever present, the only way of protecting the Guardian’s team – and of carrying on reporting from another jurisdiction – was for the paper to destroy its own computers. GCHQ officials wanted to inspect the material before destruction, carry out the operation themselves and take the remnants away. The Guardian refused.

After the destruction on Saturday 20 July, reporting switched entirely to the US. Despite these tensions, the paper continued to consult with the government before publishing national security stories. There were more than 100 interactions with No 10, the White House and US and UK intelligence agencies.

Guardian editors destroying Snowden hard drives
The hard drives used to store documents leaked by Edward Snowden are destroyed in the basement of the Guardian’s London offices. Photograph: Guardian

Three Guardian staff members – Johnson, executive director Sheila Fitzsimons and computer expert David Blishen – carried out the demolition of the Guardian’s hard drives. It was hot, sweaty work. On the instructions of GCHQ, the trio bought angle-grinders, dremels – a drill with a revolving bit – and masks. The spy agency provided one piece of hi-tech equipment, a “degausser”, which destroys magnetic fields, and erases data. It took three hours to smash up the computers. The journalists then fed the pieces into the degausser.

Two GCHQ technical experts – “Ian” and “Chris” – recorded the process on their iPhones. Afterwards they headed back to GCHQ’s doughnut-shaped HQ in Cheltenham carrying presents for family members, bought on their rare visit to the capital.

“It was purely a symbolic act,” Johnson said. “We knew that. GCHQ knew that. And the government knew that,” He added: “It was the most surreal event I have witnessed in British journalism.”

The Snowden Files includes fresh details of Snowden’s early life, his time in the CIA, and the libertarian ideas and political views which shaped his philosophy and his life-changing decision to spill government secrets. Snowden visited the UK several times during his intelligence career, including when he worked for the CIA at the US embassy in Geneva.

On one occasion he visited RAF Croughton, the CIA communications base 30 miles north of Oxford in Northamptonshire. Posting on the technology forum Ars Technica, Snowden said he was struck by the large number of sheep grazing in green fields – a classic English scene. On another occasion he flew to City airport in London. He said he was unimpressed by east London’s multiracial neighbourhoods, telling one British user of the forum: “It’s where all of your Muslims live. I didn’t want to get out of the car.”

The book also reveals that the British security service MI5 was behind the controversial detention of David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, at Heathrow airport last August. Miranda was detained under schedule 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000, despite having no connection to terrorism. He was carrying heavily encrypted Snowden material at the time. MI5 tried to conceal its role in the affair, telling the police at Heathrow in a briefing: “Please do not make any reference to espionage activity. It is vital that MIRANDA is not aware of the reason for this ports stop.”

6 thoughts on “Watch Guardian Editors Destroying Snowden Hard Drives Under The Watchful Eye Of GCHQ (Video)”

  1. This was the beginning of the end of the free press in UK. Until then, it was the best in the free world. Now, the Guardian got rid of Greenwold……and it is beginning to look like the NYT……..
    A free press is essential to any real changes in a corrupt government. Until now, the UK had the ability to get rid of bad apples. Now, the government is even trying to get the right to seize reporter’s notes…….really bad.
    In this so called age of information, it is getting harder and harder to get any truth.

  2. Sorry Marilyn, the press in the UK has been controlled by government (sic) as long as yours has. Just look at how you were falsely dragged into four wars you had no connection with.
    None of our politicians have any control other than over how many cups of tea/coffee to order. Our leaders (ha!) are picked by the Fabian Society…a division of the old school sect within the masonic structure. We voters are given the choice after they’ve been picked by the establishment!
    Both our systems is controlled by the same invisible “Backroom” inner government committee of 300 controlled 100% by the main chosen few banking families and their cohorts, including the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, the Roman Catholic Church, Morgans, Bush’s, Turner, Soros, Buffett, our Queen & the Dutch & Danish royalty and the secret banks of Switzerland, Lichtenstein etc.
    They pump out the FIAT worthless money on which we rely, it is based solely on our indebtedness created by our paying for loans they give for our incompetent weasel governments to buy weapons to fight wars the 300 create from nothing to perpetuate instability.
    Unless we reject false FIAT money and return to barter & gold/silver which have real value, we shall always be prisoners to the system, which brainwashes us with politically managed news.

    Once we accept those facts we can take steps to re-capture our rights & freedom If you really fancy putting the pieces together, watch “ZEITGEIST the movie”….awesome. What they have done to us and how they treat us as cannon fodder is just beyond the pale.

  3. Hello Squodgy:
    Sounds depressingly like the US, only our corrupt leaders don’t have any of the Masonic values our forefathers had. I come from a long line of them…….Masons used to be chosen for values, honor, credibility and decency. Today, the Masonic Lodge is so intent on membership building, they put candidates through the degrees in a weekend……..something that has to take years, and used to…….they have lost the essence of the knighthood and honor they used to embody.
    So, women are becoming Masons because the men have lost the message in the mad rush for building membership.
    I don’t know anything about the Masons in the UK, so cannot speak. Here, the bankers choose our corrupt leaders, and they are the worst…….
    In the US, it is Clintons, bushes, or like the current idiot, a false change. Obama moved in and restored the Clinton administration…….he is the one who signed away all our banking laws that made us a credible nation…, it is a globalized toilet.
    I avoid the brainwashing, I have a degree in history with a special emphasis on the art and science of propaganda, so I am so aware of the lies and obfuscation that I find US media insulting to watch or listen to.
    Of all the books I ever had to read, the one I hoped would not be true was George Orwell’s “1984”. Had he titled it 2004, he would be considered a prophet.
    Thanks for your information. Compared to US media, the UK Guardian’s exposure of NSA Spying (a law I fought bitterly seven years ago when it was passed) was like a breath of fresh air. It sure seemed open to me compared to the trash they put out here and call news. They don’t tell Americans a thing… is just awful.
    After the Guardian got rid of Glenn Glenwold, it began to resemble US media pages……what a loss. Every decent journalist is ditched and buried. In the US, they don’t even give them a prayer. You see how they treat whistleblowers…..they hunt them like vermin.
    You still have a parliamentary system, unlike this horrible corporate dictatorship the US has. Our elections are so rigged, we can not get rid of the worst people in office……your nation still has the ability to get rid of some of the rotten apples because each group still has a voice….the voices of the American people have been buried in a false two party system which is only one……the corporate one. With the passage of Citizens United, the voices of the people have been silenced. With NDAA, the US is a baby step from military rule.
    I don’t think you are in quite the danger we are, the US has most of it’s citizens buried in a virtual reality worthy of Orwell. If they are not tied into US media TV propaganda news that isn’t, they are on their smartphones reading news from……
    It has really gotten bad here.
    Thanks for the comments.

  4. My kind of girl. A thinker.
    Greenwald has higher plans. I wish him luck, but he is just human.
    However, in England we’re screwed, far more than anyone knows.
    The system is absolutely riddled with paedophilia and satanism…to the highest levels, which pre-empts blackmail and corruption….as if greed wasn’t enough!
    However, through the mist I am seeing a common thread in that the UK establishment (bankers) are key factors even to this day in the manipulation of world events, obviously for their own interests and those of the cabal. They are accomplished liars.
    The saddest thing is that even intelligent people prefer to bury their heads and play the CT card. The writing IS on the wall to anyone who looks, but too many choose to look away, whether it be GMO, the H7N9 coming man made pandemic, perpetual War for bankers’ gains, Haiti for oil, Fukushima for agenda 21, geo-engineering & HAARP for tornados, directed hurricanes, drought, famin, flood, earthquake, volcano etc.
    I don’t know, I’ve tried to educate my kids, but in this economically dire false world, they are working hard to keep their heads above water so haven’t got time to see how it is developing around them. So frustrating. I guess it’s up to us.
    It’s Stanley, by the way. All the best

    • @squodgy,

      Yes, it’s up to us.

      Thank you for all your comments and support.

      I am pretty sure your kids will soon wake up to what you’ve taught them.

      You’ve sowed the seeds of knowledge (which is more often than not the most difficult and unrewarding part, but the most important one).

      Surely somebody will come and water them.

      Then they will remember what you’ve taught them all along.

      All the best for you.
      I. U.


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