Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger appeared before MPs to face
questions over his publication of intelligence files from
US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden. REUTERS/Luke
British police are examining whether Guardian newspaper
staff should be investigated for terrorism offences over their
handling of data leaked by Edward Snowden, Britain's senior
counter-terrorism officer said today.
The disclosure came after Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger,
summoned to give evidence at a parliamentary inquiry, was
accused by lawmakers of helping terrorists by making top
secret information public and sharing it with other news
The Guardian was among several newspapers which published
leaks from U.S. spy agency contractor Snowden about mass
surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) and
Britain's eavesdropping agency GCHQ.
Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, who heads London's
Specialist Operations unit, told lawmakers the police were
looking to see whether any offences had been committed,
following the brief detention in August of a man carrying
data on behalf of a Guardian journalist.
Security officials have said Snowden's data included details
of British spies and its disclosure would put lives at risk.
Rusbridger told the committee his paper had withheld that
information from publication.
"It appears possible once we look at the material that some
people may have committed offences," Dick said. "We need to
establish whether they have or they haven't."
David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald who
brought the Snowden leaks to world attention, was questioned
under anti-terrorism law when he landed at London's Heathrow
Airport en route from Berlin to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and
computer material he was carrying was seized.
Lawmakers put it to Rusbridger that he had committed an
offence under Section 58A of the Terrorism Act which says it
is a crime to publish or communicate any information about
members of the armed forces or intelligence services.
"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 offence," said committee member Michael Ellis.
Asked later by Ellis whether detectives were considering
Section 58A offences, Dick said: "Yes, indeed we are looking
Earlier on Tuesday, the Guardian published a letter of
support from Carl Bernstein, the U.S. journalist who helped
expose the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
Bernstein, 69, said Rusbridger's appearance before the
committee was a "dangerously pernicious" attempt by British
authorities to shift the focus of the surveillance debate
from excessive government secrecy to the conduct of the
During his testimony, Rusbridger defended his decision to
publish the leaks and said the paper had used less than one
percent of the information and kept the rest stored securely.
"We have published I think 26 documents so far out of the
58,000 we've seen, or 58,000 plus. So we have made very
selective judgements about what to print," he said. "We have
published no names and we have lost control of no names."
Guardian articles over the last six months have shown that
the United States and some of its allies, including Britain,
were monitoring phone, email and social media communications
on a previously unimagined scale.
The revelations provoked diplomatic rows and stirred an
international debate on civil liberties. Britain's security
chiefs said the leaks were a boon to the country's enemies
who were "rubbing their hands with glee".
Snowden, who is believed to have downloaded between 50,000
and 200,000 classified NSA and British government documents,
is living in Russia under temporary asylum. He has been
charged in the United States under the Espionage Act.
Countering criticism by lawmakers, Rusbridger said more
emphasis was being given to the Guardian's decision to
publish the leaks than to the fact they had been so easily
obtained in the first place.
"We were told that 850,000 people ... had access to the
information that a 29-year-old in Hawaii who wasn't even
employed by the American government had access," he said.