Newly uncovered documents show that then NSA head General Keith Alexander was fully briefed on the UK government’s mafia style threats toward The London Guardian, concerning the newspaper’s possession of NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden.
Journalists with The Guardian were eventually forced to destroy hard drives and memory cards while thuggish intelligence agents working for the GCHQ, the UK’s lead spy agency, looked on saying they could “call off the black helicopters” once the materials were pulverized.
The White House publicly distanced the US government from the occurrence, with spokesperson Josh Earnest saying it was difficult to “evaluate the propriety of what they did based on incomplete knowledge of what happened”. The ironically named Earnest also claimed that it was “very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.”
In private, however, US government officials revealed full knowledge of the incident, and expressed pleasure in celebratory emails referring to the development as “good news”.
The emails, obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act, contain conversations between Alexander, other government officials, and Obama’s disgraced director of national intelligence, James Clapper.
An email to Alexander from Rick Ledgett, who has since become the deputy director of the NSA, is titled “Guardian data being destroyed”, and is dated 19 July, one day before the destruction of the files occurred. The majority of the email is completely redacted, but Ledgett remarks: “Good news, at least on this front.”
Alexander replied to Ledgett on the same day the files were destroyed, asking: “Can you confirm this actually occurred?” Clapper joined the thread the same day, replying with “Thanks Keith … appreciate the conversation today”.
The revelations highlight the fact that someone within the British government briefed the US officials that they were going to pressure journalists to destroy the files. It is unclear whether they were acting out a US request to do so, but the fact that a lot of the material is redacted leaves the possibility open.
A spokesperson for The Guardian said “We’re disappointed to learn that cross-Atlantic conversations were taking place at the very highest levels of government ahead of the bizarre destruction of journalistic material that took place in the Guardian’s basement last July.”
“What’s perhaps most concerning is that the disclosure of these emails appears to contradict the White House’s comments about these events last year, when they questioned the appropriateness of the UK government’s intervention.” the Guardian employee added.
While the destruction of the journalistic materials was undoubtedly enforced illegally by UK government officials, it mattered little because The Guardian had already backed up the files and sent them to its US offices. The New York Times and ProPublica had also been provided copies of the material.
Nevertheless, the incident remains a disturbing reminder that our governments have no regard for freedom of the press and will act illegally and thuggishly to prevent the release of information they do not want in the public domain.
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was told by visiting GCHQ spooks “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” When Rusbridger informed them that he and his reporters were doing their duty and merely attempting to spark a debate concerning government surveillance, the officials allegedly replied “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”
Rusbridger vowed to continue reporting on the Snowden leaks, warning that “The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it,” adding “it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources.”
Steve Watson is a London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham, and a Bachelor Of Arts Degree in Literature and Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University.