In July 2013, GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, forced journalists at the London headquarters of The Guardian to completely obliterate the memory of the computers on which they kept copies of top-secret documents provided to them by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
However, in its attempt to destroy information, GCHQ also revealed intriguing details about what it did and why.
Two technologists, Mustafa Al-Bassam and Richard Tynan, visited Guardian headquarters last year to examine the remnants of the devices. Al-Bassam is an ex-hacker who two years ago pleaded guilty to joining attacks on Sony, Nintendo, and other companies, and now studies computer science at King’s College; Tynan is a technologist at Privacy International with a PhD in computer science. The pair concluded, first, that GCHQ wanted The Guardian to completely destroy every possible bit of information the news outlet might retain; and second, that GCHQ’s instructions may have inadvertently revealed all the locations in your computer where information may be covertly stored.