If the recent Guardian reporting is to be believed, after weeks of pressure by UK officials, the newspaper – rather than defend its right to protect its sources and its obligation to report to its readers – rolled over under pressure and turned over copies of information for destruction.
A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.
Notice in the above quote that there wasn’t a direct threat … rather an implicit one.
During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian’s reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention.
Okay, so, basically, the government said, ‘Hey, if y’all don’t hand over the secret documents, we’re gonna sue you.’ And, rather than be sued for the information, and defending their right to hold the documents, report on the documents, and protect their sources … the Guardian said, ‘Okay.’ Fine, they had backup, but there’s little doubt that the UK government would know that they had backup and copies of the info. Then, straight out of a Hollywood movie
And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
Am I the only one unmoved by their acquiescence, by their weird fear of appearing in court to defend the right to a free press? Who the hell lies down for something like that … symbolic or not? I guess the Guardian does.