Observer defends spiked US spy story front page despite 'concerns' over source

The Observer has stuck by claims published over the weekend that the US secret service had struck secret espionage deals with European countries, despite the story being pulled late on Saturday night.

The splash by reporter Jamie Doward originally ran on the Guardian website on Saturday night and was on the front page of first editions of The Observer. But it was taken down from the site around midnight and the front page was changed for later print editions.

A spokesperson for Guardian News & Media said the story was withdrawn because of “concerns” over its source.

Shortly after publication, several commentators, particularly in the US, discredited the man who appeared to be the main source for the allegations.

Doward’s story quoted Wayne Madsen, who claimed to be a former contractor for the US National Security Agency. Madsen has previously been labelled a conspiracy theorist after claiming Barack Obama is gay and that Israeli intelligence agency Mossad was involved in the September 11 attacks on America.

Writing on the Telegraph website, blogger Damian Thompson said the use of Madsen as a reliable source prompted “incredulous snorts” from America.

He said: “All over the US, political commentators are going: ‘Wayne Madsen? You've got to be kidding me!’. He also described the theory about President Obama’s sexuality as “sheer malicious craziness”.

However, the GNM spokesperson added that the story was based on documents from the NSA and that the paper’s “interpretation of the evidence” was accurate.

The claims were republished in a later story, citing a report in German newspaper Das Spiegel. The Spiegel story, which also broke late on Saturday night, did not quote Madsen but was instead based on secret documents it said it had seen.

The GNM spokesperson said: “The story was withdrawn from the Observer and the Guardian website after concerns were raised about one of the sources. However, as the thrust of the story was based on the Observer's analysis of declassified NSA documents and a European parliament report, the key allegations were republished on the website.

"The Observer is confident that its interpretation of the evidence is correct – that the documents demonstrate the existence of third party agreements for EU member states to supply communications data to the NSA under arrangements that have largely escaped public scrutiny.”

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