Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has hit back at claims by the Government that it “urgently” needed the intelligence documents seized from David Miranda at Heathrow last month, claiming it took three weeks to act on information held by another newspaper.
One of the UK’s top intelligence officers told the High Court last week that the material taken from Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was needed “urgently” so it could be assessed.
During a hearing brought by Miranda to establish the legality of his detention under the Terrorism Act 2000, deputy national security adviser Oliver Robbins said the material “would cause harm to UK national security”.
In a written statement to the court, Robbins added: "We urgently need to identify and to understand the entirety of the material … in order to assess the risks of sensitive intelligence sources and methods and the threat to intelligence agency staff should their identities or details of their operational tradecraft be obtained by hostile actors.”
But Rusbridger questioned the urgency of Greenwald’s detention and the seizure of data from his hard drive.
He said that intelligence services were told by The Guardian in July that the New York Times and investigative journalism site ProPublica held sensitive material related to leaked files from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, but nothing was done to contact them until three weeks later.
GCHQ officials were told about the files being held by other news organisations when they oversaw the destruction of hard drives at The Guardian on 22 July.
Rusbridger was quoted in The Guardian as saying: “The Government wanted the judge to believe that they have at all times behaved with the utmost urgency because of a grave threat to national security represented by newspapers working responsibly on the Snowden documents and their implications for society," he said. "But for most of the time since early June little has happened.
"On 22 July The Guardian directed the Government towards the New York Times and ProPublica, both of whom had secret material from GCHQ. It was more than three weeks before anyone contacted the NYT. No one has contacted ProPublica, and there have been two weeks of further silence towards the NYT from the government.
"This five weeks in which nothing has happened tells a different story from the alarmist claims before the court. The government's behaviour does not match their rhetoric in trying to justify and exploit this dismaying blurring of terror and journalism.”
Miranda’s case will be fully heard in October. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police have launched its own investigation after it emerged that Miranda was carrying around 58,000 classified intelligence documents.