The secretary of the DA Notice committee has insisted The Guardian could have sought his advice in advance of publication of the Wikileaks Afghanistan documents without risking a tip-off to the Ministry of Defence.
The DA Notice committee works with the media under a voluntary system to ensure nothing is published which could endanger the lives of British servicemen.
The Guardian revealed today that it decided not to consult the committee prior to publication of its Wikileaks stories in case the move prompted a Ministry of Defence injunction.
The 92,000 Wikileaks documents about the war in Afghanistan were given to The Guardian, New York Times and Der Speigel in advance of being made freely available online.
Guardian journalists have made clear that they took care to ensure that no information was published which could put lives at risk.
Readers’ editor Chris Elliott revealed today that the paper’s legal advice was that it faced potential legal action under the US Espionage Act and the UK Official Secrets Act if it contacted the respective governments in advance of publication.
But DA-Notice committee secretary Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance has said the paper could have approached him for advice.
He told The Guardian: “I am independent of the MoD and any advice I offer [to media organisations] is always given in strictest confidence. However, if I was faced with an issue where I believe someone’s life was actually in danger I would have to think about breaking that confidence.
“As it was, I couldn’t see anything in The Guardian’s coverage which put lives directly at risk, but I understand why analysts believe that some agents may have been compromised [in the wider coverage].”
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is also quoted in Elliott’s column today.
He said: “We were very careful to vet everything we published, using advice from regional specialists. We also tried to influence Julian Assange [Wikileaks founder] to redact namesâ€¦
“We satisfied ourselves that that we hadn’t broken our own internal rules in the way we handled these documents. We generally don’t identify serving intelligence operatives or their contacts, although you can never say never. I don’t believe we have ever done soâ€¦
“In the end you weigh up what you believe to be public good against public harm, you try to minimise the harm by highlighting public material of most public interest. You have a discussion about whether journalists should make those decisions but what it comes down to is whether you believe in the fourth estate.
“Alternatively you leave these decisions to be taken by elected officials or parliament but I believe that would mean that virtually no material would be released.”
The full Wikileaks release of documents does include mentions of named Afghans who worked with US military.
The Times reported last month that Afghan and US Government sources believed information in the Wikileaks documents has put lives in danger.