The Guardian newspaper is facing a campaign of smears aimed at damaging its credibility following its disclosures of files leaked by former CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, a Labour MP suggested today.
Labour MP David Winnick told Deputy Commons Leader Tom Brake, a Lib Dem MP, that "many of us believe that what is happening at the moment …threats and smears against The Guardian newspaper for publishing details which is not in any way a threat to the security of our country, information which the public have a right to know".
He added: "And since the Liberal Democrats are supposed to be ardent defenders of our civil liberties perhaps you will bear in mind that it is useful to have an overall debate on intelligence and security matters and not just leave it to the committee which meets in private session."
Winnick's comments came in an exchange during Business Questions in the Commons sparked by a call from a Conservative MP for The Guardian to be put under pressure to hand over a decryption code which would enable the security services to access information.
Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith said the security services, which have yet to decode the sensitive files obtained from the newspaper, needed co-operation from The Guardian, and said action should be taken should it fail to assist.
He told the House: "The editor of The Guardian recently boasted online that he was taking precautions to prevent UK security services having access to the files of vital national security that he had sent out of the remit of the UK court to the New York Times.
"Security services are still trying to decrypt these files, which the Independent newspaper described as 'highly detailed and a threat to national security'. Can we have a statement to reassure the House that the Guardian will be asked for a decryption key, and if not forthcoming, action will be taken?"
Brake said there would be a more detailed Government response at a debate secured by Smith next Tuesday.
He said: "Clearly, you are right that intelligence leaks are causing serious damage to the UK national security. Indeed the Government has a duty to protect national security and should make clear to media organisations, publishing highly classified material damages our ability to protect this country and journalists are not in a position to make national security assessments as to what should or should not be be published.
"But as you will be aware, however, it is a matter for the police and the CPS to determine if a crime has been committed and what action should be taken as a result."
At this point Winnick intervened, suggesting that the newspaper was the target of a smear campaign.
Brake replied: "Clearly the Government has a duty to protect national security and if a newspaper, whichever newspaper, is in the business of publishing information which damages that security or circulates information which has the potential to damage our national security, the Government is required to respond.
"If in fact that newspaper is publishing certain matters which have no relevance to national security then clearly we want them to be able to do so."
The Guardian published the first of a series of controversial stories on June 5, based on secret material leaked by former CIA contractor Mr Snowden, which revealed the extent of mass surveillance programmes operated by the US National Security Agency and Cheltenham-based GCHQ.