How British spies exorcise a leak-haunted laptop

(Photo by Roger Tooth)

In the Guardian, Julian Borger follows up on Monday's account of the raid on the newspaper's office by British spooks from GCHQ that culminated with government agents smashing a laptop into tiny pieces on the grounds it contained one of many, many copies of the Edward Snowden leaks. It's not clear whether the spooks were incompetent enough to believe that this would have any practical effect on the continued publication of secrets regarding dragnet surveillance, or whether it was a purely symbolic gesture.

But the evidence favours intimidation. Borger tells a tale of increased pressure on the Guardian, a series of ever-more-intense calls and visits, dropped hints of a secret injunction or a full-on raid. It culminated with the farcical destruction of the tainted computer, which had been infected by its proximity to embarrassing revelations of government lies and criminality, in which Guardian employees, top spooks, and stern government ministers reduced the computer to scraps by means of angle grinders and drills. The spies took lots of pictures, but let the Guardian keep the scraps.

Talks began with government officials on a procedure that might satisfy their need to ensure the material had been destroyed, but which would at the same time protect the Guardian's sources and its journalism.

The compromise ultimately brought Paul Johnson, Guardian News and Media's executive director Sheila Fitzsimons, and one of its top computer experts, David Blishen, to the basement of its Kings Place office on a hot Saturday morning to meet two GCHQ officials with notebooks and cameras.

The intelligence men stood over Johnson and Blishen as they went to work on the hard drives and memory chips with angle grinders and drills, pointing out the critical points on circuit boards to attack. They took pictures as the debris was swept up but took nothing away.

It was a unique encounter in the long and uneasy relationship between the press and the intelligence agencies, and a highly unusual, very physical, compromise between the demands of national security and free expression.

NSA files: why the Guardian in London destroyed hard drives of leaked files [Julian Borger/The Guardian]

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Image: Roger Tooth)