By Mick Krever, CNN
The senior British official who asked the Guardian to destroy hard drives containing leaked information about the NSA was “acting on behalf of the prime minister,” David Cameron, Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger said on Wednesday.
Rusbridger said that the official, whom he said has now been identified as Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, first contacted him in mid June.
“He said he was acting on behalf of the prime minster,” Rusbridger said. “For a period of a month, it was a cordial conversation.”
But by mid-July, Rusbridger said, “it became an explicit threat of legal action if we didn’t either return the disks or destroy them.”
The Guardian complied, physically destroying the hard drives – Rusbridger has even tweeted a photo of a dismembered Macbook Pro.
“The point, which I explained to the British officials, was that Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter, lives in Brazil,” Rusbridger told CNN’s Hala Gorani, who was sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. “He has a copy, and we already have another copy in America. So destroying a copy in London wasn’t going to stop us from reporting.”
The alternative, he explained, would have been to return the material to the UK government, or wait for legal action and turn it over to the courts.
“So it was no skin off my nose,” Rusbridger said nonchalantly. “I would simply transfer my reporting to America where there was better legal protection.”
Just as the internet allowed Edward Snowden to leak highly sensitive material with ease, so too does it allow The Guardian to report on that secret information with less fear of government intrusion.
“What I like about the digital world is that you can harness your reporting to the highest and most permissive legal regimes,” Rusbridger explained.
“So with WikiLeaks as with this, the ability to root yourself in the American First Amendment and enjoy the kind of protection that American journalists have I think is one of the good things about the way that digital information works these days.”
Just a day before Rusbridger admitted destroying the hard drives in an editorial in the Guardian, David Miranda – the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who revealed secret spying by America’s NSA – was detained for nearly nine hours at London’s Heathrow airport.
The British government cited Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act in holding Miranda, which Rusbridger said set a dangerous precedent.
“There’s a great danger if you start confusing terrorism with journalism,” he said.