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Britain Tried To Stop NSA Material From Being Published


Britain's The Guardian was one of the newspapers that published classified material from the NSA leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden. The controversy took a new turn this week when the partner of the reporter who helped break the story in the Guardian was detained in London's Heathrow Airport. Brazilian David Miranda was interrogated for nine hours under U.K. anti-terrorism laws. And he is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, who's been covering Snowden's leaks about the vast access U.S. and British intelligence agencies have to personal phone and Internet communication. NPR's Philip Reeves joined us from London. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Now, let's start with David Miranda, who has been giving more details about what happened during his detention.

REEVES: Yes. Miranda's back home in Rio, where he's been talking some more about what happened. He says he was forced to hand over a lot of personal material, and he told the BBC that that left him feeling angry and violated.

DAVID MIRANDA: They took everything from me. They forced me to give my passwords for my cellphone and for my laptop. And you know when you get in somebody's, like, cellphone, there's nothing more personal than that. They can get into my Facebook. They are in my mail account. They see all my pictures, all my friends and everything.

REEVES: And Miranda was held under a British anti-terrorism law but he says he wasn't actually asked any questions about terrorism at all. Under that law, it's a criminal offense not to supply information you're asked for. Miranda was carrying some material for Greenwald and the Guardian. He's not sure what that material was, he says. But he says the British security agents who were questioning him repeatedly threatened him with jail if he didn't hand over what they wanted, so he had no choice.

MONTAGNE: And what about the other forms of pressure that have been brought on the Guardian newspaper by British authorities?

REEVES: Well, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, says that over the last several months he was approached by government officials, including a civil servant from the uppermost level of government and told to destroy or return the Snowden material, otherwise the government would go to court to seek to close down the papers reporting on the Snowden leaks. Rusbridger refused to hand over anything. But to avoid going to court and having to place the material in the hands of a judge, he agreed to destroy some hard drives after pointing out that the paper actually had copies of these in Brazil. Supervised, therefore, by two technicians from British intelligence, his staff gathered in the Guardian's basement and destroyed computers and hard drives using power drills.

MONTAGNE: Well, it sounds all very dramatic. And when you say uppermost levels of the U.K. government, how high up might this go?

REEVES: Rusbridger didn't name names but there are numerous reports this morning that the prime minister, David Cameron, ordered the U.K.'s most senior civil servant, the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to pressure the Guardian to hand over this material. Government sources are reportedly confirming that this is actually right. The government's line is that it would have been highly irresponsible not to approach the Guardian, as this could involve a threat to national security. It's using a similar argument, by the way, to justify the detention of David Miranda under antiterrorism laws. Basically, if it was believed Miranda had highly sensitive stolen information that could aid terrorists, this could be a threat to national security and to lives, so the police did the right thing. Now, Cameron is doubtless hoping that this will convince those here who see this incident as the misuse of antiterrorism laws by the government to intimidate and silence journalists who are tackling issues of critical importance.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Philip Reeves speaking to us from London. Phil, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.


MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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