National Security (The Guardian)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 22nd October 2013.

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Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon 4:30 pm, 22nd October 2013

Thousands of people working for British intelligence, GCHQ and other Government bodies have worked tirelessly over the years to repress attacks, in particular after 7/7 in London. With technology changing apace, they have kept track of and repelled many potential terrorist attacks. Think of where we were after 9/11 and where we are now: still vulnerable, but with much stronger awareness of the threats and much damage done to those who seek to hurt us. I want to pay tribute to all in our intelligence community, who work so hard and who have done so under pressure and bearing a great burden of responsibility. The fact that those women and men are unable to speak out is one of the reasons that I have called this debate.

It seems highly likely that The Guardian has risked our nation’s security several times over: first, in the detail that it has gone into in many of its reports, revealing the minutiae of programmes, showing PowerPoint images and laying out to those who seek to harm us in great detail the techniques that we use to counter them. Reports in The Guardian earlier this summer went way beyond responsible journalism, giving away key details of UK intelligence strategy and operations. Take a look at the level of detail in those reports in June—parading as public interest, it was in fact commercial interest.

Moreover, The Guardian often seemed to publish not only for commercial gain, but out of fear. Jacob Appelbaum, angered that The Guardian’s story on the Tor network was being held up, threatened to publish compromising e-mails between him and Guardian reporter James Ball. Days later, The Guardian published details of the GCHQ attempt to decrypt parts of the Tor network, which is used to trade child abuse images, hardcore drugs and arms—

“an intelligence technique which should have remained secret”,

according to David Omand, ex-head of GCHQ.

In an online question-and-answer section, The Guardian claimed that it checked with US authorities before each of its reports was published. That did not happen in the UK before the Government’s intervention.

Secondly, and more chillingly, The Guardian has taken detailed security files and information and sent them all over the world. US editor Janine Gibson boasted that by far “the hardest challenge” has been the “Secure…movement of materials” and that

“we’ve had to do a great deal of flying people around the world”.

Where now is the earlier pretence to other British papers that David Miranda was merely a journalist’s husband?

In spite of the actions taken by Her Majesty’s Government in August to destroy the files held in The Guardian’s London office, those files are out there, highly vulnerable to terrorist infiltration. Not only that, those detailed files on GCHQ operations are now being handed to an infinite number of extra eyes via American journalists and even bloggers. Each person multiplies the risk to this country. It is unclear whether the information contained names, but it seems a strong possibility. From the reports on GCHQ, we know that The Guardian had detailed information about staff there, including the clubs and organisations that they were part of, and even reported on the sexuality of GCHQ gay and lesbian staff and on internal network chats.

Over the summer, The Independent also saw the Snowden files and wrote a highly damaging report on a middle eastern UK base. Similar to The Guardian, The Independent did not adequately balance journalism and the national interest. Unlike their Guardian colleagues, however, the Independent journalists soon stopped, stating:

In August, we too were given information from the Snowden files. It pertained to the operation of the security services, was highly detailed, and had the capacity to compromise Britain’s security.”

Glenn Greenwald explained on Twitter on 10 September: “As for” The New York Times,

“I had no role at all in that—those were 1 set of docs only about UK that G”—

The Guardian

“had. They made that choice without me.”

I must underline that point. The Guardian focused on sending abroad revelations not about the American National Security Agency, or whistleblowing; it chose to distribute information on our own intelligence agents at GCHQ, on programmes and people that it had admitted over and over again were legal—programmes that protect Guardian employees and their families.

To the Daily Mail last week, The Guardian denied only that it had revealed the names of spies, not of any GCHQ personnel. To communicate—not only to publish—any identifying information about GCHQ personnel is a terrorist offence under the Terrorism Act 2000. Mr Rusbridger has boasted that he is above the law, and said of co-operation with the Government:

“But once there was an explicit threat to go to law something changed”,

adding that he would not allow reporting to be limited “by judges”.

Finally, as if all that was not enough, The Guardian continues to threaten national security months after the Government intervened. It boasted online about how it has taken protections to avoid penetration by intelligence services and, as far as I know, has been far from helpful in assisting the intelligence services in their quest to work out what the damage potential is. That is not press freedom; that is The Guardian’s devastating impact on national security. The Guardian wrote its initial stories without any consultation with Government;

The Guardian trafficked files on GCHQ around the world; and

The Guardian has dragged its feet as the Government, police and intelligence services seek to limit the damage.

The Terrorism Act is clear about the illegality of communicating information about our intelligence staff and, specifically, GCHQ. The Official Secrets Act is equally clear about the illegality of communicating classified information that the recipient knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, to be to the detriment of national security. Last week, I wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to ask him to investigate whether The Guardian has breached those two Acts. I urge the Minister to do everything possible to ensure that the police expedite their investigation. In particular, I ask him to ensure that The Guardian has been asked for a decrypted copy of all files to which it has access, so that we may protect our agents and operations.

For the sake of Britain’s national security and for those who protect it, we must pursue the issue that we have discussed today. If we do not, we risk grave consequences, major risks for those who seek to protect us and the setting of a terrible precedent—that hiding behind the cloak of journalism gives carte blanche to risk the state’s most important secrets, free of consequence and outside the law. In an age of the internet, blogging and self-publishing, that is a serious precedent to set.