Thursday, 30 de May de 2024 ISSN 1519-7670 - Ano 24 - nº 1289

How did The Guardian become the leaker’s outlet of choice?

In the furor following the leak last week of top secret National Security Agency documents, tough questions about national security and personal privacy often got drowned out by the cacophony of messenger-shooting. Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old Booz Allen employee who handed over the data was a hero, martyrvillain, traitor or perhaps a paranoid child of techno-libertarianism. His main interlocutor, the former Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, was a vainglorious exaggerator, or one of the bravest journalists since Woodward and Bernstein.

One messenger, however, seems to have escaped the rash of character assassination and hero worship: The relatively small British-based news organisation that has now provoked two of the biggest data dumps on U.S. intelligence in a generation.

Though the Washington Post published one scoop based on Snowden’s leak, it is the Guardian, through its new digital only U.S. website, that has provided a structured timeline of exposés and promises more. This is getting to be something of a habit. Three years ago, along with the New York Times, the Guardian was also the main news agency to systematically publish (and redact) excerpts from over 250,000 classified State Department cables. Though Julian Assange’s Wikileaks had been trickling out stories from February 2010, the real impact of the disclosures came with the publication of edited and contextualised material in the mainstream press. In its 2011 annual report, Amnesty International specifically cited the paper’s coverage as a catalyst for a series of risings against repressive regimes, with revelations about the corruption of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, leading to his overthrow. Foreign Policy magazine concluded that the ‘Wikileaks Revolution’ was a catalyst for the Arab Spring.

How did the Guardian—a formerly Manchester-based, 192-year-old left-of-center paper with a print readership of less than 200,000 a day—manage to insert itself into 2013’s biggest news story? In many ways, it’s a classic example of a news organization wringing new scoops out of readers who were impressed by previous ones—in this case on both ideological and operational grounds. According to Snowden, his choice of publisher was determined by the Guardian’s track record in handling both vulnerable intelligence and whistleblowers. “Harming people isn't my goal,” he told the Guardian. "Transparency is."

The Guardian benefits from a kind of media regulatory arbitrage.

The Wikileaks publication worked similarly. For transparency’s sake, it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t Assange who orchestrated the release of the cables, but rather an American-born freelance investigative journalist, Heather Brooke, who acquired encrypted data and passwords from another activist and took them to the Guardian. Why the Guardian? “They had a track record in dealing with stories concerned with national security and power,” she told me: “And a proper understanding of how to protect sources.”

Often overlooked in the discussion of personal privacy and national security is the impact that digital surveillance has on journalist source protection. Even if only a tiny fraction of social networking and email accounts are examined by government intelligence agencies (around 19,000 out of 1.1 billion Facebook users according to James Ledbetter at Reuters), that’s still an untenable risk for a would-be whistleblower contacting a journalist. “The flip side of the digital revolution is that this technology is so easily hijacked by state surveillance,” says Brooke, who has since written up her experiences in her book The Revolution Will Be Digitised. “It was a steep learning curve for me three years ago,” she says. Brooke would “go dark” before important meetings, ditching her smart phone which could be hijacked as a tracking device, electronic bug or remote camera. She was told most email and online messaging services were insecure, and she relied on encryption keys and secret chat rooms. Three years before it had been acquired by Microsoft, other journalists would communicate with Assange using Skype. She wouldn’t trust it now (nor Assange apparently, who she claims tried to destroy the credibility of the Guardian when it wouldn’t do his bidding).

Source protection was one of the reasons the paper and the Wikileaks fell out, as he initially disagreed over the redaction of intelligence sources. “Well, they're informants,” he is reported to have said. “So, if they get killed, they've got it coming to them. They deserve it.”

Ultimately then, the Guardian brought Brooke something more than technological know-how: Moral support and political back-up. She joined David Leigh and Nick Davies, who between them have over 50 years of experience: The former is an investigative journalist who has covered miscarriages of justice going back to the Soviet spy scandals of the seventies, and the latter broke the phone hacking scandal in 2011 that had been covered up for years by Murdoch’s London subsidiary, News International. “They had a depth of experience and were unafraid of tough investigations into state power,” Brooke says, adding: “Most newspapers have gotten rid of those kind of reporters.” The website combines this expertise with some nifty interactive visualisation of data, which seems to combine traditional reporting with the latest geekery.

 Famed for its feral tabloid press, Britain’s Fleet Street often seems grimy and sleaze-obsessed compared to its U.S. counterparts who—from across the Atlantic—still seem to glow with the kudos of Watergate-era investigative journalism and Pentagon Paper–style whistleblowing. But Brooke, who cut her teeth as a crime reporter in the U.S., thinks the American press has since become a victim of “regulatory capture.” “Whistleblowers are vanishingly rare, and every newspaper needs government briefings and insider information just to survive,” she says. But since the Beltway is not the preoccupation of a U.K.-based news service, the Guardiancould afford not to play ball.

It’s an odd side effect of the borderless exchange of information—a kind of regulatory arbitrage. While Apple, Amazon, Google and other corporations can use global communications to escape national taxes, the Guardian seems to have a found a niche where it can play to U.S. readers while avoiding the worst consequences from the authorities—exclusion from briefings, refusal to confirm or deny stories, or provide interviews from senior politicians and staff. For the British newspaper group, which is run by a trust, and whose print edition has been hemorrhaging millions for several years now, the online brand recognition is also vital for survival. With print circulations shrinking and—much more importantly—advertising revenues sucked up by online advertisers, the commercial advantages of a distinct digital news identity easily trump any loss of political access.  

In the next few months the Guardian plans to move all its digital properties, including its digital-only U.S. and Australian editions, into a new global domain Though the change of a few letters (from may seem tiny—and though its U.S. staff remains a scant 29 journalists—the change is a recognition that the localised atoms of inky morning print will soon surrender completely to the unfettered electrons of nonstop news and international comment. And while individuals leave their digital residues everywhere, to be easily be scooped up by intelligence agencies, the perennial question—“quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”—won’t go away. Who guards the guardians? Well, for now, and for the U.S., the guardian dot com is one answer. 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that The Guardian's new global domain will be It will be

Peter Jukes is a journalist based in London. His book, Fall of the House of Murdochwas published by Unbound last year.



Ex-Contractor Is Charged in Leaks on N.S.A. Surveillance

Por Scott Shane [The New York Times, 22/6/13]

Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose leak of agency documents has set off a national debate over the proper limits of government surveillance, has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property for disclosing classified information to The Guardian and The Washington Post, the Justice Department said on Friday.

Each of the three charges unsealed on Friday carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, for a total of 30 years. But Mr. Snowden is likely to be indicted, and additional counts may well be added. In addition to the theft charge, the two charges under the Espionage Act include “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.” Communications intelligence is the technical term for eavesdropping and other electronic intercepts.

The charges were filed on June 14 by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, which handles many national security cases. American officials said they have asked the authorities in Hong Kong, where Mr. Snowden is believed to be in hiding, to detain him while an indictment and an extradition request are prepared. The attempt to extradite him is likely to produce a long legal battle whose outcome is uncertain. The extradition treaty between the United States and Hong Kong includes an exception for political offenses, and Mr. Snowden could argue that his prosecution is political in nature.

Hong Kong has limited autonomy, but matters involving national security and foreign policy are controlled by the Chinese government in Beijing. Regina Ip, a former Hong Kong secretary of security and a current legislator, said Saturday that Hong Kong authorities had “no choice but to comply” with an arrest warrant and that “our police will go and find Mr. Snowden.”

However, Ms. Ip said, Mr. Snowden could delay any extradition by claiming his is “a political offense,” or he could apply for asylum, “and those cases can take 10 years.”

Last week, hundreds of people turned out in the rain for a protest outside the United States Consulate in Hong Kong demanding that officials not cooperate with any American extradition request. The Global Times, a mainland newspaper controlled by the Communist Party, called an extradition of Mr. Snowden an “inconceivable option” in a recent commentary.

The charges against Mr. Snowden, first reported by The Washington Post, are the seventh case under President Obama in which a government official has been criminally charged with leaking classified information to the news media. Under all previous presidents, just three such cases have been brought.

Mr. Snowden, who turned 30 on Friday, fled to Hong Kong last month, carrying four laptops, after leaving his job at the N.S.A.’s eavesdropping station in Hawaii. He has given hundreds of highly classified documents to The Guardian, the British newspaper, which has been publishing a series of revelatory articles about American and British eavesdropping, and a smaller number to The Post.

Mr. Snowden’s disclosures have opened an unprecedented window on the details of surveillance by the N.S.A., including its compilation of logs of virtually all telephone calls in the United States and its collection of e-mails of foreigners from the major American Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and Skype.

Mr. Snowden, who has said he was shocked by what he believed to be the N.S.A.’s invasion of Americans’ and foreigners’ privacy, told The Guardian that he leaked the documents because he believed the limits of surveillance should be decided not by government officials in secret but by American citizens.

American intelligence officials have said his disclosures have done serious damage to national security by giving terrorists and others information on how to evade the intelligence net.

Mr. Snowden’s supporters, including some associated with the antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks, have approached officials in Iceland on his behalf to inquire about whether he might be granted asylum there. Iceland’s Ministry of the Interior, however, said in a statement that he must be in the country to file an asylum application.

An Icelandic businessman with ties to WikiLeaks, Olafur Vignir Sigurvinsson, has told reporters that he has private aircraft on standby, prepared to fly Mr. Snowden to Iceland. But the American charges and detention request may short-circuit any attempt to reach Iceland.

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who received most of Mr. Snowden’s leaked documents, blasted the Obama administration over the Espionage Act charges on his Twitter feed. “How is leaking to a newspaper and informing one’s fellow citizens about secret govt behavior ‘espionage’???” Mr. Greenwald wrote.

In the latest installment of the Snowden disclosures on Friday, The Guardian reported that the N.S.A.’s British counterpart has tapped into hundreds of fiber-optic communications lines and is sharing a vast quantity of e-mail and Internet traffic with American intelligence. Under a program called Tempora, the British agency, known as G.C.H.Q., has been able to tap into 200 of the approximately 1,600 high-capacity fiber cables in and out of Britain and aspires to be able to tap 400 lines at once, harvesting a staggering amount of information, the British newspaper reported.

The documents said that G.C.H.Q., which has worked very closely with the N.S.A. for decades, may store the content of the communications flowing over the cables for three days and the so-called metadata — information about who is contacting whom at what time — for 30 days. During that time, analysts from both G.C.H.Q. and the N.S.A. are able to search the stored data for information of interest.

The disclosures of the G.C.H.Q. initiative, called “Mastering the Internet,” immediately raised a question among privacy advocates: whether the N.S.A. might be able to obtain information about Americans from G.C.H.Q. that it is prohibited by law or regulations from collecting itself.

An N.S.A. spokeswoman, Judith Emmel, said the agency does not use foreign partners to evade American restrictions. “Any allegation that N.S.A. relies on its foreign partners to circumvent U.S. law is absolutely false,” she said. “N.S.A. does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the U.S. government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself.”

Ms. Emmel said the N.S.A. “is unwavering in its respect for U.S. laws and policies” and has “a rigorous internal compliance program” as well as oversight from Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

One document released by Mr. Snowden lent some support for the Obama administration’s insistence that the N.S.A. is tightly controlled. In a confidential briefing, The Guardian reported, a G.C.H.Q. legal adviser declared: “We have a light oversight regime compared with the U.S.”

The latest documents in the gradual unveiling of what is already the most revealing window on the N.S.A. and its major international partner in their history describe a previously unknown reversal of roles for the two agencies. Historically, the N.S.A. has dwarfed G.C.H.Q. and the three other eavesdropping agencies in the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network — those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But in one of Mr. Snowden’s documents, N.S.A. officials say that G.C.H.Q. now “produces larger amounts of metadata collection than the N.S.A.” and is working with the American agency to process the torrent of data. The Guardian quotes a secret report as saying Britain now has “the biggest Internet access in Five Eyes.”

That assertion is especially remarkable in light of the evidence that the N.S.A. already had extensive access to Internet data. In 2006, Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, revealed the existence of a secret room controlled by the N.S.A. at a major Internet hub in San Francisco, where the agency appeared to divert a large amount of traffic.

In addition, an N.S.A. training slide previously disclosed by Mr. Snowden directed the agency’s eavesdroppers to collect Internet messages from two sources: “collection of communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past” and Prism, an N.S.A. program that gathers information from major Internet companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Skype.

The Guardian posted only a few snippets of the latest documents, but one may prove embarrassing for the N.S.A. director, Gen. Keith Alexander, who has spoken repeatedly in the last two weeks of the agency’s careful protections for Americans’ privacy.

The slide posted by The Guardian quotes General Alexander during a June 2008 visit to Menwith Hill Station, the N.S.A.’s major listening post in North Yorkshire, England.

“Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?” the N.S.A. director was quoted as saying. “Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith.”

An American official who would explain the remark only on condition of anonymity said: “General Alexander’s comment was a quip taken out of context — nothing more.”