Rusbridger admits shipping agents’ names – what now?

rusbridger

MPs today got Alan Rusbridger to admit a number of things he, and his paper had previously denied.

Firstly, that he shipped the names of GCHQ agents abroad to newspapers and bloggers. Mr. Rusbridger was reminded that this was a criminal offence, and said he had a public interest defence. He also, however, kept arguing that he hadn’t published any names, which rather blows up his public interest defence – it’s self-evident that you don’t need the names of intelligence agents to report on GCHQ spying, so why not redact them?

The fact is, Rusbridger did acknowledge that it put GCHQ agents at risk when he first shipped files to ProPublica. He redacted the names of GCHQ agents from those files, and he promised the government he had done so, so when he claims nobody from the government asked him about shipping names, it’s possibly because they made the mistake of believing him.

Rusbridger replied that the files contained information that citizens in a democracy deserved to know, and he assured Heywood that he had scrubbed the documents so that no undercover officials were identified or put at risk.

If British papers had the guts to question members of their own club, they would ask Rusbridger why he scrubbed these documents – his answers to Parliament have said that only publication would be risky – and why he admitted to Heywood that undercover officials would be put at risk if he identified them.

In Parliament today when asked why he didn’t redact the names he said there were 58,000 documents – essentially, he could be bothered to go through the <100 files he FedExed to ProPublica, but could not be bothered to go through the entire batch he sent to the NYT.

Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.

Perhaps worst of all, Rusbridger confirmed my very worst suspicions, which were that he hadn’t even read through the top secret files before shipping them. He redacted no names; he redacted no operational details; he didn’t even read them. And by “he” I mean any employee of the Guardian. Nobody at that paper read the 58,000 documents through, not even once, before sharing them in bulk.

A solid British press would ask these questions – let’s hope I am pleasantly surprised.

Because no Guardian journalist even read the files, they do not know how many agents’ names are now out there. And I suspect that it is a lot worse than agents’ names. The Guardian’s August story about life inside GCHQ (gay and lesbian clubs, fundraisers, etc etc) revealed so much detail that it seems highly probable the 58,000 files contain the following: agents’ names, names of members of their families, home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, Skype accounts and other contact details. The Guardian’s piece on sports days and teams, family days out etc implies that all this personal information is in those 58,000 files. Will any paper ask if it is in there?

Rusbridger also forced another paper, the Daily Mail, to run a “correction” of its story on names, denying that the Guardian had shipped the names, on Oct 9th:

An earlier version of this article indicated that the number of files the Guardian FedExed to America was tens of thousands; the Guardian has since indicated that it numbered less than 100.

The newspaper also said that the files it FedExed to America did not contain any names of British spies.

This was another attempt to hoodwink the British press, just like their fake reporting on the “Miranda innocent spouse” story. Today, Rusbridger admitted Miranda was paid to be a courier. He could hardly deny it, after Miranda threw him under the bus on Buzzfeed, stating that the Guardian originally wanted to use a staffer to fly the files to Brazil, had baulked at the illegality, then Rusbridger had suggested FedExing the lot, and finally chose to pay Miranda to do it.

But will other papers call them on their bullshit? It seems unlikely.

At least we now have the truth, something many of my followers on Twitter have been denying for months, ever since I first raised the spectre of the names of our agents being shipped abroad. Those names are completely unnecessary to the story, and to the reporting. With a modicum of patience Rusbridger could have followed the responsible course he took with the ProPublica scrubbing. But he chose not to bother.

Communicating, and not just publishing, the names is a clear offence under the Terrorism Act 2000. There’s a public interest defence. I would hope the police will interview Rusbridger and ask what public interest required him not to redact the names. I would hope the government, and GCHQ, ask him to tell them all the names of the agents they have shipped around the world, to more places than America – for example, they gave the GCHQ files to Glenn Greenwald, and they are responsible for whatever Greenwald publishes with them.

Lastly, what the Guardian should do is give GCHQ its own copy of the files, so they can take steps to protect national security. Thanks to the Guardian, hundreds of bloggers, journalists and all their friends and contacts have access to these files – what harm can it do to let GCHQ have them too? Of course, the exposed agents need to know. But all the security secrets need also to be known. Such a move wouldn’t prevent the NYT, or the Guardian or ProPublica from publishing, so there is no journalistic reason not to share the files. But it’s abundantly clear that the FSB control Edward Snowden and have access to all his files – and therefore the Guardian should let GCHQ know what is now in the Russians’ hands.

The government must not be afraid of the press, nor the press of the government. The Govt should seek an injunction for copies of the material to be provided to GCHQ. It could not stop the NYT publishing, and so there is no press freedom argument left; but there is a very clear national security argument. Moreover, of his own volition, Alan Rusbridger should tell GCHQ what names are out there – not just of our agents, but of their families, and if home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers or any other identifying material is in those documents. I bet that it is in there, that Alan Rusbridger knows so, and that he has failed to disclose this to the men and women in danger. And I remind readers that when it comes to what the Guardian has been covering up, I have, most unfortunately, been right every time.

P.S. – this will be the last of my blogs here. This was set up as a general holding blog after Jux shut down and before I set up a new themed site; I planned to blog on politics, but being the first person to call bullshit on the Guardian’s “Miranda wronged spouse” story I had to follow it where it led. Today’s admissions in Parliament by Rusbridger of everything I have been arguing seem like a natural place to close the account. I am grateful I have been able to expose that paper’s many lies, and the contempt they have for our agents at GCHQ. For all those of you men and women who work there, I hope you will remember that many more people are with you than against you, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for defending us, whatever millionaire editors and their media cronies are happy to expose you. Please remember that what you do is about our country, not some peacocking middle-class men from Hampstead. God bless all of you, who don’t get celebrated on Remembrance Day and who don’t wear uniforms, and who have nobody out there to speak for you. Julian Smith MP and his colleagues in Parliament, and Labour and Tory MPs on the Committee, have done their best for you today. Once again, thank you.

PPS – on that 850,000 figure, it is another lie by Alan Rusbridger. That is according to him the total number of people with Top Secret clearance in the US and UK – but as he knows, all intelligence agencies operate on a “Need to Know” basis only. Being cleared Top Secret doesn’t give you the right to view GCHQ materials or files unless you have a direct need to know about them. That is called “compartmentalization” and it is a basic principle of intelligence. Rusbridger knows this, but continues to lie and use this fake 850k figure. It fits perfectly with his paper’s pattern of lies and deceit as to their handling of this story.

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38 Responses to Rusbridger admits shipping agents’ names – what now?

  1. Disgruntled reader says:

    Exposing the mass surveillance of innocent citizens is worse than the mass surveillance of innocent citizens?

    • louisemensch says:

      Nobody minds the Guardian doing that.

      The question is why did they need to traffic the names of British intelligence agents to report on it? They didn’t. None of their stories have used the names. So why hand them out in bulk?

      Can you answer that one, disgruntled? what do intel agents names have to do with this story?

      • Disgruntled reader says:

        Look at the bigger picture Louise.

        Manufacturing your outrage over something which is, quite frankly, extremely insignificant when compared to the huge breach of civil liberties is inherently flawed.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yes….thank you for keeping our country safe from terrorist plots.

    Thank you for your bogus intelligence prior to the Iraq War that contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths, and acted as a massive recruiting drive for terrorists.

    Thank you for your connivance with the US in rendering and torturing citizens in foreign countries.

    Thank you for spying on your own citizens and the wholesale sharing of the private details of British citizens with foreign governments.

    Whilst Louise Mensch prays for you tonight, i’ll spare a thought for the victims of your lies and arrogance.

    P.S. any chance of a D-notice on Louise Mensch?

  3. peterjukes says:

    If you listened to the HSAC hearings, you’d have heard a small amount of data was shipped through Fedex, with military level encryption.

    The Guardian kept identities much safer than the NSA, which left its system open to a low grade consultant.

    So if your scandale du jour is data protection, Louise, you’d better recalibrate your outrage

    • louisemensch says:

      And yet, Peter, the stuff shipped through FedEx, Rusbrider scrubbed clean of all GCHQ agents’ names, admitting to Heywood they would be at risk if exposed.

      The Guardian couldn’t be arsed to scrub 58,000 files though, or even read them. And they didn’t keep identities safe at all, they handed them out – to bloggers, to Glenn Greenwald, to the NYT, to hundreds of people.

    • goggzilla says:

      Many laws yet little justice.

  4. Robert Laing says:

    Peter Jukes is correct. Louise Mensch is digging a great big hole in an attempt to justify her ridiculous theories. We need protection against big brother. Snowden deserves the Nobel

  5. Richard Bentall says:

    Lets see. We can either trust the Guardian or we can trust the coalition government (no top down reorganization of the NHS, no student fees) and the spooks, whose profession is lying and whose sexed up dossiers caused an unnecessary war leading to 500,000+ deaths (Lancet and PLoS Medicine surveys). Tough call!

  6. I agree entirely with Peter Jukes. Having experienced state corruption and criminality at first hand, and watched how government denied and ignored it for decades, giving the state the ability to snoop on all of us and not even allowing us to KNOW about it is complete insanity. What are we? Children?

    We’ve only just begun cleaning up after criminal intrusions by a powerful media corporation. Are we going to meekly concede vast sweeping powers to the state without even knowing about them? It’s repugnant!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Having seen a lot of the reaction from right and left wing sources, today was clearly a triumph for Alan Rusbridger. He and his newspaper’s reputation emerged unruffled and unscathed, whilst the MP’s in the committee did little but get egg on their face, especially the bizarre, ranting Michael Ellis. For all Menschs’ posturing, this minor strand of the affair remains a minor strand, with differences of opinion on the level of culpability, if any.

  8. Rick says:

    all this information was already massively compromised

  9. Gareth says:

    “Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.”

    How long do you think it takes to check each document? 10 minutes? Someone working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week would take over two years to check each of the 58,000 documents at that rate… Of course he could of handed out the documents to lots of people to redact them (you’d need over a hundred to redact all the documents in a week), but isn’t it safer to restrict the number of people who have access to the documents? Is the rest of your post as well thought out as this?

    • louisemensch says:

      No, if you are going to hand them over to many more hundreds, it’s safest to put your already extensive team of GCHQ reporters on to reading and redacting names.

      Remember Rusbridger admitted many files weren’t read *at all* before being shipped. Is that “safer”?

      • Gareth says:

        Is it safer to hand it to 100s of staff, or 1 trusted journalist who just happens to be in a different company?

      • Gareth says:

        And let’s not forget that GCHQ shipped all those documents to the NSA in the first place, who gave access to 850,000 people. So, who took more care over the documents, GCHQ or the Guardian?

  10. Williamedwards says:

    As a total security imbecile, Rusbridger fails (or refuses) to grasp this basic concept: Any intelligence operative whose name is exposed to journalists, or put in a position where the likelihood of their identities being publically exposed is at greater risk, CAN NEVER BE DEPLOYED COVERTLY.
    The issue here is not that ‘no names have been published’, it is that a) copying and trafficking them in a way that gives poor assurance over their long-term control and b) allowing such vast visibility of their names to unvetted journalists has had significant implications for those staff safety, deployability and careers. This also puts the Agencies operational effectiveness in peril – operational staff are difficult to recruit, train, retain and protect. To have even tens of staff blown could cause entire business areas to grind to a halt and lead to further attrocities on the streets of the UK.

    Let’s take an example: we necessarily have a sizeable security presence in Northern Ireland. Therefore there were almost certainly named staff within those files who work in Northern Ireland or would have been required to do so at some point in their careers. If names were to hit wikileaks then there is a real and tangible prospect of those staff in such high risk environments being hunted down and killed. In this situation they would have to leave their homes within minutes of publication. With documents shipped extensively internationally, with hundreds of journalists given access does Rusbridger seriously think it would now be viable for such staff to remain in environments like Northern Ireland, does he think such staff who were already deployed there could remain regardless of whether the Guardian actually published the names? Is this a risk HMG can take? Of course not. This is why it is a criminal offence to communicate names and this is why HE HAS CAUSED GREAT DAMAGE.

    Those staff may have been employed for another 40 years, can Rusbridger give any long-term assurances over control of those documents he shipped? Of course not.

    It seems apparent that the information exchange wiki betrayed by the Guardian did not just include the odd name – the Guardian’s own descriptions imply that it included entire staff directories; which is logical as after all, this is exactly the sort of information GCWIKI would have been set up to share. We might be talking about many thousands of names. This could be a security disaster of unparalleled proportions.

    In his Witness statement, Oliver Robbins stated that:

    ‘I am advised that information already obtained has had a direct impact on decisions taken in regards to staff deployments and is therefore impacting operational effectiveness’

    So it sounds like this damage is already happening.

    Lives and careers put at risk and families uprooted for Mr Rusbridger’s convenience? It is difficult to conceive of a more treacherous, reckless act.

    • louisemensch says:

      This is something I had not thought of. I will tweet your comment direct tomorrow. Thank you

    • louisemensch says:

      Can you point me to the descriptions in the Guardian which imply the wiki included staff directories

    • Ceebs says:

      I’m sorry but running round in circles pointing and shouting that it’s all the Guardians fault, and they have comitted great treachery is rather missing the point. Demanding that they have to give huge guarantees that they must keep the data secret for ever when no such effort appears to have been made by the two security services on either side of the Atlantic is ridiculous. The data involved should have been kept under lock and key, with almost no access, if as is claimed it is so secret. Instead Snowden, who as an external consultant is allowed to waltz out with it. and it’s now reported that several hundred thousand people have similar access. now at that number and standard population statistics you’re looking at 40,000 people with gambling debts, 96,000 who are having an affair, which is just too many chances for blackmail or financial problems that could be made to go away with just one small disk of data

      If all of this data is secure, it should have been kept secure. The UK inteligence services shouldn’t have handed it over without better assurances, and the US security services shouldn’t be handing it out on a security scheme that seems as useful as a decoder ring you get with a cereal box.

      The Idea that the security problem is entirely down to the Guardian is nonsense, and shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted nonsense of the worst sort.

    • So if there were staff directories available on that system, thank goodness this information was previously only available to just under a million different people in various countries, including civil contractors who had only just started working for private companies for a non-UK security agency. If a ‘security imbecile’ like Rusbridger could get the names, do you honestly believe no-one else could?

  11. itheuntitled says:

    Mensch, you think The Guardian gave the files to Greenwald when it was the other way round. You think the NSA kept the data secret and secure, when it was they who allowed Snowden access in the first place. On twitter you let slip you think laser microphones can be used to access encrypted computer files, when they’re actually for eavesdropping on spoken conversations (the clue’s in the name)…

    Never has the meme been more true: your argument is invalid. (Because you clearly haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about.)

    Don’t give up the day job, whatever that is.

    • ratty says:

      “you think The Guardian gave the files to Greenwald when it was the other way round.”

      Evidence from Rusbridger yesterday was that he sent them to Greenwald, and was not sure exactly what Greenwald already had

  12. jack says:

    Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells MPs
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/03/guardian-not-intimidated-nsa-leaks-alan-rusbridger-surveillance
    Most of you Brits are little lambs against the surveillance apparatus of GCHQ. Should be thankful for the Guardian and people like Alan.

  13. Attacking the messenger and not the message #ClassicTactics

  14. Phil G says:

    Went to BBC news website to get all the information on Rusbridger’s appearance before Parliament but can’t find any reporting of it whatsoever………Please expose this BBC bias.

  15. goggzilla says:

    I’d have loved a final blogge on Ched Evans and why we have two laws, one for the rich (you) and one for the poor (St Asaph martyrs, arrested for naming victim – ha – victim) on Twitter.

  16. Jim King says:

    Are you a patriot, do you love your country.

    Would you have revealed that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code to the Nazi’s.

    By the way. Godwins law, you fail.

    There was a question that was not asked but seemed to hover unspoken over the entire event and which was spoken by the Sky News chap afterwards.

    “Are you now or have you ever been a ?????????????”.

    Pick one of Guardian reader/Anarchist/Communist/Traitor.

    Shades of McCarthyism here particularly when the issue of press freedom came down to “do you love your country” or are you a commie traitor who should be tried, sentenced and imprisoned as an enemy of the state………

    Did the Guardian put peoples lives at risk by releasing names, if yes then clearly this was wrong.

    Did the Guardian break the Law, if so deal with it through a court of Law.

    Did the Guardian speak out for the freedom of every man, woman and child who are being subject to an ever tighter regime of intrusion and monitoring, shrinking rights and freedoms, greater levels of censorship and Government drones deciding what we are and are not allowed to know.

    The final question is when the answer to the above is yes, does that constitute a crime against the State that the State can punish.

  17. Pingback: Thursday Reads: Human Evolution, Snowden Leaks, and Other News | Sky Dancing

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