Guardian may face terror charges over stolen secrets: Met Deputy Commissioner confirms she is investigating whether newspaper broke the law
- Debate rages about dangers of Edward Snowden leaking US secrets
- MI6 said terror groups in Afghanistan and ‘closer to home’ are using leaks
- But Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger tells MPs only 1% of files published
- Insists the left-wing newspaper’s staff are ‘patriots’ who ‘loved this country’
Journalists from The Guardian could face criminal charges for transmitting out of the country top secret documents containing the names of British spies, a senior counter terrorism officer signalled last night.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick confirmed she is investigating whether the newspaper breached terrorism laws in its handling of tens of thousands of highly classified documents stolen by former US government employee Edward Snowden.
Her comments came as the newspaper’s editor appeared to accept he had allowed the documents to leave Britain – an offence under the 2000 Terrorism Act punishable with a jail term of up to ten years.
Editor of The Guardian newspaper Alan Rusbridger was called to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on why he published files leaked by Edward Snowden
But Alan Rusbridger defended his newspaper’s actions, saying that publishing the stories had provoked an important debate about the activities of security and intelligence agencies in the UK and US.
He also claimed there had been attempts from within Government and elsewhere to ‘intimidate’ the newspaper into stopping its reporting of stories based on the Snowden cache.
Both he and Miss Dick appeared yesterday before MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Mr Rusbridger was praised by Liberal Democrat and some Labour MPs for his newspaper’s reporting of the contents of the Snowden files.
But he was criticised by Conservative MPs, and accused of having broken the law.
In heated exchanges, Tory Michael Ellis accused Mr Rusbridger of being ‘woefully irresponsible with secret information and therefore people’s lives’ – a charge Mr Rusbridger denied.
Tory MP Mark Reckless said Mr Rusbridger had ‘admitted a criminal offence’ when he admitted allowing the documents to be sent to the New York Times.
Mr Rusbridger said he had not redacted the names of spies from the documents before sending them, but the newspaper used ‘military-grade’ encryption to safeguard the files.
He said: ‘No data was lost, we lost control of no data.
‘No names have leaked from The Guardian.’
He accepted that on a separate occasion the newspaper sent some documents via the courier company FedEx.
Earlier this year, MI5 director general Andrew Parker warned that revelations from the Snowden files about the work of GCHQ and other agencies were a ‘gift to terrorists’.
But Mr Rusbridger cited security and government officials on both sides of the Atlantic who had said no damage had been done to national security from the newspaper’s actions.
Mr Rusbridger told the committee only 1 per cent of the files the newspaper held had been published.
Miss Dick told the MPs her team of officers are examining a ‘large amount’ of material.
She said: ‘It appears possible once we look at the material that some people may have committed criminal offences.
‘We need to establish whether they have or haven’t, but that involves a huge amount of scoping of material.’
Asked if potential offences include those under section 58a of the Terrorism Act 2000, she replied: ‘Broadly, yes.’ This states it is illegal to ‘elicit’ any information about members of the security services, including MI5 and GCHQ.
The Met is also investigating whether any offences have been committed under the Official Secrets Act, she said.