The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on Tuesday vigorously defended his decision to publish a series of articles based on the secret files leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, telling a parliamentary committee that the right to continue pursuing the story goes to the heart of press freedoms and democracy in Britain.
Rusbridger also told lawmakers that the Guardian had published only 1 percent of the 58,000 files it had received from Snowden. “I would not expect us to be publishing a huge amount more,” he said.
The hearing on the Guardian’s handling of intelligence data leaked by Snowden, who is living in self-imposed exile in Moscow, drew the attention of free-speech advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. Rusbridger faced more than an hour of questioning during the Home Affairs Select Committee’s counterterrorism hearing, testifying in an occasionally combative public grilling of both the Guardian and its editor.
During the hearing, a number of left-leaning politicians appeared to cheer the editor on for shedding light on the lengths to which U.S. and British intelligence agencies have gone to in their global information-gathering efforts. But others, particularly Conservative lawmakers, challenged the decision to publish and pressed Rusbridger on whether he had violated British law.
Reckless said the decision appeared to violate British counterterrorism laws. He then asked Rusbridger whether he felt he should be prosecuted for allowing such a transfer of information.
Rusbridger responded, “I think it depends on your view of a free press.”
Earlier in the hearing, Labor lawmaker Keith Vaz questioned Rusbridger about testimony last month in which John Sawers, head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, told lawmakers that the Guardian’s decision to publish had the country’s enemies “rubbing their hands with glee.” Vaz then bluntly asked Rusbridger, “Do you love this country?”
Leading free-speech advocates have defended the Guardian’s right to publish the files leaked by Snowden, with the hearing prompting several protest letters, including one in which U.S. journalist Carl Bernstein described Rusbridger’s forced appearance Tuesday as “dangerously pernicious.” After the hearing, Padraig Reidy, a spokesman for Index on Censorship, a London-based free-speech organization, called Rusbridger’s grilling a worrying sign.
At the hearing, Rusbridger said that over the course of the Guardian’s publication of the Snowden material, the paper had consulted government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic more than 100 times.
“We will continue to consult them, but we are not going to be put off by intimidation,” he said, adding, “but nor are we going to behave recklessly.”