British government officials ordered the destruction of hard drives at the Guardian offices in London that purportedly contained information relating to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has revealed.
They took the action even though Rusbridger explained it was pointless, he said. The Guardian's NSA reporting is written, stored and edited in New York, he told them, and journalist Glenn Greenwald, the lead reporter on the story, lives in Brazil.
The officials from GCHQ, Britain's equivalent of the NSA, were apparently unaware of the concept of information in the cloud - and seemed satisfied that they had been able to destroy something tangible. "'We can call off the black helicopters,' joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro," Rusbridger wrote on the Guardian website.
One official seemed mystified as to why the Guardian would want to continue to report on the subject. "You've had your debate," he told Rusbridger. "There's no need to write any more."
Rusbridger, who has edited the newspaper since 1995, has been involved in a number of cases involving press freedom and sensitive materials. One of the more prominent was the Wikileaks scoop, for which the editor is portrayed by Peter Capaldi in the upcoming movie The Fifth Estate.
Rusbridger called the hard drive incident "one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history".
"It felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age," he wrote. "We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London."
The British government was also under fire on Monday for detaining Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, at Heathrow Airport for nine hours this weekend - under legislation ostensibly meant to combat terrorism.
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