LONDON (AP) — A British newspaper released new details of its confrontation with the country's intelligence service on Tuesday, saying it destroyed hard drives containing material leaked by Edward Snowden in order to insulate the former American intelligence worker from potential prosecution and to keep reporting on his leaks.
The Guardian said senior staffers shattered the electronics using angle grinders and drills in mid-July in a bid to avoid legal action or even a police raid that could halt its reporting or provide evidence for U.S. officials seeking to put Snowden behind bars.
"I didn't want to get in that position," editor Alan Rusbridger said in a video interview posted to the Guardian's website. "Once it was obvious that they would be going to law, I would rather destroy the copy than hand it back to them or allow the courts to freeze our reporting."
He said the paper has other copies of the same material located elsewhere.
Rusbridger spoke as disquiet continued to grow over the detention of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, who was held for nine hours at London's Heathrow Airport on Sunday as he was ferrying material related to the Snowden story between filmmaker Laura Poitras in Germany and Brazil, where Greenwald is based.
Snowden's leaks have served as the jumping off point for a series of stories about America's globe-spanning surveillance program, including revelations that U.S. spies reach deep inside private companies to keep track of tens of millions of innocent Americans' phone and Internet conversations with limited independent oversight. The stories have emboldened privacy activists and embarrassed President Barack Obama, who recently unveiled a slate of intelligence reforms intended to calm public concerns.
Legal commentators have questioned the legality of Miranda's detention, which civil liberties groups have decried as an abuse of power aimed at sabotaging Greenwald's coverage.
The British government has declined to comment on the shattered hard drives, but it defended its decision to detain Miranda, saying it was right to stop anyone suspected of possessing "highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism."
A law firm representing Miranda has begun legal action against the government, calling his detention unlawful and seeking assurances that British officials would not share the material seized from Miranda with anyone else. In a letter released to The Associated Press, London-based Bindmans called on the government to return a "mobile phone, laptop, memory sticks, smart-watch, DVDs and games consoles" taken from Miranda.