British lawmakers to quiz Guardian editor on Snowden leaks

AFP-JIJI

British lawmakers will grill the editor of the Guardian next month over the newspaper’s publication of intelligence leaks by Edward Snowden, it said Friday.

“Alan (Rusbridger) has been invited to give evidence to the home affairs select committee and looks forward to appearing next month,” a spokeswoman for the daily said.

The Guardian has been accused of endangering national security by publishing information about U.S. and British spying programs leaked by Snowden, a former contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency.

However, the newspaper has strongly defended its actions, saying the publication has opened up a debate about secrecy, privacy and freedom of speech.

There was no immediate comment from the home affairs committee, which is made up of elected members of Parliament from Britain’s three main political parties.

But its chairman, opposition Labour MP Keith Vaz, said last month that it would be investigating “elements of the Guardian’s involvement in, and publication of, the Snowden leaks” as part of a wider inquiry into counterterrorism.

The revelations over the past five months have sparked embarrassment and outrage in Washington by laying bare the huge scale of U.S. spying, including on its allies.

They have also shone light on the surveillance programs of Britain, a close ally of the United States, to widespread condemnation by politicians and intelligence chiefs here.

“Our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaida is lapping it up,” John Sawers, the head of British foreign spy agency MI6, told lawmakers Thursday. “The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging, they put our operations at risk.”

Iain Lobban, head of the electronic listening station GCHQ, told the same hearing that terrorist groups had been heard discussing which of their communications were now known to be vulnerable.

Prime Minister David Cameron had previously warned that the leaks have “damaged national security,” and threatened the Guardian with injunctions if it does not stop publishing.

The newspaper destroyed some of the data it was given because it said the government had threatened to use legal action to block its publication.

But the daily, which also published files obtained by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, insists it has handled the highly sensitive information in a responsible manner.

In an editorial this past week, the Guardian said the anger against the leaks was misplaced, focusing on the media that published them rather than the agencies that lost the data.

“The intelligence agencies were saved from true catastrophe by only one thing: the fact that Snowden didn’t dump the material on to the Web, but handed it instead to journalists,” the editorial said.

“Together with the New York Times and Washington Post, we have worked carefully and responsibly (in consultation with governments and agencies) to disclose a small proportion of what he leaked.”

Snowden is currently in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum as he tries to evade U.S. prosecution for espionage.