Faced with a mounting backlash from UK authorities, The Guardian newspaper has announced that it will collaborate with The New York Times to release further documents detailing the activities of the UK's Government Communications Headquarters.
"In a climate of intense pressure from the UK government, the Guardian decided to bring in a US partner to work on the GCHQ documents provided by Edward Snowden," the paper said in a statement on Friday. "We are working in partnership with the NYT and others to continue reporting these stories."
The move comes after GCHQ agents reportedly smashed up hard drives and computers belonging to Guardian staffers when editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger refused to turn over materials leaked by Snowden.
In a separate incident, the Metropolitan Police detained David Michael Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for nearly nine hours in Heathrow Airport, citing the Terrorism Act. Miranda's mobile phone, his laptop, and several memory sticks were seized, and Miranda was reportedly compelled to turn over passwords that gave police access to computer and mobile phone.
For his part, Greenwald – the journalist at the heart of the Snowden affair – told Reuters he is undeterred by such strong-arm tactics, and that he will be "far more aggressive" in his future reporting.
By partnering with a US newspaper to release UK-related documents, however, The Guardian hopes to gain the advantage of the strong free-speech protections afforded by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
In particular, US courts have held that "prior restraint" – the suppression of speech before the speech has actually taken place – is unconstitutional except where such speech might have serious consequences for national security. Information regarding UK government policies, however classified, is unlikely to meet that standard in the US.
Besides The Guardian, Snowden has shared some documents with The Washington Post in the past. It was not immediately clear why The Guardian chose The New York Times as its partner for future disclosures about the GCHQ.
Government muddying the waters?
Meanwhile, a second UK paper has begun reporting on GCHQ activities, purportedly based on documents leaked by Snowden, but Snowden himself has cast doubt on the latest coverage.
On Friday, The Independent reported what it claimed were details of a top-secret British spy base in the Middle East, including information it alleged The Guardian had promised the government not to disclose.
But in a missive to Greenwald on Friday, Snowden said he had never worked with or even spoken to anyone at the Independent. Moreover, he directly accused the UK government of planting misinformation designed to discredit past reporting of the documents he provided The Guardian:
The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger ...
It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others.
Greenwald himself added that he was also suspicious of the timing of The Independent's coverage, and that he resented the paper's insinuation that The Guardian had agreed not to disclose certain information.
"Speaking for myself, let me make one thing clear," Greenwald wrote. "I'm not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents. I would never agree to any such limitations."
The Independent stood by its coverage on Friday, with editor Oliver Wright taking to his Twitter feed to refute Snowden's assertions.
For the record: The Independent was not leaked or ‘duped’ into publishing today's front page story by the Government. @ggreenwald— oliver wright (@oliver_wright) August 23, 2013
In response, Greenwald reiterated the questions he asked repeatedly in his Friday column: If The Independent has documents obtained by Snowden from the NSA, where did it get them? Who provided them, since Snowden himself did not?
By comparison, The Guardian explained on Friday, although Snowden has never worked directly with The New York Times, any future reporting the NYT does on documents Snowden provided to The Guardian will be done with his approval.
"It is intended that the collaboration with the New York Times will allow the Guardian to continue exposing mass surveillance by putting the Snowden documents on GCHQ beyond government reach," Guardian reporter Lisa O'Carroll wrote. "Snowden is aware of the arrangement." ®