British Embassy Approached New York Times About Snowden Documents

Greenwald lifts the curtain on the scale of the leak — and says he and Poitras alone have access to the full cache.

U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald (left) walks with his partner David Miranda in Rio de Janeiro’s International Airport on Aug. 19. Ricardo Moraes / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The British Embassy in Washington met with the New York Times in mid-August regarding materials the paper has that were leaked by Edward Snowden, the editor of the Guardian said on Friday.

“On Monday 22 July, the Guardian directed the government towards the New York Times and ProPublica, both of whom had material from GCHQ,” said Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, in a statement aimed at pointing out that his government — which forced the Guardian to destroy hard drives with copies of data leaked by Edward Snowden — had not acted with the same urgency toward American outlets with the same data from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British intelligence agency.

“It was more than three weeks before anyone from the British government contacted the New York Times,” Rusbridger said. “We understand the British Embassy in Washington met with the New York Times in mid-August — over three weeks after the Guardian’s material was destroyed in London. To date, no-one has contacted ProPublica, and there has been two weeks of further silence towards the New York Times from the government.”

It is unclear whether the British demanded that the Times destroy its copies of the documents. A spokesperson for the Times, Eileen Murphy, said the paper wouldn’t comment on the meeting.

“We have presented a witness statement to the court in Britain which explains why we are trying to secure copies of over 58,000 stolen intelligence documents – to protect public safety and our national security,” said James Barbour, the British Embassy’s press secretary. “We are not going to get into the specifics about our efforts but it should come as no surprise if we approach a person who is in possession of some or all of this material.”

The president of the nonprofit investigative journalism group ProPublica, which is working with the Guardian and Times on reporting about the Snowden documents, Dick Tofel, confirmed that he had not heard from the British.

The information comes after a hearing Friday in London in which a British intelligence official disclosed that David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was carrying a password for encrypted files on a piece of paper when he was detained at Heathrow Airport on Aug.18. That has prompted the British government to declare that Greenwald and Miranda’s possession of the documents poses a threat to national security, since the existence of a piece of paper with the password makes them less secure — though the government did not assert that the password had allowed them to decrypt the 58,000 British intelligence documents it said Miranda was carrying.

On Twitter, Greenwald said the password does not give the authorities access to the documents. In a statement to BuzzFeed, he offered the clearest glimpse yet of the scale of the documents leaked by Snowden and of who exactly controls them, saying that he and filmmaker Laura Poitras retain control of the full set, and that even the Guardian does not have all the Snowden documents.

Greenwald said:

Only Laura and I have access to the full set of documents which Snowden provided to journalists.

The stories published in Germany and Brazil were authored by each of us (Laura in Germany with Der Spiegel, me in Brazil with various outlets). The vast majority of my reporting has been and will continue to be with the Guardian, but in those instances where stories are of principal concern to one country, we are continuing to partner with media organizations in countries around the world to ensure that all materials in the public interest are reported and disclosed.

As the Guardian reported, the New York Times and ProPublica have only the portion of the archive relating to GCHQ. That is a small subset of the documents.

[The Washington Post’s] Bart Gellman also has only a small subset of the documents, though the number is substantial and relate to NSA. To my knowledge, he has not received any new documents from Snowden since May nor communicated with him since the first part of June, nor has he ever met Snowden.

The hearing in London today gave London police expanded powers to investigate Miranda for crimes related to terrorism and the Official Secrets act after electronic devices belonging to him were seized at Heathrow on Aug. 18.

Update: Greenwald’s comment has been updated for clarity at his request. (1:37 p.m.)

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