New docs: US knew Brits would destroy NSA data

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American officials knew ahead of time that the British government would oversee the destruction of journalists’ hard drives containing documents leaked by Edward Snowden, according to a new report.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the Obama administration knew in July 2013 that documents held by The Guardian newspaper would be destroyed, a month after the outlet published stories based on the leaks.

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“Good news, at least on this front,” Richard Ledgett, now the No. 2 at the National Security Agency (NSA), said in an email to then-NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander and others last July, according to the AP. The title of the email was “Guardian data being destroyed.”

The following day, officials from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British equivalent of the NSA, watched a Guardian editor and computer expert “pulverize” hard drives and memory chips storing Snowden documents. 

The newspaper claimed that it had been threatened with legal action over the documents and chose to destroy the data rather than hand it over to the government.

At the time, the White House refused to comment on whether it knew about the reported destruction, but seemed to condemn the notion.

Josh Earnest, now the White House press secretary, told reporters at the time that he only knew of the action through news reports but said it would be “very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.” 

Much of the content of the NSA emails was censored before they were handed over to the AP, making it unclear whether the U.S. had any role in the GCHQ’s action.

Unlike in the U.S., British news outlets do not enjoy legal protections of freedom of the press stemming from the First Amendment.

Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian reporter who, along with others, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Snowden documents, said that it was “hardly surprising” that the Obama administration knew.

“It’s virtually inconceivable that notoriously subservient London officials would ever take any meaningful action without the advance knowledge and permission of their Washington overseers,” he wrote on Friday.

White House representatives reached by The Hill did not immediately offer a comment on the report.