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Leaks, Snowden and the Guardian

RISJ Admin

Contributing Author

Mirjami Saarinen writes:"I have never been prouder of the Guardian", says former diplomatic editor Ewen MacAskill, who has been at the paper since 1996 and is one of a team of three Guardian journalists dealing with the Edward Snowden files. In his opinion it is the biggest story in the paper's history.
MacAskill praises the editors of the Guardian on both sides of the Atlantic: "There was enormous pressure from the FBI, the NSA and the White House. Neither Alan (Rusbridger – the Guardian's editor) nor Janine (Gibson – the US editor in chief) was ever intimidated by them. They listened to them, but published the stories anyway."
MacAskill's involvement with Edward Snowden began in May last year. He was told by his boss to fly to Hong Kong the day after.
"There is a guy claiming to be from an American security agency and he is supposed to give us some documents. Go and check if the story is for real or not", he was instructed.
His first impression was that the story was a hoax. Edward Snowden looked too young to have done all the things he claimed to have done and been to all the places he claimed to have visited.
But after six days of intense interviews MacAskill was convinced that the story was for real. The level of details was something no one could have made up.
Snowden gave the Guardian tens of thousands of documents. The content was extremely complicated, full of technical terms and codes.  When they were processing them, the journalists couldn’t use phones, and their email systems were constantly changed.  A team of journalists from the Guardian, the New York Times, Der Spiegel and Propublica all took part in the process.
The outcome was a series of articles revealing data collection by the NSA and GCHQ, the NSA's relations with Google and Microsoft and finally, a statement by President Obama on the need for more oversight of the intelligence services.
Right after the publication of the stories Edward Snowden decided to reveal who he was.  He now lives in Russia, which granted him asylum.
MacAskill says he understands Snowden's motives.
"Anonymity was never a realistic chance. He didn’t want to harm his colleagues. But he never meant to go to Russia. The truth is that there is nowhere in the world where he would be safe. My fear is that after couple of years, President Putin will get tired with him, and hand him over to someone."
The Snowden leaks have been a huge story all over the world, in US, Germany, Mexico, Australia and Brasilia - but not in Britain. Why is that?
"Maybe people here feel that they are safe. Maybe it is our culture and attitude towards spies like James Bond.  And the truth is that the rest of British media don’t like the Guardian," says MacAskill. He admits that the lack of reaction in the UK has been a disappointment to him.
The Guardian has been widely criticized for publishing the Snowden files both by the government and by other newspapers.
But MacAskill strongly defends his employer.
"No one in Guardian is anti the intelligence services. The Guardian argument is that they have overreached themselves with all the access they have to phone calls, emails and Facebook."
"Also with every story except one, we have gone to them and showed them what we are going to publish and had long discussions about them - sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. If they had said that it would have endangered some one's life, we wouldn't have published it. This is something the White House or Downing Street hasn't told the public."