Has Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger exposed names of thousands of GCHQ personnel?

Cross posted by former MP Louise Mensch


Alan Rusbridger

Journalists have asked me on Twitter if I really want to see Alan Rusbridger arrested. Yes, I do; and here’s why.

It was always incredibly bad that he had exposed British intelligence agents to foreigners, willfully, having admitted that doing so would expose them. My prior blog below shows how he redacted all their names from the files he FedExed to ProPublica but then decided he couldn’t be arsed on the 25,000 files he sent unredacted to the NYT and Glenn Greenwald.

A comment was left on that last blog that I have to reproduce. It shows that every agent exposed by Rusbridger has had their career ruined for the duration of it; none of them can ever work in the field again. Furthermore, the writer makes the compelling case that the NSA-GCHQ wiki, which the New York Times published extracts from, and the directories of staff interests like gay and lesbian clubs, ghost hunting clubs etc, mean that Rusbridger has actually sent abroad not just a handful of names, as he claimed to Parliament “there were names on power points” but actually thousands of GCHQ names.

It is possible he has exposed the names of every person working at the agency. I checked this comment with Prof John Schindler, @20Committee on Twitter. Schindler is former NSA Top Secret plus cleared, a senior NSA officer, and currently a Professor at the Naval War college in Boston.

He says that my commenter is “very probably” right on the wiki and its directories. Here’s the comment:

As a total security imbecile, Rusbridger fails (or refuses) to grasp this basic concept: Any intelligence operative whose name is exposed to journalists, or put in a position where the likelihood of their identities being publically exposed is at greater risk, CAN NEVER BE DEPLOYED COVERTLY.
The issue here is not that ‘no names have been published’, it is that a) copying and trafficking them in a way that gives poor assurance over their long-term control and b) allowing such vast visibility of their names to unvetted journalists has had significant implications for those staff safety, deployability and careers. This also puts the Agencies operational effectiveness in peril – operational staff are difficult to recruit, train, retain and protect. To have even tens of staff blown could cause entire business areas to grind to a halt and lead to further attrocities on the streets of the UK.

Let’s take an example: we necessarily have a sizeable security presence in Northern Ireland. Therefore there were almost certainly named staff within those files who work in Northern Ireland or would have been required to do so at some point in their careers. If names were to hit wikileaks then there is a real and tangible prospect of those staff in such high risk environments being hunted down and killed. In this situation they would have to leave their homes within minutes of publication. With documents shipped extensively internationally, with hundreds of journalists given access does Rusbridger seriously think it would now be viable for such staff to remain in environments like Northern Ireland, does he think such staff who were already deployed there could remain regardless of whether the Guardian actually published the names? Is this a risk HMG can take? Of course not. This is why it is a criminal offence to communicate names and this is why HE HAS CAUSED GREAT DAMAGE.

Those staff may have been employed for another 40 years, can Rusbridger give any long-term assurances over control of those documents he shipped? Of course not.

It seems apparent that the information exchange wiki betrayed by the Guardian did not just include the odd name – the Guardian’s own descriptions imply that it included entire staff directories; which is logical as after all, this is exactly the sort of information GCWIKI would have been set up to share. We might be talking about many thousands of names. This could be a security disaster of unparalleled proportions.

In his Witness statement, Oliver Robbins stated that:

‘I am advised that information already obtained has had a direct impact on decisions taken in regards to staff deployments and is therefore impacting operational effectiveness’

So it sounds like this damage is already happening.

Lives and careers put at risk and families uprooted for Mr Rusbridger’s convenience? It is difficult to conceive of a more treacherous, reckless act.

Do I think that Rusbridger would have sent the files over if he had realised the wikis contained directories with thousands of names? No – I don’t think him as bad as that. Or that he deliberately scorched the careers of every intel officer named in the files? Again, no. I can’t think so ill of the man as that. But it’s the smugness of thinking he knows better, that he is, as he has said many times, above the law – didn’t want “judges” getting hold of the story – and the determination to secure for his financially failing paper some online traffic that led him to do this wicked thing. Time and again Rusbridger has been shown not to understand the basics of intel. He kept the files in a “secure room” with floor to ceiling windows covered with blinds, ideal for laser mikes. They could pick up any detail of conversations about those files in that room. This had to be pointed out to him by civil servants and was one reason he agreed to destroy his hard copy of the files (and this is by his own account).

He has cited this wholly false, fake figure of 850k people having access to the GCHQ documents – which is the total number of US personnel cleared Top Secret. Intelligence doesn’t work like that, there is compartmentalisation, it’s on a need to know basis only. As Prof Schindler has said he was given the topmost NSA security clearance and he did not see, have access to or know about these files.

Rusbridger is a journalist; he doesn’t know what’s safe and what’s not, or how intel works. As my commenter says (and my commenter is not using his real name) this is precisely why it is a criminal offence to communicate names. I will be writing today to Commander Cressida Dick at the Metropolitan Police to put in a complaint of a criminal offence based on this, as she has said anyone can do yesterday in Parliament. It is to be hoped that other journalists will hold Rusbridger to account on what he has done, but there is a massive amount of establishment clubbery going on. We must rely on the police not to be intimidated by a very powerful press axis. A free press under the law means just that, and it’s why hacking trials are now proceeding.

34 replies »

    • Fritz you are correct but what the editor should have done is hand the files to the police rather than hold on to them.
      It’s like holding stolen goods.

    • That’s the point, Fritz. It doesn’t matter if they are published or not. If thousands of non-vetted journos have access to the names, that is a huge risk for those working covertly. It only takes one of those journos to have sympathies and/or contacts within, say, the Irish republican cause or the Islamist cause to pass those names on to people who can do real damage to those individuals.

      That is why this information is kept restricted to those who have been vetted and can (at least in theory) be trusted not to reveal it to anyone with nefarious aims.

      At the very least, it means there is accountability – if there is a leak, the source of that leak is traceable. Once the names get “out there”, it becomes much harder to do so.

      • What I meant is the assumption that Rusbridger dispersed directories containing names.
        Anyway Greewald and his partner, and they have the directories, are much more unreliable, aren`t they?

        • “Anyway Greewald and his partner, and they have the directories, are much more unreliable, aren`t they?”

          Fritz which well known ‘newspaper’ paid for Greenwald’s partner’s airfares while he was carrying encrypted files?
          No prizes, it was of course “The Guardian”

          • Yes, but I acknowledged some disagreements between Al Guardian and Greenwald concerning the publishing and handling of the files. So I give Al Guardian the benefit of doubt. in this case. The questions also remain which of the documents Greeenwald and his partner chose to share with Al Guardian, did they receive all files from Snowden, …
            That`s something which only Snowden and Greenwald can answer.

  1. Surely it would be more accurate to ask “Has the NSA exposed names of thousands of GCHQ personnel?” That’s where the information came from, after all, and once it was in Snowden’s hand it was already compromised. But the rot started earlier: if Snowden had access to this stuff then so did countless other people, some of whom are presumably working for Britain’s enemies. This episode hasn’t actually exposed any secrets; it has exposed how poorly they were kept. Complaining about Rusbridger is like complaining about a fire alarm, when we really need to focus on the fire.

    • Complaining about Rusbridger is like complaining about a fire alarm, when we really need to focus on the fire.

      Rusbridger wants to damage the socialist rejecting democracies, the most powerful countries in the world today. He cannot contemplate that the UK electorate is not accepting his extreme radical left wing world view. He will do anything to cause anarchy and mayhem in those democracies while claiming to be a ‘patriot’.

      That is what he is doing at this very moment.

      • I’m not entirely sure Nobbly.
        I believe it is more to do with making money.
        This is the same thing about Israel.
        It sells to bash it so he does it.

        It’s similar to roles played by train companies in WW2 knowing full well where the trains go and yet making money out of it.

        • I agree – I think Nobbly has overstated the case. And I completely disagree with Joe. The law is there to prevent the spread of this material. Just because Snowden broke the law, that doesn’t mean Rusbridger was free to do the same. Your analogy about fire is entirely wrong.

          Snowden may have lit the flame, but Rusbridger threw oil on it. He could easily have done the responsible thing – given the data back to its rightful owners and if he had published a scathing piece about how he got hold of it, and how lax security is, he would have got as many hits and been praised for it. i.e. he could have been the hero who PUT OUT the fire,. Instead, he fanned the flames. He is just as guilty as Snowden.

          • Also. The Commons Committee asked no questions to determine if Rusbridger was in any way complicit in the actual theft of the Snowden material. Greenwald is afraid to enter the US at the moment. This may be because he was complicit in the theft of the material. Not just the publication.

            The questions asked seemed very, very mild to me. They could have been far more inclusive and intrusive.

    • Joe: “Complaining about Rusbridger is like complaining about a fire alarm, when we really need to focus on the fire.”

      This is not correct.
      If you wish for a better analogy think of a house in flames when Rusbridger passes by and instead of calling 999 and alert the fire dept he just stands by and watches.

      It is irresponsible, and immoral.

      But what can you expect from a paper who runs obituary for Rantissi, Yassin, Bin Laden, said Siam, Abu Nidal, Arafat, and other terrorists while ignores those Israeli artists like Arik Einstein and Sefi Rivlin who fought for social justice and freedom of speech as well mutual respect among the entire political spectrum.
      These artists taught us more about love than about death, but I guess they do not sell these days so papers like the Guardian seem like they rather mourn those who teach hate.

  2. I totally agree with Mensch. This is far more important than the principle of “press freedom” which has never been an absolute. It has always been qualified and limited by such matters as libel law, contempt of court and the Official Secrets Act. Every journalist understands this and knows the potential consequences of ignoring it. Sometimes, they are willing to take the risk as they feel the price is worth paying (e.g. Private Eye and the numerous libel cases against it), but that’s their choice.

    Rusbridger knew very well that he should not have further disseminated this material (although I accept as Mensch does that he may not have fully appreciated the extent of the damage that could cause). He willingly committed a crimilnal offence and ought to be held to account for that.

  3. Mensch:
    Journalists have asked me on Twitter if I really want to see Alan Rusbridger arrested. Yes, I do; and here’s why.

    CiFWatch, of course, wants to see him arrested for other reasons.

    This is just anti-Guardian campaigning, and has nothing to do with the paper’s Israel coverage – let alone anti-Semitism.

    • Pretz. Rusbridger’s actions have potentially (probably actually) caused great harm to the national security of at least two states (Britain and the US) who are very firmly lined up on Israel’s side in the war against Islamist terror. It is no stretch at all to believe that damage to UK/US intelligence makes Israel more vulnerable.

      I absolutely see your point, however, that it is a long stretch too far to suggest that Rusbridger’s role in this was motivated by anti-Israsel (or antisemitic) feelings, but when you are trying to build a case that under Rusbridger’s guidance, the Guardian has a lax approach to truth and a warped view of what is in the best interests of liberal values and democratic socuiety (as CifWatch basically does) then this is clear evidence to support the case, and it is legitimate to highlight it.

  4. The Guardian under the leadership of Rusbridger wants to make the possible biggest damage to the forces fighting against Islamist terror. The fact that their actions could have deadly consequences for a lot of people – who gives a shit…

  5. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who was
    doing a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me breakfast because I found it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah,
    thanx for spending time to talk about this matter here on your blog.

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  7. You are pathetic, really. And disgusting, too. And stupid.

    If the secret service wanted to secure these ALREADY LEAKED FILES (so does not matter what the journalists did, the data was not secret anymore), then why couldn’t they HELP the Guardian with security?

    Why don’t they have courses on what to do when you receive secret files?
    Why don’t they have a service that would remove the names for free?

    • “corrector” I am fascinated by your questions. I think it is pretty damn clear to anyone what they should do when they are presented with information which is clearly secret and clearly stolen. Secure it and alert the proper authorities. You don’t need training to know that you shouldn’t pass it on to anyone, least of all a wide and uncontrollable group of journalists in another jurisdiction.

      Just who is “pathetic” and “disgusting” and “stupid” again? I presume you are takling about Rusbridger who seems to have deliberately disseminated secret, stolen information that could easily put lives and national security at risk.

      • ” I think it is pretty damn clear to anyone what they should do when they are presented with information which is clearly secret and clearly stolen. ”

        No it’s NOT. Moron.

        “Just who is “pathetic” and “disgusting” and “stupid” again?”

        You are.

        • “No it’s NOT. Moron.”

          Oh woe is me. How can I cope with such devastatingly well-argued points such as that? You have convinced me – Rusbridger is clearly innocent!

            • Who from? From the opprobrium of tiny-minded idiots like you? No, I think I’ll risk staying out in the open.

              • I am sure the fools at NSA and their inane English friends need the help of buffoons like you so that everyone forget how they put the life of the agents in danger.

                Thank you a lot for being a stupid low life.