Following the detention of David Miranda at Heathrow, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger reveals UK authorities forced it to destroy two of Edward Snowden's laptops.

Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, says being forced to destroy two laptops supplied by Edward Snowden won't impact on the newspaper's reporting of NSA leaks. (Credit: Reuters) Reuters

In what was described as a "particularly pointless piece of symbolism" by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, "two security experts" physically destroyed two laptops provided to the newspaper by Edward Snowden containing sensitive material relating to the NSA and GCHQ.

The destruction took place in the basement of the Guardian headquarters in London and came after two months of meetings with Whitehall officials where the government sought the return or destruction of the material the Guardian was publishing.

The material in question related not only to the extensive surveillance programme undertaken by the National Security Agency (NSA) in America but also related to spying by the UK government through its intelligence arm GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).

Rusbridger said: "The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes - and, increasingly, it looks like 'when'."

Shadowy Whitehall figures

Speaking to commenters after the publication of his revelations, Rusbridger said he had informed the officials that there were at least two other copies of the laptops' hard drives which were not on UK soil, which would allow them to go on reporting on the leaks.

Senior government officials first contacted the Guardian editor two months ago saying: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." This initial contact was followed by further meetings with "shadowy Whitehall figures" where it was made clear that if the Guardian didn't cooperate the government would take legal action against the newspaper.

Rusbridger said that just as the detention of Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda on Sunday would not deter him from reporting on the matter, this destruction of property would have no impact on the Guardian's coverage of the documents leaked by Snowden.


On Sunday Miranda was travelling back from Germany to his home in Brazil following a meeting with journalist Laura Poitras where documents related to Edward Snowden were exchanged. On a stop-over in Heathrow Miranda was detain by UK authorities under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for the maximum permitted nine hours. The authorities confiscated Miranda's phone, laptop and games console before eventually releasing him.

Speaking about the detention of his partner, Greenwald, who was the journalist primarily responsible for publishing the Snowden leaks, said the action of the UK authorities would not deter his future reporting:

"If anything, it will do the opposite. It will embolden me: I have many more documents to report on, including ones about the UK, where I'll now focus more. I will be more aggressive, not less, in reporting."

Send a message

One US security official told Reuters that one of the main purposes of the British government's detention and questioning of Miranda was to send a message to recipients of Snowden's materials, including the Guardian, that the British government was serious about trying to shut down the leaks.

Rusbridger said that the Guardian would continue to report on the Snowden leaks, just not from the UK. "We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won't do it in London. The seizure of Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald's work."