The New York Times was asked by British authorities to destroy classified intelligence files leaked to the media by former national security contractor Edward Snowden, Reuters reports.
According to the report published Friday afternoon, the executive editor of the Times was approached by a senior official at the British Embassy earlier this month and was asked to purge any files her paper had received about UK intelligence from Mr. Snowden.
The editor, Jill Abramson, responded to the Britain’s request with silence, sources told Reuters journalist Mark Hosenball.
The Times has not verified the allegation, but UK officials reportedly made a similar request earlier this year to the Guardian newspaper.
The Guardian, which along with the Washington Post first published leaked intelligence attributed to Snowden, reported previously that they used power tools to break a collection of computer drives and other data devices at the paper’s London office on July 20 upon demand from the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency.
Two days after those machines were rendered useless, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said he alerted British authorities that the Times and the independent, investigative journalism outlet ProPublica had received copies as well. According to Rusbridger, it took officials more than a month to approach the Times about the files, and ProPublica was reportedly never contacted at all.
British authorities did not admit to the latest allegations regarding an incident at the Times, but a spokesperson at their embassy in DC said, “it should come as no surprise if we approach a person who is in possession of some or all of this material.”
The spokesperson made sure to address to Reuters the latest incident in the Snowden saga, which has taken twist after turn since the Guardian and Washington Post first began publishing leaked files on June 5 of this year. Earlier Friday, it was revealed that the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald had in his possession a trove of encrypted British intelligence documents when he was apprehended last month at London’s Heathrow airport.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
Those documents, a senior UK security advisor told London’s High Court, were accessed by intelligence officials because Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, carried with him a sheet of paper that on it contained the passcode necessary to decrypt the files.
The documents were taken from Miranda while he was en route to Brazil, where he lives with Greenwald.
“I can confirm that the disclosure of this information would cause harm to UK national security,” Oliver Robbins, the deputy national security adviser for intelligence, security and resilience in the Cabinet Office, said in court papers released Friday and obtained by the Guardian.
“The fact that … the claimant was carrying on his person a handwritten piece of paper containing the password for one of the encrypted files … is a sign of very poor information security practice,” he said.
According to Reuters, the Guardian’s Rusbridger said the latest claims from the British government with regards to the national security concerns surrounding leaked documents contrast with the lackadaisical approach to investigating the Times and ProPublica.
“This five week period in which nothing has happened tells a different story from the alarmist claims made” by the British government, he said in reference to the Miranda court documents.