You have to hang on to your better nature in these things. Alan Rusbridger may be on the side of the angels but there’s something about his sharp nose, clever expression and big glasses that causes an old instinct to twitch. When he appeared before the Home Affairs committee, his tie wasn’t quite up. And he stood there in front of his chair taking his time to sit down, looking round the MPs with a big fat horizontal pen in his mouth.
Any decent person would want to get him round the back of the bike sheds and bully him. Michael Ellis would come. Mark Reckless would do some holding down. Ian Austin would have a contribution to make. Would Nicola Blackwood watch with quiet, intense interest, lips slightly parted, breathing audibly?
Shaking this off.
The Guardian’s record is a fine one. They did more to break the phone hacking story than the police. Indeed, they indicted the police. In this secret file affair, they’ve done more to check the actions of the security services than the heads of those services.
Against this, the chiefs of the intelligence services says the leaks were a field day for Al-Qaeda.
Is that true?
It is the sort of thing they say. Nor has there been any evidence for or manifestation of it. The Guardian named no one, ever, he said. And: “I don’t want to live in a country where national security trumps everything.”
He listed officials and institutions down to and including Norman Baker who all asserted that the Guardian’s work had been exemplary, public spirited, brave, noble, beautifully-redacted. As for public debate, there were three Snowden-related Bills in Congress. There were numberless newspapers, colleagues, presidents, heads of intelligence, international counsel gnawing the bones of it – the President of the United States himself was reviewing all his security operations in the light of the Guardian’s actions. The White House. Downing Street. The NSA, the Pentagon, GCHQ. All were on his consultation list. Only Polly Toynbee’s role went unacknowledged.
Michael Ellis defied this “Labour love-in”. Dressed in the majesty of the law, he fell on Rusbridger, this common criminal. Files had been stolen by Snowden, with names to be communicated elsewhere, and Rusbridger had “caused them to be communicated”. In his best Old Bailey, Lewis asked, “Will you accept that an offence under S 58a of the Terrorism Act has been committed?”
He didn’t particularly, not really.
“It’s not amusing!” Ellis yelped at one point. But that wasn’t really for him to say.
The Tories repeated the criminal charge in several registers. But the reply was, you know, free speech, public interest, liberty, the press, the fact that no one seems to have been hurt or harmed and almost nothing had been published.
The only thing they nailed him on – absolutely nailed him on – was a fact he didn’t dare deny. The Guardian had shipped secret files across a national border using Fedex, in contravention of Section 8 subsection 16 of Fedex’s terms of service. The penalty for this was left to the imagination.
A couple of false notes: Rusbridger said that no one on his paper had read all the 58,000 files. He therefore didn’t know what he was actually sending over to the New York Times.
He also said: “There’s stuff in there about Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re not even going to look at it.”
An odd thing for a newspaper editor to say, considering what we know from Iraq dossiers over the years.
A last word sums up the problem of a massive collection of Big Billion Data, so big that no one can process, or evaluate, or even read it:
“The danger is we have a world with no privacy and no security.”