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Alan Rusbridger grilled over Snowden

Guardian editor questioned by a hostile British Home Affairs Committee over his newspaper's handling of material leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

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Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has faced a hostile grilling by British MPs, who accused him of committing a crime by distributing documents received from spy whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Rusbridger was called to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee.

At one point he was asked whether he loved his country. He was later asked if he would have told the Nazis that Britain had cracked the Enigma code. He was also told he had confessed to committing a crime.

Secrets published ... the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger faces hostile questioning by British MPs over the Edward Snowden leaks.

Secrets published ... the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger faces hostile questioning by British MPs over the Edward Snowden leaks.

Rusbridger told the Committee that, after receiving the leak of 58,000 documents from Mr Snowden, The Guardian had later sent them to The New York Times.

But he denied that he had ever lost control of the documents, and said they were being held securely under the joint control of the two newspapers.

"The only time the material has leaked has been from the NSA, not from The Guardian," he said, vowing that the paper would continue to publish, despite intimidation from the government and claims he was putting national security at risk. At one point, Rusbridger told MPs that only 1 per cent of files leaked by Snowden were published by The Guardian.

"In the democracy I want to live in, I don’t want national security to be used as a trump card that says sorry you can’t publish anything else."

Conservative MP Michael Ellis accused Rusbridger of committing a criminal offence under anti-terror laws, by authorising the transmission of stolen top secret material.

Rusbridger replied: "You may be a lawyer, I am not, so I will leave that to you."

Mr Ellis said, "it isn’t only about what was published, it’s about what you have communicated. That is what amounts or can amount to a criminal offence.

"If you had known about Enigma Code during World War II, would you have transmitted that information to the Nazis?"

Rusbridger said that was a "well-worn red herring".

Under the UK’s Terrorism Act, it is a crime to communicate information about a member of the intelligence services "which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism". However, it is a defence if the person can prove a "reasonable excuse".

Later in the hearing, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick said they were investigating material taken from David Miranda, the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, including the alleged communication of agents’ names.

Mr Ellis also accused Rusbridger of "outing" gay spies by revealing the existence of a pride group at GCHQ, and revealing details of spies’ families via information about GCHQ trips to Disneyland.

Conservative MP Mark Reckless asked Rusbridger if he considered he had broken the law by transmitting information to The New York Times.

Rusbridger said he told the UK government in July that he was sharing the information, which included names, with The New York Times.

"Which you would accept constitutes communicating it outside the UK?" Mr Reckless asked.

"Self evidently, they work in New York," Rusbridger replied.

Mr Reckless said "you have, I think, admitted a criminal offence in your response there" and asked if he should be prosecuted.

"I think it depends on your view of a free press really," Rusbridger replied, saying the US attorney-general had said he would not prosecute a journalist for doing their duty.

Rubsridger said he had also sent a "small number" of the documents to ProPublica in the US – by FedEx courier.

But he said the newspaper had never "lost control" of the data, which was heavily encrypted, did not include the names of MI5 or MI6 spies, and had been sent and arrived safely.

He said some material had been sent to Greenwald, but he did not know whether it was material that Greenwald had not already received directly from Mr Snowden.

Rusbridger said there was a clear public interest in publishing some information from the Snowden leak – only one per cent of the total material had been published, and it had been carefully redacted.

Not a single name had been published, he said, and the newspaper had consulted more than 100 times with officials over what could be safely published.

At the start of the project he had told reporters that they should not fish out material from the Snowden documents that wasn’t in the spirit of what Snowden had intended to achieve by the leak.

He said Snowden had separately sent material to Glenn Greenwald in Rio, to the Washington Post and to Germany.

"It has very much been in my mind the ridiculous situation we would be in if The Guardian was [the] only publication in the world not able to publish information published in Rio or Germany, all around the world," Rusbridger said.

"You can criminalise newspapers all you like, but [then] the next Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning won't go to newspapers, they will dump this material [elsewhere]."

He also pointed out that 850,000 people had official access to the same material.

Rusbridger said senior intelligence experts and legislators had told him none of the material The Guardian had published had caused any damage to intelligence operations or risked any lives.

Committee chair Keith Vaz asked Rusbridger "do you love this country?"

Rusbridger replied "I'm slightly surprised to be asked the question but yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things."

He added: "One of the things I love about this country is that we have that freedom to write, and report, and to think and we have some privacy, and those are the concerns which need to be balanced against national security."