Documents seized from the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald might threaten U.K. national security, damage the economy and lead to “widespread loss of life,” a government adviser said.
The information, taken from David Miranda on Aug. 18 at Heathrow Airport, “is highly likely to describe techniques which have been crucial in life-saving counter-terrorist operations” and could identify British intelligence agents abroad, Oliver Robbins, a U.K. national security adviser, said in documents released during a court hearing in London today.
Miranda was held for nine hours by British security forces, which seized 58,000 classified documents obtained by the former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden. Miranda was used as a courier to carry information for Greenwald, who reported on Snowden’s allegations about U.S. surveillance programs. Snowden, who faces U.S. espionage charges, has been given temporary asylum in Russia.
Miranda denies the U.K. government’s claims and is challenging the legality of its actions, Matthew Ryder, his lawyer, told the court. The court extended an order today allowing officials to inspect the material for national security purposes.
The government told Guardian staff it had “no confidence in their ability to keep the material safe” and asked the newspaper to destroy it, according to Robbins’s statement. Greenwald and Miranda have demonstrated “poor judgment” in handling the material, including carrying a piece of paper containing the password for encrypted files.
“The Guardian took every decision on what to publish very slowly and very carefully and when we met with government officials in July they acknowledged that we had displayed a ’responsible’ attitude,” Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, said in a statement. “The government’s behavior does not match their rhetoric in trying to justify and exploit this dismaying blurring of terrorism and journalism.”
U.K. police opened a criminal investigation into the documents on Aug. 22. They said a thorough examination is necessary to protect the public.
“An initial examination of the seized material has identified highly sensitive material within thousands of classified intelligence documents,” the Metropolitan Police Service said in an e-mailed statement
The case is The Queen on the application of Miranda v Secretary of State Home Office, case no. 13-11732, High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division.