Has Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger exposed names of thousands of GCHQ personnel?

Cross posted by former MP Louise Mensch

rusbridger
Alan Rusbridger

Journalists have asked me on Twitter if I really want to see Alan Rusbridger arrested. Yes, I do; and here’s why.

It was always incredibly bad that he had exposed British intelligence agents to foreigners, willfully, having admitted that doing so would expose them. My prior blog below shows how he redacted all their names from the files he FedExed to ProPublica but then decided he couldn’t be arsed on the 25,000 files he sent unredacted to the NYT and Glenn Greenwald.

A comment was left on that last blog that I have to reproduce. It shows that every agent exposed by Rusbridger has had their career ruined for the duration of it; none of them can ever work in the field again. Furthermore, the writer makes the compelling case that the NSA-GCHQ wiki, which the New York Times published extracts from, and the directories of staff interests like gay and lesbian clubs, ghost hunting clubs etc, mean that Rusbridger has actually sent abroad not just a handful of names, as he claimed to Parliament “there were names on power points” but actually thousands of GCHQ names.

It is possible he has exposed the names of every person working at the agency. I checked this comment with Prof John Schindler, @20Committee on Twitter. Schindler is former NSA Top Secret plus cleared, a senior NSA officer, and currently a Professor at the Naval War college in Boston.

He says that my commenter is “very probably” right on the wiki and its directories. Here’s the comment:

As a total security imbecile, Rusbridger fails (or refuses) to grasp this basic concept: Any intelligence operative whose name is exposed to journalists, or put in a position where the likelihood of their identities being publically exposed is at greater risk, CAN NEVER BE DEPLOYED COVERTLY.
The issue here is not that ‘no names have been published’, it is that a) copying and trafficking them in a way that gives poor assurance over their long-term control and b) allowing such vast visibility of their names to unvetted journalists has had significant implications for those staff safety, deployability and careers. This also puts the Agencies operational effectiveness in peril – operational staff are difficult to recruit, train, retain and protect. To have even tens of staff blown could cause entire business areas to grind to a halt and lead to further attrocities on the streets of the UK.

Let’s take an example: we necessarily have a sizeable security presence in Northern Ireland. Therefore there were almost certainly named staff within those files who work in Northern Ireland or would have been required to do so at some point in their careers. If names were to hit wikileaks then there is a real and tangible prospect of those staff in such high risk environments being hunted down and killed. In this situation they would have to leave their homes within minutes of publication. With documents shipped extensively internationally, with hundreds of journalists given access does Rusbridger seriously think it would now be viable for such staff to remain in environments like Northern Ireland, does he think such staff who were already deployed there could remain regardless of whether the Guardian actually published the names? Is this a risk HMG can take? Of course not. This is why it is a criminal offence to communicate names and this is why HE HAS CAUSED GREAT DAMAGE.

Those staff may have been employed for another 40 years, can Rusbridger give any long-term assurances over control of those documents he shipped? Of course not.

It seems apparent that the information exchange wiki betrayed by the Guardian did not just include the odd name – the Guardian’s own descriptions imply that it included entire staff directories; which is logical as after all, this is exactly the sort of information GCWIKI would have been set up to share. We might be talking about many thousands of names. This could be a security disaster of unparalleled proportions.

In his Witness statement, Oliver Robbins stated that:

‘I am advised that information already obtained has had a direct impact on decisions taken in regards to staff deployments and is therefore impacting operational effectiveness’

So it sounds like this damage is already happening.

Lives and careers put at risk and families uprooted for Mr Rusbridger’s convenience? It is difficult to conceive of a more treacherous, reckless act.

Do I think that Rusbridger would have sent the files over if he had realised the wikis contained directories with thousands of names? No – I don’t think him as bad as that. Or that he deliberately scorched the careers of every intel officer named in the files? Again, no. I can’t think so ill of the man as that. But it’s the smugness of thinking he knows better, that he is, as he has said many times, above the law – didn’t want “judges” getting hold of the story – and the determination to secure for his financially failing paper some online traffic that led him to do this wicked thing. Time and again Rusbridger has been shown not to understand the basics of intel. He kept the files in a “secure room” with floor to ceiling windows covered with blinds, ideal for laser mikes. They could pick up any detail of conversations about those files in that room. This had to be pointed out to him by civil servants and was one reason he agreed to destroy his hard copy of the files (and this is by his own account).

He has cited this wholly false, fake figure of 850k people having access to the GCHQ documents – which is the total number of US personnel cleared Top Secret. Intelligence doesn’t work like that, there is compartmentalisation, it’s on a need to know basis only. As Prof Schindler has said he was given the topmost NSA security clearance and he did not see, have access to or know about these files.

Rusbridger is a journalist; he doesn’t know what’s safe and what’s not, or how intel works. As my commenter says (and my commenter is not using his real name) this is precisely why it is a criminal offence to communicate names. I will be writing today to Commander Cressida Dick at the Metropolitan Police to put in a complaint of a criminal offence based on this, as she has said anyone can do yesterday in Parliament. It is to be hoped that other journalists will hold Rusbridger to account on what he has done, but there is a massive amount of establishment clubbery going on. We must rely on the police not to be intimidated by a very powerful press axis. A free press under the law means just that, and it’s why hacking trials are now proceeding.

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