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Guardian 'will not be intimidated'

The editor of The Guardian has told MPs his newspaper will not be intimidated by critics of his decision to publish information contained in top secret documents leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Alan Rusbridger, who has been editor of The Guardian since 1995, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the details published in the newspaper are from just 1% of the files disclosed by Mr Snowden, a former contractor with America's National Security Agency (NSA).

In a heated evidence session, Mr Rusbridger, 59, said he and his colleagues were "patrio ts" and hailed the UK's democracy and free press after he was asked by committee chairman Keith Vaz if he "loved this country".

A number of MPs attempted to challenge the editor over the legality of his decision to publish the information, but Mr Rusbridger insisted the move had the backing of senior officials linked to governments and intelligence agencies across the world.

Later in the day, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick told the committee Scotland Yard were investigating material seized from David Miranda, the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, at Heathrow Airport as it appears possible offences were committed.

Asked by David Winnick MP if The Guardian would continue to publish material in the face of intimidation, Mr Rusbridger said: "We've been working slowly and responsibly through this material, with some of the best journalists in the world, a hundred contacts with government and agency sources - we will continue to consult them but we're not going to be put off by intimidation but nor are we going to behave recklessly."

Mr Vaz revealed that he had invited MI5 director general Andrew Parker to give evidence to the committee next year.

It has emerged that the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ were all given advance sight of the questions they would be asked when they appeared together in public for the first time before the Intelligence Security Committee (ISC) last month.

Mr Rusbridger confirmed he had only been given advance knowledge of the broad topics of discussion for today's session.

Asked what the MI5 chief should be asked if he appears, The Guardian editor said: "The question for the head of MI5 is ... what is the forum in which this can be meaningfully overseen with people who have understanding of the technology, who are adequately resourced and who understand the broader questions and broader public interest of civil society which are engaged by these questions?"

Mr Rusbridger said Mr Snowden handed 58,000 files to four places - The Guardian, the Washington Post, a location in Rio de Janeiro and another in Germany.

Asked by Mr Vaz if 1% of the files had been published, the editor replied: "That's approximately correct. We continue to publish stuff, it's about 1% of what we were given."

Dressed in a dark suit, blue shirt and purple tie, bespectacled Mr Rusbridger said there is one file The Guardian jointly holds with the New York Times, which is in New York.

He said the files were distributed across four continents to different organisations, and added: "That's the hand of cards we were all dealt - The Guardian, security services and governments."

Mr Rusbridger said 850,000 people worldwide had access to the files Mr Snowden leaked.

The editor said even GCHQ was "aghast" that Mr Snowden, a 29-year-old Hawaiian not directly employed by the US government, had access to the files.

Critics have claimed his decision to publish has aided terrorists, while others believe the move could be illegal.

Earlier this year, Mr Parker warned in a speech that revealing details about the work of GCHQ was a "gift to terrorists", while Sir John Sawers, head of MI6, said terrorists were "rubbing their hands with glee" at the Snowden disclosures.

Asked to respond to the criticism, Mr Rusbridger said The Guardian was not a "rogue newspaper" and other editors of "leading" newspapers published details from the NSA files.

The editor quoted back officials who believed no damage had been done by the publication of the information - including a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a senior official within the Obama administration and a Whitehall official.

Asked about names of intelligence officers included in the NSA files, Mr Rusbridger said: "We have never used a single name. We've published no names and lost control of no names."

Asked by Mr Vaz if he loved "this country", he replied: "I think there are countries, and they're not generally democracies, where the press are not free to write about these things, and where the security services do tell editors what to write, and where politicians do censor newspapers.

"That's not the country that we live in, in Britain, that's not the country that America is, and it's one of the things I love about this country - 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, which no one is underestimating, and I can speak for the entire Guardian staff who live in this country that they want to be secure too."

Conservative MP Michael Ellis suggested to Mr Rusbridger that when he communicated the NSA files, which contained names of intelligence officers, he committed a criminal offence.

"You may be a lawyer, Mr Ellis, I'm not, so I will leave that with you," the editor replied.

Mr Ellis put it to Mr Rusbridger that the sexual orientation of GCHQ staff and family outings to Disneyland in Paris had been revealed, and that this was "jeopardising" the individuals involved.

Mr Rusbridger replied: "You've completely lost me Mr Ellis. There are gay members of GCHQ, that is a surprise?"

Mr Ellis came back: "It's not amusing Mr Rusbridger, they shouldn't have been outed by you or your newspaper."

The editor replied: "The existence of a Pride group within GCHQ - you can go to (the) Stonewall site, you can find the same information there. I fail to see how that outs a single member of GCHQ."

Mr Rusbridger said much of the information discussed was already available.

He said: "Let's get real about this, there's nothing The Guardian published that is endangering people in the way you've talked about that's not there already."

At this stage, Mr Vaz pulled Mr Ellis up, telling him he should wrap up his questioning.

"This is not a Labour love-in," Mr Ellis said, before asking if The Guardian had paid for flights taken by Mr Miranda as he carried some of the NSA files earlier this year. M r Rusbridger said: "We paid for Mr Miranda's flights. He was acting as an intermediary."

Asked if he believed he had passed his own tests in publishing the material, Mr Rusbridger replied : "It's harm versus good, it's authority, it's proportionality - you know 1%, not all of it - it's no fishing expedition. One of the things I said to the reporters right at the beginning of this is, we're not going to use this as a bran tub for stories."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights campaigners Liberty, who was present in the committee hearing, said: " Alan Rusbridger came across as the paradigm ethical journalist, consulting colleagues and even the authorities themselves before making vital targeted disclosures in the public interest."

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaigners Big Brother Watch, said: " If the three intelligence chiefs had previously faced anywhere near as rigorous cross-examination then perhaps we would not have been so dependent on The Guardian and other newspapers to learn just how out of control surveillance had become."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "Nothing we've heard today from Alan Rusbridger changes the facts or the Government's position. The Guardian's publication and non-secure storage of secret documents has had a damaging effect on our national security capabilities."


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