New documents obtained by the Associated Press under a Feedom of Infomation Act request appear to reveal that high-level officials knew in advance that British agents were attempting to destroy documents leaked by Edward Snowden that were contained on computers owned by the Guardian newspaper.
Though the "White House had publicly distanced itself on whether it would do the same to an American news organization," reports the AP, the internal NSA emails show "senior intelligence officials were notified of Britain's intent to retrieve the Snowden documents and that one senior U.S. official appeared to praise the effort."
According to AP:
"Good news, at least on this front," the current NSA deputy director, Richard Ledgett, said at the end of a short, censored email to then-NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander and others. The subject of that July 19, 2013, email was: "Guardian data being destroyed." A paragraph before Ledgett's comment was blacked out by censors, and the NSA declined to answer questions about the documents.
The White House said Thursday the comment from Ledgett — then the head of the NSA's Media Leaks Task Force — was confined to intelligence operations because it was "good news" that classified information was recovered and "didn't reflect a broader administration view" on press freedoms.
The Guardian's hard drives were destroyed the day after Ledgett's email. Top editor Alan Rusbridger made the decision after a week of increasingly blunt threats from British officials. A senior aide to British Prime Minister David Cameron even warned that Rusbridger's nearly 200-year-old newspaper faced closure unless the documents were destroyed.
Responding to the developments, a spokesperson for the Guardian said:
We're disappointed to learn that cross-Atlantic conversations were taking place at the very highest levels of government ahead of the bizarre destruction of journalistic material that took place in the Guardian's basement last July.
What's perhaps most concerning is that the disclosure of these emails appears to contradict the White House's comments about these events last year, when they questioned the appropriateness of the UK government's intervention.