by Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
LONDON - Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, has revealed in an opinion piece that British authorities threatened the media firm with legal action if it failed to destroy or return material related to its work with Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who made intelligence disclosures.
In the online item published Monday on the Guardian's website, Rusbridger writes, "A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach."
The British government sought the destruction or hand over of classified documents.
"The mood toughened just over a month ago," Rusbridger added, "when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: 'You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.' "
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Rusbridger said: "And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred - with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. 'We can call off the black helicopters,' joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro."
Rusbridger said that while "Whitehall was satisfied" the whole thing felt like a "pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age."
He said that his organization will continue to report on the Snowden documents, it just won't do it out of London.
The revelation comes after the White House said Monday that the British government gave U.S. officials a "heads up" before detaining - for nine hours at London's Heathrow airport - David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who had received classified documents from Snowden.
Miranda's cellphone, laptops and memory sticks were confiscated, according to Greenwald, who is an American citizen. Miranda was en route to his home in Brazil after visiting Germany.
Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, Rusbridger said the Guardian will be supportive of Miranda taking legal action against the British government over his detention and the confiscation of his laptop and phone.
In a statement, Britain's Home Office said: "If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that."