DECLASSIFIED: How the UK Security Services neutralised the country’s leading liberal newspaper

DECLASSIFIED: How the UK Security Services neutralised the country’s leading liberal newspaper By Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis @markcurtis30 @DCKennard

11.9.2019

DECLASSIFIED: How the UK Security Services neutralised the country’s leading liberal newspaper By Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis markcurtis30 DCKennard

The Guardian, Britain’s leading liberal newspaper with a global reputation for independent and critical journalism, has been successfully targeted by security agencies to neutralise its adversarial reporting of the ‘security state’, according to newly released documents and evidence from former and current Guardian journalists.

surveillance alliance exposed by Snowden. This was an opportunity for the security services. It appears that their seduction began the following year. In November 2016, The Guardian published an unprecedented “exclusive” with Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic security service. The article noted that this was the “first newspaper interview given by an incumbent MI5 chief in the service’s 107-year history”. It was co-written by deputy editor Paul Johnson, who had never written about the security services before and who was still sitting on the D-Notice Committee. This was not mentioned in the article. The MI5 chief was given copious space to make claims about the national security threat posed by an “increasingly aggressive” Russia. Johnson and his co-author noted, “Parker said he was talking to The Guardian rather than any other newspaper despite the publication of the Snowden files.” Parker told the two reporters, “We recognise that in a changing world we have to change too. We have a responsibility to talk about our work and explain it.” Four months after the MI5 interview, in March 2017, the Guardian published another unprecedented “exclusive”, this time with Alex Younger, the sitting chief of MI6, Britain’s external intelligence agency. This exclusive was awarded by the Secret Intelligence Service to The Guardian’s investigations editor, Nick Hopkins, who had been appointed 14 months previously. Head of MI6, (the foreign intelligence service of the government of the United Kingdom) Alexander Younger wait for a visit of Britain’s Elizabeth II outside Watergate House to mark the centenary the United Kingdom’s Intelligence, Security and Cyber Agency (GCHQ) in London, Britain, 14 February 2019. PA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA The interview was the first Younger had given to a national newspaper and was again softball. “MI6 returns to ‘tapping up’ in an effort to recruit black and Asian officers”, it focused almost entirely on the intelligence service’s stated desire to recruit from ethnic minority communities. “ Simply, we have to attract the best of modern Britain,” Younger told Hopkins. “Every community from every part of Britain should feel they have what it takes, no matter what their background or status.” Just two weeks before the interview with MI6’s chief was published, The Guardian itself reported on the high court stating that it would “hear an application for a judicial review of the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to charge MI6’s former counterterrorism director, Sir Mark Allen, over the abduction of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife who were transferred to Libya in a joint CIA-MI6 operation in 2004”. None of this featured in The Guardian article, which did, however, cover discussions of whether the James Bond actor Daniel Craig would qualify for the intelligence service. “He would not get into MI6,” Younger told Hopkins. More recently, in August 2019, The Guardian was yet another exclusive, this time with Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Neil Basu, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer. This was Basu’s “ first major interview since taking up his post” the previous year and resulted in a three-part series of articles, one of which was entitled “Met police examine Vladimir Putin’s role in Salisbury attack”. The security services were probably feeding The Guardian these “exclusives” as part of the process of bringing it onside and neutralising the only independent newspaper with the resources to receive and cover a leak such as Snowden’s. They were possibly acting to prevent any revelations of this kind happening again. What, if any, private conversations have taken place between Viner and the security services during her tenure as an editor are not known. But in 2018, when Paul Johnson eventually left the D-Notice Committee, its chair, the MOD’s Dominic Wilson, Johnson who, he said, had been “instrumental in re-establishing links with The Guardian”. Decline in critical reporting Amidst these spoon-fed intelligence exclusives, Viner also oversaw the breakup of The Guardian’s celebrated investigative team, whose muck-racking journalists were told to apply for other jobs outside of investigations. One well-placed source the Press Gazette at the time that journalists on the investigations team “have not felt backed by senior editors over the last year”, and that “some also feel the company has become more risk-averse in the same period”. In the period since Snowden, The Guardian has lost many of its top investigative reporters who had covered national security issues, notably Shiv Malik, Nick Davies, David Leigh, Richard Norton-Taylor, Ewen MacAskill and Ian Cobain. The few journalists who were replaced were succeeded by less experienced reporters with apparently less commitment to exposing the security state. The current defence and security editor, Dan Sabbagh, at The Guardian as head of media and technology and has no history of covering national security. “ It seems they’ve got rid of everyone who seemed to cover the security services and military in an adversarial way,” one current Guardian journalist told us. Indeed, during the last two years of Rusbridger’s editorship, The Guardian published about 110 articles per year tagged as MI6 on its website. Since Viner took over, the average per year has halved and is decreasing year by year. “ Effective scrutiny of the security and intelligence agencies — epitomised by the Snowden scoops but also many other stories — appears to have been abandoned,” a former Guardian journalist told us. The former reporter added that, in recent years, it “sometimes seems The Guardian is worried about upsetting the spooks.” A second former Guardian journalist added: “The Guardian no longer seems to have such a challenging relationship with the intelligence services, and is perhaps seeking to mend fences since Snowden. This is concerning, because spooks are always manipulative and not always to be trusted.” While some articles critical of the security services still do appear in the paper, its “scoops” increasingly focus on issues more acceptable to them. Since the Snowden affair, The Guardian does not appear to have published any articles based on an intelligence or security services source that was not officially sanctioned to speak. The Guardian has, by contrast, published a steady stream of exclusives on the major official enemy of the security services, Russia, exposing Putin, his friends and the work of its intelligence services and military. In the Panama Papers leak in April 2016, which revealed how companies and individuals around the world were using an offshore law firm to avoid paying tax, The Guardian’s front-page launch scoop was authored by Luke Harding, who has received many security service Read more: Daily Maverick

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