With the decision to detain David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, at Heathrow airport in London over the weekend, the British government demonstrated just how determined it is recover files leaked by Edward Snowden.
Here’s something else they’ve made clear: They have no idea how to do it.
In an astounding turn of events, the British government apparently sent two technicians from the GCHQ — the British answer to the NSA — to the Guardian‘s office to destroy hard drives that the agency believed contained leaked files — files that were of course stored elsewhere online and could hardly be destroyed by smashing a few computers. The Guardian has more color on the bizarre episode, which took place after the government threatened legal action against the paper:
On Saturday 20 July, in a deserted basement of the Guardian’s King’s Cross offices, a senior editor and a Guardian computer expert used angle grinders and other household tools to pulverise the hard drives and memory chips on which the encrypted files had been stored.
As they worked, they were watched intently by technicians from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) who took notes and photographs, but who left empty-handed.
As Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote on Monday, “it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age.”
Call it the Zoolander strategy of leak-enforcement.
Here’s how we imagine the encounter at the Guardian‘s office went down.
Just remember, GCHQ, the files are in the computer.