Recriminations over the alleged culpability of the The Guardian in leaking secrets to terrorists intensified yesterday, with Jack Straw accusing the newspaper of “arrogance and naivety” in the way it dealt with information supplied by former intelligence official Edward Snowden.
The former Home Secretary claimed that the paper had displayed an almost “adolescent excitement” in receiving the stolen material from the computer contractor, “blinding themselves about the consequences” of what they were doing. Mr Straw became the first former Labour minister to speak in the increasingly heated row since Andrew Parker, the Director General of MI5, accused the newspaper of gravely damaging national security and giving al-Qa’ida “the gift they need to evade us and strike at will”.
The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, were divided on the issue, with Nick Clegg saying that some of the information published “would have been immensely interesting for people who want to do us harm”, while Vince Cable insisted that the newspaper has performed a “considerable public service” and that “everything they did was entirely right and correct”.
Mr Clegg also suggested that there was a “legitimate debate to be had” about the data gathering practices of the security and intelligence services. David Cameron, however, was “content” with the current system of oversight, said a Downing Street spokesman – who stressed that the Prime Minister had backed the charges made by Mr Parker, as had the Home Secretary.
Theresa May said: “I think it is difficult when you have revelations about how security operates, then that does cause a problem – it can give some comfort to terrorists.”
Although Mr Straw acknowledged that nobody at The Guardian “gratuitously wants to risk anybody’s life”, he continued: “I do think that their sense of power of having these secrets and excitement – almost adolescent excitement – about these secrets has gone to their head.
“They’re blinding themselves about the consequence and also showing an extraordinary naïveté and arrogance in implying that they are in a position to judge whether or not particular secrets are not likely to damage the national interest. They’re not in any position at all to do that.”
Sir David Omand, a former head of GCHQ and security adviser to Number 10, said: “You have to distinguish between the original whistleblowing intent to get a debate going, which is a responsible thing to do, and the stealing of 58,000 top-secret British security documents and who knows how many American documents which is seriously, seriously damaging.”
The files leaked by Mr Snowden would be of huge interest to foreign intelligence agencies, terrorist networks and organised crime, he maintained.
“The assumption the experts are working on is that all that information or almost all of it will now be in the hands of Moscow and Beijing. It’s the most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever, much worse than Burgess and MacLean in the 1950s,” he said.