(Photo: A staffer from The Guardian destroys what's obviously a desktop PC motherboard.)
It's been six months since The Guardian published initial details about its GCHQ computer smash-up story. And now, months later, The Guardian has released video footage of the staffers destroying computers alleged to contain NSA and GCHQ files stolen by Edward Snowden. The smash-up, which took place on July 20, 2013 in the basement of The Guardian's London offices, was apparently supervised by agents from the GCHQ, the U.K.'s version of the National Security Agency.
As we observed back in August, the story is utterly bizarre, and only becomes more bizarre with the release of video footage of the smash-up, along with some new photos of the destroyed computer parts.
The article accompanying the video, written by Luke Harding, clarifies that the Snowden files were stored on "four laptops," which were then destroyed by The Guardian staffers. This matches early reports from August when The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger said that the computers were MacBook Pros. But as we noticed at the time, not all the parts were from MacBooks. Several of the parts were actually from a PC -- a very old, outdated PC.
Well, once again, new photos that appeared in the video clearly show desktop PC parts. Specifically, a cumbersome power supply, a motherboard, an external PC keyboard and a cooling fan, neither of which belong inside a MacBook Pro. In fact, in the photo below from the video alleging to show the destroyed computer parts only shows PC parts.
The story simply doesn't make sense. In addition to questions we asked in August, this video raises all new ones.
--Why would British authorities detain David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald's partner, at Heathrow in order to confiscate the Snowden files, but, knowing that The Guardian had the files, demand that the files be destroyed rather than trying to confiscate and decrypt the files to learn what specifically Snowden attained?
--Why release this video now, six months after the fact?
--Why continue to say "four laptops" when Alan Rusbridger revised his story back in August, tweeting that there were "PC parts" in addition to the MacBook parts in the photos?
However, let's for a moment cut The Guardian some slack. Some possible explanations:
--It's conceivable that they tricked the GCHQ technicians into believing that the files were contained on an outdated PC. This would allow The Guardian to keep the files, while not having to destroy four perfectly good MacBook Pros. But why, then, come out in public and repeatedly say the files were on MacBook Pros? Wouldn't that expose the ruse?
--There's a slim likelihood that The Guardian is innocently screwing up a story -- neglecting to mention the PC that was obviously destroyed every time details of the story are published. Seems far-fetched considering how the story occurred inside The Guardian's office building.
Likewise, there's a chance that The Guardian just made it all up. Why do this? Simply put, it lends drama and intrigue to the story. It spices up the tale in a way that generates sympathy for The Guardian as it struggles to shine a spotlight on the secret activities of two big, bad, powerful governments. If in fact The Guardian has fabricated this story, it calls into serious question the veracity of its other claims with regards to NSA and GCHQ activities.
At the very least, if The Guardian is to be taken at face value, the fact that its writers and editors can't report on exactly what kind of computers were destroyed, how can they be trusted to report on highly technical surveillance operations involving much more complex technology?
It's difficult to know exactly which explanation best applies here, but what's perfectly clear is that we're not hearing the entire story. It remains a strange, murky chapter in a story that's ironically focused on transparency and secrecy.
(We contacted both Rusbridger and Harding for clarification, but as of the publishing of this article, neither has responded. If they do, we'll add an update.)
UPDATE: Reporter Luke Harding responded with the following tweet: