The Obama administration knew in advance that the British government would oversee destruction of a newspaper's hard drives containing leaked National Security Agency documents last year, newly declassified documents show. The White House had publicly distanced itself on whether it would do the same to an American news organization.
The Guardian newspaper, responding to threats from the British government in July 2013, destroyed the data roughly a month after it and other media outlets first published details from the top secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
After news of the Guardian incident broke the following month, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it would be "very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate." He had been asked whether the U.S. would ever order the destruction of a U.S. media company's computer data.
The NSA emails, obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that senior intelligence officials were notified of Britain's intent to retrieve the Snowden documents and that one senior U.S. official appeared to praise the effort.
"Good news, at least on this front," the current NSA deputy director, Richard Ledgett, said at the end of a short, censored email to then-NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander and others. The subject of that July 19, 2013, email was: "Guardian data being destroyed." A paragraph before Ledgett's comment was blacked out by censors, and the NSA declined to answer questions about the documents.