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A Lower Form Of Life

21 Aug

In my father’s day, NSA officials competed to be boring, nondescript, effectively invisible. My father could have been the “invisible man”. He censored his own speech in public, where he controlled who he encountered. I guess that discipline is no longer the case in today’s intelligence community. “You’ve had your fun,” is pretty ominous and adolescent, especially coming from GCHQ “technicians” smashing hard drives on the floor when they knew such heavy-handed chest-thumping is pointless – the information on all that hardware exists in the cloud and is backed up on our equipment in other places. It’s as if Tommy Lee Jones’ parody of a man in black has now become the model. “We Can Call Off The Black Helicopters” is another demented example of this arrogance.

A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

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