Keith Vaz says home affairs committee to look at newspaper’s activities as part of inquiry into counter-terrorism
A powerful group of MPs will investigate the Guardian’s publication of stories about mass surveillance based on leaks by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, as part of a wider inquiry into counter-terrorism.
Keith Vaz, the Labour head of the Commons home affairs committee, said he would look into “elements of the Guardian’s involvement in, and publication of, the Snowden leaks” hours after the prime minister suggested a select committee might look at the issue.
It had emerged the matter would be considered by Vaz’s parliamentary committee after former Tory cabinet minister Liam Fox asked him to investigate what damage the Guardian may have caused to national security.
“I have received a letter from Liam Fox requesting that the home affairs select committee consider elements of the Guardian’s involvement in, and publication of, the Snowden leaks,” Vaz said.
“I will be writing to assure Dr Fox that the committee is currently conducting an inquiry into counter-terrorism and we will be looking at this matter as part of it.”
A spokesman for Vaz could not confirm whether Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor-in-chief, would be called to give evidence, saying this would be a matter for all committee members to decide.
Earlier in the day, Fox asked David Cameron for a “full and transparent assessment about the Guardian involvement in the Snowden affair” at prime minister’s question time in the House of Commons.
The Conservative former defence secretary had argued that the Guardian had been guilty of double standards for exposing the scandal of phone hacking by newspapers and yet had gone on to publish secrets from the US National Security Agency taken by Snowden.
In response, Cameron encouraged investigation of the issues through parliamentary select committees. “The plain fact is that what has happened has damaged national security and in many ways the Guardian themselves admitted that when they agreed, when asked politely by my national security adviser and cabinet secretary to destroy the files they had, they went ahead and destroyed those files,” he told MPs.
“So they know that what they’re dealing with is dangerous for national security. I think it’s up to select committees in this house if they want to examine this issue and make further recommendations.”
The prime minister’s spokesman refused to elaborate on what Cameron meant by the issue of the Guardian disclosures being examined by a select committee.
There are as many as four committees that might take up David Cameron’s suggestion, including the culture select committee, the home affairs select committee, the defence select committee and the intelligence and security select committee.
The ISC largely meets in private but is due soon to meet the leaders of the spy agencies in public and it is certain that the issues raised by the Guardian, including the impact on national security, will be discussed.
Cameron did not directly respond to calls for the police to prosecute by the backbench Tory MP Julian Smith, who has secured a debate on the issue in Westminster Hall on Tuesday next week.
Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat MP and Tom Watson, a Labour MP who campaigned against phone hacking, are also planning to request a debate in the House of Commons on greater regulatory oversight of the security services.
A Guardian spokesman said: “The prime minister is wrong to say the Guardian destroyed computer files because we agreed our reporting was damaging. We destroyed the computers because the government said it would use the full force of the law to prevent a newspaper from publishing anything about the NSA or GCHQ.
“That is called ‘prior restraint’ and it is unthinkable in the US, where the New York Times and Washington Post have been widely applauded – along with the Guardian – for reporting on the Snowden files. That reporting has so far led to a Presidential review and three proposed bills before Congress.”