LONDON Dec 3 Legendary Watergate journalist
Carl Bernstein has written a letter of support to Guardian
editor Alan Rusbridger, who is due to appear before MPs on
Tuesday to face questions over his publication of intelligence
files from U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Bernstein, 69, said Rusbridger's appearance before the House
of Commons Home Affairs Committee was a "dangerously pernicious"
attempt by British authorities to shift the focus of the
surveillance debate from excessive government secrecy in the
United States and Britain to the conduct of the press.
The Guardian was among several newspapers that published
Snowden's leaks about Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping agency and
its close cooperation with the U.S. National Security Agency
(NSA) in carrying out mass surveillance.
Bernstein said the conduct of press had been admirable and
responsible over the issue. The articles published by the
Guardian, the Washington Post and the New York Times based on
Snowden's information were no help to terrorists or enemies of
the nation, he added.
"You are being called to testify at a moment when
governments in Washington and London seem intent on erecting the
most serious (and self-serving) barriers against legitimate news
reporting - especially of excessive government secrecy - we have
seen in decades," he wrote in the letter, which was published on
the Guardian website.
"As we learned in the United States during our experience
with the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, it is essential that no
prior governmental restraints or intimidation be imposed on a
truly free press," he said.
"Otherwise, in such darkness, we encourage the risk of our
democracies falling prey to despotism and demagoguery and even
criminality by our elected leaders and government officials."
Bernstein's reporting, together with that of Washington Post
colleague Bob Woodward, broke the Watergate scandal that
eventually resulted in the resignation of U.S. President Richard
Nixon in 1974.
He has since continued to focus on the theme of the use and
abuse of power through books, magazine articles and television
The Snowden disclosures of mass surveillance by GCHQ and the
NSA have embarrassed the British government and secret services,
who argue the release of such sensitive information is a threat
to national security.
"They've put our operations at risk," John Sawers, the head
of MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence service, told a
parliamentary committee last month.
"It's clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands
with glee - al Qaeda is lapping it up," he added.
Rusbridger, a former Washington editor for the London Daily
News, has defended the Guardian's role, saying it has provoked a
debate about the extent of intelligence activities, which
lawmakers had failed to do.
(Reporting by Silvia Antonioli; editing by Stephen Addison)