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'Symbolic' Grauniad drive-smash was not just a storage fail

The whole thing was embarrassing, says Reg man Chris Mellor

GCHQ Benhall doughnut aerial view

Blocks and Files The word "cabinet" can mean a piece of furniture in which you store something and the digital version of this is a disk drive or flash drive. Having said that, the idea that by destroying the drive you destroy the data is so far from reality in today's data centres that anyone professing it is profoundly idiotic.

Which brings us to the Guardian newspaper and the UK's Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood. It's reported by the BBC that Prime Minister David Cameron ordered Hayward to contact the paper over its reporting of information leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

He did so and its editor Alan Rusbridger says the newspaper had to physically destroy computer hard drives as a result. The Graun reports:

On Saturday 20 July, in a deserted basement of the Guardian's King's Cross offices, a senior editor and a Guardian computer expert, David Blishen, used angle grinders and other tools to pulverise the hard drives and memory chips on which the encrypted files had been stored.

As they worked they were watched by technicians from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) who took notes and photographs, but who left empty-handed.

The idea that the data on the hard drives hadn't been copied to backup systems in the offices or the cloud is so far beyond belief as to be risible. The GCHQ technicians must have been laughing up their sleeves, and the Guardian's computer expert chortling away up his. Both knew data copies existed, as the Guardian reports make clear:

The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, had earlier informed government officials that other copies of the files existed outside the country and that the Guardian was neither the sole recipient nor steward of the files leaked by Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor. But the government insisted that the material be either destroyed or surrendered.

The destruction is described as a symbolic act, but all it symbolised was ignorance and face-saving. It was petty and stupid, the action of an ignorant and frightened bully, and that is how the UK government's behaviour in this affair seems: petty, ignorant and bullying. ®

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