By Tracy R. Walsh

That was the wisecrack a British intelligence agent made while destroying journalists’ computers in the basement of The Guardian – one of many strange details in Alan Rusbridger’s surreal account of Snowden-related press intimidation. Rusbridger says the tactics won’t work:

Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents; we just won’t do it in London. …. The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes–and, increasingly, it looks like “when.”

Ryan Chittum is stunned:

Greenwald’s paper has been threatened by its own government with prior restraint and had its hard drives smashed in its basement to make a (stupid) point. This is police-state stuff. We need to know the American government’s role in these events–and its stance on them–sooner rather than later.

Dan Kennedy thinks the same thing could happen in America:

We are already being told that such thuggery couldn’t happen in the United States because of our constitutional protections for freedom of the press. … But in fact, there is nothing to stop the U.S. government from censoring the media with regard to revelations such as those contained in the Snowden files–nothing, that is, except longstanding tradition. And respect for that tradition is melting away, as I argued recently in this space.

And J.D. Tuccille believes the British government wanted scare reporters across the globe:

That the act was intended as a public message certainly makes more sense than the suggestion that U.K. intelligence authorities are unaware that, in the Internet age, a story reported by an American reporter living in Brazil working with a colleague (Laura Poitras) in Germany, based on information delivered by a whistleblower who has taken refuge in Russia, can be cut off by threatening a single British newspaper. … This wasn’t a serious attempt to stop The Guardian from publishing stories about the intelligence community; it was a baseball bat across the knees as a lesson to all journalists.