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UK investigation into journalists who published Snowden leaks, now “inactive”

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Back in 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked an archive containing thousands of secret documents from his time working at the National Security Agency, it was clear that those documents would have an international impact.

The media, particularly in the United States, has focused almost exclusively on domestic surveillance programs. However, the documents also showed evidence of foreign surveillance programs, involving many different countries.

Shortly after the documents were released, London’s Metropolitan Police launched a criminal investigation focused on journalists who reported stories from the leaked documents. The investigation internally referred to as “Operation Curable”, was led by the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command, under the direction of assistant commissioner Mark Rowley. Rowley retired in March 2018 and it seems that with his departure, the investigation went cold.

British journalist Ryan Gallagher claims to have received several updates from the Met regarding the investigation. In November 2017, they stated that it was a “complex investigation and enquiries continue.” However in response to a Freedom of Information request, the Met wrote back to him in November 2019 stating that the status of Operation Curable probe has been changed from “ongoing” to “inactive pending further information being received.”

Snowden’s documents revealed information about electronic surveillance programs operated by the UK’s largest intelligence agency, GCHQ, or Government Communications Headquarters. British authorities responded furiously to Snowden’s revelations and tried to prevent The Guardian from publishing them. Infamously, representatives from GCHQ were sent to The Guardian’s London offices to oversee the destruction of hard drives containing the secret files.

Similar to the US government’s position, the police argued that publishing Snowden’s files was itself a terrorist act. In August 2013, a memo authored by spy agency MI5 asserted that “the disclosure [of the Snowden documents], or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism.”

The Met has declined to provide information about the number of funds spent on the probe, or disclose the number of officers who worked on it, claiming they don’t keep records of such details.

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