On June 5 the Guardian published the first of a series of stories that have become known as "The NSA Files" - revealing a vast network of domestic and international surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency. As editor in chief of the Guardian, I have been closely involved in the stories leaked to us by whistleblower Edward Snowden, and have worked closely with the Guardian US editor in chief Janine Gibson and the lead reporter Glenn Greenwald. I’ll be here for the next two hours to answer as many questions as I can - although, of course, I will need to keep sources safe.

Proof! More proof!

EDIT: Must go and do a little light editing. Thank you all for taking part. It’s been a lifelong ambition to answer the duck-horse thing. And (my only Rampart moment) keep reading the Guardian.....

Comments: 1602 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

tomphillips1077 karma

Would you rather fight one NSA-sized Wikileaks, or a hundred Wikileaks-sized NSAs?

alanrusbridger2974 karma

I stay up all night working out my position on ducks and horses and you ask me this?

dharmabumzzz280 karma


alanrusbridger1006 karma

I thought you’d never ask!

I’d rather the former. Just so I could say “A duck, a duck, my kingdom for a duck!”

Before I killed it.

professionalshammer650 karma

Just wanted you to know. I work in government intelligence. And we all got an email forbidding us from visiting your site. Well done. Any thoughts on that?

alanrusbridger686 karma

Just like the US Army! I’m sure you’re all intelligent enough to find a way round the ban....

bluecoffee638 karma

Have you changed anything about your own internet habits since the NSA revelations?

alanrusbridger828 karma

I’ve become much more careful about everything digital. The more you read of these documents, the more you realised they’re across pretty much everything.

LutzExpertTera188 karma

Do you have any tips to being more careful?

alanrusbridger594 karma

My colleague James Ball contributed to this piece published just last week on tips for how to protect your sources online.

davemolloy612 karma

Business question:

The news business is notorious for not making money. Do these big, global scoops have any noticeable effect on circulation or any positive business impact?

Our are they part of the civic duty element of news reporting, to be investigated no matter how much they cost in man hours, legal fees,and so on?

Or, put another way: what do the accountants make of these big investigations?


alanrusbridger1473 karma

Complicated answer: huge readership on mobile and website. Hasn’t made much impact on print sales. So, no direct revenues. It has also been very expensive: it’s involved a considerable number of reporters, several lawyers, a great deal of cost in travel/hotels etc etc.

Happily, the Guardian has been owned by a family Trust since the 1930s. That means that the main imperative for what we do is journalistic. The business side of the operation completely support this kind of editorial endeavour because they understand that’s the mission.

Having said that, we do have to make money. And this kind of reporting does - hopefully - reinforce a perception of the Guardian as a paper that still does proper journalism. And that, in the end, builds a readership and a reputation. And that’s being reflected in our digital revenues (grew last year 28.9% to £55.9m). So, in the end, good journalism = good business. That’s the theory, anyway!

And Happy Cake Day!

alanrusbridger547 karma

Hello all, and glad to be here. I’ll do my best to answer as many questions as my three-fingered typing can cope with..

maregal397 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA, I tend to spend my down-time in work flicking between this website and the Guardian so this is a nice mix!

I've been wondering lately if the paper has had any pressure put on it from the US with regards to your publishing the stories about Edward Snowden, and also the fact that you were the organisation he chose to go to to leak his information?

alanrusbridger581 karma

We’ve had some discussions with the US authorities. We’ve put allegations to them in advance and included their response. I wouldn’t say they’re happy with what we’re doing, but, to date, no undue pressure (that I know of!).

rascally349 karma

What, in your opinion, are the implications to journalism following the reactions to the Snowden leak and the recent result in the Manning case?

alanrusbridger753 karma

Mostly, it’s all bad. I don’t think most news organisations have remotely considered the threat to journalism potentially posed by the methods revealed in the Snowden documents. One basic question: how are we going to have secure communication with sources in future - by phone, by chat, by email, by anything except face to face contact? And, obviously, the use of the Espionage Act - a first world war panic measure passed in 1917 - to clamp down on whistleblowing is really dismaying. But the US still has the First Amendment. Wish we had one of those in the UK

theblcksheep341 karma

Dear Alan, Did you ever have the chance to say "STOP THE PRESSES!". Any interesting anecdote you would like to share?

alanrusbridger834 karma

We actually got to shout “Stop the Presses!" in the middle of the Prism story a few weeks ago. Sadly, it was my deputy, Paul Johnson, who got to shout it, as I was in NYC.

I did once have to keep a judge talking while waiting for the print lorries to be loaded up with freshly-printed newspapers. Once the first van left the yard it was too late for an injunction. Quaint days!

Kishara284 karma

Did you have any idea before Snowden that the US was doing this?

alanrusbridger517 karma

Like many people, I guess, I had suspicions. But no idea about the sheer scale and ambition of what’s been revealed.

Tipsilon241 karma

Hi Alan,

Can The Guardian stay open without a paywall? I want to support the paper but don't want to buy the dead tree edition. You're providing a public service we really can't afford to see cut.


alanrusbridger332 karma

We believe so, yes. We have a detailed business plan and some extremely talented commercial colleagues - and so far we’re beating our own plan.

alanrusbridger235 karma

I've got to wrap things up now, but thank you all for your questions. It has been great.

goatsgreetings209 karma

Hello Alan. I was wondering whether late 2010, after you had made the decision to publish the Wikileaks US diplomatic cables, was a stressful period for you personally? Did you have any anxiety about the extent of the reaction as it emerged?

alanrusbridger462 karma

Handling these big stories (wikileaks, phone-hacking, NSA files) can be stressful. You’re upsetting powerful people, who have the means, the money and the legal firepower to make life very uncomfortable. But if you don’t like stress it’s probably best not to go into journalism...

big_apple198 karma

What do you think is the most likely outcome from these revelations? Apathy or change? I hope for change but I really don't know where to begin.

alanrusbridger392 karma

Look at what’s happened already - in Germany, France etc and the congressional vote in the US. There’s a real sense that public opinion is shifting and that the political classes have been caught by surprise.

MilsonBartleby192 karma

From a professional point of view, what do you make of sites like reddit?

alanrusbridger459 karma

Reddit is a nice source of traffic for us, and a front page drives huge numbers to some stories, which is always welcome. But it’s interesting to watch how it crowdsources information and reporting on big moving stories. Sometimes that’s a really good thing, like with Sandy, but at other times it’s not so clear, the misidentification of the Boston bomber being the obvious example. I’m sure the community will keep evolving, though. It’s nice to watch.

squatly176 karma

Hi Alan, welcome to reddit and thanks for taking time to answer questions!

During the Charlie Rose interview, it was said that The Guardian initially picked 3-4 slides from ~40 to publish, and these were key to the topic/shape of the debate you wanted to emerge from the story.

My question is that are you happy with what was initially and is currently being discussed, and with how this debate has grown, or in hindsight do you feel releasing other slides may have led to better/more insightful conversation? (not trying to imply that the current discussion isn't good or insightful!)

Thank you!

alanrusbridger246 karma

We’ve done our best since the start of all this to strike the right balance. There are many important issues that need airing - but we don’t want to give away crucial operation methods or endanger the security of individuals, etc. With Prism we revealed five documents, then one more - about the same judgement editors at the Washington Post. I think the subsequent debate in the US and in Europe has been very impressive and well-informed.

hiyagame149 karma

Alan, Peter Capaldi of Malcolm Tucker fame is playing you in the up-and-coming film, The Fifth Estate. What do you think of this casting and did Peter meet you to discuss, er, playing you?

alanrusbridger585 karma

Capaldi as Alan Rusbridger? About as much use as a marzipan dildo. Fuckity-bye!

wokkachikka148 karma

If you had to run through Waterloo being shot at by a sniper, how would you rate your survival chances?

alanrusbridger208 karma

I stick with our US Editor’s approach: ALWAYS OBEY MATT DAMON

mickstep138 karma

1, What do you think of Noam Chomsky's and Edward Herman's Propaganda Model?

2, Does the propaganda model apply to the Guardian/Observer? If not why not?

3, Do you have a response to Craig Murray's claim about Amelia Hill's article about Julian Assange addressing the Oxford Union http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2013/01/amelia-hill-is-a-dirty-liar/ ?

alanrusbridger129 karma

  1. I haven’t read it. On my reading list: along with Middlemarch, War and Peace and Harry Potter.
  2. I’ll let you know once I’ve read it
  3. Not really. His most explosive Guardian revelation to date is that I wear a wig (I don’t)

shalafi71135 karma

Why did Snowden out himself? I feel like I missed part of the story. Could he not have stayed anonymous?

alanrusbridger291 karma

He was quite clear from the outset that he would identify himself - via the Guardian. I guess it was only a matter of time before he was outed by the NSA. But he didn’t want to give them that pleasure.

ByLethal120 karma

What kind of threats, if any, have you received since the story broke out? Including civilians and the government.

Is there any more leaks coming in the near future?

alanrusbridger244 karma

Various difficulties have been put in our way (sorry to be vague, but this is an ongoing story). We’re working round them. And, yes, more to come.....

dan7899111 karma

Is the US government working with aliens?

alanrusbridger257 karma

Keep reading... :)

beatlesbible94 karma

Hi Alan. The Guardian backed the Lib Dems ahead of the 2010 general election. Do you regret that now? Or can you see your paper backing them again in 2015?

alanrusbridger159 karma

We would obviously have preferred a Lib-Dem/Lab coalition to the one we ended up with. On balance, still believe it’s preferable to have had a Lib-Dem/Con government than a plain Con one. I know lots of Guardian readers disagreed with the 2010 editorial (though many agreed). All to play for in 2015...

notjosh85 karma

The Guardian contains some great journalism, but I'm often disappointed to see trivial celebrity/royal news making it to the front cover. Would you ever consider dropping this completely? What would the likely effect be on circulation?

alanrusbridger317 karma

You need a bit of light and shade in any publication. Even the FT and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung have the odd joke. We did create a ‘royal-free’ button so that anyone could filter out the recent baby shenanigans.

m1ndwipe63 karma

What's with the Guardian's nasty anti-sex and pro-internet censorship editorial line?

You'd think you'd know better after these revelations, and yet Comment is Free carries a piece today arguing for the end of anonymity on the internet, and you've frequently pushed for censorship of people's right to sexual self expression including criminalisation of possession of images of consenting adults.

alanrusbridger77 karma

We’re anti-sex?

eudaimonist61 karma

What measures do you take to protect or advise whistleblowers prior to publishing their stories?

It seems that Snowden is in a situation now that could've been prevented if he'd received better advice before the story went public (about where he should locate himself, for example) - although what role a newspaper does, or should, play in providing advice and protecting a whistleblower is unclear.

alanrusbridger132 karma

It’s difficult to talk through these issues in too much detail as to do so could give away information on how we operate.

But in general, we try to be very upfront and honest with sources, and talk through possible repercussions (including legal) of speaking with the media. It’s up to people speaking to journalists and the media which, and how much, risk they want to take, and how important speaking is. We’ll then do everything in our power to protect them, after that conversation.

With the NSA, Snowden himself has made clear it was his decision to give this information to the Guardian – as was to subsequently to reveal his identity. Our team spent many hours discussing with Snowden the implications of his decision to identify himself, which he was determined to do.

rascally61 karma

Hey Alan, thanks for taking the time to do this. What advice would you have for a journalism student attempting to get into the industry at the moment?

alanrusbridger160 karma

Main thing is to publish. Blog, tweet, write, photograph, tweet, video, code, play around with data - or a combination of all of the above. a) it will keep your journalistic ‘muscle’ in practice. b) if you’re any good, you’ll get noticed.

And bear in mind you can do these things at other places than conventional news organisations. Many businesses, NGOs, arts organisations, public bodies, universities, etc are now publishers of extremely high quality stuff. Good places to practise your craft before moving on...

shallahmallakum57 karma

Since publishing the articles, do you regret the position that Snowden is now in?

alanrusbridger117 karma

I feel extremely sorry for him in his current limbo and hope that gets resolved very soon. very good piece by the British/Australian human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/23/snowden-asylum-america-international-law

G-Dad47 karma

Why do you think so little has happend to the people in charge of the survaillance? And do you think anyone will be prosecuted?

alanrusbridger87 karma

It feels as though the NSA and GCHQ employ some very good engineers and they are constantly pushing at the boundaries of the law - which is struggling to keep up with what technology can now do. Don’t know where this will all lead, legally...

immerc42 karma

The Guardian is a paper from the UK that I greatly admire, and that I enjoy reading. What are some papers from other countries that you, as an editor in chief, admire?

alanrusbridger73 karma

Oh gosh, this’ll get a bit invidious. NYT, Washington Post, WSJ. Le Monde, FAZ, Der Speigel, Le Monde, El Pais, La Repubblica, La Nazione, the Hindu, Mail and Guardian, Novaya Gazeta... but I’ll stop there for fear of offending all the people I’ve left out.

xXTheDaymanXx41 karma

What's your opinion on American News Outlets lack of covering the NSA story as opposed to following Snowden?

alanrusbridger108 karma

Actually, my impression is that there has been some great coverage - in the Washington Post, NYT, TPM, Wired, Atlantic, TNR, Beast, Slate, Economist, NPR, Politico, Techcrunch and elsewhere. Certainly, more thorough coverage and more vigorous debate than in the UK. So far.

I_miss_Chris_Hughton32 karma

do you support the The Leveson Inquiry's suggestions? if so, why? if not, why not?

xSJat12x26 karma

Did you ever meet Edward Snowden in person? If so, how did it go?

alanrusbridger43 karma

No, I’m afraid not.

cbeers522 karma

If you weren't in journalism, what field of work would you have pursued?

alanrusbridger77 karma

Well, first change bowler (tricky offspin) for England, naturally. By day. And then, after a quick shower, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

QuiGonNico21 karma

Is there a push at Guardian HQ to cater to a more American audience or is that just the way it goes you run an international website rather than a national paper.

I worry that the Guardian will start to lose some of its unique British identity as it becomes a more global reaching organisation.

EDIT: Some words

alanrusbridger40 karma

Two thirds of our readers come from outside the UK and a third of them live in N America. So, yes, we definitely want to cater for them. But we’re not scaling back at all on UK coverage. And you can use the toggle thingy at the top left hand corner of the front to choose which edition (UK, US, Aus) you prefer...

[deleted]7 karma


alanrusbridger49 karma

Our US editors looking at this - thanks.

bw19-1 karma

How do you justify earning over £450,000 salary plus benefits while laying off journalists and running down hard-won industry rates for quality journalism?

Also, nobody cares about your piano lessons.

alanrusbridger80 karma

I took a voluntary 20 per cent cut in pay when times started getting tough for quality journalism. I care about my piano lessons. So does my neighbour!