‘Guardian’ editor Alan Rusbridger keeps an Edward Snowden totem in his pocket

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Alan Rusbridger and the MacBook detritus. (Guardian/Roger Tooth)
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One of the most eye-popping moments of the Edward Snowden global surveillance saga came when the British government forced editors at The Guardian to destroy computer hard drives—in their basement, using power drills—that contained secret files leaked by the former National Security Administration contractor, even though the newspaper still had access to copies of those same files stored on different computers abroad.

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger held on to a little piece of one of them as a memento. In fact he carries it around with him.

Rusbridger revealed this last night when he pulled some pocket-sized remains of a dismembered MacBook Pro out of his blazer during an appearance at the New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman building.

"It's a sort of artifact, a symbol of the role of the state versus the role of the journalist," said Rusbridger, who called last month's computer killing "the most bizarre event in my journalistic life."

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Rusbridger was at the library for a conversation about his new book, "Play it Again," which chronicles the 59-year-old newsman and amateur pianist's efforts to conquer Chopin's "Ballade No. 1 in G minor" while also overseeing some of the most massive global news coverage in recent history.

But he also spoke at length about the Snowden story, which The Guardian broke and has covered more assiduously than perhaps any other news organization.

Among other points, Rusbridger stressed that "this important story would not have been possible" without serious journalistic firepower, including hundreds of hours combing through arcane source documents.

"This Snowden story would be meaningless without reporters," he said. "Reporters are on the front line."