The British government has asked the New York Times to destroy copies of documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden related to the operations of the U.S. spy agency and its British partner, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), people familiar with the matter said.
The British request, made to Times executive editor Jill Abramson by a senior official at the British Embassy in Washington D.C., was greeted by Abramson with silence, according to the sources. British officials indicated they intended to follow up on their request later with the Times, but never did, one of the sources said.
On Friday, in a public statement, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, said his newspaper, which had faced threats of possible legal action from British authorities, on July 20 had destroyed copies of leaked documents which it had received from Snowden.
Rusbridger said that two days later, on July 22, the Guardian informed British authorities that materials related to GCHQ had made their way to the New York Times and the independent investigative journalism group ProPublica.
Rusbridger said in his statement that it then took British authorities "more than three weeks before anyone from the British government contacted the New York Times.
"We understand the British Embassy in Washington met with the New York Times in mid-August - over three weeks after the Guardian's material was destroyed in London. To date, no-one has contacted ProPublica, and there has been two weeks of further silence towards the New York Times from the government," Rusbridger said.
Rusbridger added that, "This five week period in which nothing has happened tells a different story from the alarmist claims made" by the British government in a witness statement it submitted on Friday to a London court hearing regarding an investigation by British authorities into whether the handling of Snowden's leaks violated British anti-terrorism and official secrets laws.
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington told Reuters: "We are not going to get into the specifics about our efforts but it should come as no surprise if we approach a person who is in possession of some or all of this material."
The spokesman added: "We have presented a witness statement to the court in Britain which explains why we are trying to secure copies of over 58,000 stolen intelligence documents - to protect public safety and our national security."
A spokeswoman for the New York Times said the paper had no comment.