LONDON - The Guardian newspaper says the British government forced it to destroy files or face a court battle over its publication of US security secrets leaked by Edward Snowden, as the fallout over the arrest of a man linked to the fugitive intensifies.
The claim by the paper's editor Alan Rusbridger came as Britain faced a second day of questions over why the partner of US journalist Glenn Greenwald had been detained and questioned at a London airport for nine hours.
David Miranda has been working with Greenwald and The Guardian on publishing material leaked by Snowden, the former US National Security Agency (NSA) worker who has turned leaker.
In response to growing criticism of the detention, Britain's Home Office interior ministry said police had been looking for "stolen information" that could be of use to terrorists when they had stopped Miranda.
Without mentioning him by name, a Home Office spokeswoman said: "If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that.
"Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning."
Writing in Tuesday's edition of The Guardian, Rusbridger said that two months ago he had been contacted by "a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister".
The call led to two meetings in which "he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on".
At the time, the paper was in the middle of publishing candid revelations about mass surveillance programmes conducted by the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, after Snowden handed them thousands of documents.
Rusbridger claimed that in a call "from the centre of government", someone he does not identify told him: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back."
"There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures," he continued. "The demand was the same: 'hand the Snowden material back or destroy it... You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more'."