UK detains Greenwald partner for 9 hours

posted at 8:41 am on August 19, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The UK can detain anyone crossing its borders for nine hours without charges under Schedule 7 of its Terrorism Act, using that time to determine whether a suspect constitutes a terrorist threat.  They used almost every minute of that time to detain David Miranda, the civil-union partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist reporting on the NSA scandal, and confiscated all of the computer equipment Miranda carried.  Brazil has filed a protest on behalf of its citizen, and both Greenwald and the Guardian are howling as well:

 The partner of a journalist who received leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden was detained for nearly nine hours Sunday under anti-terror legislation at Heathrow Airport, triggering claims that authorities are trying to interfere with reporting on the issue.

David Miranda, the partner of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, was held for nearly the maximum time authorities are allowed to detain individuals under the Terrorism Act’s Schedule 7, which authorizes security agencies to stop and question people at borders. Greenwald said Miranda’s cellphone, laptops and memory sticks were confiscated.

“This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism,” Greenwald said in a post on the Guardian website. “It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic.”

According to the UK’s own statistics, most people detained and released under Schedule 7 spent less than an hour — 97%, in fact, of those similarly detained in the three-year reporting period ending in March 2012.  Only 0.1% of those spent more than six hours.  Miranda spent eight hours and 55 minutes in custody, and left without his equipment.

Obviously, something else was at play with Miranda, and it wasn’t counter-terrorism.  The Guardian rushed attorneys to the airport to deal with the situation, and it seems unlikely that Miranda presented a real terrorist profile to the UK.  This looks very much like retaliation and intimidation by the UK government — although it’s difficult to know why they’d get their noses out of joint over a leak about the NSA.  Other than their friendship with the US and the close partnership between the two countries on a wide range of military and intelligence efforts, what would be the purpose of intimidating Greenwald on the NSA’s behalf?  Why take on the heat over the NSA when the British government could quietly stand aside and let the US deal with the fallout by itself?  That just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Unless, of course, Miranda was doing something other than traveling for pleasure. Marc Ambinder at The Week wonders whether Miranda hasn’t been a courier for the stolen materials, and the UK caught him in the act:

“Because: journalism” is not a sufficient response. I don’t like how the Guardian put Miranda on its payroll, turning him into a courier of sorts and conferring on him the patina of the legal and traditional protections afforded to journalists. That’s sloppy tradecraft and it’s cruel to Miranda. Doing journalism makes you a journalist. As Joshua Foust points out, the transitive property does not apply. (I am not a corporate strategy consultant, and I would not be one if my spouse’s company suddenly paid for me to fly stolen documents to my husband somewhere.)

Greenwald is doing real journalism. If extra protections are afforded, they are afforded to him. If extra scrutiny is warranted, he should get it. I know the Snowden case is a boundary case, that it is of an echelon that other leak cases are not and that there are real first amendment equities involved. I also know that the government takes leaks of this magnitude — and consider the totality of what’s been leaked and what precedents it sets, not just the stuff we like (the U.S. stuff), but everything — terribly seriously. As all governments do, and have done, and will do. A separation between spouse and source is a foundational principle of how reporters approach complicated stories involving secrets and classified information. IF you do choose to involve your spouse, or you and your spouse work together, then you cannot reasonably complain that your partner was harassed for no reason whatsoever. Decisions have consequences.

With that said, though, Ambinder still thinks the detention was about intimidation rather than necessary police work in the aftermath of the theft of classified material:

But: A nine-hour detention based on a tetchy counter-terrorism statute is absurd. It would be easy enough to detain Miranda, explain why, be polite, confiscate his electronics, and then let him go. That should take less than an hour. And in this case, with the world watching, a velvet glove approach is called before because public opinion about the Snowden secrecy breach absolutely matters (whether it should or not) and will influence the disposition of his case and the precedents that are set.

Similarly, Joshua Foust objects to the length of the detention, but also to the portrayal of Miranda as a completely innocent victim — and to the Guardian’s misleading representation of Miranda as simply the family member of a journalist (via Karol at Alarming News):

Amnesty International refers to him as a Guardian employee. At first, the Guardian said nothing about the details of his trip through Heathrow; late Sunday night their story included an update that they were actually funding his travel. And while the Guardian did not include this in its initial coverage, the New York Times reported that Miranda was actually visiting Laura Poitras to help her with her continued reporting on the NSA and other spying programs.

Mr. Miranda was in Berlin to deliver documents related to Mr. Greenwald’s investigation into government surveillance to Ms. Poitras, Mr. Greenwald said. Ms. Poitras, in turn, gave Mr. Miranda different documents to pass to Mr. Greenwald. Those documents, which were stored on encrypted thumb drives, were confiscated by airport security, Mr. Greenwald said. All of the documents came from the trove of materials provided to the two journalists by Mr. Snowden. The British authorities seized all of his electronic media — including video games, DVDs and data storage devices — and did not return them, Mr. Greenwald said.

So basically: Miranda was being a document mule for Greenwald and Poitras, and the Guardian was paying for it. This is no real change of tack. In June, he told the Daily Beast:

“When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in Rio via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents,” Greenwald said. “I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it’s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists.”

Among the documents Greenwald published is evidence that the NSA long ago broke open Skype, which is not a secure method of communication. Moreover, as a Brazilian national living in Brazil, Miranda would not be protected by the same laws that protect Greenwald, an American citizen, from being monitored. Moreover, he’s almost bragging to a reporter that he was enlisting his husband’s help in trafficking stolen Top Secret documents across national borders. When combined with knowing his own employer was funding his husband’s travel to collaborate with his well-known coauthor — who is herself flagged by the U.S. government — it’s a bit difficult to see why anyone would be surprised that he would be at the very least questioned by British authorities.

Bob Cesca at the Daily Banter asks why the Guardian wasn’t more truthful about Miranda’s activities from the start:

Regardless, the way this story was reported only served to perpetuate the trend of journalistic smoke-and-mirrors employed by The Guardian and others — the vagueness and disingenuousness that feeds the roiling incredulity about all of this.

Additionally, the optics of the whole thing are unfortunate. By detaining Miranda to the very limit of the law, the U.K. only dumped a tanker truck of fuel onto the massive bonfire of outrage — it exacerbated the increasingly irrational freakout among civil libertarian activists and Greenwald acolytes. The use of the Terrorism Act won’t help either. Among other things, it serves to augment the hyper-paranoid conspiracy theory that the government might assassinate Greenwald or Snowden or both. Miranda was treated like a terrorist; the government kills terrorists with drones; ergo, well, you know. Thanks, U.K.

That said, Miranda was transporting volumes of stolen classified documents between two prime movers associated with one of the biggest stories of the Summer — a story that’s embarrassed both the United States and the United Kingdom. He was being paid to do it. Anyone who expected a smooth journey through an international airport without any security issues was lying to themselves.

As with many aspects of the Snowden/NSA story, the truth here is likely to be a little more nuanced than first impressions allow.  Even if Miranda has been involved in moving materials, though, the detention in this case only underscores the Big Brother-ish aspects of the scandal, and hardly gives anyone confidence in the self-limiting imuplses of those who wield enormous power — even when they have a legitimate reason to wield it.


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Sans words

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 12:38 PM

The guy is a stolen document mule. The Brits were right. It will be interesting to see what this fellow was ferrying.

Mason on August 19, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Read this, carefully, and you’ll also know. Don’t skip a single word. Your freedom is in there.

The detention was a direct result of this.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Ditto to you, freakish citizen of the world….

unclesmrgol on August 19, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Were you not the one demanding that every illegal alien be given citizenship?

sharrukin on August 19, 2013 at 12:46 PM

What treason? Has anyone other than Snowden betrayed secrets of the United States to another? Leaving out Bradley Manning, of course….

unclesmrgol on August 19, 2013 at 10:41 AM

Utter foolishness will kill you.

Read this, slowly and every word. Your liberty depends on it.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 1:04 PM

I get what Snowden, Assange et al. did, but honestly it seems minor in comparison to misusing fairly dictatorial terror laws to intimidate individuals.
In fact I’d say the latter is more harmful than every classified document the UK has being released to the world.

Ramadahl on August 19, 2013 at 1:13 PM

Don’t diplomatic couriers enjoy diplomatic immunity?

Whatever protections the law provides to journalists should apply to their staff as well.

OTOH, in the immortal words of Bobby Fuller, “I fought the law and the law won.” Or as my grandma would say, “Don’t go teasing the dog ‘lessen you wanna get bit.”

myiq2xu on August 19, 2013 at 1:20 PM

Look, violations of oversight rules certainly should have been addressed through appropriate channels, but what Snowden and Greenwald are doing goes FAR beyond simply trying to warn people about invasions of privacy.

bluegill on August 19, 2013 at 8:51 AM

It is hard to go through proper channels when the people responsible for those channels are crooks.

The Obama administration is crooked. Many of those responsible for oversight of the NSA are crooks as well, or incompetent, and thus like any good politician they would cover it up rather than let America know that they were partially responsible or really stupid…

I am not saying Snowden is a hero or a traitor…I am just the channels argument I here all the time does not exist in the current political climate in America.

William Eaton on August 19, 2013 at 1:52 PM

The UK are homophobes!! The UK are homophobes!! The UK are homophobes!! The UK are homophobes!! The UK are homophobes!! The UK are homophobes!! The UK are homophobes!! The UK are homophobes!!

Oh sorry, had a lib troll possess me for a few seconds there.

Nutstuyu on August 19, 2013 at 1:52 PM

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….Flight 93 was a better example of how we retain our liberty than anything this government thinks (or says) it is doing to “protect” us.

Cindy Munford on August 19, 2013 at 11:16 AM

You don’t know what happened aside from everybody dying.

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 1:56 PM

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 1:04 PM

Funny thing you linking to nytimes.com.

For the record which days of the week do you accept MSM sources and which days do denigrate them? What’s your holiday schedule?

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 1:59 PM

You don’t know what happened aside from everybody dying.

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 1:56 PM

She knows what could have happened if they wouldn’t have decided to die. Plus, a lot is known from that flight, and you know it.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Only funny thing is that you pretend to not be observant…depending on the day of the week and the time stamps.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 2:00 PM

CH, that article is full of leftist b/s but it’s also full of facts. You sort them out, free-mind.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 2:01 PM

What’s your holiday schedule?

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Every day, all day. Fund your Utopian pipedreams without me :)

I earned this, the hard way. I’m schadenfreudig not to have to contribute.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 2:03 PM

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 1:56 PM

Well I know what the plan was and I have read plenty of stories about passengers being emboldened since. They saved lives, not their own but others. I’ll cherish that view any and every day.

Cindy Munford on August 19, 2013 at 2:29 PM

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Can’t argue with that. I really don’t dislike you so much today. That kinda pisses me off. So I’ll be pissed at you to supplement my waning dislike.

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 2:31 PM

bluegill on August 19, 2013 at 8:51 AM

Darlin, Obama has had leaks that have hurt our intelligence community more than Snowden. Let’s lock him up.

Cindy Munford on August 19, 2013 at 2:31 PM

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 2:31 PM

See this

Btw, idiotic leftists, incl. the NYT, it’s not a “democracy” just because you hold a vote. It’s NOT a democracy when the minorities’ rights are trampled on.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Plus, you’re free to like/dislike/hate anyone you wish, me too, any time. It’s a fundamental right we still possess, all of us.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 2:46 PM

Cindy Munford on August 19, 2013 at 2:29 PM

The way we do it here at Home. My sawzall is battery powered.

Bmore on August 19, 2013 at 3:08 PM

Sow, lucky you, plenty of commenting space. See you there coward?

Bmore on August 19, 2013 at 3:10 PM

None of these Sooper Geniuses complaining have any idea why Miranda was kept as long as he was, they are simply making assumptions which could as well be false as true.

Greenwald has bragged of being either in possession of or having access to more unpublished classified material. Guess what? That is a crime. And there is no shield law which protects the smuggling of contraband.

People need to remember that Greenwald’s entire history is built on lies and deception and a sense of grandiosity that leads him to believe he is so special that the rules don’t apply to him. Anyone who took him at face value is at best naive and probably just stupid.

Adjoran on August 19, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Bmore on August 19, 2013 at 3:08 PM

I was thinking about the ordinary skills of our ancestors that we have seen become extinct rather than easier with technology. I pray we don’t need them but I am not confident.

Cindy Munford on August 19, 2013 at 3:13 PM

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 1:59 PM

At least you’re consistently stupid every day of the week.

MadisonConservative on August 19, 2013 at 3:18 PM

Read this, carefully, and you’ll also know. Don’t skip a single word. Your freedom is in there.

The detention was a direct result of this.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Fascinating article; thanks for the link.
Just a little observation about a small element of the story:

On Sept. 11, 2001, Poitras was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when the towers were attacked. Like most New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed she was swept up in both mourning and a feeling of unity. It was a moment, she said, when “people could have done anything, in a positive sense.” When that moment led to the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, she felt that her country had lost its way. “We always wonder how countries can veer off course,” she said. “How do people let it happen, how do people sit by during this slipping of boundaries?”

“How do people let it happen”?

Let’s start with the fact that so-called journalists and media outlets have no objection to lying to the people about anything and everything if so doing advances their own agendas.
If you don’t know you are going off-course, you can’t correct your trajectory; if you don’t know the boundaries have been breached, why shouldn’t you just sit by?

(Not implying that Poitras and I agree on what constitutes “off-course”, by the way.)

AesopFan on August 19, 2013 at 3:29 PM

Cindy Munford on August 19, 2013 at 3:13 PM

Well I don’t have to have the battery powered sawzall. Old school works just as well. ; )

Bmore on August 19, 2013 at 3:30 PM

AesopFan on August 19, 2013 at 3:29 PM

Indeed…

CH, that article is full of leftist b/s but it’s also full of facts. You sort them out, free-mind.

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 3:41 PM

Miranda wasn’t just detained because he is swarthy.
-Mr. Arkadin on August 19, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Not that that’s not a perfectly legitimate reason to detain someone.

sartana on August 19, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Responding to the chorus of criticism leveled at British authorities for the lengthy detention of Mr. Miranda a spokesman said, ‘We were perfectly willing to release Mr. Miranda after a short conversation but he insisted on having repeated elective body cavity searches.”

There is usually more to the story.

Mason on August 19, 2013 at 6:57 PM

War on gays!

SouthernGent on August 19, 2013 at 7:04 PM

Clear attack on the free press here. No doubt about that, but it is UK so I am unsure about the limits to press rights. A little surprising that the UK would get their hands dirty with this. But the real kicker is they held him for 9 hours without a lawyer, BIG NO NO in America.

An interesting tidbit i read was about the confiscation of video games. Why? is there a reply of GTAIV where if he blows thru the toll both is means one message vs going thru for free means something else?

jayhawkboilermaker on August 19, 2013 at 7:16 PM

Just saw Radical MadCow of MSLSD go “NUTS” live on TV over this.

“If the U.S. got a heads up from the Brits and did not demand they not detain the guy then the U.S. Adm. is just as guilty as the Brits.”

She was off the charts mad.

She could not bring herself to use the words “Pres. Obama” allowed this.

But they can not live this lie long.

pop corn please.

APACHEWHOKNOWS on August 19, 2013 at 9:19 PM

Schadenfreude on August 19, 2013 at 2:01 PM

.
Can’t argue with that. I really don’t dislike you so much today. That kinda pisses me off. So I’ll be pissed at you to supplement my waning dislike.

Capitalist Hog on August 19, 2013 at 2:31 PM

.
Well, if that isn’t friendship, what is ?

listens2glenn on August 19, 2013 at 9:51 PM

Can we just stop and acknowledge that Miranda is cute!

libfreeordie on August 19, 2013 at 11:31 PM

Only 9hrs???? When I was young it was 48hrs. Lucky B’stard.

lexhamfox on August 19, 2013 at 11:55 PM

I think the reason this story has people outraged is that the Authorities didn’t clear it with the LGBT first. They have special rights now.

Bleed_thelizard on August 20, 2013 at 8:05 PM

So I guess I’m the only one to look at that pic, and immediately think that the hair is a call-out to “There’s Something About Mary”?

OK then…

VekTor on August 21, 2013 at 1:46 PM

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