Quotes of the day

Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was on his way home to Brazil on Sunday when UK officials, citing a controversial terrorism law, detained him for 9 hours at London’s Heathrow airport. The Guardian’s report explains that Miranda was held for the maximum amount of time allowed by law under a provision, applicable only to airports and other border areas, that permits authorities to detain, search, and question individuals. During that time, according to Greenwald, Miranda was question about the Guardian’s reports on NSA data collection from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Officials took Miranda’s laptop, camera, memory sticks, game consoles, and DVDs before letting him go without charge. The Guardian reports that the paper is “urgently” seeking clarification from British officials on the reason for Miranda’s detainment.


According to a document published by the UK government about Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, “fewer than 3 people in every 10,000 are examined as they pass through UK borders” (David was not entering the UK but only transiting through to Rio). Moreover, “most examinations, over 97%, last under an hour.” An appendix to that document states that only .06% of all people detained are kept for more than 6 hours.

The stated purpose of this law, as the name suggests, is to question people about terrorism. The detention power, claims the UK government, is used “to determine whether that person is or has been involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”

But they obviously had zero suspicion that David was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot. Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well the content of the electronic products he was carrying. They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop “the terrorists”, and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.


The journalist who first published secrets leaked by fugitive former U.S. intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden vowed on Monday to publish more documents and said Britain will “regret” detaining his partner for nine hours…

“I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I am going to publish things on England, too. I have many documents on England’s spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did,” Greenwald, speaking in Portuguese, told reporters at Rio de Janeiro’s airport where he met [David] Miranda upon his return to Brazil.

Greenwald said in a subsequent email to Reuters that the Portuguese word “arrepender” should have been translated as “come to regret” not “be sorry for.”

“I was asked what the outcome would be for the UK, and I said they’d come to regret this because of the world reaction, how it made them look, and how it will embolden me – not that I would start publishing documents as punishment or revenge that I wouldn’t otherwise have published,” he said in the email.


A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach…

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian’s reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.


One U.S. security official told Reuters that one of the main purposes of the British government’s detention and questioning of Miranda was to send a message to recipients of Snowden’s materials, including the Guardian, that the British government was serious about trying to shut down the leaks

During Miranda’s trip to Berlin, which the Guardian said it had paid for, he visited with Laura Poitras, an independent film-maker who was the first journalist to interact with Snowden. Poitras co-authored stories based on Snowden’s material for the Washington Post and the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Greenwald told the New York Times that Miranda went to Berlin to deliver materials downloaded by Snowden to Poitras and to acquire from Poitras a different set of materials for delivery to Greenwald, who lives with Miranda near Rio de Janeiro.

Greenwald said British authorities seized all electronic media, including data memory sticks, which Miranda was carrying. But Greenwald told the Forbes website that “everything” Miranda had “was heavily encrypted.”


Step one in this should be making sure the record is correct. It is false that Miranda was denied a lawyer — he refused a lawyer, which is a crucial detail. Far from being evidence of tyranny out of control, as Greenwald wants to argue, this suggests the British authorities were trying to provide his representation as the law allows, and he refused. That isn’t the UK’s fault, it is Miranda’s. Then there’s this:

“They treated me like I was a criminal or someone about to attack the UK … It was exhausting and frustrating, but I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

I wonder why the UK would think he was about to attack them? After the first round of leaks, which included substantial details of UK espionage operations, Greenwald said “The U.S. government should be on its knees every day praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something happens, all information will be revealed and that would be their worst nightmare.” And in fact, just this morning, he vowed that he would make the UK “sorry” for having questioned his partner.

So yeah: that’s totally unreasonable, I guess. Miranda mentions that he gave authorities the password to his computer, which might explain why he was detained for so long, if they were then searching for any evidence that he was carrying top secret documents with him. The Guardian, in this story, reports that he was ferrying documents for Greenwald and Poitras — a key detail omitted from earlier coverage.


“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 considers 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.


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.


This reminds me of when the New Yorker’s John Cassidy said “I’m with Snowden,” and demanded journalists answer, “Which side are you on?”

Just as then, being on the side of the truth is, apparently, not an option here — the world is not a series of complex events, but a simplified bifurcation into “us” and “them,” and “them” always must be vilified as your enemy. I expect this sort of manicheanism from Beltway partisan rags, but not from high-brow magazines and ostensibly professional journalists… but that is, apparently, naive of me.

This is the sort of story that hits close to home. It can be deeply worrying when a loved one gets wrapped up in a project you’re working on — like a John Grisham novel or something. But the specifics here, especially how Greenwald and his employer deliberately involved said family member, also matter deeply to why it played out the way it did. That so many commentators not only cannot recognize that (the depressing majority of journalists commenting on this incident did not acknowledge such exculpatory information), but actively make comparisons to genuinely horrific police states or organized criminals that murder their own citizens (another common trope of Greenwald’s hyperbolic rhetoric about the U.S.), should matter.


I cannot decide if I am more annoyed at the Washington Post or more annoyed at the Obama administration for the way this latest cache of Snowden-leaked NSA documents is playing. I have now gone through the documents with some care, and I find both the Post‘s formulation of the story and the administration’s response to the leak mind-boggling…

There are also a fair number of database query errors—that is, typos, confusions of boolean terms like “and” and “or,” syntax errors, and the like. You know . . . mistakes. These mistakes are caught through a combination of automated checking, auditing, and self-reporting. In other words, the fewer than 3,000 incidents reported over the year in question involve the NSA’s own systems—and people—catching and correcting technical errors.

Even the section entitled “Significant Incidents of Non-compliance” (pp. 11-13) does not detail anything like any intentional violation of the privacy rights of Americans…

In other words, what this document shows is that among the billions and billions of communications the NSA interacts with every year, it has certain low rate of technical errors, many of them unavoidable, which it dutifully records and counts.

As we used to say in grade school, big whoop. Or rather, it is a big whoop—just for the opposite reason than the Post‘s story suggests.


The White House said Monday that President Obama stood by his remark to comedian Jay Leno that “there is no spying on Americans,” despite a report in The Washington Post last week revealing that the National Security Agency violated its own privacy rules on thousands of occasions.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the story, based on an internal audit obtained by former Defense contractor Edward Snowden, in fact revealed “there is in place at the NSA a very strict oversight regime.”…

“Understanding the facts of this complicated policy is important,” Earnest said.



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