UK agents detain Greenwald’s partner, destroy The Guardian’s hard drives

It has been an eventful weekend for The Guardian newspaper, its reporter Glenn Greenwald and his partner David Miranda, as the British police held the latter and questioned him at Heathrow for nine hours, and two security experts of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) came to The Guardian’s headquarters and supervised the destruction of several hard drives that supposedly contained documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

I must confess that this lede is one that I never expected to write, but this is, unfortunately, the new reality.

David Miranda was detained on Sunday morning at London’s Heathrow airport, as he disembarked from a plane coming from Berlin and was heading to another one destined for Rio de Janeiro, the city that he and Glenn Greenwald call home.

While held in custody, he was extensively interrogated, has been denied access to a lawyer or an interpreter, and was unable and not allowed to call anyone because his cell phone was seized, along with his laptop, several USB sticks, video game consoles, DVDs and more.

It’s interesting to note that Miranda was detained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000.

“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,” Greenwald wrote in the aftermath.

“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 reasons behind his detainment are likely multiple: to find out which documents Greenwald has in his possession, to see what he and Laura Poitras (who’s stationed in Berlin and is also working on the leaks) are currently working on, but also, as Greenwald claims, to intimidate him and other journalists reporting on the leaks.

“If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further,” says Greenwald, adding that they will come to regret their action.

“[-¦] every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark,” he explained.

He has also stated that he is not worried about the agents now having access to the seized laptop and disks, as the documents contained in them are encrypted. Miranda has apparently only served as courier for the files, and is now back in Brazil.

In the meantime, some UK politicians are clamoring for an inquiry into the detainment, and David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has asked to be officially briefed about all that happened and why.

The Obama administration has also piped up to say that their officials did not request the detainment and questioning of Miranda, but that they were informed that it would happen.

On Monday, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, also publicly shared details about several conversations he had with unnamed government officials over the last few months, who urged him to hand over or destroy the documents the publication received from Snowden, saying “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

Having repeatedly declined to do so, the pressure culminated over the weekend, when “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,” Rusbridger wrote.

“Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work,” he concluded, wondering if some journalists “truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance.”

“Those colleagues who denigrate Snowden or say reporters should trust the state to know best (many of them in the UK, oddly, on the right) may one day have a cruel awakening. One day it will be their reporting, their cause, under attack.”

The Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm has also a lot to say about Miranda’s detainment, including making a parallel between this intimidation attempt by the UK government and an older one by the Iranian government aimed at the relatives and friends of a foreign-based Persian-language journalists.

“Investigating acts of journalism under ‘terrorism’ laws and detaining family members of reporters are hallmarks of authoritarian regimes,” he noted.

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