Early Sunday morning, Glenn Greenwald learned that his Brazilian partner, David Miranda, was detained and interrogated for nine hours by security officials at London’s Heathrow airport. The officials also seized Miranda’s electronic devices: his phone, laptop and so forth. At first glance, if he was indeed held because of his association with Greenwald, this was a horribly tone-deaf and heavy-handed move by British officials, especially knowing that Miranda was apparently detained under the U.K.’s Terrorism Act of 2000, Schedule 7.
My initial reaction was the same as many: Why did the British government target Greenwald’s spouse? He might’ve been profiled, I thought, or he might’ve been flagged as Greenwald’s spouse. If the latter was the case, it didn’t look good. Over the years, I’ve taken a pretty harsh stance against media characters like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who loop “noncombatants” — ordinary citizens and children — into their screeds. While not precisely the same, Miranda’s detention smacked of a similar kind of bullying against a man who didn’t deserve it, and so it stunk.
When I read The Guardian‘s article about the incident, however, more questions popped up — as with much of The Guardian‘s reporting on this topic, the publication’s tendency for coy, smoke-and-mirrors reporting invariably raises more questions than it answers. The article was credited to “Guardian staff,” for one, there weren’t any quotes from Miranda himself and the only source for the article appeared to be Greenwald, who, from my experience covering this story, tends to be incendiary and misleading.
The wailing and garment rending was underway — the predictable group freakout we’re forced to endure every time a new article is published. Greenwald himself wrote that the U.K. authorities were actually worse than the Mafia because the Mafia doesn’t target family members. (Clearly, Greenwald knows less about the Mafia than he does about political realities or history.)
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. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by.
But then, as the day wore on, more details came to light indicating that Miranda wasn’t detained simply because of a “despotic” worse-than-the-Mafia attack on an innocent spouse.
Start the clock on the 24 Hour Rule*.
Right off the bat, The Guardian reported that Miranda was on his way back to Rio de Janeiro after having spent a week in Berlin, Germany. While in Berlin, he “visited” Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker whom Edward Snowden first contacted. Poitras was not only the camera operator for the infamous Hong Kong interview with Snowden, but Greenwald once referred to Poitras as the “Keyser Soze” of the entire operation. Keyser Soze was the Kevin Spacey character in The Usual Suspects — a quiet, unassuming figure who turned out to be the nefarious mastermind behind everything. Greenwald clarified that Miranda didn’t simply visit Poitras, as The Guardian wrote, he “stayed with” Poitras — “Keyser Soze” — for the entire week.
As the hours rolled by, Charlie Savage, reporting for The New York Times, began to reveal more details about the trip — details which The Guardian mysteriously didn’t include in either of its articles.
These details don’t entirely excuse U.K. officials from holding Miranda for the full, legal-limit of nine hours, but they certainly dispel the notion that Miranda was an innocent, unaffiliated spouse on vacation, harassed by the U.K. goon squad simply because Greenwald is his partner.
First, we learned from The New York Times that The Guardian financed Miranda’s trip to Germany and back. This means Miranda was conducting some sort of official business for the publication. Around the same time, Amnesty International referred to Miranda as “a Guardian newspaper employee.” Combined with the Laura Poitras detail, it’s obvious that Miranda was commissioned to do some serious leg-work on the Snowden/NSA reporting, the extent of which was unknown at the time.
And then, late in the evening east coast time, The New York Times revealed the purpose of Miranda’s trip to Berlin:
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.
So Miranda, Greenwald’s spouse, served as a paid courier to transfer stolen, top secret national security documents from Greenwald to Poitras, and from Poitras back to Greenwald.
That’s a huge piece of the puzzle, not to mention a total debunking of any hysterical assertion that Miranda was being harassed and intimidated just because he’s Greenwald’s spouse. He was, in fact, detained because he was transporting stolen national secrets.
Several questions now:
1) Why didn’t they just use secure FTP to transfer the documents? It’s not 1972. There are faster, easier ways to share information.
2) On Friday, Wikileaks posted 400GB of encrypted “insurance” files on Twitter and Facebook. “Insurance” files, in this case, are top secret leaked documents that will ostensibly be dumped into public view if something should happen to any of the main players — presumably Assange, Greenwald, Snowden, etc. Were these documents also the documents Poitras gave to Miranda to bring to Greenwald, or vice versa?
3) Why didn’t The Guardian include anything in its initial post about the purpose and parameters of Miranda’s trip? (After Savage reported that Miranda’s trip was paid for by The Guardian, the original story was later updated to include this detail.)
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.
I’m sure more details will come to light in the coming days. They always do. Stand by…
Adding… By way of a flashback, Greenwald has said publicly that he’s tried to turn over his Snowden documents to Miranda. This can’t be discounted as part of the story:
“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.”
UPDATE: Miranda was quoted in The Guardian, describing his detention:
“It is clear why those took me. It’s because I’m Glenn’s partner. Because I went to Berlin. Because Laura lives there. So they think I have a big connection,” he said. “But I don’t have a role. I don’t look at documents. I don’t even know if it was documents that I was carrying. It could have been for the movie that Laura is working on.”
Laura didn’t coincidentally live Berlin, Miranda went to Berlin specifically to meet with her. And of course he has “a role” — his trip was financed because of his role transporting the documents, regardless of whether he was aware of the content.
*The 24 Hour Rule: 1) A wild claim is made via a news article, most often The Guardian, about the U.S. government or related entities. 2) The article sparks wild fits of outrage. 3) Then, within 24 hours, a mitigating detail is added, undermining or totally debunking one or more of the central claims contained with the article. Related quote: “A lie can travel half-way around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”