Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald made an international incident out of the fact that his partner was detained in London's Heathrow airport for questioning. But in a comical twist only Greenwald can tie himself into, Greenwald can't seem to settle on whether in this trip, his partner was his errand boy or just an uninvolved person. On the one hand, Greenwald's tirade against the British authorities mentions:
“This is obviously a serious, radical escalation of what they are doing. He is my partner. He is not even a journalist.”Well, neither is Glenn, but I digress. So on the one hand, Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, is an uninvolved bi-stander. But on the other Miranda was carrying documents on his trip to Berlin for Laura Poitras, Greenwald's colleague in reporting the Snowden stories. The Guardian - Greenwald's employer -paid for the trip.
And that, fellow traveler, brings us to what could be the real reason Greenwald and his employer are trying to make this an international incident and concentrating fire on the British authorities. In public, they may be focusing on the fact of the detention, but in private, they are soiling their undergarments not over the detention itself, but over this:
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 saidMiranda’s cellphone, laptops and memory sticks were confiscated.Now, Greenwald of course claims that this was a blatant attempt to intimidate journalism. Except, what if it wasn't? What if the equipment seized contains evidence of criminal activity?
Huh? Whacha talkin' 'bout, Mister? Follow me.
Back in June, Greenwald backpedaled ferociously on an important story: after bragging about how he had been working with Snowden since February (i.e. before Snowden took the latest job from which he stole the classified data), he suddenly insisted that he didn't even know Snowden's name till May. At that time, I pointed out a distinct possibility as a reason for this ferocious backtracking: if it's true that he had been working with Snowden since February, one could legitimately raise the issue of whether the information Snowden obtained was gathered on Snowden's own initiative or instigated by Glenn Greenwald and/or Laura Poitras.
Greenwald isn't the sharpest lawyer you'll ever meet, but he's nonetheless a lawyer. He knew the clear implications of that line. If he, his cohort or his employer had any role in instigating the theft of US national security documents, he would go from being a reporter immune from prosecution under the first amendment to an accessory to espionage and theft, and no law or Constitutional amendment would cover his behind.
One person - that we knew of - knows the answer to that question, of course, and that's Edward Snowden, who is now been granted asylum by the bastion of free press and transparent government that is Vladimir Putin's Russia. At the time, I had assumed that without Snowden spilling the beans, it would be difficult to meet the legal standard of proof it would take to nab Greenwald.
But imagine a scenario under which - through intelligence gathering operations - the US and/or the UK government has found sources to corroborate that exact story. Imagine a scenario in which intelligence has found evidence to link Greenwald as an instigator to Mr. Snowden's crime rather than just a reporter, and the detention and questioning of Mr. Miranda and confiscation of his equipment was in fact to gather physical evidence to prove this crime. If that's the case, it wouldn't be any wonder that Greenwald would be very, very worried.
And if that's the case - if the British and American intelligence is closing in on just what (more preciselywho) made Edward Snowden do what he did, and just who helped him plan his escape, and the evidence points to Glenn Greenwald - then of course, the detention of Mr. Miranda is in fact part of a criminal and terrorism investigation, and not, as Greenwald would like you to believe, an attempt to intimidate journalists.
Of course, no one but the British authorities really know exactly why they detained Miranda. Even if this is the case, there is no guarantee that what was confiscated would actually produce evidence strong enough to use in a criminal case against Greenwald or his associate(s). It could also be that the British simply got news that Greenwald's partner may be traveling with stolen property (classified documents from the US government). And yes, admittedly, as I outlined in my June piece, I am rather convinced - based on circumstantial evidence and logic - that Greenwald's role in this whole affair is more than just that of a reporter, so I leave it up to the reader to decide how likely one believes the above scenario to be. But at the very least, there is no reason to jump to Greenwald's preferred conclusion that it was an attempt to intimidate anyone rather than aiding the investigation of espionage.