UK Enforcers Detain Journalist’s Aide; Smash Computers in Newspaper’s London Office

August 20th, 2013 - by admin

Jason Ditz / & Mark Hosenball / Reuters & Adam Goldberg / The Huffington Post & Alan Rusbridger / The Guardian – 2013-08-20 23:02:00

Britain, US Face Angry Backlash Over Miranda Detention

Britain, US Face Angry Backlash Over Miranda Detention
Jason Ditz /

(August 19, 2013) — The British government’s decision to detain Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda for nine solid hours under the Terrorism Act has been roundly condemned, with Greenwald dubbing it a “failed attempt at intimidation.” It was also a bizarre decision that is sparking a significant backlash.

British Home Affairs Committee chair Keith Vaz is demanding an explanation to the “extraordinary” incident, and says the pretext under which the Terrorism Act would even apply “needs to be clarified, and clarified quickly.”

David Anderson, Britain’s anti-terror watchdog, is also following through with a demand for an investigation, as is the nation’s Shadow Home Secretary, who suggested that the law had been misused and warned that public support for the Terrorism Act would be in serious jeopardy if they’re using it for random detentions like this.

Indeed, this sort of petty abuse of the law, seemingly just for spite, has sparked outrage around the world, with the Brazilian Foreign Ministry demanding an explanation not only from Britain but from the US, insisting that Britain doesn’t do these sorts of things without an American imprimatur.

The White House insists they had no specific role in Miranda’s capture, but also seemed fine with it, saying that they were given a “heads up” by Britain and insisting that the matter is classified. They declined to criticize Britain, which puts them in a pretty small group that doesn’t see this as criticism-worthy.

Britain Forced Guardian to
Destroy Copy of Snowden Material

Mark Hosenball / Reuters

WASHINGTON (August 19, 2013) — The editor of the Guardian, a major outlet for revelations based on leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, says the British government threatened legal action against the newspaper unless it either destroyed the classified documents or handed them back to British authorities.

In an article posted on the British newspaper’s website on Monday, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said that a month ago, after the newspaper had published several stories based on Snowden’s material, a British official advised him: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.”

After further talks with the government, Rusbridger said, two “security experts” from Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the ultra-secretive US National Security Agency, visited the Guardian’s London offices.

In the building’s basement, Rusbridger wrote, government officials watched as computers which contained material provided by Snowden were physically pulverized. “We can call off the black helicopters,” Rusbridger says one of the officials joked.

The Guardian‘s decision to publicize the government threat — and the newspaper’s assertion that it can continue reporting on the Snowden revelations from outside of Britain — appears to be the latest step in an escalating battle between the news media and governments over reporting of secret surveillance programs.

On Sunday, British authorities detained for nine hours the domestic partner of Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian writer who met face to face in Hong Kong with Snowden and has written or co-authored many of the newspaper’s stories based on his material.

The Guardian reported, and UK authorities subsequently confirmed, that David Miranda, Greenwald’s Brazilian partner, was detained by British authorities under an anti-terrorism law as he was in transit from Berlin to Brazil and was changing planes at London’s Heathrow Airport.

One US 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.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday that while the United States did not ask British authorities to detain Miranda, British officials had given the United States a “heads up” about the British government’s plan to question him.

Rusbridger, in his article on the Guardian‘s website, said that despite the destruction of the computers in London, he told British officials that due to the nature of “international collaborations” among journalists, it would remain possible for media organizations to “take advantage of the most permissive legal environments.” Henceforth, he said, the Guardian “did not have to do our reporting from London.”

A source familiar with the matter said that this meant British authorities were on notice that the Guardian was likely to continue to report on the Snowden revelations from outside British government jurisdiction.

Rusbridger said that in meetings with British officials before the computers were destroyed, he told them the Guardian could not do its journalistic duty if it gave in to the government’s requests.

In response, he wrote, a government official told him that the newspaper had already achieved the aim of sparking a debate on government surveillance. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying.

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.”

Greenwald did not immediately respond to an email from Reuters requesting comment.

While British authorities confirmed that Miranda had been detained under an anti-terrorism law, they did not further explain their actions. Brazil’s government complained about Miranda’s detention in a statement on Sunday that said the use of the British anti-terrorism law was unjustified.

Guardian Editor: UK ‘Security Experts’
Entered Offices And Destroyed Hard Drives

Adam Goldberg / The Huffington Post

LONDON (August 20, 2013) — Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, wrote on Monday about an unsettling encounter with “security experts” from the UK’s GCHQ intelligence agency.

According to Rusbridger, “a very senior government official” contacted him about two months ago demanding the surrender or destruction of all materials in the publication’s possession relating to the surveillance operations uncovered by Edward Snowden.

About a month later, Rusbridger recalls receiving a phone call “from the centre of government” in which he was told, “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” He goes on to explain:

There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

During one meeting, Rusbridger explained to an official that if the British government were to take legal steps in order to roadblock the paper’s reporting, the work could simply be done outside of the country. That’s when things took a disturbing turn:

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.

Despite this apparent attempt at intimidation, as well as the previously reported nine-hour detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda at London’s Heathrow airport, Rusbridger explained that The Guardian “will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London.”

Greenwald has been similarly undeterred by recent events. Following the detention of Miranda under the controversial schedule 7 portion of Britain’s Terrorism Act, Greenwald stated, “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.”

Rusbridger’s full column can be read below.

David Miranda, Schedule 7 and the Danger that All Reporters Now Face
Alan Rusbridger / The Guardian

LONDON (August 19, 2013) — In a private viewing cinema in Soho last week I caught myself letting fly with a four-letter expletive at Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times. It was a confusing moment.

The man who was pretending to be me — thanking Keller for “not giving a shit” — used to be Malcolm Tucker, a foul-mouthed Scottish spin doctor who will soon be a 1,000-year-old time lord. And Keller will correct me, but I don’t remember ever swearing at him. I do remember saying something to the effect of “we have the thumb drive, you have the First Amendment”.

The fictional moment occurs at the beginning of the DreamWorks film about WikiLeaks, The Fifth Estate, due for release next month. Peter Capaldi is, I can report, a very plausible Guardian editor.

This real-life exchange with Keller happened just after we took possession of the first tranche of WikiLeaks documents in 2010. I strongly suspected that our ability to research and publish anything to do with this trove of secret material would be severely constrained in the UK. America, for all its own problems with media laws and whistleblowers, at least has press freedom enshrined in a written constitution.

It is also, I hope, unthinkable that any US government would attempt prior restraint against a news organisation planning to publish material that informed an important public debate, however troublesome or embarrassing.

On Sunday morning David Miranda, the partner of Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, was detained as he was passing through Heathrow airport on his way back to Rio de Janeiro, where the couple live. Greenwald is the reporter who has broken most of the stories about state surveillance based on the leaks from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Greenwald’s work has undoubtedly been troublesome and embarrassing for western governments. But, as the debate in America and Europe has shown, there is considerable public interest in what his stories have revealed about the right balance between security, civil liberties, freedom of speech and privacy.

He has raised acutely disturbing questions about the oversight of intelligence; about the use of closed courts; about the cosy and secret relationship between government and vast corporations; and about the extent to which millions of citizens now routinely have their communications intercepted, collected, analysed and stored.

In this work he is regularly helped by David Miranda. Miranda is not a journalist, but he still plays a valuable role in helping his partner do his journalistic work. Greenwald has his plate full reading and analysing the Snowden material, writing, and handling media and social media requests from around the world.

He can certainly use this back-up. That work is immensely complicated by the certainty that it would be highly unadvisable for Greenwald (or any other journalist) to regard any electronic means of communication as safe.

The Guardian‘s work on the Snowden story has involved many individuals taking a huge number of flights in order to have face-to-face meetings. Not good for the environment, but increasingly the only way to operate. Soon we will be back to pen and paper.

Miranda was held for nine hours under schedule 7 of the UK’s terror laws, which give enormous discretion to stop, search and question people who have no connection with “terror”, as ordinarily understood. Suspects have no right to legal representation and may have their property confiscated for up to seven days. Under this measure — uniquely crafted for ports and airport transit areas — there are none of the checks and balances that apply once someone is in Britain proper.

There is no need to arrest or charge anyone and there is no protection for journalists or their material. A transit lounge in Heathrow is a dangerous place to be.

Miranda’s professional status — much hand-wringing about whether or not he’s a proper “journalist” — is largely irrelevant in these circumstances. Increasingly, the question about who deserves protection should be less “is this a journalist?” than “is the publication of this material in the public interest?”

The detention of Miranda has rightly caused international dismay because it feeds into a perception that the US and UK governments — while claiming to welcome the debate around state surveillance started by Snowden — are also intent on stemming the tide of leaks and on pursuing the whistleblower with a vengeance.

That perception is right. Here follows a little background on the considerable obstacles being placed in the way of informing the public about what the intelligence agencies, governments and corporations are up to.

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.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it.

I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

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.

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.

The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes — and, increasingly, it looks like “when”.

We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting — indeed, most human life in 2013 — leaves too much of a digital fingerprint. 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. But at least reporters now know to stay away from Heathrow transit lounges.

Alan Rusbridger has replied to several comments in the thread below.
Here are a selection of his answers:

Lionel said:
I frankly am not clear on the extent to which suspects come into this matter. It has been indicated several times that police at Heathrow can operate without being suspicious. When exactly are they expected to operate?

Alan Rusbridger replied:
You’re right. In fact, the point of Schedule 7 is that they are supposedly not “suspects”. Because then the authorities would have to arrest them and they would have many rights they don’t have as, er, non-suspects.

StopGMO said:
Free speech must be maintained for ALL of us, not just ‘reporters’, so while we care about this abuse, make sure you are not just supporting ‘reporters’ rights, but speak up for your OWN. Do not let the greasy UN get it’s hands on the internet, and speak up for your rights, and the rights of reporters to furnish the truth. All two of the reporters who still bother to do that.

Alan Rusbridger replied:
You’re right of course: it’s not just about reporters. But it would be a good start if more journalists saw what was potentially at risk here…

AlanC said:
If you meekly give into their demands without insisting that they take you to court then you’ve as good as admitted that they can do whatever they like as far as the UK press is concerned. Now if you had made that story a front page feature the day after it happened then you might have a point but, as far as I can remember, there was nary a cheep.

Alan Rusbridger replied:
Play out the scenario for me in which fighting this case in court would have enabled us to do a better job of reporting the Snowden documents. I’m not sure I quite see it…

Crowfoot said:
Ok Alan, There’s a tide of us ordinary folks out here, shocked witless, cross, affronted by the degree to which basic democratic rights have been usurped, and fully support The Guardian‘s David stance against Goliath.
But what does one proactively do with one’s anger? How can we help? How to galvanise the public’s response?

Alan Rusbridger replied:
Keeping reading the Guardian… and I suppose you could support Snowden’s defence fund.

Iskra1903 said:
Is it possible, Mr Rusbridger, for you to acknowledge that the people who held Mr Miranda may have done so with the aim of preventing their efforts to prevent a terrorist attack being compromised? They may well have transgressed their legal powers, and their actions (and the governance over those actions) does indeed need to be scrutinised. But your article only permits the conclusion that these people are acting in bad faith, and abusing their powers in an Orwellian fashion.

Alan Rusbridger replied:
As the article says, there’s a balancing act to be done between security, freedom of speech, privacy etc. But it’s impossible to have that debate without informed knowledge. For another point of view – in the Guardian – try this.

Gman79 said:
It’s called a D Notice. And even if the Guardian had been issued with one, they wouldn’t be able to tell us.

Alan Rusbridger replied:
That’s not quite how DA Notices operate. They are actually standing notices, available here.
They did (ill-advisedly imho) circulate a reminder of them when the Snowden allegations broke. But there was no “ban” and it didn’t stop us from reporting the NSA or GCHQ stories.

dperth said:
Why the basement and who chose to go there? It adds a nice element of the macabre to the story – or is that how spooks always work. (Interestingly, I have just finished reading Le Carre’s “A Town in Germany” and that has scenes of unauthorised secretive work being carried out in a British Embassy basement).

Alan Rusbridger replied:
Really smashing up computers turns out to be quite messy work…

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