Ahead of "Gross Misuse of Law," Brits Gave US "Heads Up"
'They said I would be put in jail if I didn't co-operate,' says Glenn Greenwald's husband David Miranda
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday that the US government was given a "heads up" by British law enforcement ahead of their nine-hour detention of David Miranda over the weekend, but he would not discuss whether or not electronic materials seized from the Brazilian national and partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald have yet been shared or made available to US authorities.
From the White House briefing room, Earnest said, "This is a decision that was made by the British government without the involvement - and not at the request - of the United States government. It is as simple as that."
Earnest gave no indication that US authorities cautioned against such a move and would not speak to directly to questions about whether President Obama found Miranda's detention "at all concerning."
Watch the exchange:
Meanwhile, "newspaper editors, human rights lawyers and civil liberties campaigners" all came out against the authority under which Miranda was held, putting pressure on officials in the British government to come clean about how and why such an "unlawful" detention was allowed.
As The Guardian reports:
The National Union of Journalists described the detention "as a gross misuse of the law" and raised questions about the guarantees journalists could now give their sources. "Journalists no longer feel safe exchanging even encrypted messages by email and now it seems they are not safe when they resort to face-to-face meetings," said the NUJ secretary general, Michelle Stanistreet.
Bob Satchwell, the executive director of the Society of Editors, which represents national and regional newspapers, said it was "another case of disproportionate reaction by authorities" using "an important piece of legislation for a purpose for which it was neither intended nor designed".
He said: "Journalism may be embarrassing and annoying for governments, but it is not terrorism". Satchwell said it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that "the detention of a journalist's partner is anything other than an attempt to intimidate a journalist and his news organisation that is simply informing the public of what is being done by authorities in their name".
"It is another example of a dangerous tendency that the initial reaction of authorities is to assume that journalists are bad, when in fact they play an important part in any democracy," he said.
In addition, in his first series of interviews, Miranda himself told reporters that his detention under a British anti-terrorism law—one in which he was refused access to a lawyer, a language interpreter, or a phone call—was filled with threats veiled and not-so veiled.
"They were threatening me all the time and saying I would be put in jail if I didn't co-operate," said Miranda from Brazil in a phone interview with The Guardian's Jonathan Watts. "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."
Miranda was detained under the authority of schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, but law experts in the UK say that if there was no true suspicion that the man was a terrorist, but only detained because of his relationship with well-known journalists, the stop was clearly unlawful.
"They got me to tell them the passwords for my computer and mobile phone," Miranda said. "They said I was obliged to answer all their questions and used the words 'prison' and 'station' all the time."
He continued, "I was in a different country with different laws, in a room with seven agents coming and going who kept asking me questions. I thought anything could happen. I thought I might be detained for a very long time."
As The Guardian recounts:
[Miranda] was on his way back from Berlin, where he was ferrying materials between Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has also been working on stories related to the NSA files released by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
Miranda was seized almost as soon as his British Airways flight touched down on Sunday morning. "There was an announcement on the plane that everyone had to show their passports. The minute I stepped out of the plane they took me away to a small room with four chairs and a machine for taking fingerprints," he recalled.
His carry-on bags were searched and, he says, police confiscated a computer, two pen drives, an external hard drive and several other electronic items, including a games console, as well two newly bought watches and phones that were packaged and boxed in his stowed luggage.
The accusation that Miranda's detention was intended to intimidate journalists working on stories related to US and UK national security agencies was at least partially affirmed when "one U.S. security official" told Reuters on Monday 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."
Also late Monday, the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, posted a revelatory narrative about his newspaper's recent interaction with GCHQ officials and other British authorities, writing:
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."
Later, as Rusbridger describes, "one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred" when a pair of GCHQ agents oversaw the "the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement" which contained portions of the Snowden documents.
Though he said that the "seizure of Miranda's laptop, phones, hard drives and camera" will have no impact on the newspaper's ability to continue its reporting on the Snowden documents, he said theses recent events all go to prove that the "state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it."