UK Claim That 'Journalism Equals Terrorism' Sparks Outrage

David Miranda (left) and Glenn Greenwald (right) testifying in October before Brazilian parliamentary committee (Creative Commons-licensed photo from Agencia Senado)

UK Claim That 'Journalism Equals Terrorism' Sparks Outrage

Case of David Miranda, say critics, is example of state repression of the fourth estate

Outrage and denunciations are following reports out of the UK which show that the British government has labeled the husband of journalist Glenn Greenwald a "terrorist" for allegedly possessing leaked NSA documents while passing through London's Heathrow Airport earlier this year.

In August, David Miranda was detained by security while on a layover between Germany and the home he shares with Greenwald in Brazil. Detained for nearly nine hours under the claimed authority of a anti-terrorism statute in the country called Schedule 7, the incident made international headlines within the larger dramatic arch surrounding the story of NSA spying and global surveillance generated by documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Subsequent to his release and safe return to Brazil, Miranda filed suit against the British government for his treatment.

"They are absolutely and explicitly equating terrorism with journalism." -Glenn Greenwald

As Reutersreports:

At a London court hearing this week for for Miranda's lawsuit, a document called a "Ports Circulation Sheet" was read into the record. It was prepared by Scotland Yard - in consultation with the MI5 counterintelligence agency - and circulated to British border posts before Miranda's arrival. The precise date of the document is unclear.

"Intelligence indicates that Miranda is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security," according to the document.

"We assess that Miranda is knowingly carrying material the release of which would endanger people's lives," the document continued. "Additionally the disclosure, or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism..."

The use of the words "espionage" and "terrorism" to describe what Miranda was doing immediately generating outrage among journalists and open government advocates across the world.

"For all the lecturing it doles out to the world about press freedoms, the UK offers virtually none," said Greenwald to Reuters in response to the news about his Brazilian husband, David Miranda.

"They are absolutely and explicitly equating terrorism with journalism," he added while condemning the language.

But Greenwald was not alone in his repudiation

As Associated Press reporter Matt Apuzzo tweeted shortly after the story broke:

David Leigh, investigations editor at the UK Guardian newspaper, responded with this:

Wikileaks tweeted:

And independent journalist Kevin Gostzola writes:

The most alarming aspect of this is not simply that British authorities are equating an act of journalism with an act of terrorism. Worse, the authorities are suggesting that Miranda was not traveling with the documents to help Greenwald engage in a legitimate act of journalism that the authorities would be willing to recognize and allow. They appear to believe Greenwald and The Guardian were reporting on documents from Snowden for "political" or "ideological" purposes, and, since UK's security service contend The Guardian's reporting has damaged national security, this act by Miranda was an act of terrorism, not journalism.

With this authoritarian logic, Miranda's case has become an example of how a state can repress journalism by deciding that a journalist or media organization has political or ideological motives and, therefore, does not have a right to report on certain material the state does not want the public to debate and discuss, such as the contents of documents from UK's spy agency, GCHQ. It shows that labels can matter and, if the state can convince a public that a journalist is really an activist, that can be useful in controlling information.

The Terrorism Law in the UK has a broad definition of "terrorism." it is a "use or threat" that is "designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organization or to intimidate the public or a section of the public]" or a "use or threat" that is "made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, [racial] or ideological cause." It also qualifies if it "endangers a person's life, other than that of the person committing the action" and "creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public."

Ironic or not, Greenwald himself has been one of the most articulate critics of the selective employment of the word "terrorism" in the post-9/11 era. In numerous cases, Greenwald has repeatedly described its appropriation by governments as a way to indict violent actions by others while refusing the term be used to describe its own political violence or war-making.

In post earlier this year exploring why the word's use is not just a question of semantics, Greenwald wrote:

Whether something is or is not "terrorism" has very substantial political implications, and very significant legal consequences as well. The word "terrorism" is, at this point, one of the most potent in our political lexicon: it single-handedly ends debates, ratchets up fear levels, and justifies almost anything the government wants to do in its name.

And as he tweeted on Saturday following the latest revelation from Scotland Yard:


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