PRISM blogger Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian boyfriend, David Miranda, was detained by the authorities at Heathrow Airport this weekend and questioned for nine hours. At first glance, this looks like an inexcusable infringement of his civil liberties and a very sinister development. Had the US authorities requested – or instructed – the UK Government to give an innocent civilian a hard time? It seemed clear-cut.
But now more facts are emerging. Firstly, Miranda’s travel was being paid for by the Guardian, the newspaper Greenwald gave the leaked PRISM documents to. Why? Because he was acting as a document mule: something the New York Times knew on Sunday but the Guardian somehow forgot to mention in its screeching coverage. (They didn’t mention paying for his airfare either.)
As for that thing about him having nothing to drink for 9 hours? Not quite: he refused water and a lawyer because he “didn’t trust the authorities”. Not quite the same thing as being “denied” food, drink and legal counsel, is it? Whether or not Miranda is a “journalist”, his other half has done the couple and their cause no favours by throwing his toys out the pram and having a hissy fit in which he threatened the US and UK governments with more document leaks.
Governments take their secretive material very seriously – and they’re right to. After all, no administration can function with complete transparency. And let’s be clear: Greenwald’s revelations aren’t about war crimes, or nuclear weapons, or some other serious and sinister cover-up. His reporting just underlined what everyone already knows: tech companies respond to requests about you from the Government, and the bigger ones actively co-operate in order to fight crime and, in particular, terrorism.
This is not something any sensible person can get upset about.
So it’s hardly edifying or dignified behaviour, is it, threatening to make them pay and giving all sorts of “vengeance will be mine” quotes to the press? Hardly what you’d expect from the Fourth Estate, that essential pillar of democracy? I mean, sorry to be unsympathetic, but if you’re canoodling with and document muling for a guy who leaks American state secrets, what the hell do you expect the next time you rock up at one of their closest allies’ airports? A ticker-tape parade? You have to wonder about the naiveté – or disingenuousness – of the pair of them. They both knew what they were doing.
I’m not one of those shrill people who thinks journalists deserve special privileges. We hacks tend to demand a lot of rights without necessarily thinking much about our responsibilities – nor about the consequences of some of our actions. I am concerned about the sinister encroachment of the state, which is continuing apace even under a supposedly conservative government. But, and let’s set aside the question of whether the Terrorism Act was the right piece of legislation for the authorities to cite in this case, it is entirely right that Miranda should have been stopped.
As Dan Hodges asked this morning: “It’s clear David Miranda wasn’t stopped because he was Glenn Greenwald’s partner. He was stopped because he was suspected of carrying classified information highly detrimental to the UK national interest. And if we don’t stop people because of that, who do we stop?”
Greenwald appears to genuinely believe that he and his boyfriend are above the law. In so doing, he diminishes the dignity of our profession and commits, once again, the cardinal sin of journalism: he has made himself the story. As for the Guardian, well: they wanted more state regulation of the press. Congratulations, boys: this is what it looks like.