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"Sending a message": what the US and UK are attempting to do

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Source: The Guardian

State-loyal journalists seem to believe in a duty to politely submit to bullying tactics from political officials

The remains of the hard disc and Macbook that held information leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian and was destroyed at the behest of the UK government.
The remains of the hard disc and Macbook that held information leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian and was destroyed at the behest of the UK government. Photograph: Roger Tooth

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger on Monday night disclosed the remarkable news that UK authorities, several weeks ago, threatened the Guardian UK with prior restraint if they did not destroy all of their materials provided by Edward Snowden, and then sent agents to the basement of the paper's offices to oversee the physical destruction of hard drives. 

The Guardian has more details on that episode today, and MSNBC's Chris Hayes interviewed the Guardian's editor-in-chief about it last night. As Rusbridger explains, this behavior was as inane as it was thuggish: since this is 2013, not 1958, destroying one set of a newspaper's documents doesn't destroy them all, and since the Guardian has multiple people around the world with copies, they achieved nothing but making themselves look incompetently oppressive.

But conveying a thuggish message of intimidation is exactly what the UK and their superiors in the US national security state are attempting to accomplish with virtually everything they are now doing in this matter. On Monday night, Reuters' Mark Hosenball reported the following about the nine-hour detention of my partner under a terrorism law, all with the advanced knowledge of the White House:

"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."

I want to make one primary point about that. On Monday, Reuters did the same thing to me as they did last month: namely, they again wildly distorted comments I made in an interview -- speaking in Portuguese, at 5:00 am at the Rio airport, waiting for my partner to come home after finally being released -- to manufacture the sensationalizing headline that I was "threatening" the UK government with "revenge" journalism. That wasn't remotely what I said or did, as I explained last night in a CNN interview (see Part 2).

But vowing to report on the nefarious secret spying activities of a large government -- which is what I did -- is called "journalism," not "revenge." As the Washington Post headline to Andrea Peterson's column on Monday explained: "No, Glenn Greenwald didn't 'vow vengeance.' He said he was going to do his job." She added:

"Greenwald's point seems to have been that he was determined not to be scared off by intimidation. Greenwald and the Guardian have already been publishing documents outlining surveillance programs in Britain, and Greenwald has long declared his intention to continue publishing documents. By doing so, Greenwald isn't taking 'vengeance.' He's just doing his job."

But here's the most important point: the US and the UK governments go around the world threatening people all the time. It's their modus operandi. They imprison whistleblowers. They try to criminalize journalism. They threatened the Guardian with prior restraint and then forced the paper to physically smash their hard drives in a basement. 

They detained my partner under a terrorism law, repeatedly threatened to arrest him, and forced him to give them his passwords to all sorts of invasive personal information -- behavior that even one of the authors of that terrorism law says is illegal, which the Committee for the Protection of Journalists said yesterday is just "the latest example in a disturbing record of official harassment of the Guardian over its coverage of the Snowden leaks," and which Human Rights Watch says was "intended to intimidate Greenwald and other journalists who report on surveillance abuses." And that's just their recent behavior with regard to press freedoms: it's to say nothing of all the invasions, bombings, renderings, torture and secrecy abuses for which that bullying, vengeful duo is responsible over the last decade.

But the minute anyone refuses to meekly submit to that, or stands up to it, hordes of authoritarians -- led by state-loyal journalists -- immediately start objecting: how dare you raise your voice to the empire? How dare you not politely curtsey to the Queen and thank the UK government for what they have done. The US and UK governments are apparently entitled to run around and try to bully and intimidate anyone, including journalists -- "to send a message to recipients of Snowden's materials, including the Guardian," as Reuters put it -- but nobody is allowed to send a message back to them. That's a double standard that nobody should accept.

If the goal of the UK in detaining my partner was -- as it now claims -- to protect the public from terrorism by taking documents they suspected he had (and why would they have suspected that?), that would have taken nine minutes, not nine hours. Identically, the UK knew full well that forcing the Guardian UK to destroy its hard drives would accomplish nothing in terms of stopping the reporting: as the Guardian told them, there are multiple other copies around the world. The sole purpose of all of that, manifestly, is to intimidate. As the ACLU of Massachusetts put it:

"The real vengeance we are seeing right now is not coming from Glenn Greenwald; it is coming from the state."

But for state-loyal journalists, protesting thuggish and aggressive behavior from the state is out of the question. It's only when aggressive challenges come from those who are bringing transparency and accountability to the state do they get upset and take notice. As Digby wrote last night: "many elite journalists seem to be joining the government repression of the free press instead of being defiant and protecting their own prerogatives." That's because they believe in subservient journalism, not adversarial journalism. I only believe in the latter.

Related matters

The Wall Street Journal reported last night that NSA surveillance has a far greater reach than previously imagined -- including 75% of domestic traffic -- and included this excellent graphic with it about how that is done, taken in part from the Snowden materials we have been reporting.

Here is David Miranda explaining to the BBC what it's like to be forced to turn over your passwords to security agents who have detained you under a terrorism law, so they can troll through your emails and Facebook account and Skype program while you are detained. Just watch that short video and judge for yourself.

Finally, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow had an excellent commentary on Monday about all of this that really captures the heart of it all:

 

For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, How Would A Patriot (more...)
 

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