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UK Police Believed David Miranda Was Likely ‘Connected to a Conspiracy’ Between Snowden and Others

David Miranda (Creative Commons-licensed Photo by Agência Senado

Lawyers for David Miranda, the husband of journalist Glenn Greenwald who was detained under a United Kingdom terrorism law back in August and had electronics equipment seized from him, are in Britain’s High Court to argue that detaining him was unlawful and it was a violation of Miranda’s right to target him under the terrorism law.

On August 18, Miranda was returning from Berlin. He had stayed with journalist Laura Poitras and the Security Services believed he was carrying documents from former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

British authorities detained him at Heathrow Airport under a Terrorism Act of 2000 (TACT) provision known as Schedule 7. He was held for nearly nine hours, which is the maximum period under the law that one can be held without charge. The authorities did not arrest Miranda but seized electronic devices he had including a mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and gaming consoles.

UK Security Services has defended the detention claiming that Scotland Yard and MI5 had decided Miranda was engaged in “espionage activity” that could have potentially been an “act against the interests of UK national security.” They believed he was “knowingly carrying material the release of which would endanger people’s lives.” And, “The disclosure, or threat of disclosure,” was “designed to influence a government.” Disclosures would be “made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause,” which fell “within the definition of terrorism.”

A statement posted by Carl Gardner of the Head of Legal blog and from the Metropolitan Police Service indicates that police believed Miranda might have been “connected to a conspiracy between Edward Snowden and others to disclose highly sensitive material unlawfully obtained from US and UK intelligence agencies.” They also apparently believed that “past or future disclosures by Edward Snowden and/or his associates might constitute acts of terrorism” under TACT.

The police claim they “did not know or believe that Mr. Miranda had acquired the material for the purposes of journalism.” Also, “Mr. Miranda did not when questioned claim to be a journalist or to be carrying the material on behalf of anyone else who was a journalist or to have acquired the material for the purposes of journalism.”

According to the police’s version of events, the police “received information from the Security Service that Mr. Snowden had highly sensitive information stolen from the UK intelligence community.”

…Mr. Snowden and his associates had begun and were continuing to disseminate this information. It was known that Glenn Greenwald, a freelance journalist working for The Guardian, together, with an individual in Berlin (Ms. Poitras), were involved. Mr. Miranda was Mr. Greenwald’s husband and he would be traveling from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro through Heathrow. It was thought possible that Mr. Miranda could be carrying at least some of the stolen classified material.

If so the Security Service wanted to obtain the material in order to gain an insight into what UK classified materials, if any, it was thought that Mr. Miranda might be carrying; to deny the use of that material; and to increase their intelligence coverage in order to protect UK national security…

The police contend they did not “unthinkingly execute a Security Service plan.” They “considered separately what powers they could and should exercise.” There was not “enough information to justify an arrest.” Nonetheless, a deputy superintendent of police agreed with the Security Services that Snowden might have passed on material to a “third party state or non-state actor.” The disclosure of information would endanger lives, create a serious risk for the health or safety of the public and could seriously “disrupt an electronic system.” It would occur to influence the UK government and advance a “political or ideological cause” so it fell within the legal definition of terrorism in the law.

The arguments being put forward by the Security Services and Metropolitan Police Service in this case are nothing less than an attack on journalism and the larger human right of freedom of expression.

If the Security Services and police are successful in their argument in court, they will have effectively carved out a power to target any journalists in transit, who may be working on stories that implicate the intelligence or security services of the UK. All authorities would have to do to justify detention,interrogation and seizure of property is make a claim that they believed the person was carrying state secrets that, if disclosed, could endanger lives and they could reasonably disrupt the journalism activities of any person, especially those traveling through the country’s international airport.

The Security Services and police will have effectively been permitted to decide what is and is not journalism. They clearly do not believe that what Greenwald and The Guardian have done is legitimate journalism that the state should not disrupt. They are so willing to protect the image of state security services and the secrecy surrounding GCHQ’s partnership and efforts with the NSA that they will invoke terrorism laws to suppress journalism.

It does seem unbelievable that anyone would claim in the High Court that they did not believe Miranda was carrying the material for journalistic purposes, however, it is plain to see this argument is being advanced by people who do not consider what Greenwald, Poitras and others at The Guardian are doing to be journalism. They view it as a “conspiracy” against intelligence agencies.

Greenwald submitted a witness statement, according Gardner, that the material from Snowden was being processed by journalists. High standards were being given to raw materials in order to determine what was appropriate to publish. But that journalists would be able to make a reasonable judgment on what was in the public interest is probably not something the Security Services or police will be willing to concede.

The police statement shows that the Security Services and police both believe Snowden is a part of this “conspiracy” and is a terrorist. He is not a whistleblower. He is someone in Russia, who “stole” information to advance a “political or ideological cause,” disrupt electronic systems and engage in actions that could endanger lives. So, not only do they think they can use TACT against journalism, but they also likely believe the law could be used to target whistleblowers as if they were terrorists.

In the profession of journalism, awards are regularly given to reporters or heads of media organizations, which uncover and publish key details about governments that spark some sort of outcome, including changes or reforms. Casting an act intended to influence a government or advance a political or ideological cause is a bald-faced attack on journalism.

Finally, the silence of the United States government as an ally defends the use of a terrorism law to violate the rights of someone who was clearly assisting a journalistic activity is profound.

Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation described how the State Department has previously condemned “authoritarian countries” for committing. The State Department has expressed concern over the jailing of journalist Eskinder Nega in Ethiopia under an anti-terrorism law. They have criticized the jailing of journalists under anti-terrorism laws in Turkey. They have criticized Burundi for imprisoning journalists for “acts of terrorism” and also condemned Morocco for jailing journalist Ali Anouzla under an anti-terror law for “linking to a YouTube video.”

When asked to comment on this case, the State Department’s answer happened to be:

…I’d refer you to the UK Government. This is their matter to discuss. And I would also reiterate what I said to Said – every situation is different. I would caution from making too many – drawing too many links or comparisons between any specific situation. But again, I’m just not going to have any comment on this. I’d refer you to my colleagues in London…

The State Department refused to address the situation and use the same candor they had used toward other countries in the world.

Of course, as of this moment, it is unknown what role the US government played in urging the UK to stop Miranda as he was traveling through the country. The US government was given advance notice that Miranda would be detained, but whether there were discussions on stopping any individuals involved in this “conspiracy,” as the police put it, remains unknown.

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UK Police Believed David Miranda Was Likely 'Connected to a Conspiracy' Between Snowden and Others

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."