Tuesday, October 8, 2013


On the night of Sunday August 18, officers of the London Metropolitan Police pulled David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen who happens to be the partner of Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald, out of a transit area of Heathrow International Airport, held him incommunicado for 9 hours, showering him with tough questions and barely veiled threats, and denying him access to a lawyer, or Brazilian diplomats, before seizing his computer, his cellphone and digital files containing copies of many of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s stolen documents.

Miranda was held under a British anti-terrorism law, not because he was a suspected terrorist, or had ever committed any terroristic crimes, but because the cops suspected, correctly, he might be transporting files pertaining to official American (and British) security secrets.

That they had struck paydirt, was obvious within the minutes it took for Miranda to surrender everything in his possession.  The extra 8-plus hours of detention was about payback, again, not so much against the unfortunate file-mule Miranda, but against Greenwald, his investigative partner Laura Poitras (who had given the data to Miranda) and The Guardian, the British newspaper which has, with the Washington Post, been publishing a careful selection of Snowden’s damaging, revelatory documents.

Implicit in the extraordinary detention was also a clear message of intimidation aimed at all journalists: “Learn and report information we want hidden from citizens of the UK, the US and the world, and see what happens.”

The message was reinforced when British security agents visited The Guardian, and in a little bit of theater that was simultaneously tragic, farcical and futile, forced Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to witness the destruction of computers and accessories which also contained copies of Bowden-collected documents. Other copies, Rusbridger has said, remain in journalistic hands in the US, Germany and Brazil, if not other locations.

For a day or 3, this (and the White House’s role of passively greenlighting the detention before the Bobbies moved in on Miranda) was big news.

And then, quickly and quietly, the story died, except for continuing coverage by (unsurprisingly) The Guardian and, to a considerably lesser degree, the BBC.

The Miranda detention, which, in those heady first few days, several British experts on the Terrorism Act, the security issues at stake, human rights, press freedoms and journalism denounced as a gross overreach and dangerous abuse, all but disappeared from the US and UK media.

The story’s lack of what we newspeople call “legs” is easily documented.

Since their reporter’s partner’s detention, The Guardian, which, by the way, had paid for Miranda’s air tickets, has run 85 stories related to the security shakedown, more than twice as many as the BBC, and exactly 5 times as many as any other British news organization.  But even their vigorous coverage has run out of gas.  Of the 85 stories in The Guardian since August 19, 74 appeared that month, missing only 2 of 13 remaining days, and averaging 6 ½ stories a day for August.  Since September 1, The Guardian has, by its own count, published 11 stories in 50 days.

Worse news is that almost half of those stories appeared on one day, September 18, and 5 of those 11 stories were devoted essentially to one issue: the angry debate at the annual Directors’ conference of the Liberal-Democratic Party, in which all the Lib-Dem Directors but one voted for a resolution demanding changes in the letter and the application of the 13 year old Terrorism Act.

Coverage of the conference

included some high Party officials making some pertinent observations: “Home Office minister Jeremy Browne (remember the Lib-Dems are part of the Conservative-led ruling government coalition) condemned schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 as "too broad and overbearing," [while] Sarah Ludford, the Lib Dem MEP who secured the debate, said she suspected the use of schedule 7 to detain Miranda "was no less than an attempt to intimidate and shut up the Guardian."

And so on, yada, yada, yada.

More recently, The Guardian worked the Miranda story back into the paper through a lengthy analysis of the material relating the British version of the NSA, GCHQ, and by covering an instance of “Miranda-lite” treatment accorded a well-respected Yemeni human rights professional.

“Baraa Shiban, the project co-ordinator for the London-based legal charity Reprieve, was held for an hour and a half and repeatedly questioned about his anti-drone work and political views regarding human rights abuses in Yemen.” He says he was specifically threatened with “the full Miranda,” 9 hours in detention.  

Note that Shiban was neither suspected nor accused of terrorism.  He got the “locked room, hard questions” treatment because he has annoyed US and UK security bureaucrats by publishing reports documenting the so-called collateral civilian deaths caused by, and angry civilian response to, US-directed drone-borne missile attacks on suspected operatives of Yemen’s Al Qaeda subsidiary.

Aside from this story, and an accompanying comment on it from Guardian reporter Greenwald, the most enterprise The Guardian has shown, in terms of keeping the Miranda Case alive was a recent article by the paper’s ombudsman, Readers Editor Chris Elliot.

Elliot seemed surprised at how little reader response he’d seen to The Guardian’s coverage, not just of Miranda, but the whole Snowden NSA revelations story.

“More than 300 articles have been published since the first, on 6 June 2013, which revealed that a top-secret court had ordered a US telephone company, Verizon, to hand over data on millions of calls. However, since then, the readers' editor's office has received only 108 emails in relation to the series, of which just 13 were critical. Of the 13, only two specifically criticised the Guardian for publishing the disclosures, which is unusual for such a high-profile story.

“Of the rest, 48 were supportive of the Guardian's reporting, 27 offered further information or further case studies, and seven wanted to know how they could help Snowden, with some of them offering money, advice on visas, or even places to stay. A further 13 wanted to know more about what this kind of surveillance means for them personally.”

So, what about the rest of the UK media coverage?

The BBC, with 37 stories since August 19th, has been by far the most active.  But even the Beeb has published only 4 stories since the end of August; and the rest of the Fleet Street and TV mob have been even more AWOL on the Miranda story.

UK Channel 4, probably the best television source for daily news coverage in English has done only 9 stories overall, one since the end of August.

SkyNews, Rupert Murdoch’s all-things-English satellite news channel has offered its viewers a total of 6 stories, none since August.

On the print side, Murdoch’s Times of London (once upon a time a “paper or record,”) has also totaled 6 Miranda-related stories, 2 this month (both on the arrest of the Yemeni drone-tracker).

The Daily Mail and The Telegraph have had 17 Miranda-related stories each, but only a single story (Yemeni arrested) in the Mail, this month, while The Independent has had 13 Miranda stories since August 19, none after August 30.

There is, of course, an American angle to this story.  The detention was done largely in America’s interest, and, as we noted above, with passive approval from President Obama’s White House.  But this has been of scant interest to American news outlets. 

A search of the NY Times database shows 11 Miranda Case-related stories in all, none since August; while the Washington Post archive coughs up just 6 references.  Again, no mention of the the case since the end of August.  As for America’s so-called “news channels,”  CNN has had 15 stories, MSNBC 5 and Fox News 3, but with the exception of one Fox story, none has said a thing since August 22, and only 1 story on CNN even mentioned the US’ enabling role.

As for that one September Fox story, it was merely a pass-along of an AFP report on the European Commission’s unease at the treatment British authorities had given Miranda. There has been no American newschannel coverage of the White House green light.

It’s not like the Miranda matter has gone completely unnoticed.  In addition to the European Commission, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, and Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, have written to David Cameron's government requesting further information on the legality of Miranda's detention, and The Guardian reported, 


they have warned the British government that the protection of state secrets must not be used as an excuse to "intimidate the press into silence."

These comments got zero coverage from the US news media, print or TV.

And there is this comment made to BBC’s radio 4 soon after Miranda’s Heathrow detention, by David Anderson QC, the British government’s independent reviewer of terrorist legislation: “The police, I'm sure, do their best,” he said, “But at the end of the day, there is the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which can look into the exercise of this power, there is the courts, and there is my function.”

If anyone in the British news media is curious about what the terrorism law reviewer or the Police Complaints Commission, the courts or Parliament is thinking about the Miranda case or the Terrorism Act, they’re keeping it to themselves.  Not a word has been published, not a question has been asked in print, or on radio or TV. 7 weeks now, and no sign anyone in the British media is waiting for results.

Until darkness fell, most of the coverage of the Miranda detention in the British print press (except in The Guardian) was harshly unsympathetic. Typical was this from The Telegraph’s Dan Hodges:

“Should being a relative of Glenn Greenwald place you above the law? I ask the question because this morning many people are arguing Greenwald’s partner David Miranda should, in effect, enjoy immunity from investigation solely because his spouse writes very lengthy articles for The Guardian.”

And, on August 30th, when Oliver Robbins, deputy national security adviser at the Cabinet Office, went on the record to warn that ‘lives’ had been ‘put at risk’ by Miranda, ‘if the documents’ he was carrying had fallen ‘into the wrong hands,’ The Times, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail all rushed into stenography mode with uncritical repetitions of the charge, often adding Robbins’ comment that  Miranda had ‘showed very bad judgment’ by, as David Barrett wrote in the Telegraph:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/10276460/David-Miranda-was-carrying-password-for-secret-files-on-piece-of-paper.html

“carrying thousands of British intelligence documents through Heathrow airport [while]  also holding the password to an encrypted file written on a piece of paper.”

If Barrett or any of the other British journalists who wrote about Robbins’ charges had bothered to check with Greenwald, or any expert on digital security, they would have learned that for encrypted files like those Miranda was ferrying, one code word is not enough.  Usually 2 or more keys are required to open the secured materials.  Suffice it to say, that weeks after seizing Miranda’s copies, the UK security services had managed to read, according to the notes taken by The Telegraph’s Tim Stanley:

“just a small portion of an astonishing 58,000 pages of intelligence documents.”

In all of American journalism, the only substantive look at the Miranda case this month came from CJR.org’s Ryan Chittum:

Chittum seemed spurred by, and led with, the fact that the British Spook-in-Chief Robbins had misquoted him (admittedly with egregious carelessness or dishonesty).  But, Chittum did take the opportunity to add that “only a dozen” or so of the encrypted documents had by then been accessed by UK Security because Miranda’s “bad judgment” had been trumped by Poitras’ encryption tradecraft, and to note the fundamental stupidity of Oliver Robbins’ on-the-record rant:

“’Indeed it is impossible for a journalist alone to form a proper judgment about what disclosure of protectively marked intelligence does or does not damage national security,’ [Robbins said.]

“This is misleading, [says Chittum]. It’s not as if Greenwald is doing a Wikileaks-style document dump and crowd-sourcing the reporting (that’s one major difference between Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, by the way). The Guardian is vetting the information, and you can be sure the paper is going back and forth with the government, perhaps even with Robbins himself, before it reports anything.”

So, as CJR has always put it, “laurels” to Chittum (with an ink-stained cluster for pointing out why Manning was a “leaker,” and Bowden a “whistleblower,”) and “dart” after dart after dart to just about everyone else in journalism for cutting the “legs” out from under one of the year’s most important stories.

Silence means consent.

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