Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Can you hear me now?

Is this thing on?

Not to beat a dead horse, but Joshua Foust has some useful observations about l'affaire Miranda, beginning with the fact that neither the Guardian nor Glenn Greenwald were immediately forthcoming with the facts:

Step one in this should be making sure the record is correct. It is false that Miranda was denied a lawyer — he refused a lawyer, which is a crucial detail. Far from being evidence of tyranny out of control, as Greenwald wants to argue, this suggests the British authorities were trying to provide his representation as the law allows, and he refused. That isn’t the UK’s fault, it is Miranda’s.
Which is an oversight excusable in a journalist trying to get the story; but when the journalist is the story, or has near direct access to the facts of the story, well, one wonders what the point of being silent on this issue was.  One doesn't wonder long, of course, because Mr. Greenwald has been quite explicit in his purpose:

“The U.S. government should be on its knees every day praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something happens, all information will be revealed and that would be their worst nightmare.”

And after the incident at Heathrow:

"I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I am going to publish things on England, too. I have many documents on England's spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did," Greenwald, speaking in Portuguese, told reporters at Rio de Janeiro's airport where he met Miranda upon his return to Brazil. 
 Which leaves me wondering:  is this how journalists talk?  And if it is, why are they supposed to get special privileges when they report on state secrets?

And as for why Mr. Miranda was known to the British authorities as Mr. Greenwald's partner; well, maybe they have internet access:
 In June, [Greenwald] told the Daily Beast:
“When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in Rio via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents,” Greenwald said. “I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it’s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists.”
Among the documents Greenwald published is evidence that the NSA long ago broke open Skype, which is not a secure method of communication. Moreover, as a Brazilian national living in Brazil, Miranda would not be protected by the same laws that protect Greenwald, an American citizen, from being monitored. Moreover, he’s almost bragging to a reporter that he was enlisting his husband’s help in trafficking stolen Top Secret documents across national borders. When combined with knowing his own employer was funding his husband’s travel to collaborate with his well-known coauthor — who is herself flagged by the U.S. government — it’s a bit difficult to see why anyone would be surprised that he would be at the very least questioned by British authorities.

Mr. Greenwald, of course, thinks he is everyman for journalists:

"This is a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process," Greenwald said. "To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ. The actions of the UK pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere.
Well, not necessarily:
 Few journalists would treat their spouses as authority-bait the way Greenwald did this past weekend, and few would tell other reporters, for a profile, that they used their spouses to help them avoid intelligence agencies. Glenn Greenwald is a very smart man — he knew what he was doing. While we should all condemn the British authorities for holding Miranda for so long, we should also keep in mind exactly why he might have been singled out — and there a whole new set of complications and questions emerge.
That, I think, is now the issue.  And why?  Because Mr. Greenwald has made much of the danger to the spouses of journalists arising from this incident; but that claim is what we call "chutzpah."  Having created the danger, he now seeks to take advantage of it.

There’s also a bit of historical literacy we should perhaps add to the discussion. Histrionics aside, most governments, and many more unsavory groups, treat secrecy very seriously — sometimes with deadly seriousness. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of his decision to help pilfer and distribute the treasured secrets of several governments, to do so openly, with such braggadocio, is not only arrogant it is misguided. This is not a game, especially to the governments being exposed, and casually involving a spouse to take a hit when he won’t risk it is a bizarre and troubling decision.

This is the intractable issue:  we are dealing with government secrets here, and no matter what you may think of them, governments are entitled by law to have secrets, and to keep things secret.  For decades Fort Meade, the black building that housed the NSA, didn't officially exist; neither did the NSA.  THe CIA has only recently acknowledged that Area 51 actually is Area 51.  Sometimes secrets aren't so secret; sometimes they are; and sometimes, they don't need to be.

I'm not impressed with the actions of Edward Snowden, but I don't deny an interest in what he has revealed.  The problem is, of course, he has revealed only a little, and there may be much to justify what the NSA is doing.  There are all sorts of mad speculation out there, including that the NSA is recording every phone call made in America and probably counting my keystrokes as I type.  How much we need to know to be reassured, and how much we need to trust our government, is always a tough call.  Being a child of the '60's, I'm not inclined to trust the government very much.

But neither can I lionize Edward Snowden; and Glenn Greenwald, for the record, is not a journalist.  He's an ideologue with a platform and an axe to grind.  And he seems quite willing to use anyone to further his aim of publicizing Glenn Greenwald and making sure we all know just how important Glenn Greenwald is.


  1. I overlooked that little omission from the story as told by Greenwald, not to mention the other offense that Miranda asserted, he'd been offered a cup of water. Can you imagine any of these guys standing up to a real grilling by, say, the Chinese or Russian intelligence services? Not to mention one of the many organized crime gangs in Rio de Janeiro who might have stolen their laptop and demanded the key to the encryption protecting U.S. classified information they could put up for sale or hold for ransom? It sort of puts a new light on the NYT story about Poitras in which she points out that Greenwald couldn't deal with the leak because he couldn't be bothered with the intricacies of encryption.

    This caper and the reaction of "the left" to it certainly explains a lot about why it is the gang that can't learn to shoot straight. I wonder if a real left that dumped those guys might not actually be more effective than one with that dead weight on it.

  2. I noticed what you said about gangs in Brazil who might be interested in this, if not the Brazilian government itself.

    More and more Greenwald's brave stance against governments reminds me of the guys who say the government will pry their guns from their cold, dead hands. They scare the government as much as Greenwald does.

    Interesting that he'll even put his partner in harm's way just to have his way; or at least get the publicity.

  3. It certainly strikes me that Greenwald has suffered least from his "journalistic" scoops, certainly less than either Miranda or Snowden. He's good with threats, but others suffer the consequences of Greenwald's bravado. I wonder if it occurs to Snowden and Miranda that they may have been used.