US official: Detention of Greenwald's partner intended to "send a message"

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David Miranda (L), the Brazilian partner of Glenn Greenwald (R), is pictured at Rio de Janeiro's Tom Jobim international airport upon his arrival on 19 August 2013. (Photo: AFP - Marcelo Piu)

Published Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The UK detained and interrogated the partner of an American journalist tied to whistle blower Edward Snowden to "send a message" to other reporters publishing secret documents on western governments' mass surveillance programs, Reuters cited an unnamed US security official as saying.

The report did not go into further detail over the US role in the nine-hour detention at London's Heathrow airport on Sunday of David Miranda, the boyfriend of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who infuriated America after publishing documents that detail the US National Security Agency's spy program provided by Snowden.

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest on Monday admitted the US had received prior knowledge from the UK that security officials intended to hold Miranda, who was detained under a British terrorism bill and had all of his electronics confiscated, but denied requesting the detention.

A furious Greenwald said British authorities had "zero suspicion" that Miranda, a Brazilian citizen transiting to Rio de Janeiro from Germany, was involved in terrorism and instead spent hours questioning him about the Guardian's reporting on the activities of the NSA, which has enraged Washington.

"This was obviously designed to send a message of intimidation to those of us working journalistically on reporting on the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters)," Greenwald wrote in the Guardian.

"They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism."

Miranda, 28, often assists Greenwald with his work, the paper said.

He is not an employee of the newspaper but it paid for his flights. He stayed in Berlin with Laura Poitras, a US filmmaker who has been working with the Guardian.

Miranda said he had been questioned by six agents at Heathrow who confiscated his electronic equipment.

"The minute I stepped out of the plane they took me away to a small room with four chairs and a machine for taking fingerprints," he told the Guardian.

"They asked questions about my entire life, about everything. They took my computer, video game, mobile phone, my memory card."

Meanwhile late-Monday Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger announced that the British government forced the paper to destroy files or face a court battle over its publication of Snowden's revelations.

Rusbridger said he was contacted by "a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister" which led to two meetings in which "he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on."

He said authorities told him: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back."

Snowden was granted asylum in Russia after spending five weeks in limbo at a Moscow airport attempting to avoid extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges.

Arriving to meet Miranda at Rio's airport, meanwhile, Greenwald said he was now even more determined to continue reporting on the intelligence leaks – with a new focus on Britain.

"Now I will be more radical in my reporting," he warned. "This was a clear attempt at intimidation."

WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange on Monday, whose organization has been providing legal counsel to Snowden, described the detention as a "disgrace."

"The detention of David Miranda under Section 7 of the [UK] Terrorism Act is a disgrace," he told the BBC on Monday. "The seizure of David Miranda's laptop, telephone and [other] electronics is just an abuse on top of his detention. This is an attack on journalism in violation of the law by the British government."

In the same interview Assange announced that Sarah Harrison, a British journalist working for WikiLeaks, has gone into exile after Miranda's detention.

Harrison had spent several weeks with Edward Snowden at Moscow's airport.

"What will happen to Sarah Harrison, one of our journalists who spent the entire time at the airport with [Snowden]? She is now effectively exiled from the UK," Assange said. "If Glenn Greenwald's partner receives that treatment just transiting the UK, imagine what would happen to a courageous UK citizen who has spent all that time with Edward Snowden."

Rights group Amnesty International said Miranda was "clearly a victim of unwarranted revenge tactics," while Reporters Without Borders said it was "outraged" by his detention.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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