The backlash begins

The suggestion that the nine-hour detention of David Miranda at Heathrow airport and the confiscation of all his electronic items was a snafu by an over-eager airport security official or that it was a routine decision taken by the anti-terror branch of their security forces was never very plausible but it has now been shot down by the US government saying that it had been given a ‘heads up’ by the British government that they were going to take this action.

This announcement was made by the White House spokesperson and may be an attempt to deflect attention away from the far more likely possibility that they were the ones who initiated the move, since the British government is an obedient lapdog that never tries to escape the short leash it is kept on by the US.

Josh Earnest, the principal deputy White House press secretary, said at the daily briefing: “There was a heads-up that was provided by the British government. This is something that we had an indication that was likely to occur but it is not something that we requested. It was something that was done specifically by the British law enforcement officials. This is an independent British law enforcement decision that was made.”

Earnest had earlier said: “This is a decision that was made by the British government without the involvement – and not at the request – of the United States government. It is as simple as that.”

The White House spokesman confirmed that Britain alerted the US authorities after Miranda’s name appeared on a passenger manifest of a flight from Berlin to Heathrow on Sunday morning. “I think that is an accurate interpretation of what a heads-up is,” Earnest said when asked if the tip was provided when Miranda’s name appeared on the manifest.

Earnest declined to rule out whether the US authorities had been passed information from Miranda’s electronic equipment seized at Heathrow. Officials confiscated electronics equipment, including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

Asked to rule out whether the US had been passed such material, the spokesman said: “I’m not in a position to do that right now.”

Of course, the White House has shown itself to be serial liars so no one, except the White House stenographic press corps, is likely to believe this denial. You can be sure that all Miranda’s confiscated material is already in the hands of the NSA and being subject to scrutiny. Since it is likely that Greenwald and Poitras have copies of what is in those devices, the only reason I can think of for taking them, apart from vindictiveness and intimidation, is that the US is not sure what is in their possession and is really worried.

Meanwhile Greenwald promises to write even more aggressively about the NSA stories. I doubt that he was planning to hold much back in the first place but he may use the discretionary powers that Snowden gave him to hit the US government even harder than he originally planned, as in this interview given by him and Miranda after the latter returned to Brazil.

[UPDATE: Jonathan Watts ha a more detailed interview with Miranda.]

Anyone who has followed him could have predicted this. Stephen Walt writes that the Miranda detention was as dumb a move as could be imagined:

It sends the clear message to Greenwald that he’s being watched, and those near to him are too. Greenwald himself believes that this was the motivation for the UK government’s action, and he may well be right. But if so, then it was also a completely lame-brained act on Britain’s part: you don’t need a triple-digit IQ to figure out that Greenwald is not the sort of person who can be intimidated in this fashion. On the contrary, his entire career as a blogger, writer, and journalist has been driven by the desire to expose and challenging abuses of power, and making him the personal object of this sort of abuse is hardly going to make him cease writing and go back to being a corporate lawyer. So if that was the goal, somebody in the UK counter-terror operation either hasn’t been paying attention, isn’t very bright, or both.

I eagerly look forward to more articles in the near future. But I also really worry for Greenwald’s safety.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says


    On Firefox, the embedded interview box shows only

    The page isn’t redirecting properly

    Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete. …

    – and on Safari,

    We are sorry, cannot be found. …

    The “S” in “NSA” does not, they say, stand for “Subtlety”.


  2. Mano Singham says

    That’s odd. I just checked on both Firefox and Safari and it worked fine.

    Have you got on the wrong side of the NSA?

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    If I haven’t been on NSA’s “naughty” list for decades, they haven’t done their job right.

    I now get the same or similar messages from some other FtB blogs, including posts & video links on totally non-NSA topics (though some such links, including full-URL citations in comments, come through unmuddled).

    So perhaps my implied accusations were, if not wrong, somewhat premature.

    Maybe y’all should ask Jason T &/or the other techno-elves what they did differently starting today…

  4. colnago80 says

    1. Try Chrome.
    2 It could be that there is an extension in Firefox that is causing the problem. Try disabling the add-ons. This would appear to be less likely in Safari.
    3. There could be some sort of local problem with your Internet Service Provider.
    4. If you are using a proxy, there could be some sort of arcane problem there.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    I hate & distrust Google too much to download Chrome.

    In large part because of the above, I use an add-on called NoScript which does interfere with a lot of web functions, and which may be the root cause of this problem (even though I’ve told it to “allow all” on FtB, NoScript only “partially allows” scripts here). However, I use no add-ons with Safari.

    My ISP (Earthlink) may be part of the problem. As they have subbed out their tech support service to an office in India which admits they have no way of directly communicating to any other part of the business, I’ve given up hope of solving problems through same.

    No proxies in my case.

    The video-link problem is showing up on other sites as well – all starting yesterday. My technical knowledge has reached its limits; however, my paranoia has no such constraints. Gotta go buy some more tin foil!

  6. Funny Diva says

    “this was not something we requested”…

    Except in the Henry II “Will no one rid me of this turbulent [journalist]?” sense.
    Or in the “well…not _specifically_, there’s just a standing request to detain anyone with any connection to people who publish leaks that embarrass us…” sense.

    Or, you know…when was the last time the guy on the podium told the truth at a briefing?

  7. jamessweet says

    Huh. I was actually inclined to believe the “snafu by an over-eager airport security official” explanation, simply because it was such an obvious and mind-bendingly stupid move. This still just does not make sense to me. There just seems to be very little upside and a whole lot of downside.

    For some reason, in my mind I keep hearing Daine Jir tell Darth Vader: “Holding [Princess Leia] is dangerous. If word of this gets out, it could generate sympathy for the rebellion in the Senate.”

  8. jamessweet says

    Okay, this explanation makes sense to me:

    My own view, for what it is worth, is that this was an act of petty bureaucratic vengeance. It was the outraged bleat of a transnational national security apparatus that is used to having its own way and generally disdainful of genuine oversight.

    In other words, the point was to hurt Greenwald (and his loved ones), period. There was no broader goal. It was not to hurt Greenwald so that blah-blah-blah, it was just a pure act of anger, rather than one of intimidation. That I might get.

  9. John Phillips, FCD says

    jamessweet, agreed, petty revenge seems the most likely reason and plus possibly a bit of proactive intimidation for other journos to think about. Though unless it was OK’d at a fairly high level, some low level flunky will probably be walking the plank pretty soon.

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