David Miranda Is Nobody's Errand Boy
When Glenn Greenwald's 28-year-old Brazilian partner was detained in London this summer while transporting documents related to the bombshell Edward Snowden story, many assumed he was unfairly roped into a situation he didn't understand. That couldn't be further from the truth.
"Intelligence indicates that Miranda is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of U.K. national security … We assess that Miranda is knowingly carrying material the release of which would endanger people's lives … Additionally the disclosure, or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism..."When Miranda's plane landed, he says, the flight staff announced that everyone would have to show their passports as they exited the plane and crossed onto the tarmac at Heathrow. Miranda queued up, showed his passport, and was immediately taken by two border agents to a sterile, white, windowless room several floors below the departure gates, isolated from the airport's hustle and bustle. "I thought I knew exactly what was happening," Miranda says flatly. "I knew because Laura had talked about being detained before on other assignments and I just thought to myself, I will try to be as vague as possible." Inside the neon-washed holding room furnished only with a table and four chairs, the agents confiscated Miranda's bags, including a laptop, cell phone, and encrypted flash drive. Under Section 7 of the U.K.'s anti-terrorism law, officials have the right to examine property and search anything the detained person is carrying. Once Miranda was seated across from the two agents, he told them he knew why they had detained him. "It's because of the work my partner is doing," Miranda recalls, voicing the same braggadocio and confidence he showed at the nightclub. "So what do you want from me?" "What sort of work is your partner doing?" one agent, who identified himself as Two-Oh-Five-Oh-Six, inquired with a seemingly benign curiosity. "Come on," Miranda responded, agitated. "We don't know who your partner is," the agent replied flatly. Miranda asked if he could have a lawyer; the agents told him he could speak to a lawyer who would be limited to explaining the Terrorism Act to him. What was his lawyer's name? They would ring him straight away. "Glenn Greenwald," Miranda snapped. "Does he practice law in the U.K.?" Miranda bluffed and said Greenwald did practice in the U.K., but after one of the agents consulted a registry over the phone they found that Greenwald was not, in fact, a solicitor in Her Majesty's kingdom. The agents told Miranda he could have an attorney from their own approved list, but that they could only speak by phone and would not be present for the rest of the interrogation. Miranda refused: "I told them no, because I did not trust their chosen lawyers or their phones. I also thought when a lawyer Glenn hired or someone from The Guardian did finally come to meet me, the agents would tell me I already had a lawyer and not allow me to talk to anyone else." One of the agents asked Miranda for the passwords to his cell phone, laptop, and flash drive. When Miranda did not respond, agents grew sterner and told him again that under the Terrorism Act he could be sent to prison for not cooperating with their requests. Miranda relented. "I became scared at that moment because I know that people get disappeared by the U.S. and U.K. governments if they claim you're a terrorist," he says. "I didn't have the encryption keys to allow access to the documents, but I did tell them my passwords to my personal phone and laptop." Miranda's laptop browser was open to his email. His cell phone contained everything one's cell phone typically does: contacts, emails, texts, pictures — the type of pictures you take with your romantic partner. The agents also took from Miranda's backpack a piece of paper that had one of the passwords for the outer shell of the flash drive, not to core data, say Miranda and Greenwald. That flash drive is the focus of Scotland Yard's ongoing criminal investigation against Miranda, British officials say. In a statement given after Miranda's release, Oliver Robbins, deputy national security adviser for the U.K.'s Cabinet Office, said the flash drive contained "approximately 58,000 highly classified U.K. intelligence documents" that were "entirely of misappropriated" materials. Robbins chastised Miranda for exercising "very poor judgment." Miranda and Greenwald both claim the U.K. government is lying about what that one seized password enables. "It is impossible that they could have access to the documents," Greenwald insists. "David did have a piece of paper, and it did have a password on it, but it did not allow access to the actual documents because there were multiple encryption walls around it. All the password allows access to is a list of the documents and, in some cases, a summary of them. They are lying when they claim it allowed access to the documents themselves, trying, as usual, to scare their public into submitting to their assertions of radical authority." When the agents got the passwords from Miranda, all pretenses collapsed and the interrogation began in earnest. We can only rely on Miranda's retelling of the subsequent hours spent in the Heathrow interrogation room, since U.K. officials have never released audio or visual from the detention. Indeed, Miranda says when he asked if agents were recording, they said there was no recording allowed during the initial interrogation under the Terrorism Act — though the words "terrorism," "bomb," "weapon," "murder," and "destruction" were not mentioned by the agents, nor were any of the typical nouns often associated with endangering the lives of others. "They never once asked me a single question about terrorism," Miranda says. A rotating tag team of seven agents asked Miranda questions ranging from his personal life with Greenwald to his family background to his own politics. Miranda's request for a translator was brushed aside, and all nine hours were spent being interrogated in English. "First they tried to pit me against Glenn," Miranda recalls. The agents asked Miranda whom he went to the nightclubs with in Berlin. "Boyfriends," Miranda replied, meaning male friends. Did Glenn know about these boyfriends? "No." How would Glenn feel if he knew Miranda was out with the other men? "Fine." They asked if Miranda had been in contact with Edward Snowden. "No." Were his family members political? "No." They asked about Miranda's political views. Did he support the street protests in Brazil? "Yes." Did he participate in the protests? "No." "They offered me water, but they didn't pour it front of me," Miranda says with a note of pride. "So I said no. I didn't trust them for a second, I never had a drink of water while I was there, and I never got up to go the bathroom." Back in Brazil, Greenwald was asleep at home. "I get a phone call at 6:30 in the morning, which you know is bad news," Greenwald says. A man who gave no name identified himself as a "security official at Heathrow Airport" and said Miranda was in detention under the Terrorism Act. He told Greenwald that Miranda had been held at that point for three hours and that they could hold him up to nine hours, at which point they could arrest him, release him, or ask a judge for additional time to interrogate. "I look it up, and it's, like, less than 3% of people are held for more than an hour under that law, and less than .3% are held for more than three hours, and if you are held for more than an hour you often end up arrested," Greenwald adds. "I definitely thought they were going to arrest him or haul him before a judge to seek more detention time, which would not go in our favor." The interrogation reached its fifth hour when an agent came to tell Miranda that they had contacted Greenwald. Greenwald spent the next several hours maniacally stress-eating Doritos, emailing everyone he knew at The Guardian, and chatting with Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras online. Between 2006 and 2010, Poitras herself was detained and interrogated more than 40 times after producing an Oscar-nominated documentary called The Oath about the U.S. occupation of Iraq and while working on a film about extremists in Yemen called My Country, My Country. "Ironically," Poitras tells me via email, "the detentions stopped following an article Glenn wrote about an incident at Newark airport where agents threatened to handcuff me for taking notes because they said my 'pen was a weapon.'" Poitras says that the most invasive border crossing she experienced occurred in 2010 at John F. Kennedy Airport: "They seized my laptop, phone, and camera and held them for 41 days," Poitras recalls. "When I got my equipment back, the photos on one device had been viewed and a slide show had been created." After eight hours and 20 minutes, Miranda recalls, he was allowed to meet lawyers from The Guardian. After exactly nine hours, Miranda was released and told he would not be immediately charged. Miranda was told to wait in the customs inspection lounge while the agents tried to find a direct flight back for him to Rio. Miranda asked that his personal electronic devices be returned but was told they were now evidence in a pending criminal investigation and he could not have them back until the investigation was closed.