Glenn Greenwald. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

It’s nothing new. Writers and activists of various stripes have been stopped, searched and/or had laptops or thumb drives seized at airports for years, in the United States and abroad, in alleged anti-terrorist or anti-Anonymous actions. The widely publicized New York Times Magazine cover story today on filmmaker Laura Poitras revisits the many times she has been halted and subjected to this.

Most recently, she partnered with Glenn Greenwald on this year’s big Edward Snowden scoop. Now Greenwald’s living partner has been detained at an airport.

It happened this weekend at Heathrow in London, where British authorities held David Miranda, a Brazilian national who lives with Greenwald in Rio de Janiero, for nine hours as he attempted to return home. Officials confiscated electronics equipment, including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks and DVDs. He was not charged. (See updates below.)

Miranda, 28, had been visiting Poitras in Berlin. He was stopped for questioning under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. “The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals,” The Guardian explains.

What’s remarkable is that he was held for the maximum allowed under the law—nine hours. Figures show that only about 1 in 2,000 who are halted are held for six or more hours.

Greenwald, who writes for The Guardian, responded:

This is a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process. 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.

But the last thing it will do is intimidate or deter us in any way from doing our job as journalists. Quite the contrary: it will only embolden us more to continue to report aggressively.

A spokesperson for The Guardian said: “We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities.”

UPDATE: Greenwald, naturally, has now posted a column about it. One excerpt:

If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world—when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today—all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.


Greenwald tells Kevin Gosztola, my co-author on the Bradley Manning book, that his partner might have been arrested if not for the intervention of Brazil’s government.

Some critics now hitting Greenwald for allegedly using his partner to transport docs. NYT article, updated, now says that Miranda was carrying files (on thumb drives) related to Snowden, or from Snowden, between Greenwald and Poitras.  

Monday updates

BBC: British member of Parliament to press police for answers. Brazil calls stopping Miranda "unjustified." Greenwald tweets: "Would it be OK for UK to invade Guardian newsroom—or FBI to invade NYT—if they think they have classified docs, detain everyone for 9 hrs?" Interesting post here by Andrew Sullivan, who knows Miranda and has been divided on the Snowden/Greenwald/NSA case but now very critical of this move against them.

 Amnesty International on the incident and criticism of the UK anti-terror law. Labour party calls for full review of that law.  Simon Jenkins in Guardian column wonders if Greewald's "profession" can so easily be labeled as "terrorism."   Concludes:

The hysteria of the "war on terror" is now corrupting every area of democratic government. It extends from the arbitrary selection of drone targets to the quasi-torture of suspects, the intrusion on personal data and the harassing of journalists' families. The disregard of statutory oversight – in Britain's case pathetically inadequate – is giving western governments many of the characteristics of the enemies they profess to oppose. How Putin must be rubbing his hands with glee.

The innocent have nothing to fear? They do if they embarrass America and happen to visit British soil. The only land of the free today in this matter is Brazil.

Robert Scheer on why Obama should pardon Snowden.

Greg Mitchell’s latest book, just published, is Vonnegut and Me: Conversations and Close Encournters.