The Importance of Being Earnest

Q Why was the United States given a heads-up by the British government on this detention?

MR. EARNEST: Again, that heads-up was provided by the British government, so you can direct that question to them.

Q Right. But was this heads-up given before he was detained or before it went public that he was detained?

MR. EARNEST: Probably wouldn’t be a heads-up if they would have told us about it after they detained him.

Q So it’s fair to say they told you they were going to do this when they saw that he was on a manifest?

MR. EARNEST: I think that is an accurate interpretation of what a heads-up is.

Q Is this gentleman on some sort of watch list for the United States? Can you look that up?

MR. EARNEST: You’d have to check with the TSA because they maintain the watch list. And I don’t know if they’d tell you or not, but you can ask them.

Q If he’s on a watch list for the U.K., would it be safe to assume then that he’s been put on a watch list in the United States?

MR. EARNEST: The level of coordination between counterterrorism and law enforcement officials in the U.K. and counterterrorism and law enforcement officials in the United States is very good. But in terms of who is on different watch lists and how our actions and their actions are coordinated is not something I’m in a position to talk about from here.

Q Did the United States government — when given the heads-up, did the United States government express any hesitancy about the U.K. doing it — about the U.K. government doing this?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, this is the British government making a decision based on British law, on British soil, about a British law enforcement action.

Q Did the United States, when given the heads-up, just said okay?

MR. EARNEST: They gave us a heads-up, and this is something that they did not do at our direction and it’s not something that we were involved with. This is a decision that they made on their own.

Q Did the United States discourage the action?

White House Deputy Spokesperson Josh Earnest wants you to know that the decision to detain Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was done by the British on their own.

Q Josh, you’ve talked about the Mubarak detention as being a Egyptian legal matter. You’ve talked about Morsi’s politically motivated detention. And then with regard to Mr. Greenwald’s partner, you called it a “mere law enforcement action.” Given that the White House has never been shy about criticizing detention policies overseas, do you have any concerns at all about the U.K.’s law enforcement actions in this case?

MR. EARNEST: Well, what I can say is I don’t have a specific reaction other than to observe to you that this is a decision that was made by the British government and not one that was made at the request or with the involvement of the United States government.

But he’s not going to tell you anything about the secret conversations the US have with the British.

MR. EARNEST: To be honest with you, Steve, I don’t have a way to characterize for you any of the conversations between the British government and the U.S. government on this matter other than to say that this is a decision that they made on their own and not at the request of the United States. But in terms of the kinds of classified, confidential conversations that are ongoing between the U.S. and our allies in Britain, I’m not able to characterize that for you.

Q But there are consultations on this matter taking place?

MR. EARNEST: I’m telling you I’m not able to provide any insight into those conversations at all.

Ah well, perhaps this “US security official,” rather bizarrely given anonymity to pass on this British thuggish comment, offers better insight into those conversations.

One U.S. security official told Reuters that one of the main purposes of the British government’s detention and questioning of Miranda was to send a message to recipients of Snowden’s materials, including the Guardian, that the British government was serious about trying to shut down the leaks.

Josh Earnest may not want to admit to the close collaboration here, but American security officials sure seem privy to the message being sent.

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

29 replies
  1. Snoopdido says:

    Was this a spur of the moment operation or a planned operation?

    Consider the following:

    According to the Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/2013/aug/20/david-miranda-detention-latest-developments), Number 10 Downing street was informed in advance of Miranda’s detention.

    The White House, not the intelligence agencies or the TSA, but the White House was informed in advance.

    The British had numerous (6-7) security officials involved in the interrogation of Miranda about Greenwald, Snowden, Laura Poitras, the NSA documents, etc. That seems to indicate advanced preparation.

    It would not be unlikely that Laura Poitras was under surveillance in Germany. It may be that she and Miranda had their conversations electronically captured by German intelligence and passed on to other interested parties such as the Brits and the US.

    Therefore it may be that the Brits knew in advance that Miranda was carrying material for Greenwald from Laura Poitras on the return leg of his trip.

    Based on these actions, it seems that this was a planned operation. Planned hours if not days in advance.

  2. Chris Harries says:

    Bill, the destruction of hard drives, whether pointless or not, is “caving” in a big way.
    Rusbridger may have missed the point, maybe if he had been made to burn paper notebooks he would have recognised what was happening.

  3. Snoopdido says:

    @Snoopdido: While little attention in the media has been paid to the likelihood that there is a coordinated US and allied intelligence/security operation against Glenn Greenwald and friends, the British detention and interrogation of his Brazilian partner David Miranda seems to undeniably confirm its existence.

    Questions that come to mind are:

    Is there an US indictment on Glenn?

    If Glenn travels outside of Brazil now, will he too be detained and interrogated? Perhaps even arrested and rendered to the US?

    Is there a similar US and allied intelligence/security operation against Barton Gellman and the Washington Post? If not, why not?

    Is there a particular “message” being sent by the US and its intelligence/security partners that Glenn is a “blogger”, not a “journalist” like Barton Gellman, and therefore is fair game?

  4. omphaloscepsis says:

    From the same 19 Aug press conference:

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/08/19/press-briefing-principal-deputy-press-secretary-josh-earnest-8192013

    “Q The last thing on the NSA. You mentioned the President’s news conference where he talked about a debate on the NSA issue and more transparency. And then a few days after that news conference, we learned there were actually many violations of privacy. . . . So my question is, is there a credibility gap here where the President is in a news conference saying we want more transparency, we’re going to — there’s no privacy violations and yet it turns out there were?

    MR. EARNEST: . . . When the President took office, he took office with what he described as an inherently skeptical perspective on some of these programs, and the success that these programs had had in striking the appropriate balance between the privacy rights that are enjoyed by American citizens and our national security.

    Upon taking office, the President ordered a review of these programs. As a result of that review, there are some additional protections that were put in place — some additional oversight measures that were put in place and some additional measures to ensure transparency into these programs were put into place.

    Now, the President is not opposed — as he indicated during his news conference — to additional measures that members of Congress may think would be helpful in inspiring greater public confidence in these programs. . . . So if there are steps that we can take to provide greater transparency or additional oversight in a way that it will inspire greater public confidence in them, then the President is eager to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to effectuate those changes.”

    The Earnest reply never addresses the “credibility gap” that was the basis of the question.

    Maybe the problem is that the press is too deferential, or just too polite.

    The press should stop using euphemisms and call a lie a lie.

    If the Administration wants public confidence, a good starting point would be to stop lying.

  5. orionATL says:

    @Bill Michtom:

    what chris harries said +

    not challenging this in court when no.10 first started after the guardian over two months ago. (i’m assuming it would have always been possible for the guardian to destroy the nsa data at any point a la lavabit if the legal situation got desperate enough.)

    that would have forced the gov’t to discuss muzzling the guardian at the same time it was defending against gchq spying and, to boot, doing so for nsa billions.

  6. M.Black says:

    @Snoopdido:
    All excellent questions that I would like someone attempt an answer to.

    Other questions, with regard to the general issue raised by @orionATL:

    Marcy mentions that Reuters gave anonymity for unclear reasons to a “US security official.” Why, indeed, does Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger fail to identify a single official engaged in intimidating and coercing his newspaper, some of whom he had numerous dealings with and were allegedly directly representing Prime Minister Cameron? And why did Rusbridger simply allow the government to come in and destroy the newspaper’s information without requiring a formal, legal government action — such as by going to court over these officials’ (illegal?) demands. I understand that British law with regard to the press is different, but this does all look perilously close to “caving in,” as orionATL suggests.

  7. Snoopdido says:

    @M.Black: “And why did Rusbridger simply allow the government to come in and destroy the newspaper’s information without requiring a formal, legal government action — such as by going to court over these officials’ (illegal?) demands.”

    I’m not judging Rusbridger’s actions, this is probably germane (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/2013/aug/20/david-miranda-detention-latest-developments#block-52135859e4b0687f4f8683fd):

    “Officials threatened legal action if the Guardian did not destroy the material. Rusbridger said he could have resisted in the courts, but that this could have taken up to a year and that during this time the Guardian would not have been allowed to write about this material. Instead, he decided to transfer the reporting to America, he said.”

  8. greengiant says:

    “Is this gentleman on some sort of watch list for the United States? Can you look that up?”

    Sad state of affairs in the white house press corps when the clueless dont know that watch, travel ban, travel harass, and travel steal all electronic device lists are never revealed to anyone. Travel banned?, you will not find out until you show up at the airport. And if you are trapped in Tunisia because you won’t snitch or worse for the FBI, then remember, you won’t be able to fly to Canada either. ( the damning evidence that the boston bombing was a botched FBI scheme is that Tsarnaev was not on a travel ban ).
    On the list, off the list, back on the list? Poitras will find out next time she boards a plane.

    The UK has never found a lack of minions to murder people in cold blood, read Ireland, Palestine, Africa in the last 70 years.

    Even Fox is carrying the story about the destroyed Guardian hard disk drives.
    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/20/guardian-chief-says-uk-authorities-had-newspaper-disks-destroyed/

  9. M.Black says:

    @Snoopdido:

    Thank you for the link. I had read this, but doesn’t Rusbridger’s quote really just add to the question?

    “Rusbridger said he could have resisted in the courts, but that this could have taken up to a year and that during this time the Guardian would not have been allowed to write about this material. Instead, he decided to transfer the reporting to America, he said.”

    I’m not saying there isn’t a reasonable explanation, but he appears to be implying that only the Guardian in the U.K. would have been enjoined from publishing material during such a case. If the U.K. government could stop the Guardian from publishing this material through its American corporate entity during such a court case, why can’t it do so now? Apparently, judging by Rusbridger’s remarks and actions, he believes it can’t. If the Guardian, in allowing the London hard drives to be destroyed, was shifting all its Snowden reporting to its separate U.S. incarnation anyway, why wasn’t the newspaper willing to go to court in the U.K., even for a year, in order to at least protect its putative existence as an independent press there while publishing the stories in the U.S.?

    Maybe I’m missing something here.

  10. orionATL says:

    @Snoopdido:

    thanks.

    but would both u.k. and u.s. guardian papers be restricted – or i suppose i should really ask, “are the two one corporation or two corporations in seperate countries?”

    at another point rusbridger talks about taking advantage of u.s.’s greater legal protection for reporting. why not then report in america if blocked in britain by govt legal action early on?

    still, i’ll will defer to rusbridger’s much greater knowledge until i understand more.

  11. orionATL says:

    @P J Evans:

    one would think do. i dearly hope you’re right, pj.

    but the british govt is now saying it took possession from miranda of highly sensitive intellingence documents (or some similar phrasing).

  12. M.Black says:

    @orionATL:

    Yes, my questions too.

    Of course, I’m not demanding an answer from Snoopdido! There just seems to be something missing from Rusbridger’s story — maybe some kink in British law or the corporate structure of the Guardian.

  13. M.Black says:

    @orionATL:

    From The Guardian’s report on the Conservative government’s line today:

    A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government and the police have a duty to protect the public and our national security. If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that. Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning. This is an ongoing police inquiry so will not comment on the specifics.”

    Under pressure, Cameron’s government seems to want its cake and eat it too: We had nothing to do with this police action, but bully for them.

    But how did the U.K. “police” come to believe that a Brazilian national merely in transit at Heathrow had stolen information that would help terrorists?

  14. GulfCoastPirate says:

    @M.Black: Maybe there wasn’t anything on the hard drives that hadn’t already been copied elsewhere outside the reach of the British authorities.

  15. der says:

    The something missing becomes a Where’s Waldo guessing game. Carefully reading the NYT Magazine piece on Laura Poitras I have no doubt she’s well aware of what the Brits and American security states are capable of. And Greenwald being a trial lawyer is well practiced at the performance drama of a courtroom, of a type to convince the jury (us). If true is Rusbridger playing his part? Is the information copied from Miranda’s stuff taking the techies on a dog chasing its tail exercise?

    I will not be surprised if, when the sturm and drang of Miranda’s unlawful detention is in its denouement, Greenwald and the Guardian publish a piece on the Brits spying. Then that plays the news cycle for its time during which there’s a likely jumping the gun by the NSA team with some Obama version of John Wayne’s “The Alamo” based on the useless shit taken from Miranda publishing in anticipation of the next security state expose`. Which becomes a 2-fer for Greenwald.

    And I could be dead wrong on all of this and have misjudged Poitras’ paranoia.

  16. M.Black says:

    @GulfCoastPirate: Yes, this is Rusbridger’s point. I’m suggesting that there is a principled, journalistic reason for not having allowed the destruction of even copies.

    @der: I’m increasingly reading suggestions that this was all some clever ploy on Greenwald’s part. It makes some sense. Time will tell.

  17. orionATL says:

    @der:

    i’m hoping you are right, but i worry.

    it did occur to me that this would be a good way to test whether your communications have been compromised by u.s. gov’s lavabit escapade or by the stolen computer or by having your encryptions broken.

    but would you then hire a lawyer as miranda has done and threaten legal action against the u.k. gov?

    well, yes you could as long as it was only about illegal detention and gov theft of your personal eleftronic property.

  18. orionATL says:

    the latest from the guardian with a better perspective on what happened when and why, with respect to destroying snowden’s data, together with the guardian’s subsequent response.

    hiny: it was to publish something the british gov’t would rather never have been published :))

  19. der says:

    Why run a test? Especially knowing you’re being watched night and day. Poitras and Greenwald have one thing the leviathan security state doesn’t: Edward Snowden. Again I go back to NYT’s Sunday piece and the descriptions of the extremes Snowden went to just to give them what he had, and seemed to have had for some months (that says something about the NSA on its own). He’s told them what to expect, as if Poitras didn’t already know.

    My thinking is that Greenwald wants them looking in that haystack and while they’re hacking and coughing up barn dust he and his band of horse thieves are opening the corral.

    I read a piece last week, on FDL I think, where the author was making the point that if it was so easy for Edward Snowden to download then move about the country and change jobs while carrying these “super-state-secret we’re all going to die because you wouldn’t want that on your hands” files of evidence of state criminality then the Russians, Chinese, Israelis and whoever else already knew because they ponied up the gobs of cash that we have no idea how many other unscrupulous Snowdens have demanded. So who is it that The (Inter)National Security State wants to keep in the dark?

    One of the most elaborate and expensive new homes built in my part of the universe since ‘9-11 changed everything is a compound to make your mouth water. A blizzard-hurricane be damned hideaway that would make many professional athlete envious. Built by the CEO of a cyber security company. There’s more to lose here than “state secrets.”

  20. Snoopdido says:

    @M.Black: @orionATL: Based on the info from orionATL’s link, it looks like Rusbridger was playing a bit of kabuki theater with the British intelligence/security people when they smashed up the hard drives.

    It sounds like that Rusbridger and the British intelligence/security people knew full well that the Snowden material the Guardian possessed would still see the light of day via their American outlet, and that playing submissive to the British security folks was all that was needed to make them happy and go away.

  21. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Informed in advance” suggests a passive role for the US, an active role for the UK, acting on its own. Not. US-UK intel cooperation is an active, symbiotic arrangement; the US is usually the partner on top. That cooperation is not limited to the new sigint listening post in Bude, North Cornwall, or the much older one that sits among James Herriot’s sheep and dales of Yorkshire. The latter has been one of the US’s most important offshore listening posts since Orwell first designated the UK as Airstrip One. Human intel ops and data sharing are the norm, however much the Brits might resent laying on the bottom without a mattress.

    At a minimum, there would have been close cooperation between the US and UK, with an understanding of what would be done to Miranda, for how long and to what ends. That’s not to say the US and UK had identical reasons for this blatant intimidation of the press, by attacking their families rather than reporters directly. But the idea that the US was a passive partner in this would be sadly mistaken.

  22. M.Black says:

    @orionATL:

    Thanks very much for the link. I hadn’t seen that story yet. It does help explain what happened and why. But do the British authorities now believe there is nothing of much consequence left to be published by the Guardian? That is, why are they not pursuing the legal options the article suggests they have to shut down all of the Guardian’s Snowden reporting everywhere? Are they keeping that threat in the holster for more coercion down the road?

    @der and @Snoopdido — Thanks for the thought-provoking comments. Interesting discussion.

  23. M.Black says:

    @earlofhuntingdon:

    But the idea that the US was a passive partner in this would be sadly mistaken.

    “Plausible deniability” is becoming more implausible with each passing day.

  24. orionATL says:

    @M.Black:

    thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    i’m puzzled about what games are being played by whom. it does seem as if the british gov wanted to be severe in appearance, but not too much :)

    otherwise they would have delivered a “D” letter and closed down the guardian’s right to publish any nsa info. i’ll just keep reading day-to-day until the story becomes clearer.

    right now it seems the ball’s in greenwald’s and the guardian’s court. i can’t wait to see their return. :))

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