17 October 2014

David Miranda was traveling from Berlin to Brazil on business. He is Glen Greenwald's partner and also an employee of the Guardian. He was carrying a laptop, USB drives, a camera and gaming consoles. He was traveling between meetings with Greenwald and his co-lead journalist on the Snowden project, Laura Poitras. At his stopover in London, he was detained, allegedly at the behest of United States, based on the special relationship between the two nations and their secret police forces.

Two months earlier, at the beginning of the Guardian's revelations of Edward Snowden's leaks, Britain's Tory government began pressuring the newspaper to give up or destroy its files. According to Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger, “A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favored a far more draconian approach.”

The negotiations ended with the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British equivalent of the National Security Agency (NSA) supervised destruction of all hard drives that had contained the Snowden files. Rusbridger quotes an official close to the Prime Minister as saying "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more." The GCHQ and its politician lapdogs knew full well by this point that they were not destroying the only copy of the data, and that Greenwald would continue reporting.

Indeed, it was clear by that point to the whole world that O Globo in Brazil, Der Spiegel in Germany, the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian's US operation had at least had some portions of the Snowden files. The mighty ax wielding hard drive slayers were really in the Guardian's basement smashing Macbook Pro's because they could, and to show some journalists what big tough ax wielding fascists they could be.

The quest to get all copies of data that can be infinitely copied continued August 18, 2013. David Miranda was taken from his airplane, sequestered without food, water, a lawyer, or phone for exactly nine hours. He was questioned constantly by seven secret policemen who threatened him with imprisonment on terrorism related charges if he did not cooperate. He was then released exactly at the nine hour limit. All his electronic media was confiscated and need not be returned for up to a week. GCHQ is apparently unable to decrypt what files they found, and are still examining Miranda's XBOX for... some reason that is clear only to GCHQ.

The fact that the Snowden files are hidden somewhere (multiple somewheres, actually) on the internet has been repeatedly stated in public by Greenwald. Detaining, threatening and interrogating Miranda offers no hope of recovering the files. It is an act of pure intimidation designed only to serve as a lesson to other journalists and news organizations. The message is clear: We will come for your family.

The White House acknowledged that it knew the shakedown was in the works. It issued a terse denial that it actually ordered the operation "We were informed in advance but we did not ask UK authorities to undertake this operation." With this acknowledgment, the Obama administration rendered false the operation's whole cover, that of an anti-terrorism detention.

Since the UK's secret state police apparatus knew that Miranda was passing through, knew that he was not planning terrorist activity and knew he was not a terrorist. They also knew that they were detaining, threatening and harshly interrogating a journalist under false pretenses. This contradicts Scotland Yard's official statement to the government that “"The procedure was reviewed throughout to ensure the examination was both necessary and proportionate," and "Our assessment is that the use of the power in this case was legally and procedurally sound,” according to the BBC.

The NSA is always watching, and is especially interested in regaining control of its secrets. This would seem to necessitate carrying data on USB drives across continents by courier. The use of couriers is not the only way to move data securely, however. This is a fact that both Snowden and Poitras know. Snowden selected Poitras because of her legendary paranoia about data security. She has been stopped, searched, questioned and had computer equipment confiscated over 40 times when entering or passing through the United States because of her investigative reporting on human rights and privacy issues.

Poitras views Snowden's data on a laptop that has never been connected to the internet. From descriptions of the procedures used, it seems that Poitras uses a data transmission and security scheme similar to DeapDrop, which was developed by the late Aaron Schwartz and first implemented by the New Yorker. DeadDrop is a secure and anonymous way for journalists and sources to communicate and exchange files. The Columbus Free Press also uses DeadDrop, and we have far fewer personnel and resources than the New Yorker or the Guardian.

Why then was Miranda carrying files at great expense and exposed to harassment and intimidation when the files could have been moved for free? Could it be that Greenwald, Miranda, Poitras and Rusbridger leaked the fact that documents were moving in order to bait a confrontation?

Britain’s secret state police showed their hand, and what had been phone calls from what Rusbridger called “Shadowy figures associated with Whitehall” and axes in the basement turned into a nine hour ordeal where the mailed fist of the state slammed down. The Guardian appears to have baited a confrontation, and an international incident that will further anger Brazil, in order put to lie a statement made to its editor in chief "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."

Clearly there is a good deal more to write about, and not just in the files. The brazen attitude of the American and British governments, the retrenchment, the lies and the open hostility to a free society are all things to write about, and in the end more important than the technical particulars of this or that surveillance capability. As the cool kids say on the internet: Successful troll is Successful.