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Monday, August 19, 2013

Terror Or Terrorized? Questions Roil Airport Detention

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, right, is pictured with his partner David Miranda. (Janine Gibson/The Guardian)

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, right, is pictured with his partner David Miranda. (Janine Gibson/The Guardian)

Britain’s Labour Party is calling for an immediate investigation into why an anti-terror law was used to detain David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greewald, who interviewed NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Miranda was held for nearly nine hours at Heathrow Airport under the country’s terrorism act, which allows authorities to hold suspects for up to nine hours.

During that time, Miranda was allegedly questioned about the NSA and had his cellphone, laptops and memory sticks confiscated.

Miranda has returned to his home in Rio, Brazil, where he was met by Greenwald, who has vowed to continue releasing the information provided by Edward Snowden.


  • Gordon Corera, security correspondent for BBC News. He tweets @gordoncorera.



From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Robin Young.


And I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. Britain's Labour Party is calling for an investigation into why an anti-terror law was used to detain David Miranda. He's the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who interviewed NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

CHAKRABARTI: Miranda was held for nine hours at London's Heathrow Airport under the country's terrorism act as he headed from Germany to Brazil. Gordon Corera is the BBC's security correspondent, and Gordon, David Miranda is now in Rio, but news of his detention is not going away. So what's the reaction in Britain?

GORDON CORERA: Well, it has been a significant story. Senior members of Parliament have raised questions about the use of these powers. One of the reviewers of our terrorism legislation has also raised questions and said he'd like more information. So I certainly think this has caused a lot of controversy here, I think firstly about just simply the act of stopping someone linked to a journalistic investigation but secondly the use of terrorist or anti-terrorist powers to do that and whether that is the right way in which they're used.

CHAKRABARTI: Now the terrorism act in the U.K. allows for suspects to be detained for up to nine hours. That is exactly how long Miranda was detained. Are government officials saying anything about why they chose to use the terrorism act in the first place?

CORERA: Officials aren't giving that kind of detailed commentary. The government is saying that this is a police matter, and the police have simply put out a very simple, factual statement about what happened and not going into details about why they chose to use these specific powers.

Under the terrorism act, it is a very specific provision allowing for questioning of people at ports and borders, and it is used tens of thousands of times to stop people. But it is very unusual for someone to be held for so long. Typically these are very short stops, where someone's asked a few question - where are you going, why are you heading there - and used, for instance, to look for someone who might be heading abroad for terrorist training.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, I mean, I'm seeing reports that say 97 percent of those questioned have been released within an hour. So do we know anything about what Miranda was asked over the course of those nine hours?

CORERA: No, we haven't had much information yet. I think one of the significant things, though, is that his electronic media was taken. One of the powers is to copy that kind of electronic information if you like, to seize the data on it. It's unusual, though, to actually take away that information, and I think that suggests, although we absolutely can't be sure, that they thought he might be carrying information, that he of course was in Berlin meeting with Laura Poitras, one of the filmmakers involved in the Edward Snowden story.

The flights were paid for, it's said, by the Guardian newspaper. And so I think the suspicion might have been that he was carrying data back and forth.

CHAKRABARTI: Now Glenn Greenwald has been rather furious about this, and he's been speaking out since Miranda was released. So what is Greenwald saying?

CORERA: Well, I think it's very interesting. Some of the comments he made at the airport have suggested that it will intensify his desire to release information, particularly on the U.K. and what its government and security and intelligence services have got up to. So I think it will be interesting to see what the reaction is, whether there are any kind of legal recourse they can go through or any kind of challenge for the use of these powers in this context, as well.

But I think clearly The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald are going to really make the most of this event, and they see it as an attempt at the intimidation of journalism.

CHAKRABARTI: Finally, Gordon, I'm curious, has this incident prompted any discussion in the U.K., in the British government, about possibly excessive use of the powers that have been granted under the terrorism act?

CORERA: I think we will see greater question about whether powers brought in to deal with the threat of terrorism and surveillance powers have been extended into other areas and whether that is right.

CHAKRABARTI: Gordon Corera is security correspondent for the BBC. Gordon, thank you so much.

CORERA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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