The White House revealed on Monday that Britain had given the United States a “heads up” that it planned to detain NSA leaks journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, at Heathrow Airport over the weekend.
“There was a heads up that was provided by the British government,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “This is something that we had an indication was likely to occur.”
Greenwald has written several major exposes of National Security Agency activities based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Greenwald reported that British authorities cited an anti-terrorism law in justifying their decision to hold Miranda.
“Before letting him go, they seized numerous possessions of his, including his laptop, his cellphone, various video game consoles, DVDs, USB sticks, and other materials. They did not say when they would return any of it, or if they would,” Greenwald said.
Earnest refused to say whether Washington tried to discourage the headline-grabbing move or whether Britain was sharing any information obtained from Miranda through questioning or from his confiscated electronics.
But the spokesman repeatedly insisted that “the United States was not involved in that decision or in that action.”
Miranda’s nine-hour detention at Heathrow was “a decision that was made by the British government without the involvement and not at the request of the United States government,” Earnest said at the daily White House briefing.
Earnest declined to criticize the decision directly, but he noted that President Barack Obama, whose administration has drawn fire for secretive national security decisions and spying on reporters, “has made pretty clear his support for independent journalists, the important role that independent journalists have to play in a democratic society like ours.”
“He’s also talked about the responsibility of the government to protect the right of independent journalists to do their job,” the spokesman said.
So did the United States try to discourage Britain from detaining Miranda?
“This is the British government, making a decision based on British law, on British soil, about a British law-enforcement action,” Earnest said. “I’m not going to characterize the conversations between law-enforcement officials in this country and law-enforcement officials there, other than to say that those conversations occurred.”
Miranda was returning home to Brazil via London after a trip to Berlin. While in the German capital, he met with Laura Poitras, who has been working with Greenwald on the revelations from Snowden. The Guardian said it paid for the trip.