By now you are no doubt aware that over the weekend Britain detained for nine hours the Brazilian partner of Glenn Greenwald, who had been to Germany, where he met with filmmaker Laura Poitras, who had helped Edward Snowden. Explains the NY Times:
[H]e was being detained under Section 7 of the British Terrorism Act, which allows the authorities to detain someone for up to nine hours for questioning ... to determine possible ties to terrorism.
Not espionage, not aiding and abetting some amorphous enemy, not international intrigue, but "terrorism." And therein lies the British authorities' egregious overreach, which played right into Greenwald's activist, journalistic hands:
[T]hey obviously had zero suspicion that David [Greenwald's partner] was associated with a terrorist organization or involved in any terrorist plot. Instead, they spent their time interrogating him about the NSA reporting which Laura Poitras, the Guardian and I are doing, as well the content of the electronic products he was carrying. They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism: a potent reminder of how often governments lie when they claim that they need powers to stop "the terrorists."
For Greenwald, Britain's detention of his Brazilian partner was made to order--a propaganda coup of the first magnitude: "Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by," he wrote in the Guardian. Yet Greenwald, being Greenwald, then overreached himself by affixing unsubstantiated guesswork to his rage against the superspooking Brits: "But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples." The implication, of course, is that the US shares blame for this particular act of British intimidation, although Greenwald's dots of implication are absent any connecting, evidenciary lines.
Nonetheless these blurred distinctions will ripple throughout coverage of the detention story, as they have already done in, for instance, Andrew Sullivan's reaction:
When the NSA leaks burst onto the scene, I was skeptical of many of the large claims made by civil libertarians and queasily sympathetic to a program that relied on meta-data alone, as long as it was transparent, had Congressional buy-in, did not accidentally expose innocent civilians to grotesque privacy loss, and was watched by a strong FISA court.
Since then, I’ve watched the debate closely and almost all the checks I supported have been proven illusory. The spying is vastly more extensive than anyone fully comprehended before; the FISA court has been revealed as toothless and crippled; and many civilians have had their privacy accidentally violated over 3000 times. The president, in defending the indefensible, has damaged himself and his core reputation for honesty and candor. These cumulative revelations have exposed this program as, at a minimum, dangerous to core liberties and vulnerable to rank abuse. I’ve found myself moving further and further to Glenn’s position.
What has kept me from embracing it entirely has been the absence of any real proof that any deliberate abuse has taken place and arguments that it has helped prevent terror attacks. This may be too forgiving a standard. If a system is ripe for abuse, history tells us the only question is not if such abuse will occur, but when. So it is a strange and awful irony that the Coalition government in Britain has today clinched the case for Glenn.
And Glenn's case, as we know, is against the US security state and the Obama administration--not the hapless stumblebums of Prime Minster David Cameron's government. Yet even if this bilateral connection is faulty, the public's impression of dark conspiracies against the liberties of American citizens is now indelible.
Which is why President Obama has got to get this execrable pathogen of a story the hell off his plate, before the fallout eats into Democratic turnout in 2014, which is the only thing--in inspired droves--that will rescue Obama's second term from the nihilistic grip of Republican terrorists.