There’s been some back and forth concerning the David Miranda legal fight today and it’s getting fairly ridiculous. The UK government is making some extraordinary claims about Miranda and the encrypted information he was carrying. They claim that some of the information was potentially incredibly damaging to UK national security interests (the same rhetoric we always hear, but is rarely shown to be true) and they also claim that they found a piece of paper on Miranda that allowed them to “decrypt one file on his seized hard drive.” Furthermore, they claim that Miranda (and Greenwald and Poitras) “demonstrated very poor judgment in their security arrangements with respect to the material,” in order to suggest that it might easily fall into dangerous hands.
Of course, there are many reasons to suggest that this is all hogwash. The choice of wording from the UK government is pretty precise. Note that they don’t actually claim they’ve unencrypted any of the Snowden files. They make two separate claims in succession: one is that there were 58,000 documents that Miranda had and then, separately, that he had a password that allowed them to get into a file on his drives, and then they use that to insist that there was poor security. But they don’t reveal what that one file was, nor do they admit to having figured out what was actually on the drives. Glenn Greenwald says that it’s a flat out lie that Miranda had a password on him that would allow anyone to decrypt the documents (suggesting any password he might have had on him was totally unrelated). Greenwald also mocks the idea that Poitras’s security was “sloppy,” since it appears that the UK hasn’t yet been able to figure out what was actually on the hard drives.
However, the strongest response to all of this comes from The Guardian itself, who reveals that after the Prime Minister’s office ordered them to destroy hard drives, the Guardian told the UK government that the NY Times and Pro Publica also had copies of all of the documents related to the UK spying by GCHQ… and the UK government didn’t seem particularly concerned:
“The government wanted the judge to believe that they have at all times behaved with the utmost urgency because of a grave threat to national security represented by newspapers working responsibly on the Snowden documents and their implications for society,” he said. “But for most of the time since early June little has happened. On July 22 the Guardian directed the government towards the New York Times and ProPublica, both of whom had secret material from GCHQ. It was more than three weeks before anyone contacted the NYT. No one has contacted Pro Publica, and there has been two weeks of further silence towards the NYT from the government. This five weeks in which nothing has happened tells a different story from the alarmist claims before the court. The government’s behaviour does not match their rhetoric in trying to justify and exploit this dismaying blurring of terror and journalism.”
This leads to an even more mystifying situation, in which (as noted above), weeks later, UK officials asked the NY Times to destroy the documents, and the NY Times basically ignored the request entirely:
The British government has asked the New York Times to destroy copies of documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden related to the operations of the U.S. spy agency and its British partner, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), people familiar with the matter said.
The British request, made to Times executive editor Jill Abramson by a senior official at the British Embassy in Washington D.C., was greeted by Abramson with silence, according to the sources. British officials indicated they intended to follow up on their request later with the Times, but never did, one of the sources said.
Ah, freedom of the press. Either way, this suggests that the UK’s arguments against Miranda are just misleading FUD designed to paper over the thuggish behavior of detaining Miranda in the first place.