Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.K. Detains Partner Of Journalist Who Talked With Snowden


Authorities in Britain are under pressure today to explain why they detained the partner of a journalist who's published documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. David Miranda was held at London's Heathrow Airport for nearly nine hours yesterday under U.K. terrorism laws. Miranda's partner, a journalist with the Guardian newspaper, has been breaking some big stories about the intelligence-gathering methods of the U.S. National Security Agency. NPR's Philip Reeves says British police are now being accused of misusing anti-terrorism laws to bully the press.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Miranda was detained as he was passing through Heathrow on his way to Brazil, his home country. He lives in Rio with the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Miranda says he was led away to a room and interrogated for hours.

DAVID MIRANDA: (Through translator) I was kept in a room. There were six different agents coming and going, talking to me. They asked questions about my entire life, about everything. They took my computer, video game, mobile phone, my memory cards, everything.

REEVES: The law under which Miranda was held is intended to enable British security services to intercept possible terrorists. It allows police at U.K. airports to stop anyone they want and interrogate them for a maximum of nine hours. Greenwald says his partner's detention wasn't about terrorism at all.

GLENN GREENWALD: They never asked him a single question at all about terrorism or anything relating to a terrorist organization. They spent the entire day asking him about the reporting that both I was doing and other Guardian journalists were doing on the NSA story.

REEVES: Greenwald told the BBC another motive was in play.

GREENWALD: It's to try and send a message of intimidation and bullying, both to me and other journalists who are working on these stories. And I just don't understand why they don't realize that all it's going to accomplish is the exact opposite effect. I am going to report more aggressively and with a more emboldened mind.

REEVES: Miranda was detained as he was heading home from a trip to Germany. He'd been staying with an American filmmaker, Laura Poitras, who's also working on the Snowden files. The Guardian says Miranda isn't one of its employees but he does help out. The newspaper paid for his flights. Concerns about the way Miranda was treated at Heathrow are coming from a wide spectrum.

Human rights and journalists' organizations are objecting. The Brazilian government says it's gravely concerned. David Anderson, a top lawyer, serves as an independent reviewer of Britain's terrorism laws. He says he's surprised by what happened and is pressing for an explanation. Anderson points out that last year, 60,000 passengers were stopped for questioning under this law, but only 40 were held for even six hours.

DAVID ANDERSON: So to be held for nine hours, which is the maximum the law allows, is very unusual indeed.

REEVES: Attention is now focusing on whether U.S. authorities played a role. The White House says the government made no request for Miranda's detention and wasn't involved, though British officials did give them a heads up. The police and government officials in Britain have been keeping quiet, though demands are growing for them to address this controversy. Tom Watson, a member of Britain's opposition Labour Party, says this can't be ignored.

TOM WATSON: What I think we're going to see is this is sort of the intelligence services overstepping the mark. They're clearly trying to intimidate Glenn Greenwald, and that's an attack on journalism. And I think politics needs to intervene to make sure it doesn't happen again.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.


CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.