The Independent published a remarkable story on Friday that hasn’t gotten much coverage, Exclusive: UK’s Secret Mid-East Internet Surveillance Base Is Revealed in Edward Snowden Leaks. If you have heard about, it has probably only confused you. The biggest news has been that Edward Snowden released a statement saying that he never spoke to The Independent. But if you read the actual article, you will see that this is irrelevant. The article doesn’t indicate that Snowden has been in communication with them. And that’s what makes it such a remarkable piece of “journalism.”
Based on the article’s headline, you might get the impression that this is an important revelation. But read it more carefully and you’ll see what is really being said: “There is information in the Snowden files that could cost lives!” Although the article never mentioned the detention of David Miranda, that is what it is all about. The article is making the case that it was right to detain him because he had (or could have had) this kind of “dangerous” information. So after the initial revelations were revealed at the top of the story, it continued:
The implication is, “We here at The Independent can be trusted, but should this kind of information be allowed in the hands of that loose cannon Glenn Greenwald?” The whole thing smacks of what has long been the conservative take on the First Amendment, “You can say anything you like—so long as you don’t!” To me, this is taking the whole “journalists against journalism” war to a new level. Now we learn that leaks are perfectly fine so long as they aren’t in the hands of someone who will use them like Julian Assange or Glenn Greenwald or Bart Gellman. We can trust Jeffrey Toobin with our leaks. Therefore: freedom of the press!
What Greenwald suggests is that The Independent article is just an NSA/GCHQ operation. It is hard not to think that is exactly right. I’m sure that the NSA now knows what files Snowden took—at least generally if not specifically. What’s more, after taking Miranda’s computer away, it is very possible the GCHQ got the information from there. So someone from the United Kingdom’s government goes to The Independent and says, “Here’s a document we know that Edward Snowden leaked. This is the kind of the harm that could be done if this fell into the wrong hands.” And thus the story is written. I don’t blame the reporters at The Independent; it’s a good story. The problem is that the story they wrote is pure propaganda and speculation. No one has argued that there weren’t potentially dangerous documents in the leak. That’s why Snowden gave them to reputable journalists rather than just dumping them on the internet.
The story surrounding The Independent report is very important. It shows that the surveillance system is engaged in a propaganda campaign. But unlike previous campaigns, this one is fairly subtle. It mixes facts with unjustified fear for a toxic mixture of authoritarianism. Look for more of this in the United States press.