What to Expect if British Authorities Detain You for Nine Hours

David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, outlined the nine hours he spent in the custody of British authorities over the weekend, blaming the incident on the United States. A presidential spokesperson denied involvement.

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David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, outlined the nine hours he spent in the custody of British authorities at a London airport over the weekend, blaming the incident on the United States. A presidential spokesperson denied involvement on Monday.

Miranda was detained at Heathrow airport en route from Berlin to his home in Rio de Janeiro. He described the incident to The Guardian, the media outlet that employs Greenwald and which paid for Miranda's trip to Germany.

"They were threatening me all the time and saying I would be put in jail if I didn't co-operate," said Miranda. "They treated me like I was a criminal or someone about to attack the UK … It was exhausting and frustrating, but I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong." …

"I was in a different country with different laws, in a room with seven agents coming and going who kept asking me questions. I thought anything could happen. I thought I might be detained for a very long time," he said.

Miranda, who speaks English as a second language, was denied the opportunity to use an interpreter during the detention. He was offered a lawyer and a cup of water, both of which he declined. (The anonymous official who called Greenwald in the middle of the detention told the reporter that Miranda was not allowed an attorney.) Miranda was not allowed to call his partner, and says that the authorities "used the words 'prison' and 'station' all the time." After eight hours, he was allowed to buy a Coke.

While The Guardian notes that Miranda "believes the British authorities were doing the bidding of the US," Miranda's critique largely focused on British authorities: "[Y]ou can't go to a country where they have laws that allow the abuse of liberty for nothing."

During a daily press gathering at the White House, administration spokesman Josh Earnest denied any involvement by the U.S., according to Politico. "This is a decision that they made on their own and not at the request of the United States," Earnest insisted. However, he did indicate that the United States had been told Miranda would be stopped, according to CNN.

Earnest was not able to say if the United States had access to the files collected from Miranda. His trip to Berlin was, in The Guardian's description, to "ferry" files between Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, who lives in the German city. Miranda's description of the incident suggests that it was those files in which the British authorities were primarily interested. They asked Miranda for the passwords to his devices, eventually confiscating them. Miranda told The Guardian that he didn't know what the files were, adding that "[I]t could have been for the movie that Laura is working on."

In a New York Times Magazine article over the weekend, Poitras described the way in which she encrypted any files before traveling. The Telegraph reports that the files being carried by Miranda were similarly encrypted — likely limiting their utility to British or American authorities.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, offered more detail on the relationship between the paper and Miranda — and the paper and the British government.

Miranda is not a journalist, but he still plays a valuable role in helping his partner do his journalistic work. .. [I]t would be highly unadvisable for Greenwald (or any other journalist) to regard any electronic means of communication as safe. The Guardian's work on the Snowden story has involved many individuals taking a huge number of flights in order to have face-to-face meetings. Not good for the environment, but increasingly the only way to operate.

According to Rusbridger, GCHQ, the British intelligence service, and the government ("Whitehall") also intimidated the paper itself.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more." ...

And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents.

The Times Magazine article on Poitras also noted the ways in which she had been subject to harassment and confiscation while traveling, seemingly echoed in the treatment of Miranda. Police records indicate that Miranda was detained at 8:05 a.m. and released at 5:00 p.m. — five minutes shy of the legal limit for detaining a suspect under the UK's terror law.

In his initial description of Miranda's situation, Greenwald excoriated that law.

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", and how dangerous it is to vest unchecked power with political officials in its name.

Photo: Greenwald and Miranda embrace on the latter's arrival in Rio. (Reuters)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.