Following several months of insinuation that he is a criminal or an accomplice to a crime, journalist Glenn Greenwald told Salon's Brian Beutler that he plans to return to the United States, essentially on a dare. "I’m going to go back to the U.S. for many reasons, but just the fucking principle is enough," Greenwald said. "On principle I’m going to force the issue."
It was actually a journalist who was among the first to publicly suggest that Greenwald should perhaps face criminal charges for reporting on files leaked from the NSA by Edward Snowden. In June, only weeks after the reports began, Greenwald appeared on NBC's Meet the Press, where David Gregory asked Greenwald: "To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you … be charged with a crime." "I think it's pretty extraordinary," Greenwald replied, "that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies."
That theme, however, quickly became a central aspect of critique from members of the government. At the end of January, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper referred obliquely to "accomplices" to Snowden, obviously meaning Greenwald and, possibly, other reporters like The Washington Post's Barton Gellman. Earlier this week, Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, pressed FBI director James Comey on the topic, implying that Greenwald had been "selling … access to this material to both newspaper outlets and other places." "Mr. Comey," Rogers asked, "to the best of your knowledge, is fencing stolen material — is that a crime?"
The argument goes like this. Greenwald, who at first worked for The Guardian and then left to join a news start-up founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, leveraged his possession of the Snowden documents to his financial advantage. Greenwald critics have repeatedly hammered this point, questioning whether or not Greenwald's partnership with Omidyar amounted to the sort of crime Rogers implies.
It's hard to see the merit in the argument, any more than it's hard to see the merit in Gregory's question. Beutler outlines several reasons that Greenwald appears to have been isolated for this sort of critique, while others — like NBC News itself, which partnered with Greenwald as he likes to note — have not. Greenwald got the ball rolling; he's long been a critic of the government; he's partnered with news agencies around the world. And, of course, he doesn't work for the Post or NBC. He doesn't even live in the U.S. He lives in Brazil with his partner who, we'll note, is familiar with the risk of international travel. In August, he was detained for eight hours at Heathrow.
So Greenwald will force the issue for himself. At some point, when he has a reason to do so, Greenwald will show up at an airport in the United States and go through customs. He'll walk through the line reserved for American citizens, because that is what he is. And then Mike Rogers or James Clapper are welcome to put their interpretations of the First Amendment to the test.