Journalist and Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald is no stranger to controversy and has been at or near the center of some of the most important American news stories since he left his law practice and started writing full time in 2005. Despite this, until recently, although he’s certainly made powerful enemies over the years, it hasn’t seemed as if he were in real danger of imprisonment or worse.
Even in the case of whistle blower Edward Snowden, whose 2013 leaks of government surveillance programs catapulted Greenwald to international fame, it was the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor whose arrest has been demanded by American authorities, not the journalist responsible for very carefully bringing the secrets he exposed to the world.
Due to his often adversarial tone, Greenwald has been loved and hated at different times by both conservatives and the neoliberal center. Most recently, it was liberals decrying the journalist for casting a critical eye on claims that Kremlin interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was what swung the vote in the favor of the current occupant of the White House.
In fact, although it wasn’t always the most popular of opinions, Greenwald was far from the only reporter who thought that the self identified liberal American press, the Clinton campaign and a Democratic party that was almost completely in her camp’s thrall, might have more productively engaged in a bit of self reflection and analyzed, among other things, how the electoral college had facilitated, in terms of the popular vote, minority Republican presidencies twice this century,
Still, it was strange for many of us to see him finding a platform for these views on Fox News, especially on nerdy libertarian turned nativist Tucker Carlson’s show rather than the other cable networks who have been breathlessly extolling the anonymous whistle-blower who first brought Trump’s dealings with Ukraine’s government to light. The entirely plausible argument the journalist has made for this numerous times is that Carlson offered a platform to address a wider audience that the other networks denied him.
Evidence of the bias against him was offered just this past Sunday, as Greenwald, who is facing serious cyber crime charges in his adopted country, Brazil, had an appearance on CNN’s Reliable Sources canceled at the last moment to allow the show to exclusively cover the ridiculously aggressive behavior of Mike Pompeo to an NPR reporter who had the audacity to ask him if he had supported former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in his role as Secretary of State (he didn’t). This story was undoubtedly newsworthy, but some time on CNN’s equivalent to “Meet the Press” could have been devoted to the case of a Pulitzer prize winning American journalist facing imprisonment for doing his job.
As the reporter told the conservative Washington Examiner after his invitation to appear was rescinded, “I find it disappointing that CNN can’t devote 6 minutes to a major attack on a free press by the world’s fifth largest country that every major media outlet in the world has extensively covered, but being disappointed isn’t the same as being surprised.”
The case being built against Greenwald, by Brazil’s far right government and its demagogic leader, Jair Bolsonaro, deals with leaked documents, mostly comprised of hacked phone messages, provided by a still anonymous source that proved the country’s Justice Minister, Sergio Moro, who was supposedly an impartial judge at the time, worked behind the scenes with prosecutors to help them coordinate their media strategies as part of what was called ‘Operation Car Wash’, an anti-corruption investigation that most famously resulted in the jailing of the country’s former socially democratic president, Lula da Silva, who, along with his Worker’s Party, made significant strides in fighting poverty in the country beginning in 2003.
The leaks proved that Moro’s crusade, which emboldened Brazil’s far right and personally elevated him into an almost untouchable figure in the country’s politics, was built on an edifice of lies, leading to Lula’s release from prison in November.
One thing that may work in Greenwald’s favor is that the cyber crime charges, which Federal Police had already dropped months ago, have instead been laid by the country’s equivalent of the U.S. Justice Department. Just as in the United Sates, this institution is under control of the president, but uniquely, the charges will still have to receive the approval of a judge, which might create a hurdle for the government’s case going forward, considering that many in the country’s judiciary, deeply embarrassed by the revelations of the journalists and his colleagues at the Intercept Brasil, may be hoping to publicly display their independence, as the Supreme Court did most recently in releasing Lula.
Even if the case were to move forward, the defense will be able to show that Greenwald could teach a master class in both legally obtaining information from leakers and protecting his sources from the Snowden affair (although the same couldn’t be said of the Intercept itself, which truly failed in its duty to Reality Winner in 2017).
A chilling parallel to the charges facing Greenwald is the ongoing persecution of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, who remains in jail in the UK despite having served his time for jumping bail in the Summer of 2012. Assange is also facing cyber-crimes charges in the United States related to the leaks provided to him by Chelsea Manning a decade ago. In both cases the charges against the men seem intended to do an end run around protections offered to journalists in both countries.
As Greenwald wrote in regards to this in a statement released last week by the Intercept, “Less than two months ago, the Federal Police, examining all the same evidence cited by the Public Ministry, stated explicitly that not only have I never committed any crime but that I exercised extreme caution as a journalist never even to get close to any participation. Even the Federal Police under Minister Moro’s command said what is clear to any rational person: I did nothing more than do my job as a journalist — ethically and within the law.”
An even greater fear than facing prison is the very real danger Greenwald, his husband David Miranda and their children are in, forcing them to use armed guards for protection. This isn’t from an excess of caution when one considers the assassination of the couple’s friend and Miranda’s colleague, a popular city councilwomen, Mireille Franco, on March 14th, 2018. The case is still ongoing, with four arrested so far for the killing
The arrests came as reports alleged Bolsonaro’s son, Flavio, now a member of the country’s Senate, had employed members of a far-right militia composed of police and former members of the Brazilian military implicated in Franco’s assassination and even pointing a finger of accusation at the president himself, who appeared in a picture hugging one of the accused.
On a larger scale, as Greenwalf himself has reminded readers since Bolsonaro, a proud racist, misogynist and enemy of his country’s LGBTQ communities came to power, the danger he represents is a return to dictatorship in a country where military rule only ended in 1985 and some are still nostalgia for it. The first steps towards bringing back this era or creating a hybrid of it are already underway with political opponents of Bolsonaro and his cronies jailed or taking flight and a powerful, contrarian journalistic voice targeted for retribution pn trumped up charges. It’s unlikely that Greenwald, who at least has the benefit of widespread fame and international support, will be the last journalist to be targeted.