Extraordinary Court Statement

Details are still emerging but there was an extraordinary government witness statement this morning in the UK regarding the detention of David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner who was detained two weeks ago in Heathrow Airport. Telegraph correspondent Guardian David Barrett tweeted out the statement, which is pasted below in bullet points:

  • Parties have agreed on order, says Miranda’s barrister. It means the terms agreed last week by Miranda, Home Office and Scotland Yard will continue until a full hearing later this year #miranda
  • “The parties are to be congratulated for getting their heads together in this way at this stage,” says Mr Justice Laws #miranda
  • Last week High Court said police can continue examining documents seized from #miranda at Heathrow, something his lawyers had tried to block
  • Statement from senior Cabinet Office civil servant to #miranda case says material was 58000 ‘highly classified UK intelligence documents’
  • Police who seized documents from #miranda found among them a piece of paper with the decryption password, the statement says
  • This password allowed them to decrypt one file on his seized hard drive, adds Oliver Robbins, Cabinet Office security adviser #miranda
  • The Govt believes Edward Snowden, the NSA ‘whistleblower’, “indiscriminately appropriated material in bulk” #miranda
  • The material contains personal information that would allow British intelligence staff to be identified, inc some overseas, it adds #miranda
  • The Govt has had to assume Snowden data is now in the hands of foreign governments, since his travel abroad (to HK and Russia) #miranda
  • Statement specifically says UK but they haven’t finish decrypting yet
  • It is “impossible” for Glenn Greenwald or any other journalist to determine which info could damage UK national security: Robbins statement
  • “The claimant & his associates have demonstrated very poor judgment in their security arrangements with respect to the material…”#miranda
  • “…rendering the appropriation of the material, or at least access to it by other, non-State actors, a real possibility” #miranda
  • “The fact that…the claimant was carrying on his person a handwritten piece of paper containing the password for one of the encrypted files recovered from him is a sign of very poor information security practice,” says Govt statement #miranda
  • Statement implies GCHQ as well as Scotland Yard are working on the electronic media seized from #miranda
  • The Govt statement sets out how they approached the Guardian because they were convinced it could not safeguard the sensitive data #miranda
  • “The Guardian appeared to accept our assessment that their continued possession of the information was untenable,” says Govt #miranda
  • “Therefore destruction of the material, under our supervision, was assessed to be the best practicable option,” it adds #miranda
  • National Technical Assistance Centre, part of UK Govt listening post GCHQ, is helping Scotland Yard decrypt material seized from #miranda
  • NTAC’s assistance includes “enhanced capabilities and techniques, to derive evidence from seized electronic data”, says Govt #miranda
  • Govt says it needs to share data with “foreign third parties” but refuses to say whom. (I think we can assume they’re talking about the CIA)
  • Today’s court order widened the scope of exceptions from last week. It means police can now look at material for a wider range of reasons.
  • Means police can specifically look at seized documents to see if #miranda broke Official Secrets Acts.

More details as they emerge, but this is simply extraordinary. And it continues, once again, to dramatically alter our understanding of what happened away from the Guardian’s and Greenwald’s initial version of events.

UPDATE: Barrett filed his story earlier this morning. It contains even more details:

  • Miranda is being investigated for a possible violation of the Official Secrets Act.
  • The UK government told the court that “disclosure of the material could put the lives of British intelligence agents or their families at risk,” and “the general public could also be endangered if details about intelligence operations or methods fell into the wrong hands.” This is possibly a justification for holding him under Section 7 of the Terrorism law, though that will be determined at the full hearing scheduled for October.
  • Miranda’s computer had 60 gigabytes of data encrypted as a TrueCrypt archive. Police have only examined 20 gigabytes of it so far.
  • Greenwald keeps insisting his disclosures haven’t harmed national security, a claim which will need to be balanced with the types of information he had his husband carrying around the world.

Another Telegraph journalist, Tim Stanley, also pointed out some important inconsistencies between Miranda’s initial statements about his detention and how he describes it now. For example, right after Miranda’s detention, Greenwald said he did not have a decryption key. Twitter @snarkamendment discovered it:

Like many statements he has made over the past two months, further details throws doubt on its veracity.

Either way, if the government’s description of the data is true — so far Greenwald’s vague assertion that it’s a “lie” is about all that contradicts it — then Greenwald and Poitras have potentially life-threatening information in their possession. When compared with Greenwald’s threats to punish the UK government for his husband’s detention, I would imagine the British government is rather angry and worried.

More on this as it comes out.

joshua.foust
Joshua Foust is a writer and analyst who studies foreign policy.