A pall of fear hangs over American journalists, one that threatens to smother the feeble flame of investigative reporting and insulate government officials against any sort of accountability. The Obama regime is taking a hard line against "leakers," and their penchant for secrecy out-does even Richard Nixon at his most paranoid. This administration, which came to power on a pledge of greater "transparency," has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the terms of the draconian Espionage Act of 1917 than all other Presidents combined. And it doesn’t stop there.
The Department of Justice is currently going after New York Times reporter James Risen for allegedly receiving classified information from former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling. Risen, who is refusing to testify in the case – citing his right to keep his sources confidential – is reportedly taking his appeal to the Supreme Court.
Obama’s henchmen have not been shy about targeting the administration’s perceived enemies in the Fourth Estate: they went after a Fox News reporter – James Rosen, Fox’s White House correspondent – obtaining his phone records in their investigation of a rather insubstantial "leak." They also seized months of phone records from an entire battery of Associated Press reporters – just as if the United States were some banana republic somewhere.
Which is precisely what we are becoming.
If you think that’s a bit of an overstatement, think again: the one reporter most responsible for bringing the revelations of Edward Snowden to light and exposing the government’s extensive spying apparatus is now in exile, prevented by the threat of legal action from returning to the United States.
I’m talking about Glenn Greenwald, the former lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-world-famous-journalist, whose incisive reporting on the story of how the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans’ phone records, emails, and other online communications has roiled the Obama administration and started a fierce national debate over what kind of country we are – and what kind of country we’re turning into.
Combative, engaging, and amazingly articulate, Greenwald gave up a career in corporate law because it bored him – and, in the early 1990s, dove into the online world. His blog, "Unclaimed Territory," soon became a must-read for the first generation of online muckrakers and insurgents who were challenging the legacy media (and having a lot of fun doing it). Here at Antiwar.com, we linked to his articles pretty regularly, and I happened to meet him at a conference put on by the Future of Freedom Foundation, where we were both speaking, some years ago. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as the enemy of cant, and in particular the sort of partisan cant that makes excuses for the Home Team while excoriating the Other Team for doing the same: there is no more relentless nemesis of hypocrisy and double-standards than Glenn. This aroused the ire of the Democratic party hacks who have carved out careers as apologists for The Party and its chieftains, but Glenn regularly impaled them on their own egregious contradictions, earning plenty of enemies (as well as a legion of friends and supporters) in the process.
Now that he is in the spotlight, and his reporting has sent the Obamaites reeling back in defensive mode, the hacks are demanding his scalp. In a now infamous on-air confrontation with fake-"journalist" David Gregory on "Meet the Press," Gregory played his role as the journalistic courtier of power to the hilt, asking, at the end of a contentious interview:
"To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”
Greenwald let him have it:
"I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in any way. The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the e-mails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator in felonies, for working with sources.
"If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal. And it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States. It’s why The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said, "Investigative reporting has come to a standstill," her word, as a result of the theories that you just referenced."
The shell-shocked look on Gregory’s smug self-satisfied face after that tongue lashing was priceless!
Yet Greenwald is paying a heavy personal price for speaking truth to power: like Snowden, he’s been forced into exile.
He started living in Brazil in 2005, where he met his partner, David Miranda, and stayed in part because it was impossible to get Miranda a visa to come to the US – at least not until the "Defense of Marriage Act" was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. "For eight years we didn’t have that option," Greenwald told The Advocate, "but then, literally the week DOMA got struck down, this other little barrier to living in the United States popped up: I might be arrested indefinitely the second I got off the plane."
Back in August, when the Brazilian government offered to protect him against possible legal action by the US, Greenwald seemed much more optimistic about his chances of returning unmolested. Salon was reporting Greenwald "has no intention of taking the Brazilian government up on the offer," and that he intended to return to the US "sooner [rather than] later, come what may." He told Salon:
"I haven’t requested any protection from the Brazilian government or any other government because, rather obviously, I’ve committed no crime — unless investigative journalism is now a felony in the U.S.,"
Today, however, it is much clearer that investigative journalism is indeed a felony in this country, and that an administration obsessed with secrecy – and deeply embarrassed by the exposure of their spying to the world – is bound and determined to stop him from reporting on the Snowden leaks. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports:
"Glenn Greenwald would like to go home to the United States, at least for a visit. But the Guardian journalist and blogger is afraid to do so. He still has material and unpublished stories from his contacts with fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden that he believes US authorities would love to get their hands on. The nine-hour detention and interrogation of Greenwald’s Brazilian partner David Miranda by British security services at London’s Heathrow airport in August has only compounded his fears."
Greenwald told the CPJ:
"I have been told by pretty much everybody I have asked, including lawyers for the Guardian, my personal lawyer, lawyers I trust, political people who are well connected that it would be very ill-advised for me to travel back to the United States right now because the chances that I would be arrested are something more than trivial. I’ve had lots of prominent political and media figures calling for my arrest and prosecution and strongly suggesting, if not outright stating, that what I am doing is criminal."
Greenwald recently left his position at the U.K. Guardian to join an online media startup with fellow journalists Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras, and entrepreneur-philanthropist Pierre Omidyar. The venture will doubtless prove to be a major pillar of the new journalistic architecture fast displacing the legacy media – but one of its leading voices will not be able to set foot in this country.
This is beyond outrageous. Are we now at the point where fear of the government’s political police is forcing everyone who defies them into permanent exile?
We are indeed – if we let it happen.
Although my acquaintance with Greenwald is casual – we’ve emailed over the years and had a few Twitter exchanges – this has been bothering me over the summer, and the latest reports from the CPJ and the Advocate interview have confirmed my worst fears. Obama’s thugs will be waiting for him at the airport if and when he gets on a plane for the US.
That his lawyers are telling him returning poses a considerable risk is a frightening indication of just how far we’ve traveled down the road to an authoritarian state. He’s clearly expressed a desire to return to the United States, and, by God, he has the right to do so, without being stopped, detained, or otherwise harassed.
This case is particularly important because it exists at the nexus of the Snowden revelations, Obama’s war on journalism, and the grievous state of civil liberties in this country. We either fight back now, or else let this country slip into the abyss of despotism: we can’t afford to let them get away with this.
I urge my readers to call – and, better, write – their representatives in Congress, and ask them to speak out in support of Greenwald’s right to a safe return. This administration needs to know that there will be political consequences for its lawless disregard for the most basic constitutional guarantees. While Washington is hardly pro-Greenwald territory, our lawmakers are increasing aware of – and uneasy about – the public’s rising opposition to our emerging police state. The American people want to know how, where, and why their own government is breaching their privacy – and they aren’t about to surrender the First Amendment to an administration that has repeatedly shown its contempt for the Constitution.
Glenn Greenwald is a citizen of these United States: he has committed no crime. Instead, he has exposed the crimes of our political class, and angered them in the process. They are out to get him by any means necessary – and it is up all liberty-loving Americans to stop them.
Let the cry rise up from the burgeoning civil libertarian movement, which is holding a major rally in Washington this Saturday: Hands off Glenn Greenwald! Let him return to the land of the free and the home of the brave – so that America can reclaim that title once again.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).