Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who won a prestigious award for reporting on National Security Agency documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, says he will return to the United States to accept the award in April. (Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman, who received documents from Snowden, won an award as well.)
Greenwald, along with Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras, won a George Polk Award for National Security Reporting for “investigative stories based on top-secret documents disclosed by former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.”
“The reporters conferred with Snowden to negotiate release of the material and then used their extensive backgrounds covering national security to explore the purloined files,” according to the awards announcement. At The Guardian, they revealed “their stunning import” and “how the NSA gathered information on untold millions of unsuspecting — and unsuspected — Americans, plugged into the communications links of major Internet companies and coerced companies like Yahoo and Google into turning over data about their customers.”
The Polk awards are scheduled to be presented at a luncheon on April 11. But since Greenwald began to write stories based off documents from Snowden, he has not returned to the US. He has remained in Brazil where he lives with his partner, David Miranda, who was detained by the United Kingdom’s security services under a terrorism law in an act which a British court has now deemed lawful.
There has been concern about whether the US government would detain and possibly even arrest Greenwald if he tried to return to the country.
On Huffington Post Live’s “Free Speech Zone,” hosted by Alyona Minkovski, the following exchange took place this afternoon:
MINKOVSKI: Are you going to come to the United States to receive your Polk Award or are you concerned about crossing the border?
GREENWALD: Well, both. [It] would be incredibly stupid and irrational of me to not be concerned when you have the top national security official in the US calling you an accomplice, which comes from the criminal law; when you have Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA and Mike Rogers, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that you’re selling documents around the world, which is the language of espionage and lots of other media elites from alan Dershowitz to David Gregory and others saying you’re a criminal and ought to be arrested. Of course, you have to take those concerns very seriously.
At the same time, I absolutely refuse to be exiled from my own country for the crime of doing journalism and I’m going to force the issue just on principle. And I think going back for a ceremony like the Polk Awards or other forms of journalistic awards would be a really good symbolic test of having to put the government in the position of having to arrest journalists who are coming back to the US to receive awards for the journalism they have done.
Greenwald admitted that he is not certain of how everything would be planned and coordinated at the moment. However, there is “no question that we’re going to come back to the US and test the First Amendment and how strong this guarantee is of a free press.”
It is unclear what Greenwald means by “we.” He could be planning to travel to the US with Miranda, who would be present at the luncheon and see him accept an award for journalism that led to the UK treating him like a terrorism suspect. Greenwald could also be referring to MacAskill and Poitras. Poitras has been targeted with detentions and searches before when traveling, but, perhaps, the two are planning to make a stand for freedom of the press together.
In November, Attorney General Eric Holder suggested the Justice Department would not prosecute Greenwald. He said, “Unless information that has not come to my attention is presented to me, what I have indicated in my testimony before Congress is that any journalist who’s engaged in true journalistic activities is not going to be prosecuted by this Justice Department.”
The “unless” caveat was pretty significant. UK intelligence knew to stop Miranda at the airport and planned an operation. They would only have known to do this, as Greenwald also said on HuffPost Live, if they had been conducting surveillance on their journalistic communications. What if they uncovered something they considered to be evidence of Greenwald interacting with Snowden in a manner that made him an “aider, abettor and co-conspirator” (what the FBI labeled Fox News reporter James Rosen in another leak case)?
What Greenwald told the Washington Post in response was the folllowing:
That this question is even on people’s minds is a rather grim reflection of the Obama administration’s record on press freedoms…It is a positive step that the Attorney General expressly recognizes that journalism is not and should not be a crime in the United States, but given this administration’s poor record on press freedoms, I’ll consult with my counsel on whether one can or should rely on such caveat-riddled oral assertions about the government’s intentions.
Greenwald has pushed for Holder and the Justice Department to make some kind of statement about what they would do if he tried to cross the border and return to the United States that does not have any caveats. Such a statement has not been made.
He told Salon in August 2013 he had very intention of entering the U.S. as soon as [his] schedule permits and there’s a reason to do so.”
“I’m going to go back to the US for many reasons, but just the fucking principle is enough,” he said earlier this month. “On principle I’m going to force the issue,” which is similar to what he said today.
Greenwald now has something in his schedule to provide a reasonable justification to see what the US will do to him if he tries to re-enter the US. It is a moment he has probably been awaiting for months and he’ll have his opportunity to take this stand for press freedom in April.