The Deeper Meaning Of Miranda's Detention And The Destruction Of The Guardian's Hard Drives
from the deny-and-disrupt dept
As many have already observed, the detention of David Miranda comes across as an act of blatant intimidation, as does the farcical destruction of the Guardian's hard drives. But something doesn't ring true about these episodes: spooks may be cynical and ruthless, but they are not generally clueless idiots.
They would have guessed that Miranda would not possess the keys for any encrypted files that he was carrying, so seizing his equipment simply left them with a bunch of ones and zeroes that they were unable to read (unless strong encryption has been broken and we don't yet know about it). Equally, they would have assumed that the Guardian had made backups of its files on the hard drives, so destroying them was literally quite pointless. What's really going on here? A brilliant post by author Barry Eisler, who used to work for the CIA, offers perhaps the most plausible explanation so far:
The purpose was to demonstrate to journalists that what they thought was a secure secondary means of communication -- a courier, possibly to ferry encrypted thumb drives from one air-gapped computer to another -- can be compromised, and thereby to make the journalists' efforts harder and slower.
The same is true for the destruction of the Guardian's hard drives:
The point was to make the Guardian spend time and energy developing suboptimal backup options -- that is, to make journalism harder, slower, and less secure.
What is particularly chilling, as Eisler notes, is that this technique is not new:
Does this sort of "deny and disrupt" campaign sound familiar? It should: you've seen it before, deployed against terror networks. That's because part of the value in targeting the electronic communications of actual terrorists is that the terrorists are forced to use far slower means of plotting. The NSA has learned this lesson well, and is now applying it to journalists. I suppose it's fitting that Miranda was held pursuant to a law that is ostensibly limited to anti-terror efforts. The National Surveillance State understands that what works for one can be usefully directed against the other. In fact, it's not clear the National Surveillance State even recognizes a meaningful difference.
The US and UK governments' equating of journalism and whistleblowing with terrorism is becoming clearer by the day.