August 24, 2013
Over the past decade, the United States has stretched the definition of “terrorism” to justify or disguise expansions of surveillance and war. In 2003, President Bush declared that overthrowing Arab dictators was part of the “war on terror.” From 2004 to 2007, the Bush administration persuaded the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to define massive, overwhelmingly innocent clusters of communications data as terrorism-related “facilities” subject to authorized U.S. surveillance. In 2009, U.S. officials labeled the Fort Hood shooter a “terrorist” for killing fellow U.S. military personnel. In 2010, the CIA designated the fatal bombing of its drone-war operators in Afghanistan as a “terrorist attack.”
Now the United Kingdom has pushed the definition one step further. It detained David Miranda, the domestic partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for nine hours at Heathrow Airport—threatening him, interrogating him, and confiscating his laptop and other storage devices—under an anti-terrorism law. According to the U.K., this statute authorizes detention and confiscation because Miranda’s documents expose sweeping government surveillance methods and therefore, if released, might help terrorists evade that surveillance. Counterterrorism now justifies the use of force to prevent the exposure of domestic spying.
Miranda, who was passing through Heathrow on his way from Germany to Brazil, was apparently ferrying documents from one associate of Edward Snowden—filmmaker Laura Poitras—to another: Greenwald. According to Scotland Yard, Miranda was detained on Aug. 18 “under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.” That provision allows airport officers to question and search the belongings of any traveler “for the purpose of determining whether he appears to be a person falling within section 40(1)(b)” of the statute—i.e., a terrorist. Section 1 of the law, as amended in 2006 and 2009, defines terrorism as the use or threat of violent or life-endangering action “designed to influence the government or an international governmental organization or to intimidate the public or a section of the public.” This use or threat must be “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial, or ideological cause.”