Glenn Greenwald in Brazil

SECURING DEMOCRACY: My fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro’s Brazil by Glenn Greenwald (2021)

Glenn Greenwald’s new book tells the story of his latest exploit, the publication in 2019 of leaked information exposing corruption and abuse of power in Brazil, his adopted country.

His reporting on leaked information about abuses of power by President Jair Bolsonro and Justice Minister Sérgio Moro threatens their political power.

The risks he faces—prison and death—are possibly greater than in 2013, when he helped publish Edward Snowden’s leaked information about abuses of power by the NSA, CIA and Britain’s GCHQ.

I’ve long been an admirer of Greenwald, and Securing Democracy is doubly interesting to me because it tells something of his back story.

I started reading his blog, Unclaimed Territory, in the mid-2000s.  Its theme was the Bush administration’s abuse of power.

When Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush, Greenwald held Obama to the same strict standard that he applied to Bush.  This won him a following across the political spectrum.

Greenwald was, and is, very lawyer-like.  His writing focused on the relevant law and facts, without any evident personal bias.  His judgments were without fear or favor.

In fact, I don’t know Greenwald’s political beliefs, beyond a general belief in democracy, freedom of speech and equal justice under law.

I followed Greenwald as his blog was picked up by Salon, then as he became a columnist for The Guardian.

I didn’t know at the time that he was (1) gay and (2) living in Brazil.

In the book, he told how, after quitting his job in a New York law firm in 2005, at age, he went to Rio de Janeiro to unwind on its famous Ipanema beach. 

A volleyball knocked over his drink, and a handsome 20-year-old man named David Miranda came up to apologize.

It was love at first sight, and they’ve been together ever since.  It is like an ideal love relationship out of Plato’s Socratic dialogues—a mature older man loving and mentoring a handsome and noble younger man.

Miranda grew up in a favela, one of the squatter shantytowns that have grown up around Brazil’s big cities. 

Favela residents typically live in shacks build of scrap wood, bricks and other scavenged materials.  They usually lack electricity, a public water supply or sewerage, although residents sometimes tap into the electrical grid illegally.

Drug gangs have more power in the favelas that the legal government does, Greenwald wrote.  They also are sometimes invaded by private militias financed by wealthy right-wing Brazilians.

Miranda was born in a favela to a poor woman who worked as a prostitute.  He never knew his father.  His mother died when he was five, and he was raised by an aunt, until he left home at age 13.

At first he slept in the street, but, by means of hard work, talent and charm, he had worked his way up to a stable job in offices at the time he met Greenwald.

After they met, Miranda got through junior high and high school, then got a degree in marketing from a top Brazilian university.

Miranda’s ambition was to design and promote video games.  Greenwald was unimpressed by that ambition, until Edward Snowden told him that he got his first ideas of duty, morality and purpose by playing video games as a child.

Miranda was radicalized in 2013 when he was stopped and questioned for more than nine hours straight at Britain’s Healthrow Airport about the Snowden disclosures. 

He felt that he was singled out because he was black and from a poor country, while white American journalists working on the case with Greenwald were allowed to pass through Heathrow unmolested.

He then decided to go into politics.  In 2016, he became the first openly LGBT person to win a seat on the Rio de Janeiro city council, backed by a coalition of students, LGBTs, favela residents and human rights defenders. 

In the same election, Marielle Franco, a black woman from a favela, also won a seat on the council.   She was a fearless defender of the rights of black Brazilians and favela residents, who pushed for investigations into abuses of police and military power. 

She came out as a lesbian shortly after being elected.  Two years later, she was murdered by a team of assassins. 

Miranda went on to be elected to the Brazilian congress in 2019.

Daivd Miranda and Glenn Greenwald in 2018

Greenwald meanwhile left The Guardian for The Intercept, an Internet-based news service, and started a branch called Intercept Brazil.

Meanwhile, starting in 2014, an obscure young judge, Sérgio Moro, presided over a serious of trials of charges of corruption involving wealthy oligarchs and high-level politicians.  Brazilians weren’t used to seeing the rich and powerful go to prison, and he became immensely popular.

He authorized tape recordings of conversations between then-President Dilma Rousseff and former President Lula da Silva, and then arranged for those tape recordings to leak to the press.  These recordings drove Dilma’s  impeachment in 2016 and Lula’s conviction on corruption charges in 2017.

Lula was immensely popular, with an 87 percent approval rating, and would have been a strong candidate if he had been allowed to run. 

Instead Jair Bolsonaro was elected President of Brazil in 2018.  On taking office, he named Moro as Minister of Justice, with sweeping powers. 

Bolsonaro was an admirer of the dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.  Greenwald quoted him as saying the only thing wrong with the regime was that it didn’t torture and kill enough people. 

He hated gays.  He encouraged the deforestation of the Amazon by timber and agribusiness interests.  He shrugged off the threat of COVID-19.

Early in 2019, Greenwald was contacted by a friend who’d received a download of documents about Moro from an anonymous hacker.  

It seemed that he did not impose impartial justice.  He worked closely with prosecutors, which is illegal under Brazilian law as it is in the U.S., and suggested arguments, which he then approved.  Lula and Dilma were railroaded.

Greenwald’s challenge was to organize and verify this material, while maintaining secrecy.  It was all of Moro’s e-mails over a period of years, a huge amount of stuff. 

The hacker was an amateur who, unlike Edward Snowden, was lax about security, and in fact was eventually caught, but not after the release of the material.

Next came the challenge of publicizing the material.  He was backed by Intercept Brazil, which had a top-notch Brazilian staff.  Together, they were able to sift through the material and write compelling articles.

Greenwald was a gay, Jewish American citizen—in many ways, an outsider in his adopted country.  So some Brazilians wouldn’t have found him a credible source of information. 

He found Brazilian newspapers who were willing to partner with him in publishing articles.  They verified the accuracy of his material, by referencing e-mails about their reporters’ interviews with Moro.

Moro counterattacked by launching an investigation in Greenwald’s finances.  A Brazilian judge quashed that, on the grounds of conflicts of interest. 

Another court freed Lula on the basis of the new revelations, and he will undoubtedly run against Bolsonaro in the next election.

Greenwald still faces criminal charges for the release of the information itself.  If found guilty on all counts, he could go to prison for life.  He has pledged never to leave Brazil.  He has meanwhile quit The Intercept, over censorship issues.

But the tide has turned, and he hopes for favorable verdicts.

He also faces credible threats of death.  He, Miranda and their two adopted children live in a walled compound, protected by private security, and, when they go outside, they travel in an armored car.

Greenwald recently was the victim of a home invasion, although the culprits were armed robbers and no-one was killed or injured.

His apparent success is due to the latent strength of Brazil’s independent judicial system and its free press. 

Both the judiciary and press at first seemed passive in the face of Bolsonaro’s attack on civil liberties.  But then they were re-activated, like dead computer code or a machine that had been turned off.

This gives me hope that the U.S. judicial system and free press also will be re-activated. 

LINKS

My New Book on Journalism, Exposing Corruption and the Resulting Risks, Dangers and Societal Changes by Glenn Greenwald.

Brazil’s High Court Invalidates Lula’s Convictions, Leaving Him Eligible to Run Against Bolsonaro by Glenn Greenwald.

Why “Securing Democracy” Will Be Taught in Journalism Schools by Matt Taibbi on TK News.

Glenn Greenwald Took on the Authoritarian Right in Brazil—And Won by Keith Danner for Jacobin Magazine.

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