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Journalist Glenn Greenwald On Cybercrime Accusations In Brazil


Brazil filed charges Tuesday against Glenn Greenwald. He's a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist who lives there and a prominent critic of President Jair Bolsonaro's right-wing government. Prosecutors say Greenwald helped hack the cellphones of Brazilian officials. Greenwald used messages from those phones as evidence of collusion between a judge and the prosecutors who jailed former left-wing President Inacio Lula da Silva. His reports appeared in The Intercept and The Intercept Brasil, which he co-founded. And he joins us now via Skype.

Thanks for speaking with us.

GLENN GREENWALD: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the judge in that case is now the justice minister. So this reporting that The Intercept did has had huge political effect in Brazil. But the federal police have already investigated your involvement with the leaked messages, and they found absolutely no wrongdoing. Why do you feel the prosecutors are pursuing these charges now?

GREENWALD: I think that's the key point. The federal police, which is actually under the command of Sergio Moro, the justice minister who's the prime subject of our exposes, conducted a comprehensive investigation and found that I had no involvement of any kind in the hack, principally because the first time the source talked to me, he had in his possession all the information that he gave to me, making it logically impossible for me to have been involved.

This particular prosecutor who nonetheless brought these charges is notorious for abusing his office. But I think it's just part of a broader campaign of the Bolsonaro government, which doesn't believe in a free press and wants to create a climate of fear for any dissidents or anyone who opposes him in any way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your Pulitzer was for reporting that you did based on information leaked by Edward Snowden. So you've handled leaked documents before, as have many other members of the press. Did the precautions you took with the Brazilian information differ in any way from the ones you took with the Snowden information?

GREENWALD: Not really. Interestingly, in both cases, by the time the source first contacted me, they each had all the information in their possession. Edward Snowden did sort of this source. But obviously, the first thing I did when I was contacted by the source was sit down with our team of Brazilian lawyers to try and understand the similarities and differences between Brazilian law on the one hand and American and British on the other, which I was very familiar from my work as a lawyer but also the Snowden case.

And in reality, the Brazilian Constitution provides press freedom protections even more robust than the U.S. Constitution does. It has a guarantee that journalists have the right to protect the anonymity of our sources, for example.

But the lawyers said the key point is you can never direct or suggest to the source that they get any additional information from you using criminality. And of course, I never did that. Not even the prosecutor claims I did. And my lawyers said - and all press freedom groups in Brazil are saying - that as long as you don't do that and just receive the information, you're acting as a journalist, and you have the right of a free press not to be punished for it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You and your husband, as well as your children, all live in Brazil. You also work out of there as a journalist. Do you fear retaliation from the Bolsonaro government? I mean, what do you fear the ramifications will be of this?

GREENWALD: Well, the president of the country, Jair Bolsonaro, has explicitly threatened me with prison on multiple occasions, using my name during the course of the eight months of reporting. Neither my husband, who's a congressman in Brazil, nor I have left our house without armed security and armored vehicles because of the death threats we've received from the Bolsonaro movement. It's a movement that explicitly seeks the restoration of the military dictatorship, or at least the repression that accompany that as opposed to democracy. So it uses extrajudicial and extralegal means of intimidation, like death threats and fake news and invasions into your private life, but then also abuses the law.

I don't have proof that President Bolsonaro was involved in this particular decision to charge me, but he certainly has publicly said multiple times that I may spend time in prison or that I should spend time in prison. So certainly, retaliation was always a possibility, and it's now become a reality.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think you can remain in Brazil? Would you consider leaving?

GREENWALD: I definitely would not consider leaving. Our lives are here. I've lived here for 15 years. We have two Brazilian children. And you know, if you go into journalism, I think your obligation is to confront people in power when they engage in corrupt or deceitful acts, and that often entails danger. This is a country I love and that has given me a lot. A lot of people have given their liberty or their lives to usher in Brazilian democracy, and I feel an obligation to them and just to my own values and my own profession not to flee Brazil, but to stay and defend democratic values that are under attack.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Glenn Greenwald, co-founder and editor of The Intercept. Thank you very much.

GREENWALD: Thank you - really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 26, 2020 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous headline misspelled Glenn Greenwald's first name as Glen.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.