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Greenwald declines to say if partner was carrying classified data

The Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald declined to say whether his partner, David Miranda, was carrying classified information when he was detained for nine hours by U.K. authorities this week.

Speaking Tuesday on CNN’s "Anderson Cooper 360," Greenwald, who first reported on Edward Snowden’s leaks, was asked whether Miranda was transporting classified government information on the laptop, memory sticks, external hard drive and cellphone that U.K. officials confiscated from him.

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“I'm not going to talk about what he was carrying because that's our product as journalists,” Greenwald said.

Miranda also declined to answer, saying he was just taking the materials back to Greenwald and didn’t know what was on them.

“I don't know that,” he said. “I mean I was just taking the file, those materials, back to Glenn. I mean, you know, Glenn, being working with a lot of stories along the years, I didn't quite follow everything that he writes every day. I can't follow him because I have to have a life.”

Miranda was detained by police at Heathrow Airport in London as he boarded a flight home to Brazil, where he lives with Greenwald. U.K. police detained him for nearly nine hours, the maximum amount of time allowed by a provision of the U.K.’s Terrorism Act known as Section 7, and confiscated his materials. He’s taking legal action to have the items returned.

Miranda had been in Berlin visiting Laura Poitras, the filmmaker who worked with Greenwald to break explosive stories about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs based on classified leaks from former government contractor Snowden.

The incident came on the heels of an NBC report that said U.S. officials are unsure how much information Snowden was able to obtain, but fear he may be sitting on details surveillance programs being conducted by U.S. allies including the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Greenwald blasted the U.K. government’s actions, saying they were indefensible because the job of reporters is to hold the government accountable by exposing classified information.

“Remember, both Laura and I are working with The Guardian as journalists,” he said. “What I would say is every single newsroom in the United States, every single major news organization in the world, has classified information. Reporting on what governments do in secret is what journalism is about.

“So if you want to support the idea that states can just go and confiscate from journalists classified information, you should be demanding that your government go physically into newsrooms and seize whatever classified information is there,” he continued.

Greenwald said that the U.K.’s actions were akin to “criminalizing” journalism.

“If you want to start criminalizing that, it means that you're asking, as a citizen, to be kept ignorant and to allow people in power to conceal what they're doing behind a wall of secrecy and to have no accountability or transparency,” he said. “Journalism is not a crime, and it is not terrorism.”

Greenwald said any efforts to squash new stories he’s working on are “ludicrous” because he has multiple copies of everything, and because the items that were confiscated “are protected by very advanced and heavy forms of encryption.” 

“It's not going to stop our reporting,” he said. “It doesn't do them any good.”

The White House said Tuesday it was given a “heads up” that Miranda was going to be detained, but that it wasn’t an action that U.S. officials requested. Greenwald said he had no evidence to the contrary but said he was “disturbed” that U.S. officials didn’t intervene.

“I don't have evidence that the U.S. government ordered it,” he said. “But I'm very disturbed that my own government was aware of this foreign country's intent to detain my partner and did nothing to discourage it or to protect the right of free press guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution, or did anything else to protect the rights that we both have as human beings and that I have as an American and as a journalist.”

“Clearly, the U.S. government was perfectly happy to see this happen,” he added.