Journalist firebrand Glenn Greenwald has been charged with cybercrimes by federal prosecutors in Brazil, according to a new report from the New York Times. Greenwald recently helped expose corruption in the Brazilian government through a series of stories at the Intercept that included leaked messages highly embarrassing for senior government officials.
Brazilian prosecutors allege that Greenwald, an American who’s lived in Brazil since the mid-2000s, is part of a “criminal organization” that hacked the phones of government officials, according to the Times. Five other people have been similarly charged with crimes related to an “invasion of computer devices,” according to Brazilian media outlets.
Greenwald told Gizmodo in an email Tuesday that just two months ago the Federal Police in Brazil concluded he didn’t commit a crime in publishing the leaked messages, and that Greenwald had “exercised extreme caution as a journalist.”
According to the Times, prosecutors allege that Greenwald “encouraged” the hackers to “cover their tracks” and was communicating with them as they were “actively monitoring” officials’ private Telegram chats.
The Times reports that today’s criminal complaint accuses Greenwald of going beyond receiving and publishing leaked messages. Among other accusations, it argues that Greenwald was “communicating with the hackers while they were actively monitoring private chats on Telegram” and that he “encouraged the hackers to delete archives that had already been shared with The Intercept Brasil, in order to cover their tracks.”
The latter charge echoes an American criminal allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who was charged last year with helping whistleblower Chelsea Manning obtain confidential documents and who is widely seen as a test of how far legal protections for journalists reach.
Greenwald has repeatedly butted heads with the government of Brazil, including its president, Jair Bolsonaro, an aspiring fascist who has praised Brazil’s military dictatorship that spanned from 1964 until 1985. Bolsonaro’s culture minister even had to resign recently after he plagiarized a speech from Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
Last year, The Intercept published a string of damning reports on an anti-corruption task force and a judge who is now President Jair Bolsonaro’s justice minister, based on leaked documents, chat messages, and other information obtained by an anonymous source. The Washington Post reported that Greenwald faced threats of retaliation for the work, and in July, the Bolsonaro administration arrested four people for allegedly hacking the Telegram account of Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, saying that the hackers had provided The Intercept with documents.
The Intercept refused to reveal the identity of its sources at that time, but it condemned the government’s “insinuations that The Intercept did anything in this matter other than exercise our right to practice journalism.”
Greenwald posted a response to the charges on Twitter, calling the move “an attack on Brazilian democracy” and stating that his reporting would continue. “The Bolsonaro government and the movement that supports it has made repeatedly clear that it does not believe in basic press freedoms, he wrote — citing an earlier police report concluding that “I exercised extreme caution and professionalism as a journalist never even to get close to any criminality.”
“This denunciation—brought by the same prosecutor who just tried and failed to criminally prosecute the head of the Brazilian Bar Association for criticizing Minister Moro—is an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported about Minister Moro and the Bolsonaro government,” Greenwald told Gizmodo in an email.
“It is also on an attack on the Brazilian Supreme Court, which ruled in July that I am entitled to have my press freedom protected in response to other retaliatory attacks from Judge Moro, and even an attack on the findings of the Federal Police, which concluded explicitly after a comprehensive investigation that I committed no crimes and solely acted as a journalist,” Greenwald continued.
“We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists. I am working right now on new reporting and will continue to do so. Many courageous Brazilians sacrificied [sic] their liberty and even life for Brazilian democracy and against repression, and I feel an obligation to continue their noble work.”
Greenwald came under US government scrutiny in 2013 after he and filmmaker Laura Poitras published numerous articles about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying programs at the Guardian. That work was accomplished largely thanks to the leaks of former NSA and CIA contractor Edward Snowden — who fled the United States and currently lives in Russia — with one lawmaker calling for his arrest in the aftermath of the leaks in 2013. But Greenwald, who currently lives in Brazil with his husband David and two children, faces a much clearer legal threat now.