What is the point of this sentence? The prosecutors had a simple answer: there had to be a deterrent. (“This court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information,” a prosecutor said in the sentencing hearing.) A frightening, crippling sentence was the only way to make sure that no one leaked again, ever. What it seems likely to do is chill necessary whistle-blowing and push leakers to extremes. The lesson that Edward Snowden, the N.S.A. leaker, seems to have drawn from the prosecutions of Manning and others is that, if you have something you think people should know, take as many files as you can and leave the country.
Some observers have argued that the British were within their rights, since Miranda may have had secrets with him. Shouldn’t it be clear that this would have been a gross overreach even if Greenwald had been the one detained? The Terrorism Act is bad and broad—but it’s not that broad. It does say that these detentions are supposed to be about terrorism. Either the law was abused, as even many British politicians seem to believe, or the definitions of investigative journalism and being involved with terrorism have been horrendously conflated, which amounts to the same thing.
How was Miranda involved in terrorism, even putatively? Saying that the public revelations about surveillance made it harder for the N.S.A. to continue on as before is not an adequate answer. For one thing, it could apply to almost any act of journalism that brings about change. The role of the press is to challenge the government’s practices. Couldn’t one just as easily say that, by imposing more of a cost on, for example, work habits that include almost three thousand rule-breaking incidents a year, investigative journalism might make the agency operate better?