The co-founder of investigative news website The Intercept and journalist Glenn Greenwald has been accused of cybercrimes linked to hacking the phones of senior government officials in Brazil.
Alongside Greenwald, six other individuals are being accused. In an official statement, the Brazilian prosecution service claimed the journalist took part and encouraged hacking of exchanges between senior government figures through messaging service Telegram that related to Operation Car Wash, Brazil’s largest corruption investigation to date.
The investigations led to the arrest of former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, who presented a threat to the election of current incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro. Lula’s case was handled by a former judge, Sergio Moro, who was later named minister of justice by Bolsonaro. The inner workings of Car Wash were exposed in the leaked messages, casting doubts over Moro’s conduct and potential political bias when working on Lula’s case.
The Telegram exchanges in question are linked to The Intercept‘s extensive reporting series questioning the ethics and methods employed by the anti-corruption taskforce, which began in June 2019.
Greenwald’s charges have sparked controversy, as the Brazilian federal police said last December that it could not find any evidence of wrongdoing in the journalist’s modus operandi. However, the latest accusations present a different take on the case: while accepting a journalist’s right to report on leaks related to the corruption case, the prosecutors argue Greenwald was part of a “criminal organization” and “helped, encouraged and guided” the hackers that obtained the Telegram chat histories.
The prosecutors’ claims around the hacking activity supposedly carried out by Greenwald, who was not investigated, are based on the analysis of a computer that was found at the house of one of the hackers. The MacBook, according to the prosecutors’ statement, contained an audio recording with a conversation between the journalist and one of the hackers about the intercepted messages.
According to the prosecutors, Greenwald told hackers to delete stolen messages that had been forwarded to him, so as to cover their tracks and reduce the possibility of criminal liability. In July 2019, four hackers were arrested in connection with the Telegram hack. According to court documents, the group used a relatively unknown hacking trick to bind the victims’ Telegram accounts to their phones.
The latest accusations against Greenwald were welcomed by the supporters of Bolsonaro – who described journalists as “a species in extinction” – and also sparked the outrage and numerous reactions from free press supporters. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism stated that “the accusation against Greenwald is based on a distorted interpretation of the journalist’s conversations with his then source and has the sole purpose of embarrassing the professional, which is very serious.”
The case has also prompted reactions from senior government figures: speaker of Brazil’s Lower House of Congress, Rodrigo Maia, described the charges against Greenwald as a “threat to the freedom of the press”, adding that “without free journalism, there is no democracy.”
The Intercept‘s co-founder posted a reaction to the charges on Twitter, describing the accusations as “an attack on Brazilian democracy” and “an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported on Minister Moro and the Bolsonaro government.” He added that he would continue his reporting work regardless of the charges.
In a statement, Greenwald, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the National Security Agency (NSA) spying revealed by Edward Snowden, said he exercised extremely caution” in his dealings with his sources and did nothing more than his job as a journalist, “acting ethically and within the law.”
“We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists,” he said, adding that he would continue to write stories based on the intercepted material.
The charges against Greenwald now need to be accepted by a judge before the journalist would stand trial.