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Glenn Greenwald Accused By Brazilian Prosecutors In Hacking Probe

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, shown here during a press conference last July, has been accused by Brazilian federal prosecutors in a hacking probe.
Ricardo Borges
Journalist Glenn Greenwald, shown here during a press conference last July, has been accused by Brazilian federal prosecutors in a hacking probe.

Federal prosecutors in Brazil are accusing U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald of criminal association over his role in spreading hacked messages from Brazilian officials' phones that suggest collusion between a judge and prosecutors in the conviction and jailing of a former president.

Greenwald published the allegations in the online publication The Intercept, which he co-founded, and The Intercept Brasil. He decried the accusation released Tuesday as an "obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported."

"We're going to defend a free press like we always have, we're not going to be intimidated by the Bolsonaro government," Greenwald stated, referring to Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Rio de Janeiro, a judge will decide whether the case against Greenwald can move forward.

Prosecutors from the Federal Public Ministry accused Greenwald and six others in a criminal complaint. They sayin a statementthat Greenwald provided a hacker with advice about deleting messages that they downloaded and sent to him in order to make it more difficult for authorities to link them to the journalist.

The prosecutors' statement says that it is legal for a journalist to publish information obtained illegally – but adds that Greenwald crossed a line by allegedly providing advice to a hacker on covering their tracks, which could hinder investigations.

Greenwald says the accusation against him, criminal association, is "frivolous."

The prosecutors say they are petitioning a judge to remove an injunction that blocks them from moving forward with investigating Greenwald, who lives in Brazil. According to The Associated Press, Brazil's Supreme Court said last year that the state may not use "coercive measures" against Greenwald because of constitutional protections of the press. "Because of that, a judge would have to authorize any attempt by prosecutors to formally investigate Greenwald or bring charges," the wire service stated.

In December, Brazil's federal police reached a different conclusion than the federal prosecutor about Greenwald's role in the hacking. As The Guardian notes, the police said "it is not possible to identify moral or material participation by the journalist."

The accusation against Greenwald garnered swift criticism from press freedom advocates.

"The United States must immediately condemn this outrageous assault on the freedom of the press, and recognize that its attacks on press freedoms at home have consequences for American journalists doing their jobs abroad," Ben Winzer, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement.

The Intercept published the series of reports last year looking into Operation Car Wash, the anti-corruption probe that led to the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

"These seem to show a top judge collaborating with prosecutors in a case in which leftist former President Lula da Silva wound up being jailed, and unable to run in the election eventually won by Jair Bolsonaro," Reeves reports. The top judge implicated, Sergio Moro, is now Brazil's justice minister.

"Lula's exclusion from the election, based on Moro's finding of guilt, was a key episode that paved the way for Bolsonaro's election victory," The Intercept stated in its reporting. "Moro now wields immense police and surveillance powers in Brazil — courtesy of a president who was elected only after Moro, while he was a judge, rendered Bolsonaro's key adversary ineligible to run against him."

Greenwald and his colleagues reported the stories based on "private chats, audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings, and other documentation" provided by an anonymous source.

Da Silva said in a tweet Tuesday that Greenwald "was a victim of another blatant abuse of authority against freedom of press and democracy."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.