National security leakers lead a precarious existence these days. Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over a year now, unable to leave for fear of being arrested by British authorities and extradited to Sweden as part of a sexual assault investigation. Assange believes that going to Sweden would be the first step in his extradition to the US and an eventual trial there.
Meanwhile, NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden is under constant guard in Moscow after having received temporary asylum in Russia. For now, at least, Snowden has managed to avoid the fate that befell Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, who was convicted on espionage charges and sentenced in June to 35 years in prison for leaking 250,000 US diplomatic cables.
Snowden's good fortune is largely due to British journalist Sarah Harrison, a Wikileaks researcher who helped the former NSA contractor escape the long arm of the US Justice Department. Having assisted one of the US government's top public enemies, she has now taken refuge in Berlin, reticent to return to her native England for fear of being detained by authorities under the UK Terrorism Act.
On Wednesday, Harrison published a letter calling for whistle-blowers to be shielded from prosecution, saying that “giving us the truth is not a crime.”
“Wikileaks continues to fight for the protection of sources,” Harrison wrote. “We have won the battle for Snowden's immediate future, but the broader war continues.”
'Snowden is safe and protected'
When Snowden first fled to Hong Kong after leaking his trove of NSA documents to US journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, Harrison flew to China at the behest of Wikileaks to help secure the whistle-blower's safe passage and prevent his extradition to the US.
While not a lawyer by trade, she had acquired expertise on extradition matters through the case of Assange with whom she both worked and had been romantically involved.
“I'm sure that if Julian hadn't been grounded at the embassy in London, he would have loved to have done it himself,” Jeremie Zimmermann told DW, referring to Snowden's successful asylum application in Russia.
Zimmermann is the spokesman and co-founder of the digital rights group La Quadrature du Net in France. He was a contributor to Assange's 2012 book “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet” and knows Harrison.
"I'm sure after [Assange], Sarah was the most competent,” he continued. “She's a brilliant journalist and researcher and a brilliant person in general.”
Although Harrison didn't elaborate on why, exactly, she left Russia, she did write that the job of securing Snowden had been completed.
“Whilst Snowden is safe and protected until his asylum visa is due to be renewed in nine months time, there is still much work to be done,” Harrison said. “The battle Snowden joined against the surveillance state and for government transparency is one that Wikileaks – and many others – have been fighting, and will continue to fight.”
Exile in Berlin
Harrison has joined a growing colony in Berlin of transparency-advocates-in-exile. Poitras, who has reported on the Snowden leaks for the Washington Post and Der Spiegel, and hacker and Wikileaks supporter Jacob Appelbaum, both reside in the German capital.
“Already in the few days I have spent in Germany, it is heartening to see the people joining together and calling for their government to do what must be done – to investigate NSA spying revelations and to offer Edward Snowden asylum,” Harrison wrote in her letter.
The outcry in Germany has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks. Reports from the summer about the NSA collecting millions of Germans' metadata have now been compounded by the revelation that Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone was also allegedly hacked.
“Berlin seems to be the place of choice right now if you consider the vibrant character of the public debate here, and I'm referring to the last two front pages of Der Spiegel that sounded quite serious about it,” Zimmermann said. In a recent Der Spiegel issue, the news magazine published reports based on Snowden's leaks, detailing possible NSA eavesdropping on Chancellor Merkel's cell phone. The publication has also called for Snowden to be granted asylum.
Fear of UK Terrorism Act
The daughter of a middle class British family, Harrison's father is a former executive at a clothing retailer and her mother works with children who have learning difficulties. After studying English literature at Queen Mary, she took a job as an international event manager, but ultimately decided to pursue journalism.
Harrison received an internship with the Centre for Investigative Journalism in London in 2009 and landed a junior research position at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2010. Through her work at the bureau, she came into contact with Assange and later began working for Wikileaks as a researcher.
Taking the advice of legal advisers, Harrison has decided to stay in Germany, for fear of being detained in her native England under the UK Terrorism Act. In August, Glenn Greenwald's boyfriend, David Miranda, was detained under the act for nine hours at London's Heathrow Airport. Miranda had been on his way from Berlin back to Brazil - where he and Greenwald live - having transported materials between the Guardian journalist and Poitras.
Under the Terrorism Act, police can detain and question an individual in order to determine whether or not they are a "terrorist." According to Harrison and other transparency activists, by detaining Miranda, London effectively defined national security reporting as “terrorism.”
“The problem is she's now part of this net of suspicion,” Zimmerman said.
“It is likely that she would be suspected of the same kind of nonsensical charges if she even stepped foot here,” he continued. “So in a way, until further notice, she might be constrained to exile, the same way that Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras, [and] Appelbaum are today.”