UK Steps Up War on Whistleblower Journalism with new National Security Act – Kit Klarenberg 2/9/24


Under a repressive new act, British nationals could face prison for undermining London’s national security line. Intended to destroy WikiLeaks and others exposing war crimes, the law is a direct threat to critical national security journalism.

It was the afternoon of May 17 2023 and I had just arrived at London’s Luton Airport. I was on my way to the city of my birth to visit my family. Before landing, the pilot instructed all passengers to have their passports ready for inspection immediately upon disembarking the plane. Just then, I noticed a six-strong squad of stone-faced plainclothes British counter-terror officers waited on the tarmac, intensely studying the identification documents of all travelers.

As soon as the cops identified me, I was ordered to accompany them into the airport terminal without explanation. There, I was introduced to two officials whose names I could not learn, who subsequently referred to each other using nondescript callsigns. I was invited to be digitally strip searched, and subjected to an interrogation in which I had no right to silence, no right to refuse to answer questions, and no right to withhold pin numbers for my digital devices or sim cards. If I asserted any rights to privacy, I faced arrest and up to 48 hours in police custody.

I chose to comply. And so it was that over the next five hours, I sat with a couple of anonymous counter-terror cops in an airless, windowless, excruciatingly hot back room. They fingerprinted me, took invasive DNA swabs, and probed every conceivable aspect of my private and professional life, friend and family connections, and educational background. They wanted to know why I write, say and think the things I do, the specifics of how I’m paid for my investigative journalism, and to which bank account.

British police detain journalist @KitKlarenberg, interrogate him about The Grayzone

Counter-terror police detained journalist Kit Klarenberg upon his arrival in London and subjected him to a 5 hour interrogation about his political views and reporting

— The Grayzone (@TheGrayzoneNews) May 31, 2023

I had been detained under Britain’s 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, which the UN has branded draconian and repressive. Under its Schedule 3 powers, anyone entering British territory suspected of “hostile activity” on behalf of a foreign power can be detained, interrogated for six hours, and have the contents of their digital devices seized and stored. “Hostile acts” are defined as any behavior deemed threatening to Britain’s “national security” or its “economic well-being.”

More disturbingly, Schedule 3 is suspicionless. Under its terms, “it is immaterial whether a person is aware that activity in which they are or have been engaged is hostile activity, or whether a state for or on behalf of which, or in the interests of which, a hostile act is carried out has instigated, sanctioned, or is otherwise aware of, the carrying out of the act.” It must be quite an elaborate conspiracy when conspirators do not even know they’re conspiring.

It turns out the British state wrongly believed The Grayzone had a relationship with Russia’s notorious FSB security service. They based their assumption not on any evidence, but on our knack for producing factual investigative journalism based on documents passed to this outlet anonymously, via burner email accounts. Such activity is common practice for Western media outlets, rights groups, and much venerated “open source” investigative outfits like the US-government sponsored Bellingcat. If I and the rest of The Grayzone made any mistake, it was in publishing material the US-UK national security state does not want in the public domain.

Now, the British government is taking its war on investigative journalism to a new level through its little-known National Security Act. Under this law, authorities in London have granted themselves the power to surveil, harass, and ultimately imprison any British citizens they wish on similarly suspicionless grounds. Dissidents of every stripe must now worry that everything they do or say could land them in jail for lengthy terms, simply for failing to toe London’s rigid national security line.

Among the top lobbyists for these authoritarian measures is Paul Mason, the celebrity journalist who posed as a leader of the British left until The Grayzone unmasked him as a security state collaborator hellbent on destroying the antiwar movement from within.

Inspired by the US Espionage Act, designed to criminalize whistleblowing

In December 2023, after processing for 18 months through parliamentary procedures, the British National Security Act came into force. Under the aegis of protecting Britain from the threat of espionage and sabotage by hostile actors at home and abroad, the law introduces a number of completely new criminal offenses with severe penalties — and wide-ranging consequences for freedom of speech. Indeed, the law’s terms are so broad, individuals will almost inevitably break the law without wanting to, intending to, or even knowing they have.

Because no one has been prosecuted under the Act to date, its full ramifications remain unclear. However, London’s security and intelligence apparatus now enjoy far-reaching powers to police what can be said about the British government’s activities abroad.

Given the frightening implications of the Act, UK  journalists, press rights groups, and civil liberties organizations should be up in arms. Yet serious criticism of the law was largely absent from mainstream publications throughout various phases of debate in parliament.

Scrutiny of the anti-free press Act has been left almost entirely to independent journalists like Mohamed Elmaazi. Writing for Consortium News in July 2022, Elmaazi noted that it “shares many elements” with Washington’s “draconian 1917 Espionage Act,” which is currently being used to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“Whistleblowers, journalists and publishers focusing on national security related matters may be most at risk of being prosecuted,” Elmaazi warned.

British lawmakers explicitly cited WikiLeaks in multiple parliamentary debates on the Act. The motive behind the law, they insisted, was to prevent and deter “unauthorised disclosures” by any individual or organization ever again. Along the way, they repeatedly libeled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, parroting the the demonstrably false narrative that WikiLeaks’ exposure of Western war crimes threatened innocent lives….

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