Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who revealed National Security Agency secret surveillance activities with the help of leaker Edward Snowden, reportedly could receive "protection" from the Brazilian government if he asked for it, according to a story in O Estado of São Paulo.
A major paper in Brazil's largest city, O Estado wrote Wednesday that an unnamed government official said authorities will provide Greenwald with "protection" from U.S. prosecution if he asks for it. The report does not say if that help would qualify as asylum.
The U.S. government, in fact, has charged Snowden with espionage for providing Greenwald with secret documents, but has brought no charges against Greenwald himself.
The reporter testified before a Brazilian Senate committee on Tuesday about his revelations that the NSA maintains a large surveillance operation in Brazil.
"Greenwald's performance was very courageous," the government official told the Portuguese-language paper. "He showed he's in possession of an extraordinary volume of information. What has come out before now was only an appetizer."
Greenwald, a U.S. citizen, has lived with his same-sex partner in Brazil for the last eight years because before the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, U.S. immigration law did not recognize their marriage. But he has repeatedly traveled between the United States and Brazil for several years.
"To obtain official protection from the country, Greenwald, a resident of Rio de Janeiro, will need to request it," the Estado story said. "In the evaluation of the Brazilian government, he will have to not be able to return to the United States without confronting the risk of being judicially tried by the same secret court that authorizes the National Security Agency's monitoring in United States territory and abroad."
Greenwald told Salon on Thursday that he has no plans to seek Brazilian protection.
"I obviously take the risk [of legal action] seriously," Greenwald said. "But I take more seriously the Constitution's guarantee of a free press in the First Amendment. So I have every intention of entering the U.S. as soon as my schedule permits and there's a reason to do so."
The lack of legal action against him is not good enough for some elected officials like Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who called for the Obama administration to arrest the reporter. "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory also famously asked Greenwald why he shouldn't be charged with a crime for working with Snowden.
Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Justice has a history of pursuing legal action involving reporters. It obtained a warrant to search Fox News journalist James Rosen's email in connection with his scoop on North Korean nuclear tests. But charging a journalist -- as opposed to a government official or contractor like Snowden -- under the Espionage Act has historically been more legally difficult and more politically fraught for the government.
Despite the Brazilian official's concern, however, neither Snowden nor Greenwald will ever be tried before the "same secret court" that authorizes NSA monitoring. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does not handle criminal trials.
Snowden himself applied for asylum in Brazil while he was holed up in the transit zone of Moscow's Shermetyevo Airport. Brazil quickly denied his application.
Nonetheless, many Brazilian lawmakers have been sympathetic to Greenwald and Snowden's cause. At the Senate hearing before which Greenwald testified, some senators wore masks of Snowden's face in solidarity. One senator called for President Dilma Rousseff to opt out of a state dinner at the White House, which is scheduled for October. Rousseff has not indicated whether she will cancel the visit.
According to documents leaked by Snowden, the NSA spies more on Brazil than on any other Latin American country. Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker's White House correspondent, reported last month that the transatlantic cables that connect South America to Africa at the Atlantic's narrowest point are the main target of that surveillance.