Geopolitics

In Rio With Glenn Greenwald And David Miranda, More Snowden Stories To Come

Greenwald was on vacation in Brazil when he met his partner Miranda and traded in his NY law career for journalism. Now the couple are both in the spotlight over the Edward Snowden leak.

A happy couple
A happy couple
Mônica Bergamo

RIO DE JANEIRO — It was the summer of 2004. Stressed out after defending a client in court, attorney Glenn Greenwald decided to get out of New York and travel to Rio de Janeiro for vacation. One day after arriving, already on Ipanema Beach near the city’s most well-known gay area, a volleyball rolls by his beach chair and nearly knocks over his drink.

David Miranda, then just 19, comes over to retrieve the ball. At the time, he hadn’t yet finished high school. His mother had died when he was only five, and he’d never met his father. He left the aunt who raised him and his home in the Jacarezinho slums when he was only 15. He shined shoes, delivered leaflets, cleaned, did some office work and managed a lottery shop to make ends meet.

Just one week after that meeting on the beach, the two were living together. Greenwald, a New York University School of Law graduate, now 46, abandoned the law and ventured into blogging. Miranda worked on starting a tour guide company catering to gay Americans.

They now live together in a home in a nice area with 10 adopted dogs and a cat. There is little furniture. This is where Greenwald works as a journalist and columnist, eventually rising to worldwide prominence after reporting whistleblower Edward Snowden"s leaks and exposing the abuses of the surveillance system mounted by the U.S. government. Greenwald maintains his blog and a column in the British newspaper The Guardian, and is writing his fifth book.

The daily routine

Greenwald wakes up at 5 a.m. Sometimes he wears shorts and flip-flops, and continues working until about 11 a.m., typically fixed in front of the computer. Then he leaves to play tennis, coming back at about 2 p.m. and working until around 8 p.m.

“Glenn does terribly with directions,” Miranda says. “I’ve got a GPS in my head.”

Miranda is also in charge of the cooking. Both share a taste for Nietzsche. They enjoy watching the series Breaking Bad together. Greenwald likes rap music, while Miranda is more into techno and trance.

Miranda, a native Brazilian, speaks fluent English. He didn’t study it, so he likes to say he learned by playing video games. He is now finishing a marketing degree at one of the most respected schools in Brazil. He manages his American partner’s schedule, and Greenwald likes to consult him about the articles he writes.

Earlier this month, in what became a major global story, Miranda was detained by British authorities at Heathrow Airport in London. He was interrogated for nine hours and had his cell phone, computer and memory sticks seized. He was returning from a meeting in Berlin with filmmaker Laura Poitras, who is also involved in documenting the Snowden story and the practice of electronic eavesdropping.

In June, she was with Greenwald in Hong Kong, in the final sequence of encounters with Snowden, the former NSA employee who leaked classified files to Greenwald.

Greenwald says that he has reported only a small portion of the material he had access to and that the pressure on him could become even harsher. “The Internet can go either way: to work as a tool to strengthen democracy or to control the masses. I fight against the latter,” he says.

Protecting his assets

He took a “beginner’s course” with Snowden about cyber safety and risk avoidance. One week he studied for five hours a day about email encryption and protecting documents, chats and anonymous browsing. He’s learned to place his cell phone in the freezer, without the battery, to avoid tracking. Spies could turn the device into a GPS or a microphone even when their targets are far away.

It’s for those reasons, among others, that he doubts British or American authorities will be able to access the data in the devices they took from Miranda. Besides, there are other copies.

According to Greenwald, 80% of the web's data is carried by fiber-optic cables that go through the US, which makes it easier to access them. Skype and Microsoft top the vulnerability list, with Twitter and Yahoo! at the other end. All were forced by law to give away their data to the NSA, although some resisted more than others.

Greenwald believes leaks will become more and more frequent. “The spy system has 25,000 direct employees and 50,000 contractors. It’s impossible to protect secrets, especially in the digital age.”

The problem is dissecting them. “Studies show that the spy service collected enough evidence on Sept. 11, before the attack,” he says. “But the sources were diverse and did not communicate. They can discover many things, but not what they want.”

He continues, “We do not want to destroy the capacity of the state, but the public should know and decide what are the acceptable forms of espionage.”

Politically disillusioned

Greenwald supported Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. But now he regards the Obama administration as “almost the same” as predecessor George W. Bush. “The USA isn't the freest country in the world. When compared to many European countries, American democracy is weaker."

Convicting Bradley Manning, the military officer who leaked classified information to WikiLeaks, and sentencing him to 35 years in prison was “horrible,” Greenwald says. “He’s uncovered many crimes, such as American soldiers killing journalists in Iraq from a helicopter. Nobody was charged, only the person who exposed it. He hasn’t hurt anybody. That's a shame.”

He praises the Brazilian government’s reaction to his partner’s arrest. “Every 20 minutes I receive a call from top officials asking if we have news. They are pressing on the British government.”

The prospect of returning to the U.S. is still an option. American law would allow Miranda to get a resident visa. “I plan to go there and talk to the government about my work, ask whether I'd be able to do it with the same freedom I have in Brazil,” Greenwald says.

Meanwhile, Greenwald is enjoying the country where he came just for vacation nine years ago. “I’ve been to many cities in the world, and none of them is better than Rio, which has beaches, mountains, sophisticated culture and good weather.”

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At the Mango Festival held in Aswan, Egypt

Nada Arafat

ISMAILIA – Every year during the month of July, crowds gather in the mango farms of Ismailia, in northeastern Egypt, to pick the delectable summer fruit during its relatively short harvest season. But this year, as a result of erratic weather patterns throughout March and April, the usual bountiful mango harvest was severely affected with farmers witnessing a precipitous drop in yield. Some 300,000 farms saw an 80% decrease in productivity, leading to a supply shortage in the market and a corresponding 40% increase in the price of mangoes.


The effects of these climate fluctuations could have been mitigated by farmers, yet according to experts who spoke to Mada Masr, the agriculture minister failed to play a role in raising awareness among farmers and in providing agricultural guidance services.

Heatwaves kill crops

Mangoes are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. For germination to occur, the ideal temperature should be between 10 °C at night and 28 °C during the day, according to agricultural consultants. In Egypt, this weather pattern usually occurs in February. Mango trees then flower and the flowers turn into fruits that take 40 days to grow and be ready for harvest, according to Karam Suleiman, an agricultural engineer.

This year, however, according to mango farmers in Ismailia who spoke to Mada Masr, the beginning of the winter farming season experienced a sudden heatwave followed by another heatwave at the end of March. In both March and April, the temperature dipped to as low as 5 °C at night and as high as 25 °C during the day. Due to these erratic weather fluctuations, the mango flowers that develop into fruit fell before they could mature.

The typical average mango yield from one feddan (approx 1.03 acres or 0.40 hectares) ranges between 6 to 8 tons. This year however, the yield per feddan averaged between just 1 to 2 tons, according to several sources.

Frozen mango suppliers multiply purchases

A farm owner in Al-Tal al-Kebir on the Ismailia Desert Road, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said that his farm produced approximately 35 tons of mangoes last year, whereas this year his yield did not exceed 4 tons. He added that many farmers in the surrounding area, which is famous for mango cultivation, experienced the same steep declines in yield.

The limited mango yield and the subsequent hike in prices has also prompted frozen mango suppliers to multiply their purchases from farms in order to capitalize and sell them next year at an even higher price, according to Ali Saqr, an agricultural engineer in a fruit export company, along with a number of other farm owners who spoke to Mada Masr. Mangos can stay frozen for up to two years.

Khaled Eweis, who buys mangoes and stores them in rented freezers then later sells the frozen mangoes to juice and dessert shops, explained to Mada Masr that juice shops usually use the Zebdia variety of mangoes, whereas dessert shops use Keitt mangoes. The latter is expected to be priced at 25 Egyptian pounds ($1.5) this year after having been sold for half the price at the same time last year.

Last year, Eweis bought Zebdia mangoes for 10–12 Egyptian pounds ($0.6–$0.7) per kilo then resold them for 16 ($1) after freezing them. This year, the Zebdia prices ranged from 17–21 ($1–$1.30) per kilo, and Eweis expects that the price after freezing will reach as high as 25 ($1.5).

Photo of an Egyptian man shouldering a basket full of mangoes

The typical average mango yield from one feddan (approx 1.03 acres) ranges between 6 to 8 tons

Xinhua/ZUMA

Threat to water security

This is not the first time that mango production has been hit hard as a result of fluctuating weather patterns. A similar crisis in the mango harvest took place in 2018, and other crops, such as olives, potatoes, wheat, rice and cotton, have also been adversely affected over the last few years, according to Mohamed Fahem, the head of the government Climate Change Information Center. And human-induced changes to global weather patterns as a result of climate change point to increased agricultural challenges in the future.

The deadly heat waves, fires, hurricanes and other extreme weather events that have dominated headlines in recent years will only become more frequent in the coming decades, according to a United Nations report on climate change released in August. In its sixth assessment report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called human-induced changes to global climate systems "unprecedented." While the report calls for drastic cuts to the global emission of greenhouse gases, much of the effects of climate change are already locked in for decades to come.

Among the areas most vulnerable to climate change is agriculture. A 2018 report titled Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Changes in Egypt found that climate change can have drastic effects on agriculture through changes in temperature, rainfall, CO2 levels and solar radiation. Meanwhile, a 2020 European Union report also found that climate change will pose a threat to global food production in the medium to long-term through projected changes in daily temperature, precipitation, wind, relative humidity and global radiation.

According to various studies, climate change gradually reduces the duration of spring, autumn and winter, which in turn affects the crops that are cultivated during those seasons. In Egypt in particular, the country's agricultural crop map will likely change as a result of a prolonged summer season, according to a study by former Agriculture Minister Ayman Abou Hadid, published in 2010 when he was heading the Center for Agricultural Studies. The study predicted that grain cultivation will gradually move north from Upper Egypt due to increases in winter temperatures, though it did not give a projected timeframe.

Cold and heat waves

Climate change also increases salinity levels in soil due to rising sea levels, which in turn renders the soil only suitable for crops that can handle high salinity yet still require intensive irrigation to mitigate the salinity levels. At the same time, Egypt is currently facing a threat to its water security due to the changes in rain patterns and droughts as well as the potential effects of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

According to Fahim, the increased cold and heat waves Egypt has experienced has led to the emergence of new, mutated varieties of pests and fungal diseases that are resistant to chemicals. For example, in 2018, aphids and whiteflies spread due to the shortened winter season, and the accumulation of these pests led to huge losses in potato and cotton yields. Meanwhile, palm trees were harmed due to the appearance of red palm weevils.

How farmers counter mango losses

The severe losses in the 2021 mango yield were hard to avoid, but is there a way to counter them?

Karam Suleiman, an agricultural engineer, believes that better methods of agriculture, irrigation and fertilization, along with raising awareness among farmers about the dangers of climate change and how to monitor weather fluctuations could succeed in mitigating such outcomes.

However, Egypt appears currently incapable of providing sufficient safety networks to farmers in order to enable them to confront the effects of climate change.

An example of this is apparent in the failure to enforce mechanisms for warning farmers about potential difficulties in upcoming farming seasons. In June, a report by the Center for Agricultural Studies warned about a decline of as much as 85% in the productivity of farms in Ismailia, where mangoes are mainly cultivated, as well as farms in Sharqiya, Suez and Beheira, due to climate change. However, this report only reached about 13 farmers and owners of mango farms, according to agricultural sources who spoke to Mada Masr.

Ahmed Asal, a mango farmer in Qantara in Ismailia, told Mada Masr that there has been no guidance from authorities in helping farmers understand climate change and how to respond to it. "No one told us what to do and we never received any compensation for our losses," Asal said.

Photo of a hand picking a mango from the tree in Egypt

Mangoes are highly sensitive to changes in temperature

Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua/ZUMA

Agriculture engineers must become climate engineers

Agricultural guidance is a service offered by the Agriculture Ministry to raise awareness and educate farmers about all aspects of farming. The service is usually provided through agricultural engineers who are based in the agricultural cooperatives that exist in every city and town.

Fahim, the head of the Climate Change Information Center, works to play a similar role through his Facebook page and, at times, on various TV channels and newspapers, by raising awareness about weather fluctuations and their effects on agriculture. However, his insights do not have a wide enough audience, particularly at a time when the agricultural guidance is dwindling despite the opening of the Agricultural Guidance Center in Qantara earlier this year under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry.

"Agricultural guidance has been doing a good job lately, but only in the media, not on the ground," said Alaa Khairy,* an engineer at the Central Laboratory for Climate Change. "If they were really working on the ground, farmers would not have lost as much as they did."

More important crops like wheat will be next

What exacerbates the crisis is that those who are harmed the most are small farmers — those who have between 10 to 20 feddans of land — who cannot afford to take preemptive precautionary measures to mitigate erratic weather patterns nor hire experts who can help them make better decisions about how to handle sudden climate fluctuations. Those farmers also cannot afford to provide covers for their fruits during hot seasons, which is one way to prevent crop damage that is quite costly.

This year's crisis is expected to be repeated in the coming years due to the rapid consequences and effects of climate change on global food security. Aside from mangoes, the effects of climate change are projected to affect far more important crops, such as wheat, with reports showing global wheat crop losses due to heat and drought, a particularly worrisome development for Egypt — the largest importer of wheat in the world.

"In the coming period, agricultural engineers must become climate engineers as well," Suleiman said.

*Pseudonym

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