(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
For years, lawyers representing the team at Wikileaks have been aware that federal prosecutors were conducting a lengthy investigation into the organization. The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia finally confirmed the investigation back in March, but said only “it remains ongoing” and would not comment further.
Reporters sleuthed out that a number of orders had indeed been issued in what appeared to be a broad investigation into Wikileaks, but they remained under seal, and it wasn’t clear whether prosecutors were narrowly targeting founder Julian Assange or pursuing a much broader investigation—nor was it clear what kind of evidence they were collecting.
But now, recently unsealed court documents obtained by The Nation reveal a snapshot of the federal investigation—which appears to be very broad, and using subpoena powers rarely wielded against bloggers and journalists.
Smari McCarthy and Herbert Snorrason, two Icelandic freedom of information activists who have discussed their work assisting WikiLeaks publicly, were informed of the federal District Court order Tuesday evening in Reykjavik, via e-mail, weeks after the gag order preventing Google from revealing the subpoena was lifted on May 2.
The subpoenas applied to “certain records and information” relevant to McCarthy and Snorrason’s Gmail addresses. Those included physical addresses, other e-mail addresses, telephone connection records, “session times and durations,” “length of service,” and IP addresses.
The court orders also asked Google to turn over metadata related to those who have communicated with the two men: specifically, “records and other information (not including the contents of information) about e-mails, chat logs, user names, source and destination Internet Protocol addresses.” (As full disclosure, this could pertain to the personal information of this reporter, who has been friends with McCarthy since the fall of 2009).
A separate search warrant, executed against Snorrason in October,also allowed federal prosecutors to uncover “preserved copies of e-mails…draft e-mails, deleted e-mails, e-mails” and “the source and destination addresses associated with each e-mail, the date and time at which each e-mail was sent, and the size and length of each e-mail.”
The search warrant was signed in Alexandria on October 14, 2011, by US Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan. The documents were only unsealed now because the gag order requested by prosecutors has expired. The US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Neil H. MacBride, did not return repeated requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Google told The Nation the company could not comment on specific cases, but in general, “when we receive such a request, our team reviews the request to make sure it satisfies legal requirements and Google’s policies. Generally speaking, for us to comply, the request must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law.” The spokesperson added that “We notify users about legal demands when appropriate, unless prohibited by law or court order.”
Trevor Timm, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Nation that he believes the subpoenas “show the WikiLeaks grand jury was broader than anyone thought, and underscores how it threatens press freedom. WikiLeaks did what most media organizations do: publish government secrets in the public interest, and this sprawling investigation threatens to criminalize national security journalism.”