(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.”
Timm added that “this should be a wake-up call to journalists who have ignored the dangers of the investigation into WikiLeaks.”
These types of court orders are a frequent tool used by prosecutors—but rarely, Timm noted, are they ever used to investigate journalists. “Using them against persons working for a media organization is very rare and threatens First Amendment–protected activities,” Timm said.
McCarthy and Snorrason released a joint statement expressing dismay at the orders, but noting that they didn’t think prosecutors got anything useful. “Thankfully, neither of us use our Google accounts for anything remotely sensitive,” the statement said.
In their statement, Snorrason and McCarthy described the probe as part of a wider campaign being waged by the United States government against Wikileaks. “Over the last several years we have seen many of our friends, colleagues and allies pestered—for lack of a better term—by overzealous law enforcement, prosecutorial overreach, and misapplication of laws which at one point may have been intended to protect democratic values.”
Jacob Appelbaum, a WikiLeaks activist and US citizen, has been been detained by federal authorities on a number of occasions at different US ports of entry. Jeremie Zimmermann, a French citizen and co-founder of an internet freedom group La Quadrature du Net, an associate of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, was allegedly detained by FBI authorities when traveling from the United States to France.
McCarthy also told The Nation he was approached by plainclothes FBI agents in May 2012 late at night at the Navy-Archives metro stop in Washington, DC, during a business trip. “It was very disconcerting,” he said. “It was clear from the fact that they found me there and then that they had been following me, possibly for as much as five days, waiting for me to be alone.”
The FBI declined to comment for this story.
The duo joined WikiLeaks in the fall of 2009, after founder Assange was invited to Iceland, and helped in various capacities.
WikiLeaks gained supporters in that country after detailing illegal loans made by the failed Icelandic bank Kaupthing; Iceland’s state broadcaster, RUV, was forbidden by a court order from reporting the story.
In the wake of the disclosures made by US Army Private Bradley Manning and Assange’s subsequent rise to international fame, the two parted ways with the Wikileaks founder. They nonetheless decried the way he has been pursued by prosecutors.
“Although we have not always seen eye-to-eye with him, it is entirely unacceptable that any human be put through such treatment,” they said in joint statement.
Read all of the released documents below. (Note: If documents do not appear, refresh this page.)