Update: WikiLeaks confirms US secret court subpoenaed four supporters on espionage charges
STOCKHOLM – WikiLeaks said Saturday the Twitter accounts of four supporters have been subpoenaed in connection with an espionage investigation into the whistleblowing website led by a secret US grand jury.
WikiLeaks, which began releasing 251,287 US diplomatic cables in November, added it had reason to believe Facebook and Google had also received court orders requesting details on users.
“Today, the existence of a secret US government grand jury espionage investigation into Wikileaks was confirmed for the first time as a subpoena was brought into the public domain,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.
WikiLeaks said legal action taken by micro-blogging website Twitter “revealed that the US State Department has requested the private messages, contact information, IP addresses, and personal details of Julian Assange and three other individuals associated with WikiLeaks, in addition to WikiLeaks? own account, which has 634,071 followers”.
It did not name the three other people, but Icelandic lawmaker Birgitta Jonsdottir said on her Twitter feed on Saturday US authorities had asked Twitter to submit her account details and personal information.
“Just got this: Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account in (relation to wikileaks),” the media freedom champion posted overnight.
“The request for my tweet information is from the US department of justice.” “The request for information from twitter is also for my personal information not just tweets,” she said.
Jonsdottir — a close associate of WikiLeaks who in September suggested Julian Assange step aside as the site’s spokesperson because of rape allegations against him — said she discussed the request with Iceland’s justice minister.
“He is looking into the case of demands of DoJ (department of justice) wanting my twitter details,” she posted shortly after 1100 GMT Saturday.
She explained she had 10 days to stop the legal process and stressed the US Department of Justice, not Twitter, was to blame.
WikiLeaks said Saturday it was “opposing the subpoena order and is currently taking action to instruct US lawyers”.
It urged Twitter to protect its users’ private information and stressed that other than Assange, the three people whose accounts had been subpoenaed had never worked for the site.
“Two were instrumental in helping WikiLeaks bring the Collateral Murder video — which showed a US helicopter crew celebrating as they gunned down civilians — into the public domain,” WikiLeaks said.
The April 2010 release of the classified video, which shows a US Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed several people in 2007, helped push WikiLeaks into the global spotlight.
The site has since angered the Pentagon by posting in July 2010 secret documents on the war in Afghanistan, followed in October by a massive leak of so-called “Iraq war logs”.
Its November release of US diplomatic cables has embarrassed governments worldwide and prompted many calls for WikiLeaks to face legal action.
The site has also faced financial pressure when credit card giants Visa and Mastercard said they would stop facilitating donations to the website.
“Having tried to silence WikiLeaks by pressuring Paypal, Visa and Mastercard to cut off funds, the US government is now intruding into the private lives of some of WikiLeaks most high-profile supporters,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said Saturday.
Assange, the 39-year-old Australian who is the public face of WikiLeaks, is currently on bail in Britain facing extradition proceedings to Sweden on charges of sexual assault.
Previous converage continues below…
Update: Glenn Greenwald reveals the “sweeping” nature of the demand for information
The United States Department of Justice is allegedly attempting to obtain personal information from Twitter on a member of the Icelandic parliament who is known as a supporter of WikiLeaks.
“just got this,” Birgitta Jónsdóttir tweeted on Friday afternoon. “Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account in (relation to wikileaks).”
“usa government wants to know about all my tweets and more since november 1st 2009,” she continued a few minutes later. “do they realize i am a member of parliament in iceland?”
In response to tweeted requests for additional information, Jónsdóttir explained that she was “waiting for some legal advice before i will make this a foreign affairs issue.” She also noted, “i think i am being given a message” and called the experience “creepy.”
Greg Mitchell, who maintains a WikiLeaks news blog for The Nation, was one of the first to report on the series of tweets. He also provided additional background, writing that “Birgitta Jonsdottir was one of those WikiLeaks backers who — it’s been widely reported — allegedly had a falling out with Assange. She was particularly active in the Collateral Murder video action. She even took him as her guest to a U.S. Embassy party in Iceland. But she later was upset over Assange’s handling of the Afghan war logs which emerged with some key names not redacted. She has since been interviewed by the BBC and U.S. news outlets as a WIkiLeaks dissident. On ABC last month she said she had argued for Assange to step aside as WikiLeaks leader while the sex crime case was ongoing.”
Meanwhile, Jonsdottir had repeatedly updated her own situation. “The request for information from twitter is also for my personal information not just tweets,” she wrote. “Calling the justice minister of Iceland now.”
And then, “department of justice are requesting twitter to provide the info – i got 10 days to stop it via legal process before twitter hands it over.”
Kim Zetter at Wired obtained further details from Jónsdóttir, who told her she was “looking for legal ways” to stop the subpoena and would be talking to lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“Jonsdottir told Threat Level that the request was filed under seal by the Justice Department on December 14 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia,” Zetter wrote. “This is the same jurisdiction where, according to previous press reports, a federal grand jury is investigating possible charges against Assange, with whom Jonsdottir has worked closely.”
Jónsdóttir also spoke with the Guardian, telling the British paper that “she was demanding a meeting with the US ambassador to Iceland.”
“The justice department has gone completely over the top,” she charged. “They are sending a message, it’s not just about my information. It’s a warning for anyone who had anything to do with WikiLeaks. It is completely unacceptable for the US justice department to flex its muscles like this. I am lucky, I’m a representative in parliament. But what of other people? It’s my duty to do whatever I can to stop this abuse.”
Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, told the Guardian that “it appeared the justice department was looking at building a case against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.”
“The government has the right to get information but that has to be done in a lawful way,” Rotenberg emphasized. “Is there a lawful prosecution that could be brought against WikiLeaks? It seems unlikely to me. But it’s a huge question here in the US.”.
Jónsdóttir has now responded to Mitchell directly, tweeting, “thank you for raising awareness about this, our fight for freedom of information is just beginning.” Her most recent tweet states defiantly, “I have nothing to hide and have done nothing wrong – i have no intention to hand my information over willingly to DoJ.”
This appears to be only the beginning of the story, however. At 8:05 PM on Friday, Mitchell noted that “Jacob Appelbaum, recent visitor to Iceland, tweets: ‘Do not send me Direct Messages – My twitter account contents have apparently been invited to the (presumably-Grand Jury) in Alexandria.’”
And at 11 PM, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald provided still more information on the scope of the grand jury subpoena:
What hasn’t been reported is that the Subpoena served on Twitter — which is actually an Order from a federal court that the DOJ requested — seeks the same information for numerous other individuals currently or formerly associated with WikiLeaks, including Jacob Appelbaum, Rop Gonggrijp, and Julian Assange. It also seeks the same information for Bradley Manning and for WikiLeaks’ Twitter account.
The information demanded by the DOJ is sweeping in scope. It includes all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the “means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards. …
The Order was signed by a federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, Theresa Buchanan, and served on Twitter by the DOJ division for that district. It states that there is “reasonable ground to believe that the records or other information sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation,” the language required by the relevant statute. It was issued on December 14 and ordered sealed — i.e., kept secret from the targets of the Order. It gave Twitter three days to respond and barred the company from notifying anyone, including the users, of the existence of the Order. On January 5, the same judge directed that the Order be unsealed at Twitter’s request in order to inform the users and give them 10 days to object; had Twitter not so requested, it would have been compelled to turn over this information without the knowledge of its users.