Iceland’s government warns me not to visit the US, which tried to hack my Twitter account: Julian Assange has legitimate fears
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 3 July 2012 19.45 BST
Birgitta Jonsdottir, Icelandic MP
Icelandic MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir says her lawyers have seen documents confirming that a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks’ whistleblowing is underway in the US. Photograph: Halldor Kolbeins/AFP/Getty Images
I knew when I put down my name as co-producer of a video, released by WikiLeaks, showing United States soldiers shooting civilians in Baghdad from a helicopter that my life would never be the same. Telling the truth during times of universal deceit might be considered a revolutionary act, but only to those who want to keep us in the dark, not by those who feel compelled to do so.
Most of us who expose an inconvenient truth know that we will be attacked for it and ridiculed. And every trick in the book of maintaining power will be applied to silence us. It’s no big deal. The beauty of it is that, usually, these attempts gives us a chance to see the actual face of power and to understand, with real-time examples, how healthy or unhealthy our democracies have become.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) tried to hack by legal means into my social media accounts without my knowledge. But they were exposed by Twitter’s legal team who manged to unseal the DoJ’s secret document and give me a chance to defend in court my personal information from being used in a dragnet for the first serious attacks on WikiLeaks’ supporters and volunteers. I still am not sure why they chose to take the risk of going after a member of Iceland’s parliament, because it has caused distress among fellow parliamentarians from around the world. As a result of the speaker of the Icelandic parliament raising the issue at the International Parliamentarian Union (IPU), I was asked to appear for the human rights committee at the IPU to explain the details of my case. A resolution on my case was put forward and adopted unanimously by the IPU’s governing council, in October 2011.
The resolution is informative and draws together all the key elements I would like to highlight. I urge you to read the resolution, for it has not received enough attention – despite the fact that it addresses issues of concern to all of us who use social media in any shape or form. Here are some key sections from the resolution:
“The information sought by the United States government with respect to Birgitta Jónsdóttir concerned the period from 1 November 2009 to date and involves subscriber account information including names, user names, screen names or other identities, mailing and other addresses, connection records, or records of session times and duration, length and types of service, telephone or instrument number or other subscriber number or identity, means and sources of payment for such services, including any credit card or bank account number, and billing records, records of user activity for any connections made to or from the account, including the date, time, length, and method of connections, data transfer volume, user name, and source and destination internet protocol address(es), non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by or for the account, and correspondence and notes of records related to the accounts; […]
“Is concerned that the national and international legal framework concerning the use of electronic media, including social media, does not appear to provide sufficient guarantees to ensure respect for freedom of expression, access to information and the right to privacy; the guarantees protecting freedom of expression and privacy in the ‘offline world’ seem not to operate in the ‘online world’; […]
“Notes also with concern that the parliamentary immunity Ms Jónsdóttir would have enjoyed under Icelandic law in exercising the political activity which is apparently at stake, is not operational in this case; given that the use of social networks by parliamentarians with their constituents and others is today commonplace in many countries, disclosure orders such as the one in question would undermine and even render void the ability of states to protect their members of parliament from unwarranted interference with their mandates.”
In November 2011, Judge Liam O’Grady expressed an interesting opinion when discussing his ruling in my case – something that has escaped the attention of those who say Assange is overreacting to the threat of possible extradition to the US:
“The [my Twitter] information sought was clearly material to establishing key facts related to an ongoing investigation and would have assisted a grand jury in conducting an inquiry into the particular matters under investigation.”
During my second meeting at the Icelandic State Department to discuss my Twitter case, I got a message from the newly appointed US Ambassador Luis E Arreaga, delivered by the assistant of the foreign affairs minister in Iceland. Ambassador Arreaga had been instructed by the US department of justice to give me the following verbal message: a) I would not be subjected to involuntary interrogation; b) I was free to travel to the US; c) I was not subject to criminal investigation.
Despite this message, the Icelandic State Department strongly advised me against traveling to the US; the same applied to my EFF and ACLU legal advisers. Shortly after this message, their caution proved to have been prudent because my lawyers spotted at least two sealed grand jury documents relating to me when requesting access to all documents pertaining to my case. Of course, I have not been able to find out what these documents entail.
On Monday, news broke that the US Department of Justice had confirmed that WikiLeaks remains the object of an ongoing criminal investigation. The US army has confirmed that it is investigating the Bradley Manning Support Network, an international activism group that advocates on behalf of the imprisoned accused whistleblower. I happen to have been one of the early supporters in this network; and I have to consider whether I am also a target of that investigation.
The WTF (the CIA’s WikiLeaks Task Force) has been building a case against Assange and others from WikiLeaks for two years. There is no doubt there is a grand jury in action. There is no doubt that the US wants to get even with WikiLeaks. Assange has every reason to worry about being extradited to the US, be it from Britain or Sweden, or any country that cannot or will not give him a guarantee against extradition. The best possible solution to the current situation is for Sweden to provide such guarantees. If there were the will, it could be done.