US increases harassment of WikiLeaks, Assange associates

Wednesday, 4 July 2012 – by Bernard Keane

As the Australian government continues to insist the United States is not interested in charging Julian Assange, the Obama administration has significantly ramped up its harassment of activists and journalists linked to WikiLeaks in recent months.

The harassment of net security activist Jacob Appelbaum has long been a matter of public record. Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir no longer travels to the US in case she is arrested, on the advice of the Icelandic state department. In recent months, however, the list of targets for harassment has expanded. French internet freedom activist Jêrêmie Zimmermann was stopped by FBI agents in May while attending a conference in Washington DC, two months after being interviewed for Assange’s television program. Icelander Smari McCarthy was also been stopped while entering the US, and according to one report, asked by three officials to become an informer about Assange.

Combined with the still-unexplained stopping of human rights lawyer Jen Robinson in April, also while travelling, suggests a more systematic approach to harassing people connected with WikiLeaks by Department of Homeland Security officials and the FBI.

Laura Poitras is a documentary filmmaker and journalist based in New York. Her work focusing on America post-9/11, has been nominated for an Academy Award and an Emmy Award for outstanding investigative journalism. The films also earned Poitras the enmity of the Department of Homeland Security, which since 2006 has stopped her on virtually every occasion on her return to the US and interrogated her about her activities while out of the country. Her electronic equipment, notes and other documents have also been seized. On one occasion, armed officials demanded she stop taking notes of their treatment of her because her pen was a threatening weapon, and threatened to handcuff her to stop her. Glenn Greenwald at Salon, DemocracyNow and The New York Times in 2010 have all covered DHS’s treatment of an American journalist for the offence of making documentaries that don’t accord with Washington’s view of reality.

This year, once she started working on a project with Assange, DHS’s harassment of Poitras shifted and she starting being detained by DHS agents before boarding flights in London, Amsterdam, and Paris, rather than on arrival in the US. The most recent occasion was on June 1 before a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to the US, when she was “interviewed” about her activities and where she has been staying, before being patted down and allowed to board the flight. Preflight interviewing is consistent with the DHS protocol for passengers on an “inhibited” list. Poitras has been stopped several times at Heathrow while flying Virgin Atlantic to the US, such that she is now on first name terms with Virgin’s Heathrow head of security. “Your name is on a ‘target’ list,” he told Poitras on June 1, before a DHS official arrived to speak to her. “It’s rare for a US citizen.”

DHS declined to speak about the harassment of Poitras or the treatment of McCarthy and Zimmermann on the grounds that “due to privacy laws, US Customs and Border Protection is prohibited from discussing specific cases”. Some pabulum accompanied the refusal, from Michael J. Friel of the Customs and Border Protection media area, including

“Our dual mission is to facilitate travel in the United States while we secure our borders, our people and our visitors from those that would do us harm like terrorists and terrorist weapons, criminals, and contraband.  CBP officers are charged with enforcing not only immigration and customs laws, but they enforce over 400 laws for 40 other agencies and have stopped thousands of violators of US law.”

Virgin Atlantic also refused to make any comment on security matters on the basis that they were “strictly confidential”. This follows Virgin Atlantic’s peculiar about-face after initially revealing to Crikey that Jen Robinson was stopped at the request of security agencies but then refusing to comment further after the UK Home Office intervened.

The unwillingness of either DHS or a private company to discuss government-ordained-corporate-delivered harassment is not an accidental feature of such processes, or a mere effort to cover embarrassment, but a key element. It prevents the most basic accountability and scrutiny or actions either through a claim of “confidentiality” — often based on the pretence of concern for the “rights” of the target of harassment (rights of course that have already been systematically violated by the agency) — or through outsourcing of implementation to private companies beyond the reach of political scrutiny, or through bland bureaucratese that is intended to misdirect, obscure or provide only the pretence of responsiveness. Or, in this case, all three.

While the apparent extension of harassment reinforces the case that, contra the willful blindness of the Australian government, the Obama administration is accelerating its investigation of Julian Assange, Poitras has been enduring such treatment for six years, all due to her journalism. And at the hands of a government that notionally guarantees freedom of the press.

Group Says FBI Snoops on Wikileaks Supporters

Tuesday, January 31, 2012




WASHINGTON (CN) – A nonprofit government watchdog claims the FBI refuses to release information on “the government’s identification and surveillance of individuals who have demonstrated support for or interest in WikiLeaks.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and National Security Division, and the FBI, in a FOIA complaint in Federal Court. It claims the Justice Department and FBI refuse to disclose a single record of their tracking of people who are sympathetic to WikiLeaks.

EPIC, a public interest research organization, says it based its request for information “on the need for the public to obtain information about government surveillance of individuals exercising the rights to freedom of speech and association guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

WikiLeaks, whose website allows anonymous posting of documents to discourage unethical behavior in governments and corporations, published an enormous trove of diplomatic cables concerning U.S. foreign policy in November 2010.
WikiLeaks posted more than 91,000 classified documents about the war in Afghanistan, attracting government scrutiny.

The U.S. government has taken a number of steps to punish the group for this, including pressuring the companies that process online donations to Wikileaks to stop doing so.

“After the November release, the U.S. government opened investigations into WikiLeaks,” the complaint states. “On Nov. 29, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the DOJ initiated an ‘active, ongoing criminal investigation’ into the WikiLeaks release.

“On Dec. 6, 2010, Attorney General Holder said that he authorized ‘significant’ actions related to the WikiLeaks investigation.

“On Nov. 30, 2010, representatives of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee contacted Amazon concerning the company’s hosting of WikiLeaks’ content.

“On Dec. 22, 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency announced that the agency had opened an investigation into WikiLeaks and the November release.”

The U.S. government condemned WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents, calling the leaks “irresponsible.”

EPIC says in its complaint: “In the wake of the November release, the U.S. government attempted to identify users who accessed WikiLeaks’ documents. The federal government also attempted to restrict access to the documents.

“On Nov. 30, 2010, a U.S. State Department employee informed the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University that SIPA students should not ‘post links to [the WikiLeaks] documents, nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter.’

“On Dec. 6, 2010, the State Department acknowledged that it had ‘instructed State Department employees not to access the WikiLeaks site and download posted documents …’

“On Dec. 14, 2010, the U.S. Air Force barred its personnel from accessing WikiLeaks documents.

“On Jan. 18, 2011, The Guardian reported that WikiLeaks called on Facebook and Google to release the contents of any U.S. subpoenas regarding WikiLeaks that they may have received.

“A Jan. 27, 2011 FBI press release stated that the FBI executed more than forty search warrants in the investigation regarding cyber attacks ‘in protest’ of actions of U.S. companies, referring to the activities of WikiLeaks supporters.

“A July 29, 2011 press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California stated that FBI agents arrested sixteen individuals for alleged involvement in a cyber attack against PayPal ‘in retribution for PayPal’s termination of WikiLeaks’ donation account.'” (Brackets and ellipses in complaint).

EPIC asked the Justice Department and the FBI to release their records on surveillance of people who showed support for or interest in WikiLeaks, including agency communications with Facebook, Google, other Internet and social media companies and financial services companies.

Its says the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the FBI improperly withheld records, and the Justice Department’s National Security Division denied its request.

EPIC appealed, but the agencies failed to produce any additional documents.

EPIC claims that the “DOJ had not provided any factual basis for the claim that the withheld documents were actually compiled for law enforcement purposes and that disclosure would interfere with enforcement proceedings.”

EPIC wants to see the records. It is represented by Ginger McCall.


United States – Domestic reality does not match bold words on Internet free expression

02 Nov 2011 16:05

Source: Content partner // Reporters Without Borders

The US government has reiterated its commitment to online free speech several times since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in particular, affirmed US support for freedom of expression and opinion very clearly in a speech in Washington on January 21st, 2010.

Urging American companies to take a “principled stand” against online censorship, Clinton said defense of the Internet should be one of the cornerstones of US diplomacy. As the “birthplace” of so many online technologies, the United States had a “responsibility” to protect the Internet as a tool for economic and social development and promoting democracy, as well as a place for the free exchange of ideas. “We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas,” Clinton added.

Since then, the United States has developed many tools that support online free expression such as “Shadow Internet” and parallel mobile phone systems that cyber-dissidents can use in countries to escape the censorship of authoritarian regimes. The US plans to invest 70 million dollars for this kind of project in 2011.

Nonetheless, although the US government has defended Iranian bloggers, Chinese activists and Arab Spring netizens, it has also been responsible for initiatives that have harmed online free speech and has displayed a hostile attitude to online activities. Reporters Without Borders has followed several cases that run counter to the US government’s professed commitment to fundamental Internet freedoms.

US free speech violations, targeting WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks and free flow of information

The leak of classified US diplomatic cables prompted many free speech violations in the United States at the federal government’s bidding. WikiLeaks announced on October 24th that it was suspending its activities for lack of funding, as a result of the refusal by Visa and MasterCard to process donations to WikiLeaks in what is a form of economic censorship.

The White House issued a directive on December 3rd, 2010 forbidding unauthorized federal employees from accessing classified documents available on WikiLeaks. The Library of Congress and State Department responded a few hours later by blocking access to WikiLeaks from their computers. As well as WikiLeaks the US Air Force blocked access to the websites of the five newspapers that had worked closely with WikiLeaks – The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El Pais – and around 20 other media and blogs that had been publishing the cables. Continue reading