2011-06-15 Grand Jury Meets to Question WikiLeaks Supporters: 'Do You or Have You Ever Worked for WikiLeaks?'

A federal grand jury empanelled to investigate WikiLeaks meets again in Alexandria, Virginia today. David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, is expected to appear before the grand jury. He and others in the Greater Boston area have been subjected to this process, which seeks to embroil them in espionage charges for being linked to WikiLeaks.

It is a tired cliché, perhaps, but, with each new development in the investigation of WikiLeaks—in a process that might be considered a part of a larger war on WikiLeaks—more and more individuals are being made to answer the question, “Are you or have you ever worked for WikiLeaks?" (Soon they will be asked, "Do you or have you ever been supportive or sympathetic toward WikiLeaks?")

House has been targeted consistently by the government for the past months. His lawful association with the Bradley Manning Support Network, which was created to raise funds for the legal defense of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks now being held at Ft. Leavenworth, has transformed him into a marked man. In November 2010, Department of Homeland Security agents stopped House at O’Hare International airport as he was returning from Mexico.

The agents asked House about his political activities and beliefs. His laptop computer, camera, and a USB drive were all seized. The questioning and seizure of personal property does not appear to have been carried out because House posed a threat to border security. But, House was made to face intrusive and intimidating tactics because he joined a lawful group.

“The search and seizure of my laptop has had a chilling effect on the activities of the Bradley Manning Support Network, by silencing once-outspoken supporters and causing donors to retreat. Our government should not be treating lawful activists like suspects,” explains House.

The ACLU has come to his defense and filed a lawsuit against the DHS. The ACLU has called for the “return or destruction of any of House’s personal data still in the custody of the government and disclosure of whether and to whom the data has been disseminated.” And, if not for the ACLU sending a letter to DHS, House would likely have not been able to get his seized laptop, camera and USB drive back after seven weeks.

Targeting of House is not an anomaly. This practice of searching, copying and detaining travelers’ laptops, cell phones, and other electronic devices in airports or at land crossings has been used on a number of people when DHS knows there is no probable cause to support such harassment.

Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher and core member of the Tor project who is known to have represented WikiLeaks at the 2010 Hope conference, has been detained and searched. On July 29, 2010, he was detained for three hours at the Newark aiport. His bag was searched, receipts in his bag were photocopied, and his laptop was inspected. Appelbaum refused to answer questions because he did not have a lawyer present. He was not allowed to make a phone call and he had three mobile phones he was carrying seized and not returned.

At DEF CON, days later, he mentioned his phone was seized. Two FBI agents approached him after he spoke to ask him questions.

He was detained when returning from a vacation in Iceland on January 10 of this year at Seattle airport, in Houston, Texas when returning from Siberia on April 12 and, just days ago, on June 14, he was subjected to detention without charge when he arrived in Seattle from Iceland.

Appelbaum is one of the individuals that have reportedly been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. And, in addition to being targeted when traveling, he and two others linked to WikiLeaks, Birgitta Jonsdottir and Rop Gonggrijp, have been subjected to a Department of Justice court order to compel the disclosure of their user account data. The only reason the public is aware of this order is because Twitter stood up for its users and petitioned a court to unseal the order and inform users their account information had been requested.

Americans must understand the “new red” is transparency advocacy especially those who advocate for government transparency by supporting WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks supporters are not the only ones being deemed “red” (these days Americans are being targeted for their animal rights, antiwar, environmental, international solidarity or labor rights activism). However, they may be the latest group to face a government that is using the security industrial-complex and other tools at its disposal to impose a new McCarthyism.

The DOJ appears to be set on finding someone who can be held responsible for helping WikiLeaks operate and release previously classified information, like the “Collateral Murder” video, the Afghan and Iraq War Logs and the US State Embassy Cables, etc. The grand jury is a part of a fishing expedition that allows the government to stretch its tentacles, grab a hold of law-abiding citizens who have taken up the cause of freedom of information or transparency and subject them to an alarming process especially since those who do not cooperate and answer questions can be held in contempt and go to jail.

There is a context for what is happening that media coverage of the grand jury often fails to communicate.

WikiLeaks is not proven to have committed any crimes yet.

WikiLeaks is a publisher. Criminalizing those supporting WikiLeaks and indicting private citizens believed to have supported the organization would be unprecedented. It would not only be another escalation in the war on whistleblowing in the US but it would potentially have a chilling impact on critical national security journalism reporting in the country.

As Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has suggested, if Holder's new interpretation of the Espionage Act is allowed to stand, it will criminalize all investigative journalism.

…It will erect a situation where the collaboration between a source and a journalist is interpreted as a conspiracy to commit crime. And as journalists try to police the national security sector and hold it accountable, the crime will be espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage.

That is something that all journalists have a duty to fight against, because in every state it is always the national security sector that requires the greatest scrutiny. It is the sector of the political economy which has the most secrecy and in the end the most coercive power...

Assange appears to understand what is at stake in America if the investigation and criminal probe into WikiLeaks succeeds and produces indictments, which could lead to individuals going to trial and then jail. Those who assist organizations that work with classified information disclosed to them by whistleblowers could find themselves facing a greater risk of investigation. Transparency advocates might hesitate to engage in activities that truly support freedom of information, for fear of government harassment if they go too far.

Criminalizing WikiLeaks would weaken government openness and transparency, giving government officials especially elected political leaders the ability to make insignificant policies and procedures seem like radical acts of openness and transparency because actually upholding principles of openness and transparency in government could be deemed reckless and unlawful.

Success would also further empower the US government to continue to target those who organize and engage in activism. Remember, these individuals are not being called to testify because they work for WikiLeaks or because they had something to do with the release of the previously classified information. They are being asked to testify because they have been upfront in their support of the organization because they believe opening up governments can make the world a better place.

Citizens of the United States, as Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald has experienced, already are afraid of what might happen if they donate to WikiLeaks. They wonder if they might be accused of supporting an enemy of the United States or, worse, giving “material support to terrorism” (recall Newt Gingrich called Julian Assange an info-terrorist).

David House and others are on the front lines of a war. In the trenches, they are taking the heat for a stateless news organization that the US government despises because it has embarrassed them and laid bare how they operate. The US Embassy cables and the war logs show the full extent of abuses, crimes and underhanded dealings, which the US is responsible for in the past decade.

The subpoenaed are being made to pay for the fact that the world knows the truth now. And, that should be enough to drive anyone in the vicinity of Boston or Alexandria to band together and support these individuals at rallies, in between grand jury meetings, by donating to legal defense funds and, most importantly, by supporting Bradley Manning, who, if he did in fact release information to WikiLeaks, is looking more and more like the hero and not the villain in the government’s new McCarthyist battle against citizens who support WikiLeaks.

Above the law.

The American governmet and the federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia ought to read Tom Bingham's The Rule of Law.

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