Twitter Subpoena: U.S. Spies On, Threatens WikiLeaks

By Larry Everest

On Friday, January 7, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland's Parliament and a volunteer with WikiLeaks, the website devoted to government transparency, sent out two tweets on her Twitter account. One, "usa government wants to know about all my tweets and more since november 1st 2009." Two, that she had just received the following email: "Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account in (relation to wikileaks)." Attached to the message she received from Twitter was a Department of Justice subpoena issued by a U.S. federal court in Virginia.

The subpoena, dated December 14, 2010, gave Twitter three days to provide detailed "customer or subscriber account information" for "the time period November 1, 2009 to present" on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, on Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning (arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of leaking classified material to WikiLeaks), on two WikiLeaks computer programmers, and on Jónsdóttir.

The information demanded about each one included:

Subscriber names, user names, screen names, or other identities; mailing addresses, residential addresses, business addresses, e-mail addresses, and other contact information; connection records, or records of session times and durations; telephone or instrument number or other subscriber number or identity...; means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank account number) and billing records...all records and other information" relating to "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). (See, January 1, 2011)

Intimidation and a Fishing Expedition in the Form of "Criminal Investigation"

The DOJ subpoena claimed the government had "reasonable grounds to believe that the records or other information sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation." Yet the U.S. government has produced no evidence whatsoever that WikiLeaks, Assange, or any of the WikiLeaks supporters being investigated have committed any crimes at all. Publishing classified information, as WikiLeaks and other media outlets have done, is not a crime, although the Obama administration may be seeking ways to criminalize that as well.

The New York Times reported that the U.S. government is "seeking a legal rationale for charging Mr. Assange with criminal behavior." ("U.S. Subpoenas Twitter Over WikiLeaks Supporters," January 8, 2011)

Constitutional attorney and blogger Glenn Greenwald wrote: "all of this extraordinary probing and 'criminal' investigating is stemming from WikiLeaks' doing nothing more than publishing classified information showing what the U.S. Government is doing: something investigative journalists, by definition, do all the time." ("DOJ subpoenas Twitter records of several WikiLeaks volunteers,", January 7, 2011) And the attempt to criminalize WikiLeaks is thus nothing less than a full frontal assault on press and Internet freedoms." ("How propaganda poisons the mind—and our discourse,", January 12, 2011)

Meanwhile, suspected whistleblower Bradley Manning has been held for months without being convicted of any crime, in conditions the Los Angeles Times recently described as "inhumane" and "indefensible," while the U.S. attempts to build a case against and make an example of him. ("Soldier's inhumane imprisonment," January 10, 2011)

Twitter Subpoena—The Tip of an Iceberg

The subpoena demanding Twitter activity of Birgitta Jónsdóttir is the first public evidence of the government's criminal investigation into WikiLeaks, which was announced in mid-December. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg of the U.S. government's aggressive, ongoing, and multifaceted attack on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange—most of which almost certainly remains secret.

And it falls into a pattern of attacks moving on many fronts to silence WikiLeaks, and intimidate and isolate people associated with it. Shortly after WikiLeaks began publishing batches of 251,287 secret State Department diplomatic cables in late November (following earlier releases of classified documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in April, July and October), its domain name was shut off, its web servers shut down, its bank accounts frozen, and credit card companies shut off contributions. The U.S. government denied any involvement in these attacks. But WikiLeak-published cables have exposed many instances of the U.S. secretly and aggressively pursuing its interests—and repressing opponents—across the globe. For instance, the U.S. secretly demanded and threatened that the Spanish and German governments must ignore their own laws and quash investigations into U.S. torture and rendition. And the State Department engaged in widespread, extensive and illegal spying on foreign leaders and officials. (See "What Wikileaks Reveals: Cables, Lies & Murder," and "U.S. Lashes Out At Wikileaks," Revolution #220, December 19, 2010.)

Pointing to the near-certainty that the Birgitta Jónsdóttir subpoena is the tip of an iceberg is the fact that the subpoena "ORDERED" that "Twitter shall not disclose the existence of the application or this Order of the Court, or the existence of the investigation, to the listed subscriber or to any other person, unless and until authorized to do so by the Court." The subpoena was made public only because Twitter challenged the secrecy order in court (although not the demand for information), and on January 5 a judge ruled in its favor. Twitter then informed Ms. Jónsdóttir.

It's likely that Google, Facebook and other Internet providers have also been subpoenaed, with demands they keep the subpoenas secret. WikiLeaks has demanded that Google and Facebook reveal the contents of any subpoenas they've received, but so far they've refused to do so. (The New York Times reported on January 8, "Officials for Facebook declined to comment, and Google did not immediately respond to an inquiry.")

A full exploration of the state of massive and illegal U.S. surveillance of people's Internet activity is beyond the scope of this article, but the Twitter subpoena is also part of a massive expansion of secret Internet and telephone "data mining" of personal information by the U.S. government. The New York Times ("Twitter Shines a Spotlight on Secret F.B.I. Subpoenas," January 9, 2011) reports that 50,000 "national security letters" are sent every year by the government—without any court order—to Internet providers for information on individuals in "terror" or "national security" related investigations. (For background, see "Lawyer Shayana Kadidal of Center for Constitutional Rights: Wiretapping Bill and the Unprecedented Expansion of Presidential Powers," Revolution #124, March 23, 2008.)

U.S. Democracy at Work...

Why has the U.S. government acted so aggressively and gone to such lengths to shut down WikiLeaks? And why is secrecy so important to it in everything it does—around the world and even in this case?

U.S. documents published by WikiLeaks provide direct evidence of systematic murder and torture in Afghanistan and Iraq, protecting illegal rendition in Europe, targeted assassinations in Yemen, preparing for a possible war with Iran, and supporting predatory pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria. And that is just to cite a few WikiLeaks revelations. The published material shines a light on the U.S.'s Mafia-like rivalry with other global exploiters, and documents how the U.S. operates through a global network of reactionary surrogate or client regimes. They show how the U.S. lies about everything, and they point to the reality that the U.S. is not a "friend" of the world's people, but a pitiless global oppressor and exploiter, responsible for enormous suffering and destitution around the world. (See "WikiLeaks: Exposing War Crimes of a Criminal War," Revolution #209, August 15, 2010.)

Simply publishing evidence of these crimes does not, by itself, reveal the foundational underpinnings of the global system that these crimes are a product of, and enforce. Nor does it—in-and-of-itself—necessarily rouse people to protest, let alone to build a movement for revolution. But it does create potential and openings for all of that. And revealing these cables does create real and immediate problems for the U.S.

To take one example from this week, tens of thousands of Tunisians rose up and drove President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the hated tyrant who ruled Tunisia for 23 years with U.S. backing, out of the country. According to the New York Times, "Some demonstrators also cited the evidence of cables from the United States Embassy in Tunisia that were released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks providing vividly detailed accounts of the first family's self-enrichment and opulent lifestyle." ("Prime Minister Claims Power in Tunisia as President Flees," January 14, 2011)

The U.S. empire relies on pro-U.S. tyrants like their (former) puppet in Tunisia. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, such client regimes facilitate the operation of intense imperialist exploitation of the people and resources of oppressed nations. And the U.S. works through such regimes to contend with rivals of all kinds, and to brutally suppress protest and rebellion. The rulers of the U.S. do not take kindly to even partial exposures of the nature of their relationships with these neo-colonial regimes.

The multifaceted assault—censorship, threats, spying, and repression—directed against people involved with or suspected of being involved with WikiLeaks reveals the actual essence of U.S. democracy. Behind the operation of democratic forms (like a "free press" that systematically covers up the crimes of the system), the U.S. government is at bottom a dictatorship—a state whose rule is enforced by armies and police, courts and prisons. The most basic element of the U.S. state—the kind of democracy and dictatorship—is the use of violence to suppress anything the rulers perceive as a threat to the operation of the capitalist-imperialist system they sit atop and serve.

This system, and the exploitation, oppression, and repression that enforce it, is neither legitimate nor justified. Nor is it morally acceptable to acquiesce—to go along with—the crimes of this system which are imposed through massive eavesdropping on Internet communication, along with censorship, torture and terror. All this requires that people oppose these crimes, with courage, with principle—and with their eyes open…shedding illusions about the nature of what it is they are up against.

This article originally appeared on Revolution.

Main Wikileaks Twitter Subpoena: U.S. Spies On, Threatens WikiLeaks


World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.