WikiLeaks and the War on Whistleblowers

April 8, 2013

Three years after WikiLeaks released the video “Collateral Murder,” which documented U.S. troops killing unarmed civilians in Baghdad, whistleblowers face long prison sentences while the politicians and military leaders whose crimes they exposed have gone scot-free.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, featured in the video above, is a member of the Icelandic parliament representing the Pirate Party, which campaigns for direct democracy and government transparency. She has advocated making Iceland a haven for press freedom and was the chief sponsor of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (now the International Modern Media Institute). A contributor to and vocal supporter of WikiLeaks, Jónsdóttir was part of the small team that released the video “Collateral Murder,” which documented a U.S. Apache helicopter firing on and killing unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

After the April 5, 2010 publication of “Collateral Murder,” an event that catalyzed popular support for WikiLeaks and raised the ire of the U.S. government, Jónsdóttir was advised not to travel to the United States to avoid possible detention. This weekend she visited the country for the first time since then, hosting an event at New York’s Judson Memorial Church that marked the third anniversary of the release of “Collateral Murder” with a display of stills from the video and a panel discussion about Bradley Manning. On Friday night, Jónsdóttir stood outside the Manhattan Correctional Center, reading a poem in support of whistleblower Jeremy Hammond, who has been held there for over a year without bail.

Hammond is a 28-year-old activist and web developer from Chicago. Accused by federal prosecutors of releasing internal information from the private intelligence firm Stratfor through WikiLeaks, he faces five felony charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. No trial date has been set. Below is an excerpt of a statement Hammond wrote while in solitary confinement, addressing his own imprisonment and government strategies for prosecuting web activists.

The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting me and my co-defendants in the Lulzsec indictment, has used alarmist rhetoric such as the threat of an imminent “Pearl Harbor-like cyber attack” to justify these prosecutions. At the same time the government routinely trains and deploys their own hackers to launch sophisticated cyber attacks against the infrastructure of foreign countries, such as the Stuxnet and Flame viruses, without public knowledge, oversight, declarations of war, or consent from international authorities. DARPA, US Cyber Command, the NSA, and numerous federally contracted private corporations openly recruit hackers to develop defensive and offensive capabilities and build Orwellian digital surveillance networks, designed not to enhance national security but to advance U.S. imperialism. They even attend and speak at hacker conferences, such as DEFCON, offer to bribe hackerspaces for their research, and created the insulting “National Civic Hacker Day” – efforts which should be boycotted or confronted every step of the way.

The rise in effectiveness of, and public support for, movements like Anonymous and Wikileaks has led to an expansion of computer crime investigations – most importantly enhancements to 18 U.S.C § 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Over the years the CFAA has been amended five times and has gone through a number of important court rulings that have greatly expanded what the act covers concerning “accessing a protected computer without authorization.” It is now difficult to determine exactly what conduct would be considered legal … The sheer number of everyday computer users who could be considered criminals under these broad and ambiguous definitions enables the politically motivated prosecution of anyone who voices dissent. The CFAA should be found unconstitutional under the void-for-vagueness doctrine of the due process clause. Instead, Congress proposed bills last year which would double the statutory maximum sentences and introduce mandatory minimum sentences, similar to the excessive sentences imposed in drug cases which have been widely opposed by many federal and state judges. …

Dirty trial tactics and lengthy sentences are not anomalies but are part of a fundamentally flawed and corrupt two-tiered system of “justice” which seeks to reap profits from the mass incarceration of millions, especially people of color and the impoverished. The use of informants who cooperate in exchange for lighter sentences is not just utilized in the repressive prosecutions of protest movements and manufactured “terrorist” Islamophobic witch-hunts, but also in most drug cases, where defendants face some of the harshest sentences in the world.

Read Hammond’s full article here.