WikiLeaks has alleged in a criminal complaint filed in Sweden that its operations as a media organization were unlawfully interfered with when it was subject to “physical surveillance by US military intelligence” at a conference in 2009. Furthermore, a suitcase containing three laptops with “WikiLeaks material, associated data and privileged communications” protected by attorney-client confidentiality laws was seized in 2010.
An affidavit by WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, reports that on September 27, 2010, Assange “arrived at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport shortly after noon.It was on this flight that my suitcase, laptops, privileged attorney-client communications and other important information belonging to WikiLeaks disappeared.”
By that time, the “Collateral Murder” video had been released, Pfc. Bradley Manning, who now goes by the name of Chelsea Manning, had been arrested, the “Afghanistan War Logs” had been released. The State Department was aware WikiLeaks might be publishing US diplomatic cables soon and the United States government was escalating its investigation and targeting of WikiLeaks.
“When I arrived at Berlin Tegel airport,” Assange recounts, “I went directly to the designated luggage carousel. My luggage did not appear. I then immediately went to the airport luggage claim office. The claim office said there was no unclaimed luggage there and that no one else from my flight, a direct flight within the Schengen area, was missing their luggage. The office also told me that it was extremely unusual that luggage had disappeared from a direct SAS flight within the Schengen open border area between Stockholm Arlanda and Berlin Tegel.”
Assange had tried to use “counter-intelligence practices” to “reduce the chance of post-flight surveillance” by buying and exchanging his tickets immediately before the flight. However, after attempting to purchase the ticket he wanted, he was unable to get a seat on his “preferred flight and had to wait until a later flight.” He waited much longer than he normally would have given “security concerns.”
Multiple inquiries into what had happened were made. The missing luggage, based on a 12-hour policy in place, should have been prioritized. That did not happen. Assange adds, “My suitcase had simply disappeared from the system. The lack of response or resolution on the part of the authorities and handling companies compounded these unusual characteristics.”
“No explanation has been given to me, directly or indirectly, as to the whereabouts or the reason for the disappearance of the WikiLeaks equipment and data, despite my efforts and the efforts of those acting on my behalf to recover it,” he shares. “None of the entities involved, including the Swedish police, the airline SAS, the airports Arlanda and Tegel and related handling companies GlobeGround and Acciona, have offered an explanation, and in one case refused to communicate at all.”
Assange was scheduled to meet with journalists Stefania Maurizi of L’Espresso and Holger Stark and Marcel Rosenbach from Der Spiegel. The meeting with Maurizi was “arranged over open email, which meant that this correspondence” could have been intercepted.
“The intelligence services could have had ample time to prepare an operation through monitoring these communications, for example by trying to seize material which was going to be handed over,” Assange suggests. He notes the first contact was made by Stefania Maurizi on July 26, 2010 and he replied on August 7, “four days before flying to Stockholm.” The meeting date was confirmed for September 27 or 28 “over a month” in advance.
The alleged seizure of materials bears a similarity to the seizure of materials in the case of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda. Assange acknowledges this in the affidavit. British authorities intercepted electronic devices from Miranda, which they believed to contain documents on NSA and GCHQ operations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. They used a terrorism law to detain Miranda for just under nine hours, the maximum amount of time the government is allowed to detain a person without charging them with a crime.
The material Assange claims was seized included a copy of the Garani air strike video, which showed evidence of a “serious war crime” by US forces where somewhere between 80-140 civilians, including women and children, were massacred in Afghanistan.
Manning was charged with communicating this video to WikiLeaks without authorization but was acquitted of this offense.
In June 2010, Assange announced WikiLeaks would be releasing video showing what happened in the air strike. He later accused former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg of destroying a copy of the video after absconding with thousands of unpublished leaks that had been submitted to the organization for publication, which he apparently chose to delete in 2011. (As Assange writes in the complaint, “Other copies of this material have been rendered inaccessible to me by separate incidents that do not form part of this complaint.”)
Assange also expresses concern over being under physical surveillance at the annual Chaos Communication Congress meeting in December 2009. He suggests the “US military used the results of this surveillance of me to convict Bradley Manning of ‘Wanton Publication.'” Also, fully aware that WikiLeaks remains under investigation by the US Justice Department, which empaneled a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, he adds, “I understand by my lawyers that this testimony may also be used in the ongoing US Department of Justice action against myself and my publishing organization.”
Military prosecutors had Sgt. Matthew Hosburgh, who attended the meeting and produced an intelligence report on what he witnessed, testify during the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning (who now goes by Chelsea Manning).
Hosburgh stated that Assange was trying to elicit support from the audience to get anyone listening to “leak any type of information, not only classified information but proprietary trade secrets, anything of that nature.” He also said the open Internet “allows for terrorist communication.”
The affidavit further alleges that Jeremie Zimmerman, an Internet freedom activist and friend of Assange, was subjected to an intelligence gathering operation by Hosburgh. Hosburgh wrote a report, “CCC Here Be Dragons Trip Report,” that was disclosed to WikiLeaks (possibly by Manning).
Material on laptops that went missing in September 2010 contained information on the alleged US intelligence operation.
The criminal complaint highlights the FBI operation against WikiLeaks that was illegally conducted in Iceland. It presents a timeline of the extent to which WikiLeaks was targeted by the US government throughout 2010.
The alleged seizure of WikiLeaks material was obviously known to WikiLeaks for some time, but, as the press release indicates, the media organization decided to withhold details of what it believed happened “until the conclusion of the court martial of PFC Chelsea Manning.”
This was the first of four complaints the organization intends to submit in various jurisdictions in September. A second one is expected to be publicized later today.
Assange has now been living in the Ecuador embassy for well over a year. He was granted asylum from Ecuador on August 16, 2012.