WASHINGTON — A U.S. magistrate in Virginia has ordered Twitter to turn over to the Justice Department whatever information it has about five of its users, including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Army PFC Bradley Manning, the one-time Baghdad-based intelligence analyst accused of unauthorized downloading of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents.
The subpoena was issued Dec. 14, but was unsealed Wednesday at Twitter's request so that it could notify the persons whose records had been demanded.
In addition to Assange and Manning, the subpoena seeks the records of Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Iceland's parliament and a former volunteer for WikiLeaks, Rop Gonggrijp, a well known Dutch computer programmer whose surnname the subpoena misspelled as Gongrijp, and Jacob Appelbaum, an American WikiLeaks supporter who is not identified by name, but whose Twitter username, ioerror, is used to identify the account. Two other usernames are listed to identify the accounts sought: rop_g and birgittaj.
Jonsdottir made public the subpoena in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian that was posted on the paper's website Friday. WikiLeaks and Gonggrijp confirmed the subpoeana in tweets and blog posts on Saturday.
In addition to IP addresses and other account information, the subpoena asks Twitter for "records of any activity to and from the accounts," including the size of files that may have been transferred to them or from them and when those transfers occurred. The subpoena requests the information beginning Nov. 1, 2009, while Manning was still working in Baghdad. He was arrested in May after WikiLeaks posted in April a video taken from a U.S. helicopter as it fired on and killed two employees of the Reuters news agency in Baghdad. Assange, Jonsdottir and Gonggrijp were listed as the producers of that WikiLeaks report, which was entitled "Collateral Murder."
It is not clear whether Jonsdottir and Gonggrijp were involved in WikiLeaks' subsequent document releases, including thousands of State Department cables that WikiLeaks has been posting on its site since the end of November. Jonsdottir told The Guardian that her involvement with WikiLeaks has declined in recent months.
Late Friday, Appelbaum warned followers in a Twitter post not to message him privately — something Twitter allows — because "my twitter account contents apparently have been invited" to a grand jury reportedly considering the case in Alexandria, Va.
On Saturday, Gonggrijp posted on his blog, rop.gonggri.jp, a copy of what he said was Twitter's notification about the subpoena.
In the notification, which was addressed to Gonggrijp by his Twitter username, Twitter said it would surrender the records to the Justice Department on Jan. 17 "unless we receive notice from you that a motion to quash the legal process has been filed or that this matter has been otherwise resolved."
Gonggrijp did not say in his blog post whether he would challenge the subpoena. He praised Twitter for notifying its users of the government demand. "It appears that twitter, as a matter of policy, does the right thing in wanting to inform their users when one of these comes in," he wrote. "Heaven knows how many places have received similar subpoenas and just quietly submitted all they had on me."
WikiLeaks said subpoenas likely also had been sent to Facebook, where the WikiLeaks page has more than a million followers, but there was no confirmation of that claim.
The subpoenas mark an intensification of the Justice Department's efforts to tie WikiLeaks and Assange to Manning, who is currently jailed at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., facing charges that could send him to prison, if convicted, for 52 years. Pentagon officials have said that while prosecutors believe the files Manning is accused of downloading were passed to WikiLeaks, they have yet to establish a direct link between Manning and Assange. Without that link, it may be difficult to charge Assange with a crime in connection to the ongoing publication of the documents by the website.
Read The Guardian's account here.
The CNET.com website quotes Jonsdottir as saying that Twitter notified her of the order's existence and told her she has 10 days to oppose the request.
Read the CNET account here.
Gonggrijp's blog can be found here.