Two Days Before MIT and Cambridge Cops Arrested Aaron Swartz, Secret Service Took Over the Investigation

The public story of Aaron Swartz’ now-tragic two year fight with the Federal government usually starts with his July 19, 2011 arrest.

But that’s not when he was first arrested for accessing a closet at MIT in which he had a netbook downloading huge quantities of scholarly journals. He was first arrested on January 6, 2011 by MIT and Cambrige, MA cops.

According to a suppression motion in his case, however two days before Aaron was arrested, the Secret Service took over the investigation.

On the morning of January 4, 2011, at approximately 8:00 am, MIT personnel located the netbook being used for the downloads and decided to leave it in place and institute a packet capture of the network traffic to and from the netbook.4 Timeline at 6. This was accomplished using the laptop of Dave Newman, MIT Senior Network Engineer, which was connected to the netbook and intercepted the communications coming to and from it. Id. Later that day, beginning at 11:00 am, the Secret Service assumed control of the investigation. [my emphasis]

In fact, in one of the most recent developments in discovery in Aaron’s case, the government belatedly turned over an email showing Secret Service agent Michael Pickett offering to take possession of the hardware seized from Aaron “anytime after it has been processed for prints or whenever you [Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann] feel it is appropriate.” Another newly disclosed document shows the Pickett accompanied the local cops as they moved the hardware they had seized from Aaron around.

According to the Secret Service, they get involved in investigations with:

  • Significant economic or community impact
  • Participation of organized criminal groups involving multiple districts or transnational organizations
  • Use of schemes involving new technology

Downloading scholarly articles is none of those things.

A lot of people are justifiably furious with US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and AUSA Heymann’s conduct on this case.

But the involvement of the Secret Service just as it evolved from a local breaking and entry case into the excessive charges ultimately charged makes it clear that this was a nationally directed effort to take down Swartz.

MIT’s President Rafael Reif has expressed sadness about Aaron’s death and promised an investigation into the university’s treatment of Aaron. I want to know whether MIT–which is dependent on federal grants for much of its funding–brought in the Secret Service.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @cocktailhag @lrozen But, hey, I am only 50+ years old+not an international sage who has called for intervention over years. Whatta I know?
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bmaz @cocktailhag @lrozen No, inspire of all the war drum bangers, I have, per long history, no respect, and only contempt.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @cocktailhag Well, my original indoctrination to the principle was: "Long arm for taking, and a short arm for giving". About 30 years ago.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Whats scary pathetic is that half wit "experts" in "press" are again agitating, just like Vietnam, Iraq, Libya etc for war in Syria+Ukraine
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bmaz I am not sure you geniuses on the east coast with long arm for asking, and short arm for answering, actually give a shit about Sep of Pwrs.
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz I KNOW all you DC Press Peoples are all up on everything, but after weeks of telling you, now @lawfareblog says so, can you pay attention?
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Maybe the war drum bangers for Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Somalia+all the other asinine places in world are right; history says no. cc: @lrozen
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz .@nicholsong Ooops, yeah, I fell for that BS back in the day, see: http://t.co/zj45YfdKlZ But turned out to be total bullshit. cc: @lrozen
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bmaz .@nicholsong You have something that says the current, apparent, Obama Admin. rolling desecration of the WPR is fine and dandy? Really?
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz So, sorry, hope I didn't insult any of high holy 30 somethings over petty little thing like Sep of Pwrs. Cause, you know #PoliticalBullshit
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bmaz Lawdy, I JUST CAN'T WAIT for some nubes at @TNR to tell me how freakin OK+normal it is for Obama to be desecrating WPR Separation of Powers.
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bmaz @timmathews Really, that is a great location, right in the heart of New Orleans. #BonusPointsForFalseCheer?
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