What the Government Might Be After with Its Twitter Subpoena

After a member of Iceland’s Parliament and former Wikileaks volunteer, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, revealed on Twitter yesterday that Twitter has been subpoenaed for details on her Twitter account, Glenn got a copy of the subpoena. The subpoena was first submitted to Twitter on December 14, and asked for account information for six people as well as any account associated with Wikileaks, going back to November 1, 2009. Of particular note, they ask for:

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).

non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by or for the account(s), such as the source and destination email addresses and IP addresses.

By getting the IP addresses, they might be able to tie a location to the Wikileaks activity (though I would imagine some of the subpoenaed people shield that kind of information).

Here’s what they might be after.

There’s a passage in the chat logs in which Manning describes how he confirmed he was communicating directly with Julian Assange. This passage comes on May 22, allegedly before Adrian Lamo was cooperating with investigators (but there are reasons to question that).

(2:05:58 PM) Manning: it took me four months to confirm that the person i was communicating was in fact assange

(2:10:01 PM) Lamo: how’d you do that?

(2:12:45 PM) Manning: I gathered more info when i questioned him whenever he was being tailed in Sweden by State Department officials… i was trying to figure out who was following him… and why… and he was telling me stories of other times he’s been followed… and they matched up with the ones he’s said publicly

(2:14:28 PM) Lamo: did that bear out? the surveillance?

(2:14:46 PM) Manning: based on the description he gave me, I assessed it was the Northern Europe Diplomatic Security Team… trying to figure out how he got the Reykjavik cable…

While Manning doesn’t say that these conversations took place on Twitter (I’ll come back to this), we know that Wikileaks, at least, was revealing details of the government’s surveillance of it on Twitter. A series of Tweets from late March describe heavy State Department surveillance. Several of the tweets reference the production of the Collateral Murder video. Now mind you, this was a month or more after Manning would have leaked the video itself. But this tweet makes me wonder whether Manning didn’t continue monitoring surveillance and response.

We know our possession of the decrypted airstrike video is now being discussed at the highest levels of US command.

In other words, this may be evidence on Twitter of the Wikileaks team learning information that Manning might have provided them.

As Glenn points out, three of the people covered by the subpoena were involved in the production of the video.

the three named producers of the “Collateral Murder” video — depicting and commenting on the U.S. Apache helicopter attack on journalists and civilians in Baghdad — were Assange, Jónsdóttir, and Gonggrijp (whose name is misspelled in the DOJ’s documents).  Since Gonggrijp has had no connection to WikiLeaks for several months and Jónsdóttir’s association has diminished substantially over time, it seems clear that they were selected due to their involvement in the release of that film.

One of the things the government may be trying to do is to pinpoint what IP was involved in the tweets revealing the surveillance, to try to tie any conversation about that surveillance to conversations with Manning, and in turn tie those conversations to their theory that the Wikileaks team conspired to leak this information.

Manning says he tracked this kind of surveillance to confirm that he was contacting Assange directly. The government may be trying to retrace his tracks in confirming Assange’s identity, too.

[This post was updated after it was first posted.]

  1. MadDog says:

    …One of the things the government may be trying to do is to pinpoint what IP was involved in the tweets revealing the surveillance, to try to tie any conversation about that surveillance to conversations with Manning, and in turn tie those conversations to their theory that the Wikileaks team conspired to leak this information.

    That sounds believable, but… *g*

    Let me throw out a variation on this that I mentioned in my comment in the previous post.

    It would seem to me that logic dictates the US government already has/knows that information. By other still secret means.

    It would seem to me that the Twitter subpoena is more a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s with a “clean”, courtroom-ready evidence.

    I’m not suggesting that your theory about identifying the who/what/where of the identification of the US surveillance is wrong. Merely, that the Twitter subpoena itself is the tail-end and now public part of a larger, still more secret effort by the US government.

    • MadDog says:

      And secondly, there’s the stuff I mentioned in another comment on the previous post.

      The information gained by the Twitter subpoena by itself, since it doesn’t by law include “content”, would not be sufficient to do more than identify “contact”.

      And without “content”, I’m sure an average defense attorney would win the day with an argument that such “contact” was innocuous (i.e. they might have been chatting about the weather).

      The prosecution however would have to be awfully dumb not to know this and that their burden of proof in court would require proving the nefarious deeds alleged with the content of the “content”.

      Insinuation ain’t evidence…yet. *g*

      • emptywheel says:

        Note one point about that Guardian article: the content based ruling does not cover VA or CA.

        The subpoena itself is an unusual one known as a 2703(d) which a recent Federal appeals court ruled was insufficient to order the disclosure of the contents of communication. Significantly, however, that ruling is binding in neither Virginia – where it was issued – or in San Francisco where Twitter is based.

        • MadDog says:

          Yes, but I’m wondering if the Guardian’s article’s implication wasn’t a bit stretched.

          In reading the Twitter subpoena, it seems to specifically exclude “content”:

          …2. non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by or for the account(s), such as the source and destination email addresses and IP addresses…

          (My Bold)

          Now this isn’t to say that “content” would not be turned over.

          I distinctly remember one of the DOJ OIG reports (I believe it was one of the reports on NSL and/or 215 orders) on the FBI where communications providers willy-nilly provided everything under the sun including “content” when only asked for the time of day.

  2. sybille says:

    And now, from the Department of War is Peace State, a brand new contest that just began yesterday, on Twitter!


    Today, the State Department says, it’s launching a Twitter contest to “tweet what you think democracy is in 140 characters or less.” The person who gets the most “unique re-tweets” will receive a Flip Video HD Camcorder. The counting starts at 5:30 p.m. ET and ends on Jan. 21 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Here’s what to do:
    — Go to Twitter.
    — Become a follower of @demvidchallenge.
    — Mark your tweets with #democracyis.

    Good luck.

    If you do win the camcorder, just remember not to film the police…

    • poissonjensen says:

      I got this DM from @DarrellIssa

      “Hope you’ll join me shaping a government that does more with less. I try to respond to as many @ msgs and DMs as I can. Find me on faceboo”

      He /followed me when i began answering…


  3. eCAHNomics says:

    Why did the USG go public with a subpoena. I’m sure twitter would have been happy to provide the info the USG wants on the QT.

  4. lsls says:

    Does anyone think there is a possible connection with Wheeler’s murder and the “Collateral Murder” video? His work with Mitre seems to indicate an involvement with videos made during combat, etc., and seems possibly relevant. Just sayin’.

    “Principal tasks included standing up Cyberspace Forces and placing Precision Strike technology and Real Time Streaming Video targeting links into the hands of groundfighters in combat.”

      • lsls says:

        “October 2009

        John Wheeler is a defense consultant. He served as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, D.C. from 2005-2008, when he became the Special Assistant to the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Logistics and Environment. His mission was to carry out tasks and monitor programs in support of goals as directed, and support the Air Force Secretariat with data gathering, team organization, liaison, analysis and/or options for action. Principal tasks included standing up Cyberspace Forces and placing Precision Strike technology and Real Time Streaming Video targeting links into the hands of groundfighters in combat.

        Mr. Wheeler graduated from West Point in 1966, serving as a staff officer in Vietnam, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Staff before leaving active service in 1971. While on active duty, he authored the first Biological and Chemical Joint Munitions Effectiveness Manual and the analysis supporting the President’s decision that the U.S. will not use biologicals. He was also on the Red Integrated Strategic Operational Plan Team to test the Single Integrated Operational Plan. His career combines federal service and starting up, growing and turning around companies and charities. He was Secretary, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on the team that worked major insider trader investigations, and consultant to the acting Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics regarding tankers and other issues.

  5. Ymhotep says:

    What they’re looking to do—thanks to the Patriot Act—-is to collect a basket of data using only one subpoena. Hope nobody has made any threats lately, but instead wished only Peace to one and all? If you’ve been on the internet for any length of time you should have seen this one coming. Nixon did it and the Left broke Nixon, and much of the rest of government. So what comes around, goes around. This too will pass. Peace

  6. MadDog says:

    From a piece by Kara Swisher of the WSJ’s All Things Digital:

    Twitter Responds to WikiLeaks Document Demand by Feds–But Who’s Next?

    …In an onstage interview I did with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo at a [email protected] event last night in Las Vegas, he referenced the issue, but would not give any specifics.

    While he said he could not talk about WikiLeaks specifically, he indicated that he disliked government mandates to keep things quiet and reiterated Twitter’s desire to connect people with useful information.

    “We’re going to lash out at things that prevent us from doing that, as aggressively as we can,” said Costolo, who also used Twitter crackdowns in China as an example…

    • fatster says:

      Not about Wikileaks, but a new book you (and others) might find of interest: “Fallout: The True Story of the CIA’s War on Nuclear Trafficking” by Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz. The authors published an article in a newspaper today, focusing on “Mad Dog” (heh heh), A. Q. Kahn and the Swiss Tinner family.

  7. Nathan Aschbacher says:

    Can anyone point me to evidence that concludes the veracity of the “chat logs.”

    As far as anyone knows these could be complete fabrications, either in part or in whole. A chat log is nothing more than a glorified text file.

  8. socks says:

    It might be worth mentioning that this can be construed to be intimidation of the public using sites to gain information too. Not to mention how this sort of thing would intimidate the owners of Twitter or any other site that WL information flowed across, or more specifically ppl writing articles about WL.
    All the information I’ve seen asked for would already be known to Big Brother.
    Hey, all those intelligence agencies have to justify their existence somehow. After all, we wouldn’t want to spend the $Billions$ on them for nothing….would we???………..Oh I hear the Republicans are trying to make budget cuts, any suggestions?

    • Ymhotep says:

      If it were only that the intelligence industrial complex was trying to justify its existence than it wouldn’t be a problem. But it isn’t just that. Anyway if the intelligence industrial complex needs to justify its existence to the public than it should not exist in the first place. Cut it from the budget and save big $$dollars$$. Peace

  9. bmaz says:

    When is it likely that Collateral Murder was purloined from the government? Am curious about that date vis a vis the Nov 1, 2009 subpoena front date.

  10. reddog says:

    Is the gov’t desperately attempting to show that Assange and Manning were in direct contact (as Lamo alleges)? If so “Conspiracy to Commit Espionage” may be where this is going.

  11. sagesse says:

    What is to stop them from just making up and inserting records into lists of Twitter activity? Yes, Twitter would have the original, but is there any way they could be ordered/coerced into not revealing discrepancies?

    Or if Manning was set up, someone back when the set-up was occuring – may have hacked into his Twitter account and done fake Tweets? Would this have been in Lamo or his handlers skill sets?

    Also, re: John Wheeler, Mark Rasch appears at the same conferences as Mitre men, and appears to have been involved in just about every cyber security racket there is.

    • PeasantParty says:

      Yep. It’s also time to come on out with the truth because this episode is getting worse by the day. Lamo, has to be working with the CIA because there is no way a hacker, a sick one at that, could have found Manning. Unless, Lamo the hacker was trying to hack military info himself!

      • lsls says:

        Wheeler could have found Manning…he may have been the original whistleblower on this stuff. That, of course, is before he murdered himself and threw himself into the dumpster that is…Just examine what he was privy to.

      • sagesse says:

        Lamo’s on-line ramblings show envy and at times a kind of obsession with Assange and his work. Maybe trying to get some of the glory himself?

        But I just don’t think that the FBI, Mark Rasch or others would have ever left Lamo out of their surveillance sights since long ago (the days of the 2002 NY Times and other hacking). And I think it’s even more likely that Lamo has long been working with the authorities, and some of his actions have been played up on purpose. With Wired amplifying parts of his image and all that.

        • lsls says:

          He basically said that he worked with authorities..er..contractors that worked with authorities…or something to that effect.

  12. rapier51 says:

    I think they have the vast majority of communications of these people already. The subpoena gives them the right to use it in court. Hell EW, the probably have every keystroke you’ve made for years.

    Remember this, nobody is innocent.

    • bmaz says:

      Uh, you know, whether people like to admit it or not, Bradley Manning is more than a legitimate criminal target, and this type of evidentiary investigation is almost certainly relevant. Now attachment of this kind of evidence may be legally objectionable by the individuals it is being sought from, and the evidence may or may not be ultimately probative, but it is not altogether shocking it is being sought.

  13. lsls says:

    May I also add that Wheeler was at one time Secretary of the SEC…in the 80’s. He knew a lot about a lot of what WL has revolved around…bankers, wars, cybertechnology, videos of combat missions… He’s the elephant in the dumpster. JMHO

  14. sagesse says:

    This document opens up when click on the list on Google, but not when I paste the Link.

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – Quick View
    Mark Rasch. Mark D. Rasch is an attorney and information security and privacy …. Security Engineer at The MITRE Corporation. A veteran of 25 years, …

    Anyway – a list of Speaker Bios, including Mark Rasch and Mitre folks and others.

    From early on in Rasch’s Bio:

    He has worked with companies like TJX and other on data breach and data
    breach disclosure investigations, developed data breach disclosure policies and procedures
    for members of the Direct Marketing Association, and developed information security and
    incident response policies and plans for Fortune 50 companies and major financial
    institutions. He worked with VISA and MasterCard to help develop the original PCI
    (Payment Card Industry) guidelines for securing payment systems …

    Data breach … Like, uh, Wikileaks? And look – Visa and Mastercard.

    If the John Wheeler murder is at all connected, it sure seems that Wheeler was a sharp guy who, even if he wasn’t involved, might have readily deduced what might have been going on.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Mitre is a corporation heavily involved in U.S. defense contracting, and also linked to the interrogations scandal. Susan Brandon, former APA honcho who worked in the Bush WH, and now works for top interrogation DIA department, was once with Mitre as well.

      An aside on IBM… CIA has penetrated and involved itself in much of the scientific or technological, corporate and academic environment over the decades. I’m not aware of any reason to particularly single out IBM here, and it would be a grotesque form of “collective responsibility” to link employment at IBM, or Raytheon, or APA, or MIT, or Harvard, or CBS, or even Mitre, as some evidence of nefarious links.

      If one wished to label IBM as a corporation with any great shame or crime, it would be Edwin Black’s copiously documentation of IBM collaboration with Nazi Germany and the organization of transport for the concentration camps. — None of that, however, has anything to do with any individual working for IBM, unless properly documented and identified. And obviously, most everyone involved with that episode probably died some time ago. (In fairness, here’s a link to IBM’s response to such charges.)

  15. hiqutipie says:

    First of all I’d like to know what judge would sign off on a subpoena with no justification…

    Next…Google has close ties with the administration did they secretly agree to turn over the info to the government…

    Facebook mow is connected to Goldman who in turn has ties with the government…did they turn over any info in a sealed subpoena…

    • bmaz says:

      Who says there is no justification? There was a formal application made and a Federal judge approved it. Now it may well turn out to be a thin, or even bogus, application; however at this point there is no such evidence and it is presumed regular on its face.

  16. MicheleMooreHappy1 says:

    This line of reasoning is perplexing:

    and he was telling me stories of other times he’s been followed… and they matched up with the ones he’s said publicly

    If the incidents were public, how could he be sure someone else was not using them to impersonate Assange?

    If the NSA was monitoring these interactions, they have access to the contents. The subpoenas are window dressing to cover covert surveillance activity they don’t want made public.

  17. streamfortyseven says:

    The Twitter evidence is as discoverable as email, complete with full headers. Email, unless encrypted, is *not* private, since it passes through many computers on its way to its final destination, and is available to the sysadmin for inspection. It may contain material evidence which is exculpatory as regards Manning or Assange or both, but the physical machines at both ends (Manning and Assange) would have to be seized as well, to get the MAC addresses – and then the prosecution would have to show exclusive control and possession by both Assange and Manning in the given time periods.

  18. lysias says:

    Why was this subpoena signed by a mere magistrate judge? Can anybody puzzle out the magistrate’s signature? I can’t read it.