The extent of the U.S. government's probe into Wikileaks may have become just a little clearer on Friday, when a pair of former Wikileaks volunteers revealed prosecutors' successful attempts to subpoena their Gmail account information.
The broader investigation into Wikileaks was confirmed as "ongoing" by independent journalist Alexa O'Brien in March, but few specifics have been revealed. However, the unsealing of subpoenas executed against Smari McCarthy and Herbert Snorrason may hint at a broad governmental probe into the whistleblower site's leaking of classified government documents.
McCarthy and Snorrason, two Icelandic men previously associated with Wikileaks, posted a statement on June 21 that linked to the recently unsealed court orders issued to Google by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia back in 2011. The documents were also obtained and posted online by The Nation.
The files state that Google was ordered to hand over "records and other information" from McCarthy's Gmail account, going back as far as November of 2009. The documents also ask Google to provide similar data from Snorrason's account, such as "preserved copies of emails … draft emails, deleted emails, emails" and "the source and destination addresses associated with each email, the date and time at which each email was sent and the size and length of each email."
Google recently contacted both men to notify them of the company's compliance with the government's requests.
Though the documents do not specifically mention McCarthy or Snorrason's ties to Wikileaks, Snorrason surmises on his blog that their past association with the organization motivated the orders:
I assume it’s because I had a conversation or a few with a white-haired [A]ustralian guy, but there’s nothing in the documents to confirm this. Let’s reiterate this, because that’s the point I find the most remarkable in all of this: Because I talked to Julian Assange, all information held by Google relating to my [Google] user account ... can be handed over to U.S. prosecutors.
The pair also posted on McCarthy's website a similarly worded joint statement, writing that they believe the orders "were almost certainly related to the Grand Jury investigation of the unauthorized public disclosure of information showing considerable misconduct, including a number of probable cases of war crimes, by U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan."
A spokesperson for Google told The Huffington Post in an email that "we don't comment on individual cases, but you can find general information about our practices around government requests for user data on our Transparent [sic] Report FAQ."
A Google spokesperson told The Nation that, generally speaking, "for [Google] to comply, the request must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law.”
Mashable noted that the announcement of the subpoenas seemed to be worrying Wikileaks associate and hacker Jacob Appelbaum.
I wonder if any of my service providers will tell me that they've received a sealed search warrant, an NSL or exigent circumstance letters?
— Jacob Appelbaum (@ioerror) June 21, 2013
As Google's most recent Transparency Report shows, the number of subpoena requests sent by U.S. law enforcement have been rising steadily in the past few years. Recent requests were up 34 percent from 2011 to 2012. Between July and December 2012, Google received 8,438 total requests for information pertaining to 14,791 users or accounts in the United States.