FBI death threat probe led to closure of media websites

By Dominic Ponsford

Documents detailing why the US government seized two UK internet
servers, forcing the closure of 20 journalism websites, have been
released.

The seizure of the Indymedia servers in October last year was
likened to taking a newspaper’s presses. It led to questions in the
House of Commons but has remained shrouded in secrecy.

Now it has
emerged that the web servers were taken in connection with an
investigation into attempts made on the life of former European
Commission president Romano Prodi.

It has also been revealed that
the servers should never have been shut down but that the FBI only
wanted to see files held on the computers.

Indymedia is a journalism “collective” which
runs 140 websites around the world and was set up in 1999 following the
Seattle World Trade Association protests. The seizure of its
London-based web server caused the UK Indymedia site and 19 other
partner sites around Europe to go down for a week.

Pressure group
the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a motion to unseal
documents relating to Indymedia at the district court for Western Texas
in October last year.

The documents reveal that the American
government served a subpoena on US-based website hosting company
Rackspace following a request from Bologna Public Prosecutor’s Office
in Italy.

The subpoena to see server log files was issued under
the Mutual Legal Assistant Treaty which sets out procedures for
countries to assist each other investigating international terrorism,
kidnapping and money laundering. The Italian government wanted to see
who had been accessing the Indymedia site in connection with attempts
on Prodi’s life by an anarchist group.In December 2003, two explosive
devices were planted in waste bins near Prodi’s home, causing the bins
to burn.

A letter sent to Italian daily La Repubblica said the
Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the bombings
and announced the beginning of a campaign against the European Union
policies of “exploitation and domination”.

In the same month,
Prodi opened a parcel addressed to his wife that contained a
booby-trapped book that burst into flames, but did not harm him.

Similar
parcels were sent to the offices of Jean Claude Trichet, president of
the European Bank, to the European Parliament in Brussels and to the
Manchester office of British MEP Gary Titley.

The released
documents reveal that the US government only requested the server log
files from Rackspace, not the actual computer hardware, which was
located in London.

The decision to hand over the actual servers, which caused the websites to go down, was due a mistake by a Rackspace employee.

EFF
attorney Kurt Opsahl said: “By giving the government more data than it
requested, the company not only violated the privacy of Indymedia
journalists, whose information was housed on the servers, but also
undermined the free flow of information by taking Indymedia’s websites
offline.

“Moreover, the logs that the government requested didn’t
exist, so Rackspace should never have given the government anything at
all.”

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