Birgitta Jonsdottir, member of Icelandic parliament
The U.S. Department of Justice has subpoenaed the internet company Twitter for personal information from several people linked to the online whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The subpoena asks Twitter for all records and correspondence relating to their accounts. Icelandic parliament member Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who has collaborated with WikiLeaks, is one of the five people targeted by the subpoenas. "I think it opens up a whole can of worms when it comes to parliamentary immunity worldwide," Jónsdóttir says. "Icelandic authorities are taking this very seriously."
This is Part II of this Interview.
Watch Part I HERE
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the latest in the Obama administration’s crackdown on the whistleblower group WikiLeaks. Last week, it was revealed the Justice Department has subpoenaed the internet company Twitter for personal information from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and four other people tied to WikiLeaks.
The subpoena asks Twitter for all records and correspondence relating to their accounts, including apparently private direct messages sent through Twitter. The subpoena was issued December 14th, but Twitter was under a gag order until last week. It’s unclear if Facebook or any other internet companies have received similar subpoenas.
We’re joined right now by one of the five WikiLeaks-linked individuals targeted by the subpoenas. Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a member of the Icelandic parliament, who has collaborated with WikiLeaks.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, we welcome you to Democracy Now! As you speak to us from Canada, can you tell us what’s happened, how you were targeted?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, I got this subpoena with — asking for all this extra information, not only my tweets. Of course, I don’t care if they have access to my tweets; it’s public. I just find it disturbing that they are asking for all the other information and that they’re doing this under gag order. And I’m not familiar with the U.S. law, but I think it is possible because of the terrorist law or increased legislations to spy on citizens in the United States because of 9/11. And I also am concerned about all the other social media, including Google Mail and so forth. And I find it to be important to stand firm against simply handing over this information, not just for me, but for everybody else that uses these social services.
AMY GOODMAN: How exactly did they get in touch with you, did the U.S. authorities get in touch with you?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, they didn’t. I got a letter from Twitter, where they notified me and the others about the fact that they had been requested to hand over this information and that they had managed to unseal the sealed document. If they would have done as U.S. authorities requested them to do, to hand this over within three days without letting us know, then obviously I would not be talking about this right now and would not have had any opportunity to defend myself.
AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean that the U.S. is subpoenaing information of an Icelandic member of parliament, Birgitta?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, I think that opens up a whole can of worms when it comes to parliamentary immunity worldwide. And that’s why Icelandic authorities are taking this very seriously. And the foreign affairs minister and the justice minister have both said that they are concerned about this and are looking into this. And the president of the Icelandic parliament, equivalent to the speaker of the House, is looking into the legalities around this issue.
And let’s just turn the tables around, and like, currently there’s an investigation into how Iceland became a part of the Coalition of the Willing for the Iraqi war, and there’s an investigation in our parliament. Let’s say that I would like to get the information from all members of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. Senate in relation to their knowledge about war crimes in Iraq. Would the U.S. authorities feel comfortable with that? Let’s say every member of parliament that has ever fought for Tibet or Taiwan or other countries that China is not happy about, would the rest of the, like, let’s say, the United States parliamentarians be happy if China would order, have similar orders on their privacy?
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what Twitter did? They challenged the gag order in court. Then they told the targets, among them, you, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, that their data was being requested, giving you a chance to try and quash the order yourself. But, so what has Twitter done at this point? They’ve told you.
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: They told me Friday. I got a letter from them Friday, last Friday, that I had 10 days to do something about this. And they also suggested that I would be in touch with EFF and other similar organizations.
AMY GOODMAN: Electronic Frontier Foundation.
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Yes, which I did. I actually have to say that I’m quite happy with how Twitter handled this. And I certainly hope — I haven’t gotten any letters from the other social media that I use. I certainly hope that they have, if they have gotten similar subpoenas, stood firm like Twitter.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know if Google, if Facebook, some of these —
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: I don’t know, but I would very much like to know. And that’s one of the things that I will be looking into getting information about through my lawyers.
AMY GOODMAN: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, can you talk about your involvement in WikiLeaks, how you got involved, what you’ve done?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, I’ve always been an activist, and I did fight very hard to try to stop the war in Iraq by organizing big protests in Iceland with others. And I did protest when I heard what was going on in Fallujah and so forth. So when I saw this video — Julian Assange showed it to me while he was in Iceland in March — I felt compelled to do everything I could do to help with it. So I both put my name on it as a co-producer, and I did a lot of research work. I coordinated volunteers in Iceland and basically did whatever I needed to do in order to make the deadline that we had set to make it noticed by collaborating with mainstream media, Icelandic State Television, and sent some people from there — Christian Hrafnsson and his assistant — to do — look into if they could find, for example, the children, which they found.
And then I have also acted as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks, and particularly for "Collateral Murder" and also when Julian Assange and the rest of us heard in the news that Bradley Manning had been arrested and on the grounds that he had leaked something for WikiLeaks. So, Julian went undercover in Australia, and I offered to act as a spokesperson while he could not do it himself.
And I support websites like WikiLeaks, and I support whistleblowers. And I think it’s important to have strong legislation for sources. And I find it to be appalling that what the U.S. authorities and others, that obviously fear that their information is going to be made available to the people that should have access to it, are trying to criminalize whistleblowers, and they’re trying to criminalize those that make their material accessible for the rest of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Just to clarify the significance of this videotape, which Democracy Now! played also last spring, the release of the videotape of July 12th, 2007, that showed a U.S. Apache helicopter, it was taken by the military from the helicopter, targeting a group of Iraqis below. Two of them worked for Reuters, and they were being taken around by people in the community in New Baghdad in Iraq. And they opened fire on them, and they killed Namir Noor-Eldeen, as well as Saeed Chmagh, his driver, the two Reuters employees. And Reuters had tried for years to get a copy of this videotape, which they knew existed, and they were not able to. And it was only through this release that we now understand what happened. And then the van came up to help, I think it was Saeed Chmagh, who wasn’t quite dead yet, though blown up, and the helicopter attacked the van. And those are the two children you’re talking about who were severely injured inside. Others were killed.
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Yeah, they only survived because, I think, their father’s body covered them. They killed their father. His father — the children’s father was driving them to school, noticed the wounded man, and tried to help him. And they were all killed as a result of that. Except the children, by some miracle, survived. And I think it was actually interesting, there was an interview with the chief of Amnesty International in Iceland just after she had seen the video, just as it was released, and she said that by watching the van being shot up the way it was shot up, she felt as if it was witnessing a Red Cross van being shot up, felt outrageous to see civilians trying to help a wounded man being killed like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Bradley Manning, the man who’s accused of leaking these videotapes, who’s being held in solitary confinement — not convicted, he is pretrial — has been held in solitary confinement for many months, first in Kuwait, then at Quantico. There’s going to be a protest there at Quantico. Now in the United States there’s increasing attention on this isolation. The Los Angeles Times has a headline, an editorial headlined "Soldier’s Inhumane Imprisonment." Can you talk about how he’s being dealt with, Birgitta Jónsdóttir?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Yes, and thank you so much for mentioning him and for your work in making people aware of his situation. Since he is the person that is in prison because of the video — we don’t know if he is indeed the person that did it or not; it doesn’t really matter. He is accused of it. He has been in prison in solitary confinement for seven-and-a-half months now. And there was a very excellent article by Glenn Greenwald about his condition that sort of brought him back on the map. I really strongly encourage anybody and in WikiLeaks to make themselves aware of what is going on with Bradley Manning. They can actually hold him forever without charging him or putting him on trial, because of the — it’s sort of similar as the Guantánamo Bay situation, with him. So, I think it is really high time for everybody to put their eyes to Bradley Manning and support him. Also, I would very much like for similar actions for Bradley Manning as for Julian Assange in London. And it’s been quite shocking that very many people that know of WikiLeaks don’t know who Bradley Manning is. So it is very important that we make ourselves aware of the situation he is in. He has just turned 23. And apparently he is in very harsh conditions. It is probably the harshest solitary confinement you can be in. So, I just — yeah, I would yet again like to say that I fully support Bradley Manning, and I would be happy to do whatever I need to do to help him.
AMY GOODMAN: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, I wanted to ask, as the most prominent woman associated with WikiLeaks, about the — I can’t even say "charges," but the allegations against Julian Assange around sexual assault in Sweden. What are your thoughts on it right now?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: I don’t want to be placed in the role of the judge in this case, and I don’t think anybody should. None of us were present in the rooms where the incidents happened. So I just find it to be difficult to say much about it. I just want it to have its normal sort of process through the justice system. If, however, there is anything that will indicate that this is because of the work Julian Assange is doing for freedom of information, I will certainly stick my neck out for him. And I am doing that, and I have said to his lawyer in the U.K., if they need any help with what’s going on with the Twitter subpoena and anything else related to attempts to have Julian Assange extradited to the United States, I will do whatever I need to and whatever I can to help stop that, because I find it to be very important to separate these two things.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how this is being covered in Iceland? I’m talking about just how WikiLeaks is being dealt with. In the United States, there is hardly a discussion about the actual documents that have been released. When it’s discussed, it’s only about what I would call "Assangination," from character assassination to whether Julian Assange should actually be assassinated. It’s only about the politics of that, as opposed to the actual information released in the cables or the Iraq or Afghanistan war documents.
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Yeah, I think this is a worldwide phenomenon. And it actually goes — ranges from, you know, people wanting to kill Julian Assange and the rest of us that have been affiliated with WikiLeaks, to incredible hero worship, as well, which I don’t think is beneficial, either. I think that we really need to put focus on the content of the leaks. And that was the intention of Julian Assange, to raise awareness about that. However, it seems to be a trend with the media to create heroes, and then it loves to take down the hero if they possibly can, because it’s a good headline. So, the media has some responsibility in how it has chosen to ignore the incredible content that has been revealed on WikiLeaks.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. McClatchy has a piece out talking about how just "three years after a major court confrontation in which many of America’s most important journalism organizations file briefs on WikiLeaks’ behalf, much of the U.S. journalistic community has shunned Assange — even as reporters write scores of stories based on WikiLeaks’ trove of leaked State Department cables."
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Yeah, I find that to be disturbing. I know that, for example, in Scandinavia and in Norway, in particular, they have been using the content much more than in the United States. I encourage people to look at what WikiLeaks has done for journalism and the dialogue it has created, also about the situation of journalism and how difficult that it is often for journalists to publish their stories, and particularly when it comes to corruption, be it political corruption or corruption with corporations. So, instead of going after him, I think that people should actually support WikiLeaks. There is nothing to fear if many of us do it.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are you doing in Canada?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: I’m going to be speaking at Samara about freedom of information, WikiLeaks, and about 10 interviews also scheduled. And that was before the subpoenas, so I’m busy. And I had to actually travel through the U.K. instead of the U.S., so I had to take a big — a detour. And so, my trip here to Canada was much longer than needed.
AMY GOODMAN: Why? What were you afraid would happen if you came through the United States?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, I was advised by both lawyers in the United States and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland not to go through the United States until my diplomatic status is clear. I certainly don’t want to have my computer confiscated like Jake Appelbaum when he came to the United States a few months ago. So I just — I don’t want to take unnecessary risks, and I needed to be here at a particular time, so I didn’t want to lose — miss the flight connection or something, so I just decided to take the safe route.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, how do you use Twitter, Facebook, in dealing with these issues? How important is it to you?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, I use Twitter mostly to, you know, retweet links or make people aware of different issues in relation to those things that are important for me, be it Tibet, Iraq, Afghanistan. I’m quite aware of the fact that, for example, if I send emails with Google, that I am sending postcards. So, I have never used these services in the — you know, with very, very sensitive information. I find it, though, to be important that most people are not aware of that their emails are kept for a long time and the government authorities might be able — are able to get access to their emails without their knowledge. And you look at the case against WikiLeaks, they have a very weak case. And as far as I’m concerned, I have not participated in anything, any criminal activity. It is not a crime to blow the whistle on war crimes, and it’s not a crime to publish leaks.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I’ve been very struck over the years at how active Icelandic journalists are. I went there a few years ago, to Reykjavik, to address the 110th anniversary of the Icelandic Journalists’ Association. For such a small country, why is it that it has become the center of and a haven for — a law has passed. You’re a member of the Icelandic parliament. If you could explain the law that protects journalists?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, the law has not been passed, just to make that clear. I chief-sponsored — proposed 13 laws in four different ministries, in order to make Iceland into safe haven for freedom of information. And what we did was we took the same model as somebody that wants to create a tax haven. So what they do is that they cherry-pick all the best laws from around the world in order to create secrecy. What we did was to cherry-pick all the best functioning laws, when it comes to freedom of information, speech and expression, in one sort of shield. And I’m hoping that that shield will inspire others. In particular, in Europe, we need much stronger shields for journalism and sources.
And I just had a meeting last Friday with the minister of culture, that is the supervising ministry, about the status. And they’re very keen on fulfilling this task that actually the entire parliament, including the government, said yes to. But it does take a little bit of time to synchronize all these different laws so that it is actually a real shield. And it’s focusing on all these prior restraints that journalists are dealing with. It’s focusing on source protection, encouragement for whistleblowers, and just a whole range of laws. Also, quite important for me is a strengthening of the public, of public records, because it’s so much stuff on the internet that it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for. So I encourage people to look into the proposal at our website, immi.is.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the resistance to passing the law?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Very little, except maybe from the conservatives in Iceland. But they’re not in power.
AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t the power of investigative journalism and the internet particularly brought out with the collapse of the Icelandic bank? Can you explain what happened, what got released on the internet, and how people in Iceland came to know what had taken place?
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Well, when Iceland had like the third-biggest financial collapse in the history of the world because of an incredible sequence of de-legislation and criminal behavior within the banks and cheerleading from the government, and even the Icelandic president at the time, for the banksters — so when everything collapsed, people realized that everything we believed in, be it the media, the government, the politicians, the academia, had failed us. So there was a lot of reevaluation about in what sort of society we wanted to live in.
There was — I think it was in August 2009 — there was a leak on WikiLeaks with the loan book of one of the banks, the corrupt banks, the third-largest one. And thus it gave the investigators that were looking into it an opportunity to see the facts, because there’s so much bank secrecy going on, not only in Iceland, but everywhere, something that — that’s why it is important to have places like WikiLeaks. What happened when the leak came on WikiLeaks, the state TV in Iceland did a story on it. However, as they were going to tell the story on the main news hour, they were handed over a gag order. And this is the first time in our history in Iceland that a gag order is put on a story. And that — instead of doing nothing, they decided to put the WikiLeaks web page on the screen and the URL to it, and they told that they had received a gag order, but people could go to the website and see the raw document themselves. And thus WikiLeaks became instantly known in Iceland, since it is a very small country with only 315,000 people and only sort of two news — television news stations.
So, and thus it became apparent [inaudible] everything collapsed, there were no whistleblowers, and nobody dared to blow the whistle on what was going on within the banks. So, what WikiLeaks has done, not only in Iceland, but globally, is to put the concept of whistleblowing back into the dialogue and awareness of the general public, which is very important.
AMY GOODMAN: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, I want to thank you very much for being with us.
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: And we will talk to you again within — at the end of this 10 days to see what happens. We will follow your case.
BIRGITTA JÓNSDÓTTIR: Thank you very much for everything you do, Amy.
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