Not to brag or anything, but it looks like my gut reaction to the Aaron Swartz affair may have been right. The government didn't really care about the JSTOR/MIT beef. That prank -- and yeah, a harmless prank is all it amounted to -- was just a gimmick. The real issue probably involved Wikileaks.
First, we learn that the guy wasn't even looking at prison
until the feds took over the case...
State prosecutors who investigated the late Aaron Swartz had planned to let him off with a stern warning, but federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz took over and chose to make an example of the Internet activist, according to a report in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
Ortiz, until recently, had hopes of becoming the governor of Massachusetts. Now she is one of the most hated women in the country.
Earlier this month, less than three months before the criminal trial was set to begin, Ortiz's office formally rejected a deal that would have kept Swartz out of prison. Two days later, Swartz committed suicide.
"He was killed by the government," Swartz's father, Robert, said last week at the funeral in Highland Park, Ill., according to a report in the Chicago Sun Times.
It's misleading to argue that the letter of the law made the charges against Swartz permissible. The issue is one of choosing targets. Remember, the feds chose not
to prosecute the bankers who brought you the Wall Street crisis of 2008.
As the Lawyers, Guns and Money
blog puts it:
The problem here is that we have recent examples — financial fraud, torture — in which the federal government has used its discretion not to bring criminal charges in cases of people seeking to “anti-democratically” undermine public policy in ways that caused far, far more harm than Swartz.
Of all the illegal behavior that undermines public policy the state might go after, I’d have to say that “undermining firewalls that obstruct access to obscure academic articles the authors weren’t compensated for” would have to rank pretty close to the bottom.
(Side note: According to the letter of the law, aren't we all
criminals in one way or another? I'm reminded of the very strict attendance rules for Walmart employees: Nearly everyone is in technical violation, which means that the bosses can fire anyone.)
Not long ago, we learned that Swartz and Wikileaks did indeed have a relationship
.Wikileaks' decision to "out" this relationship was, in and of itself, rather unusual.
argues, as I have argued in previous posts, that the real
reason for going after Swartz had much to do with Wikileaks:
We've already discussed how Wikileaks bizarrely outed Aaron Swartz as a possible source, and that's leading to other speculation as well, including a question as to whether or not the grand jury investigation into Swartz was really more about the fishing expedition against Wikileaks, rather than the whole MIT/JSTOR effort.
Techdirt, in turns, draws from the important work of the incomparable Marcy Wheeler
(the only person other than Dejah Thoris I've ever called "incomparable"):
If, as WikiLeaks claims, Aaron Swartz:
Communicated with Julian Assange in 2010 and 2011
May have contributed material to WikiLeaks
Then it strongly indicates the US government used the grand jury investigation into Aaron’s JSTOR downloads as a premise to investigate WikiLeaks. And they did so, apparently, only after the main grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks had stalled.
Turns out that the investigation into Swartz's dealings with the Assange operation yielded nothing prosecutable. So why did Ortiz persist? Here's where I get speculative. You tell me
whether you think the speculation is well-grounded or outrageous.
Remember that episode of The Simpsons
in which Homer, facing jail time over his tax problems, gets dragooned into working as an undercover operative?
That's my theory of Carmen Ortiz and Aaron Swartz.
I don't think that Ortiz really wanted Swartz in prison. What good could he have done there? I think the feds wanted to turn
Swartz, to pressure him into cooperation. Uncle feels confident that Assange will eventually end up in American hands, and they want witnesses to offer damning testimony against the Wikileaks founder.
(Conceivably, Assange may fear that Swartz was
turned. This would explain why Wikileaks has now skirted its usual confidentiality pledges.)
Carmen and Aaron, sitting in a cell
She threatens him with life in hell.
First comes a stick and then comes a carrot:
"Wanna be free? Just squawk like a parrot."