The DOJ has made clear
that they pursued Aaron Swartz to make an example of him. To justify their case, they cite the damning words
he wrote in his manifesto:
There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.
Why did the government suddenly become so interested in persecuting someone over scientific articles in which the authors no longer had any financial interest?
Underline the word "suddenly." As Marcy Wheeler
points out, they arrested Swartz quietly on January 6, 2011 yet waited until February 9 to get a warrant to look at his computers. Then
they let that warrant expire, necessitating a new warrant on February 24.
Obviously, the investigators didn't really care much about Swartz, not at first. They waited and waited, potentially ruining their case. But then someone high on the food chain said: "Go!"
I don't think that the government was all that
concerned about protecting scientific information -- after all, JSTOR itself didn't want to pursue a case against Swartz. Their concern, as always, was political.
For one thing, the harsh example set by the Swartz prosecution could deter people from sharing long out-of-print (but hardly valueless) books about covert activity. Take the JFK assassination
, for example. These days, only hard-core scholars of the case know about Joe Joesten, Penn Jones or "James Hepburn." (The latter pseudonym was affixed to an odd book written by members of the French secret service, and therein lieth a very weird tale. The rarity of the book owes much to the fact that the physical object was so ill-made, it literally fell apart in your hands!) But free distribution of such works could spur a new generation into looking beyond the tales told by Bill O'Reilly
and Vince Bugliosi
Okay, I wasn't entirely serious (as in serious
serious) when I wrote the preceding paragraph. In truth, I don't think that the feds are overwhelmingly concerned about the distribution -- legal or otherwise -- of those books, or of any other books of that vintage.
And I'm quite sure that they weren't very concerned by those JSTOR articles. They made an example of Swartz for another reason entirely.
Marcy adds to the theory that the DOJ was motivated by a connection between Swartz and Julian Assange
. Although she doesn't have a proper answer to the mystery of the six-week delay in getting a warrant, she notes that on the same February 9, the DOJ was having problems with its attempt to prove that Bradley Manning stole those State Department cables at Assange's behest.
They realized that they might not be able to get Assange via Manning. So they decided to try another route.
Obviously, Justice doesn't really care about Manning and didn't really care about Swartz; those two young men were just means to an end. Assange is the target. I laid out my own theory
last month, in a post that references the documented links between Aaron Swartz and the Wikileaks operation...
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.
So far, I've seen nothing to contradict that scenario. I also believe that Manning has been undergoing rough treatment because someone wants him to testify falsely against Assange.
The government's Assange obsession leads me to wonder: Just what the hell is going on
here? We've long heard rumors that the founder of Wikileaks has gotten hold of some Big Damned Secret which he will release if the brown-n-smelly hits the rotating blades. But if Assange does have an ace up his sleeve, then the gummint's actions seem designed to force him play that card.
Why would they do that? Doesn't make sense.