Thursday, October 21, 2004

The FBI and the Indymedia servers

Around twenty Indymedia web sites were shut down when the FBI seized two servers which were located in London. Although the servers were returned, the mystery remains. There are a number of different reports why this happened, and who instigated it. The initial report was that British authorities cooperated with the FBI to seize the servers because of pictures of Swiss police which appeared on some Indymedia sites, pictures which identified presumably undercover officers. If this was the reason, it backfired, as the otherwise unnoticed pictures were suddenly all over the internet. It seems unlikely that this was the real reason (for what it's worth, the Swiss deny that they requested the seizure of the servers). The instigators were said to be Swiss and Italian authorities, although focus soon shifted entirely to the Italians. Due to Indymedia publication of embarrassing facts about the violent police actions against the Genoa protestors, the Italian authorities are supposed to have an animus for Indymedia, and the seizure was thought to have something to do with this attitude. The seizure occurred one week before the start of a meeting of the European Social Forum, a large gathering of activists scheduled to take place in London, and for some reason Italian or other authorities may have wanted to block Indymedia coverage of this event. The most recent, and most plausible, explanation for the seizure is that it was at the request of an Italian magistrate who was investigating the recent letter bombs sent in Italy which have been blamed on anarchists (in my opinion, a fairly obvious example of a right-wing attack on anarchists by blaming them for bombs sent by government or right-wing agents-provocateurs). The most interesting part of the story is that the Italian magistrate apparently did not request that the servers be seized, and in fact had no interest in the servers. He wanted to find out about what certain posters to an Italian Indymedia forum knew about the matter, and, as he may have thought the posters were American, asked the FBI to try to determine the identities of the posters and interview them. A good guess would be that Ashcroft saw this fairly mundane request as an excuse to seize the Indymedia servers to stop Indymedia from operating during the last weeks of the American election campaign. In particular, as Indymedia has a history of publishing on the Diebold debacle, Ashcroft may have wanted to suppress any embarrassing revelations about the crooked voting machines in the run up to the election. Blaming the Swiss and Italians may just have been a ruse. Due to the decentralized nature of Indymedia, the seizure didn't accomplish anything, so the servers were returned. The whole incident may have also been an experiment to see how various authorities could work together to stifle speech, and to see how much speech could be stopped with the seizure of certain servers. We will probably never know the truth. There is a website for people to voice their complaints about this attack on freedom of speech.