Bradley Manning Activist Explains Why He's Suing the Government

David House, whose laptop was seized, says agents offered bribes for tips on hackers

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Last November, federal agents at Chicato's O'Hare International Airport seized a laptop belonging to computer scientist David House, an activist who helped found a group supporting Bradley Manning, the Army private currently in custody and charged with leaking classified information that reached Wikileaks. House says the agents took the laptop "without a hint that it contained evidence of wrongdoing," according to the Washington Post, and he and the ACLU sued the federal government on Friday. House also went on a message board at Firedoglake to answer questions about the suit and said, among other things, that the State Department and Army had offered to bribe him to give them tips on Boston-area hackers. Here are some of the highlights from House's Q&A:

On being offered cash for information: 

The State Dept and Army CID attempted to bribe me in Cambridge last June, asking me to “keep my ear to the ground about WikiLeaks and the Boston hacker scene” in exchange for an unspecified “large cash reward.” That’s the point where I asked the gentlemen to leave.

On the legality of his search:

I have not received a subpoena, but I know other Manning supporters have.

If the government believed I had something criminal on my laptop, I woud hope they would obtain a warrant or issue a subpoena. The way the State went about this seizure may say a lot about its role as a fishing expedition.

On traveling while on a government watch list:

The airport process changes a bit each time I re-enter the country. The first time I had any problems was re-entering the nation from Canada last September, where I underwent extra scrutiny and questioning, a thorough bag search, etc. I didn’t think much of it — normalcy bias, perhaps.

The next incident was a full-on computer seizure at the Chicago O’Hare airport. In this situation, the DHS waited until I had cleared customs to approach me and seize my electronics. The DHS’s questions primarily revolved around my political beliefs, my work in Manning Support Network, and my impressions of WikiLeaks.

Since that incident in O’Hare, I have re-entered the nation through Boston five times. In each of these cases I am usually escorted from the Customs counter by an armed CBP officer and taken to a special bag-search/questioning area, where the agents may ask about everything from my political beliefs to who I was staying with overseas. In each of these cases, I refuse to cooperate with questioning when it becomes more than cursory.

On the implications of warrantless airport searches:

I’m unable to travel internationally without the threat of seizure to my electronics — a huge problem for a freelance computer scientist. In my mind this State behavior poses a threat to democracy in the long-term: for journalists, it may mean the seizure of a camera or a computer full of source information; for activists, it may mean the seizure of digital support lists and donor information.

This intimidation has become a routine part of travel for hundreds of thousands of Americans, according to a USA Today article published in 2009 []. This lawsuit seeks to stop this disturbing trend, amongst other goals.

On Bradley Manning's status now that he's moved to Fort Leavenworth:

I know that Bradley is doing much better in Kansas; the facility is treating him humanely and in a dignified fashion. Finally. What alarms me is that it took four months of full-time campaigning to get Bradley’s treatment changed — for many Americans in solitary, such a concerted and prolonged public effort is not possible. I shudder to think how many other prisoners are being mistreated at the hands of the State.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.