Published exclusively in The Gad About Town.
This is the second article in a series. The first part is here: “‘You don’t act like an American.'”
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In May 2012, Judge Aleta A. Trauger of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee released Matt DeHart on bond. He had spent the previous twenty-one months in prison with two pornography indictments against him.
Judge Trauger had learned that computer materials seized from Matt’s home in Indiana, where he lived with his parents, had not been sent to Tennessee, the proper jurisdiction, but to FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. The judge finally learned from the U.S. Department of Justice that Matt DeHart had been “arrested for questioning in an espionage matter.”
Thus, what she said from the bench that day remains important:
I can easily understand why this defendant was much more focused on that [national security] investigation, much more afraid of that investigation, which was propelling his actions at that time. He thought that the search for child pornography was really a ruse to try to get the proof about his extracurricular national security issues. I found him very credible on that issue.
Obviously, child pornography charges are serious offences … [However,] I have learned several aspects of this case which, in the court’s mind, indicate the weight of the evidence is not as firm as I thought it was.—Judge Aleta Trauger, May 22, 2012
On February 22, 2016, Matt DeHart, former U.S. Air National Guard intelligence analyst, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison after he pleaded guilty to a charge of soliciting pornography—files that documented conversations soliciting photos of two underage (at the time) boys were found on his computer; DeHart claims the documents were fabricated outright by the FBI. DeHart claims that FBI agents told him that they knew him to be innocent of the charges against him.
As Judge Trauger said in 2012, “The weight of the evidence is not as firm as I thought it was.”
DeHart pleaded guilty last year largely because he no longer had access to his own computers or files to provide a defense. (The FBI perhaps thought that possession of the evidence it collected was more important than the trial of the individual from which it was collected, an action that is one more point in favor of Matt DeHart’s version of his remarkable story.) After his sentencing hearing, DeHart told the National Post of Toronto, “In light of the disappearance of nearly all exculpatory evidence in my case, including the Kangaroo Defender Elite encrypted thumb drive I brought with me to Canada, as well as the seizure or deletion of numerous email and social media accounts, my defense was completely emasculated.”
The FBI wanted every computer hard drive and USB thumb drive that DeHart may have ever had in his possession for reasons outside child pornography: DeHart was a member of Anonymous, and in 2009, while he was employed by Air National Guard intelligence, an unprotected file appeared on a server he had access to. It was a report of an FBI investigation into the CIA. According to DeHart, he deleted the file but it later reappeared in an encrypted form on another server he had access to. According to the Courage Foundation’s biography of Matt, “Whilst he deleted that file, there was also an encrypted file of the same size and name on another server that he says was headed for WikiLeaks.” It is for this reason that Matt DeHart is considered to be an “alleged WikiLeaks courier.”
He took screenshots of the report. These remain unseen by the public. He states that, in the files, he saw a report that detailed CIA culpability in the 2001 anthrax attacks and another in which a prominent agrochemical company explained its role in the deaths of 13,000 individuals due to genetically modified organisms the company had developed.
The FBI questioned DeHart on three occasions in August 2010. Only one of those interviews is not classified. DeHart claims he was tortured while interrogated: drugged for one interview, and during another, while he was in prison, placed in restraints while naked and burned. As Buzzfeed wrote about him in 2015: “Whatever happened to Matt behind bars, it produced valuable results. FBI records show that he signed over control of his email accounts, and provided agents with the accompanying passwords—a move that would have enabled the FBI to infiltrate the hacker underworld by impersonating Matthew DeHart. The unclassified FBI report includes a document, signed by Matt, authorizing the FBI to install a recording device on his phone for the purpose of taping any future calls he had with Deal and the two other airmen. At the bottom of the form are the words, printed in Matt’s own sloppy handwriting, ‘Statement Made Voluntarily,’ along with his initials.”
Matt DeHart, former U.S. Air National Guard intelligence analyst, is prisoner #06813-036 at the low-security federal correctional institution FCI Ashland in Ashland, Kentucky. Upon his arrival at FCI Ashland, DeHart was informed that he was to be credited with time served (he spent three-and-a-half years in custody in both American and Canadian prisons), so his release date is now September 2018, although he will be subject to monitoring for more than a decade after that.
The essay published below is one of the few public statements he has made. It was sent to me by his mother, Leann DeHart, with the request that I publish it as written.
In his essay, “Mexico (Hospitable People),” Matt DeHart recounts his brief trip in January 2010 to Mexico. Federal agents raided his family’s home in Indiana on January 25, 2010. DeHart drove south the next day. Feeling utterly alone, as one would after watching federal agents spend hours scouring the family home while confiscating computer equipment, Matt crossed the border, became a new American face in town, and he writes that he was shown nothing but kindness, hospitality, and the empathetic understanding that people can give without effort when they intuit that they ought not ask too many questions.
Matt DeHart’s voice is one worth listening to. His essay follows:
Mexico (Hospitable People)
I never thought much about Mexico until January 2010 when I became aware that the government was after our server and my Ironkey thumb drives. I believed their seizure was imminent so I took them with me to Mexico the day after the government executed a search warrant at my parents’ home. (Where they ultimately wound up is a different story.) I left the morning of January 26 and headed south, stopping in Texarkana for the night.
While driving through Texas on the way to Dallas, I noticed how many of the other drivers were wearing cowboy hats, so I picked one up for myself at a gas station. Now, I’ve never been one to conform, but these were special circumstances. I continued on 35 South toward Laredo. As I neared the border that evening, I drove by a stalk of cameras which flashed, illuminating the interior of my vehicle. I was wearing my new hat and shades, and being aware of the LIPR, I had already swapped license plates. This would amount to my only search because I drove right through the actual crossing point without having to show any ID.
I drove south from Nuevo Laredo to Monterey. There I discovered that the traffic lanes were just suggestions. I enjoyed the challenge, but my patience wore thin trying to find a hotel at 12 in the morning. I ultimately settled for a Best Western. My first encounter with an actual citizen of Mexico was at the hotel’s front desk. I was able to pay the man in cash without being looked at suspiciously. I wasn’t even asked for any ID; just my car’s license plate number. I paid in dollars, and with a little extra I was given a primo suite with no neighbors, as I had requested. I believe the man I spoke with was the assistant manager, who was very kind and accommodating. Try paying cash at a U.S. hotel. Plus one for anonymity in Mexico. By the way, I don’t speak any Spanish.
I realized that during my stay I’d need to be able to exchange my dollars for pesos and I wasn’t about to go into a bank. Instead, I drove to the airport and exchanged my cash at a machine. I liked the area better so I got a room at a fairly nice hotel. It was a great place to think and plan my next move. I got a suite on the seventh floor whereupon exiting the elevator into the lobby, the desk staff would address me by my first name and always ask now I was doing. (They were usually a pair of attractive ladies, too.) Maybe it was my purple Julbo shades, but I like to think it was me.
Unfortunately, during my stay, I was unable to contact my friends so I couldn’t assure their well-being if I were to make contact with the media at that time. Instead, I mailed my thumb drives out for safe-keeping and began thinking of places to seek asylum. My first thought was Cuba and since I was in Mexico, I thought I’d drop by their consulate in Monterey to get some information. Of course, I didn’t want to show up unannounced, so I decided to call first, but not from the hotel. I needed a burner phone, which as it turns out, was not easy to find.
What happened next was beyond any expectation of good service. I asked the concierge where was the best place to purchase a disposable cell phone. He told me he would “take care of it.” He proceeded to phone his taxi driver friend, who showed up at the hotel shortly thereafter. The taxi driver spoke no English, and he drove me to a Telcel store. He got out and went into the store where he bought me a flip phone and filled out the paperwork in his own name! After conferring with the concierge, he only asked that I pay him the cost of the phone and the re-up cards which was like 700 pesos or $75. He wouldn’t let me tip him at all. I tipped the concierge, who accepted the money reluctantly. Wow, talk about hospitality.
That afternoon, I called the Cubans, who also spoke very little English; yet, I made it clear that I’d be coming by in the morning. The next day, I set out for the consulate stopping first at a Pemex gas station for a fill-up. It was full-service and the attendant not only washed my windows but also checked the oil. I got lost trying to find the consulate. Now, I wasn’t using GPS or any electronic devices for that matter because I didn’t want any devices storing my destinations. Having a dad who worked at the NSA has always made me surveillance-conscious, and, as it comes to tech: When in doubt, go without.
I ended up changing my mind about Cuba while stuck in traffic trying to figure out signs I couldn’t read. Perturbed, I was speeding on my way back to the hotel and I was pulled over in a school zone. The cop tried to keep my license after I couldn’t answer him in Spanish. Fortunately, his supervisor was at a nearby crossing and came over to intervene on my behalf. Sometimes dumb and apologetic can get you out of the worst situations. Lo siento señor: I had learned that phrase. The cop let me go with a warning but told me I need a travel pass. After returning to the hotel, I asked the front desk about this travel pass. Evidently, it was something I should have obtained at the border in order to drive in Nuevo Leon and avoid being stopped by the Federales. Whoops.
I discovered that I was running out of options. I couldn’t really fly somewhere discretely because my passport had expired. I was in quite a quandary as I contemplated my future in the hotel restaurant. The food and the Mexican Coca-Cola were comforting, however. Some of the staff joined me during my meal and even the other guests were kind and talkative. That evening I made the decision to return to the U.S. and take my chances knowing my drives were on their way somewhere safe and out of my hands.
After apologizing to my parents for my rash behavior, I paid for an “executive transport” back to the border. I left the car in the hotel parking lot (somehow the FBI ended up searching it later on). My driver, wearing black gloves, sped us north in his black Mazda 6 past all the Federale check points with a flash of his ID. We listened to Guns N’ Roses the entire way. Great dude. He even showed me the best place in Nuevo Laredo to exchange my pesos and buy Mexican Coca-Cola. I filled one of my duffel bags with twenty bottles and got back in the car for the short trip to the border. (The Mexican side is obvious with its APCs and 50 cal MG emplacements.) All this noted, every Mexican I had met on my trip was extremely hospitable toward me.
I took the pedestrian path back into Laredo carrying two duffel bags that were searched without incident. After paying for a cab to San Antonio, I prepared to fly home using my expired passport and expired military ID. The TSA officer a the screening station checked my ID and thanked me for my service. HE HAD NO IDEA.
—Matthew Paul DeHart
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The Courage Foundation supports the legal needs of individuals around the world who are faced with prosecution (and persecution) for whistle-blowing—funds go towards legal fees and the foundation organizes public campaigns on behalf of the whistle-blower.
As the Courage Foundation states in its materials, “Whistle-blowers become the public’s regulators of last resort. Without them, we would know far less about international diplomacy, offshore banking or the excesses of the War on Terror. Because whistleblowers are a vital link in the chain, they are also vulnerable.”
At present, the Courage Foundation supports seven individuals: Edward Snowden, Jeremy Hammond, Emin Huseynov, Barrett Brown, Lauri Love, Chelsea Manning, and Matt DeHart.
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My thanks to Leann DeHart and Paul DeHart, Matt’s parents, for their example of courage.
My thanks to Raymond Johansen, board member of Pirate Party International, a human rights and privacy activist, and a hacktivist who is heavily involved in whistle-blower support, for his ongoing assistance.
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