Indymedia Is Turned Off by the FBI. For Real.

The FBI serves a subpoena, seizes servers. The activist news network suffers a worldwide meltdown.

In the past few days, IndyMedia, the international media network site of anti-globalization and social-justice activists, has had its servers seized, shutting down its network in many parts of the planet.

The strange and disturbing saga threatening to cripple this massive global dissent network may revolve around nothing more than photos of undercover Swiss cops that were posted on a French IndyMedia site. The exact reasons for the court order or who actually holds the servers haven't been spelled out to officials in the IndyMedia collective.

IndyMedia was set up as an activist network in 1999 for planning and covering the WTO protests in Seattle. Since then, it has mushroomed into a planetwide clearinghouse for all sorts of independent newsgathering. The network of activists has not been accused of breaking any laws. But all of the material actually on some of its key servers and hard disks was seized. This current creepiness apparently is the work of the FBI, acting on behalf of Italian and Swiss authorities. Gee, what terrific cooperation.

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On October 9, IndyMedia reported that "the request to seize IndyMedia servers hosted by a U.S. company in the U.K. originated from government agencies in Italy and Switzerland. More than 20 IndyMedia sites, several internet radio streams and other projects were hosted on the servers. They were taken offline on October 7 after an order was issued to Rackspace Inc., one of IndyMedia's Web hosting providers."

Agence France Presse had sorted it out a day earlier, reporting October 8 from D.C. that the FBI claimed to be only cooperating when it served a subpoena on Rackspace demanding the actual servers. The French press agency's article said, in part:

The FBI acknowledged that a subpoena had been issued but said it was at the request of Italian and Swiss authorities.

"It is not an FBI operation," FBI spokesman Joe Parris told AFP. "Through a legal assistance treaty, the subpoena was on behalf of a third country." The FBI spokesman said there was no U.S. investigation but that the agency cooperated under the terms of an international treaty on law enforcement.

Rackspace, a U.S. Web hosting company with offices in London, said it complied with a court order "pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which establishes procedures for countries to assist each other in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering." The company declined to elaborate.

"The order was so short-term that Rackspace had to give away our hard drives in the U.K.," the Independent Media Center said. Italian news reports said access to IndyMedia had been cut as a result of an FBI operation at U.S. and British locations.

Mauro Bulgarelli, a member of Italy's Green party, called it a "provocation and intimidation effort" against the alternative media.

And sweeping, too. Plus, the timing is suspicious, considering that a major radfest is about to take place in London. IndyMedia says—for now—on its U.K. site: "An additional server was taken down at Rackspace that provided streaming radio to several radio stations, including one covering the European Social Forum in London."

IndyMedia workers paint a grim picture of recent events:

The last few months have seen numerous attacks on independent media by the U.S. federal government. In August, the Secret Service used a subpoena in an attempt to disrupt the NYC [IndyMedia Center] before the Republican National Convention by trying to get IP logs from an ISP in the U.S. and the Netherlands. Last month, the FCC shut down community radio stations around the U.S. Two weeks ago, the FBI requested that IndyMedia takes down a post on the Nantes IMC that had a photo of some undercover Swiss police, and IMC volunteers in Seattle were visited by the FBI on the same issue.

The Guardian (U.K) reports that "American authorities have shut down 20 independent media centers by seizing their British-based Web servers." Many IndyMedia outlets were silenced, in such outposts as Basque country, Uruguay, Marseille, western Massachusetts, Belgium, Portugal, Czech Republic, Brazil, parts of Germany. Silenced, at least temporarily, is the global IndyMedia Radio site.

Confused? So is IndyMedia's network of local activists and news gatherers. If you can still get on this Indymedia site, you can read statements from Rackspace, the Internet Service Provider that was ordered to turn over its servers. And there's this passage from IndyMedia on its British site, which explains—kind of—what's going on. I'll quote it at length in case you can't get to IndyMedia:

The FBI's latest anti-free-press actions began at the beginning of October, when they visited IndyMedia's ISP demanding the removal of identifying information from photographs of undercover police officers that was posted on the Nantes IndyMedia website.

When asked what the U.S. government was doing requesting the removal of information from a French-run website that contained information about Swiss police actions, the FBI stated that this was a "courtesy" to the Swiss government. The FBI agents stated that no laws had been broken, and no crimes had been committed. However, because no identifying information was posted on the website in question, it was unclear what actions the FBI was requesting.

FBI took the hard drives of Global IMC servers in the U.S.A. and the U.K. It appears that a court order was issued to Rackspace (IndyMedia's service provider with offices in the U.S. and in London) to physically remove the hard drives from Global IndyMedia servers (backup servers are now in place). Rackspace was given no time to defend against the order before it was acted upon and turned over the hard drives, both in the U.S. and the U.K. The servers hosted numerous local IMCs, and the reason for the seizure is not known.

Jennifer O'Connell of Rackspace, which is caught in the middle, sent this response to IndyMedia a few days ago:

Unfortunately, we have received a federal order to provide your hardware to the requesting agency. We are complying at this time. Our datacenter technicians are building you a new server which will be online as soon as possible. Your account manager will notify you once the new server is online and available.

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