The Army and Anonymous
Matt DeHart grew up in a family with a military background. His father worked for the NSA and his mother worked for the US Military as a linguist analysing signals intelligence. In the early 2000s, Matt became active online and developed his political outlook. He was involved with the image and messageboard website 4chan almost from its inception, and recruited 4chan members for a worldwide World of Warcraft guild. The hactivist group Anonymous, which Matt became a part of, arose out of the online 4chan community.
In 2008, Matt joined the Indiana Air National Guard’s 181st Intelligence Wing, as an all-source intelligence analyst, eventually being granted a Top Secret security clearance. The unit operates Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones. Meanwhile, Matt participated in online activism with Anonymous to support freedom of information. “Part of my job with Anonymous was I helped people communicate securely,” he said. “I would protect people from NSA spying.”
Matt administered a server associated with the Tor hidden service known as the Shell Onion, providing anonymous shell accounts. While monitoring the server in 2009, he came across an unencrypted file containing an FBI investigation in illegal CIA activities. 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. A few months later, Matt was honourably discharged from the Air Nation Guard, ostensibly for depression.
Government raids Matt’s home
On 25 January 2010, law enforcement officials raided the DeHart family home, seizing Matt’s computer and all data storage devices, except for two thumb drives, which Matt says contained Anonymous contact information, server logs from the Shell Onion and a cache of leaked documents. Law enforcement said they were executing a search warrant to search for evidence of child pornography — which they did not find. The teenage pornography allegations, which date from 2008, form the basis of what remain the only criminal charges laid against Matt (aside from failure to appear in court — added in a superceding indictment after Matt fled the US). Three judges in two separate countries (the United States and Canada) have expressed scepticism about these charges.
Believing the search of his family’s home was related to national security and his involvement with Anonymous, Matt went to the Russian Embassy, seeking protection. His request was denied, he tried the same at Venezuela’s Embassy and was again turned down. Eventually he enrolled in a college in Canada.
Interrogation at the border
Around 8am on 6 August, 2010, needing to process his student visa in the US, Matt crossed the border back into the States. He was detained by US border personnel, handcuffed and shackled, not advised of his rights and not allowed to consult an attorney. He was then transferred to a cell at the International Avenue Border Crossing facilities in Calais, Maine. FBI agents then took Matt into a basement examination room and administered an IV without his consent. He doesn’t know what he was given, but says he felt drugged. There was no medical examination prior to the IV being administered. Matt was then taken to a conference room, and an FBI report states their interrogation began at approximately 3:15 pm.
Matt asked for a lawyer and the reason for his detention but got no answer. He invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but the agents interrogated him anyway. An unclassified FBI report of his interrogation confirms that Matt was detained because he “was wanted for questioning in an espionage matter.” There was no warrant for his arrest on child pornography charges when he crossed the border. The FBI agents questioned him about his military unit, Anonymous, WikiLeaks and the Russian Embassy. The agents asked him nothing about the teenage pornography allegations but arrested him on child porn charges based on a Criminal Complaint and Arrest Warrant, alleging he solicited photos from a minor two years prior — an allegation he unequivocally denies. According to Matt, the FBI told him they knew he was innocent of the charges.
Tellingly, the Criminal Complaint was not filed until the afternoon of the day that ICE agents detained him at the border. And the affidavit supporting probable cause for the arrest warrant was almost the same as the affidavit used to support probable cause for the January search warrant. But if probable cause existed to arrest Matt for child porn solicitation in January, why wasn’t he arrested? And why was there no Criminal Complaint or Arrest Warrant filed until after he was detained at the border? The FBI report is clear: Matt was picked up for questioning about espionage, not on a warrant for child porn solicitation. Given the fact that the US Department of Justice places such a high priority on aggressively going after child pornographers this is highly unusual.
Matt collapses in jail
At approximately 6pm that day, the FBI transferred Matt to the Penobscot County Jail, in Bangor, Maine, where he collapsed. He has no memory of what happened. “The next thing I remember is I’m laying in an ambulance looking up at the ceiling of an ambulance. What happened is, at some period while I was at the jail, I don’t know what was going on, I had collapsed,” he told the National Post.
Prison guards brought Matt to the emergency room of the Eastern Maine Medical Centre at 1 AM, where hospital records say he suffered “eye discomfort, possible pesticide exposure” and “acute mental status change, psychosis.”
According to a medical report from the Eastern Maine Medical Centre: the attending doctor found that his patient was suffering from “acute psychosis associated with  tachycardia and tremors… consistent with possible drug-induced psychosis.”
The medical report notes that Matt’s urine tested positive for amphetamines, but Matt denied illicit drug use. It also confirms that he had been in custody of law enforcement since the day before, leading up to his hospitalization — which begs the question of how he would have drugs in his system if not administered by law enforcement. Hospital personnel thought he was delusional for worrying about the FBI and espionage, not knowing of his interrogation. In Matt’s medical report, the ER recommends a psychiatric evaluation, saying that they had discussed this “at length” with the officers who brought Matt to hospital.
“Something bad happened that day and they kept interrogating me,” Matt said. “I absolutely felt tortured. They aren’t attaching electrodes to you but it’s more insidious. It’s much more insidious.”
At around 4:30am the ER doctor released Matt back into the custody of the FBI, and he was taken back to a detention cell. Over the next two weeks, the FBI continually interrogated him without counsel present. On 9 August, 2010, he appeared briefly in the Federal District Court for Bangor, Maine on the Criminal Complaint in front of a Magistrate Judge who assigned him a Federal Defender. On 11 August, he had a detention hearing in front of the same Magistrate, who ordered him sent to Nashville, TN, where the Department of Justice had filed the Criminal Complaint. After the hearing, according to a local newspaper report, he collapsed in open court. He would not arrive in the Nashville area until September 2010.
During the period of time from his return from the Emergency Room until 20 August, the FBI continually interrogated Matt. Special Agents from the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in Washington, D.C. arrived. Matt was put on Thorazine and subjected to sleep, food and water deprivation. Even though the court had assigned him a Federal Defender, the FBI coerced him into signing waivers of his constitutional right to counsel. The FBI also made him sign forms that gave the FBI full control of his email and social media accounts, even though they were likely relevant material evidence to Matt’s criminal case. Later, when an investigator for Matt went to go access Matt’s primary Gmail account, he got a message that it had been permanently deleted.
In early September, when Matt arrived in the jail in Kentucky, where he was held awaiting trial on the Criminal Complaint, one of the inmates commented to Matt’s mother that Matt had burn marks on his arms when he arrived. When questioned about this, Matt told his mother that the burn marks were the result of a torture session that occurred in Bangor, Maine during which he was stripped naked, had a hood placed over his head, was doused with a liquid and then tasered.
The FBI report of Matt’s interrogation says that when presented with charges of child pornography, he produced a new story regarding his visit to the Russian Embassy. The FBI says that Matt met airmen in the US Air National Guard who wanted to sell secrets and it was that which prompted his embassy visit. According to the FBI, the Russians told Matt that he’d have to contact them from outside the United States, leading him to return to Canada, where they said he could make up to $100,000 per month. Matt says this version of events is “laughably inaccurate” and that given the drugs that were administered, and his resulting highly compromised state of mind that day, that he “would have told them anything.” The hospital’s report of Matt’s mental state that day must raise doubts about the reliability of his statements under prolonged interrogation.
Released on bond
Matt had been in prison for almost two years before his detention was reviewed in court in May 2012. At this point, the FBI’s classified and unclassified records showing that Matt’s 2010 arrest was “for questioning on an espionage matter” were finally made available to Judge Aleta Trauger who ordered that an unclassified summary be made available to Matt’s defence team.
The court hearing on 22 May 2012 marked the first time in nearly two years that Matt was able to speak for himself, on the record, about what happened when he was arrested in Maine and the national security investigation he found himself in the middle of.
In her ruling, Judge Trauger assessed that the evidence for the child pornography charges Matt faced were not strong and acknowledged that the national security investigation was a more pertinent source of concern for him.
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.
After reviewing the classified material as well as the evidence behind the pornography charges, Judge Trauger ordered Matt DeHart released to his parents on bond. Matt was released to his family under curfew, with a security bracelet to monitor his movements.
In the year following his release on bond, Matt and his family experienced repeated delays in his case and suspected he was being forced into a plea deal. Matt’s father Paul has spoken about his concerns that the case was putting an unbearable pressure on his son:
We were fighting within the justice system of the United States and it just wasn’t working. I cannot describe to you what it feels like to have the weight of the most powerful nation in the world against you and you can do absolutely nothing about it.
Paul DeHart has cited the death of Aaron Swartz as a turning point. Fearing for their son’s welfare – and having already sold the family home to fund his legal bills – the DeHarts now decided to accompany their son to Canada where they would help him apply for political asylum and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
On 3 April 2013, the DeHart family crossed the border into Canada at Fort Frances, Ontario. They immediately told Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers that they were fleeing the US in order to claim the protection of the Canadian government and make an application of asylum. The DeHarts supplied the Canadian authorities with two encrypted thumb drives and hundreds of pages of documents in support of their claim. The thumb drives were never returned by the CBSA.
After being allowed to spend the night with his family in a hotel, Matt was arrested in Canada on 4 April, following the issue of an American arrest warrant. While in prison, Canada’s Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) interrogated Matt and it was announced that asylum proceedings would be delayed because the Canadian Minister of Justice wanted to be involved in the case. Matt was eventually released from prison in September 2013, when he was reunited with his family, but under conditions of house arrest in their small apartment near Toronto. One of his few conditions for leaving the house was to attend counseling meetings at the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. On 23 April 2014, Matt DeHart was re-arrested on a reporting technicality. He spent the rest of his time in Canada in prison.
When Matt and his family crossed the border into Canada, they applied for asylum as a family — Matt’s parents on the basis that they felt they were being threatened with possible conspiracy charges. Matt’s arrest after his asylum application followed the issue of a US arrest warrant for his failure to appear in court on 4 April, 2013.
On 9 February, 2015, Matt’s parents received notification from Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). In what represents a moral victory for the DeHart family, the officials looking at the family’s case concurred with the American judge who found that the child pornography case against Matt lacked credibility. In the ruling it was stated that they found no “credible or trustworthy evidence” to support the charges.
Nevertheless, the board also found that the US justice system met the minimum standards that would allow Matt to defend himself in the courts and therefore decided that he did not require Canadian protection, declining the family’s asylum claim. Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer with the Government Accountability Project who has represented several national security whistleblowers, has questioned the IRB’s judgment in this respect, given the threats Matt likely faces in the United States:
While the US government has yet to file an indictment under the Espionage Act in this case, it is obvious that the flimsy child pornography charges are a pretext to punish DeHart and force him to return to the US. The Obama administration has aggressively used the Espionage Act as its weapon of choice to punish national security whistleblowers, in any case that even remotely involved disclosure of allegedly-classified information. The Espionage Act is vague and overbroad to the point of being constitutionally-suspect and is not limited to government employees or disclosures of information… The Espionage Act effectively hinders a person from defending himself before a jury in an open court.
The Refugee Protection Division’s finding that “the [US] federal government has a high degree of transparency,” is totally out of place in the national security, whistleblower, and torture context.
Throughout the Board’s investigation, the CBSA refused to release the encrypted thumb drives to the DeHarts’ family lawyers, meaning that their contents could not be used to support the family’s asylum claim. Following the IRB decision, Matt DeHart was taken from his prison cell and deported. He was handed over in to federal custody in the US on 1 March 2015.
On hearing about the IRB decision, Matt relayed the following statement for release via his parents:
I am extremely concerned not only for my own safety but for the safety of my parents. I have endured three years of maximum-security prison conditions in Canada and the United States for something I didn’t do. But, the thought of my parents suffering at the hands of the US government as well is unbearable. I cannot imagine any life in a country which has already tortured me. Am I now to be given into the hands of my torturers?