The Obama Victims: Aaron Swartz
Swartz was a threat to the Obama administration and a corrupt DNC and paid a terrible price for his ability to motivate people to action.
In 2008, Swartz founded Watchdog.net, “the good government site with teeth,” to aggregate and visualize data about politicians. In the same year, he wrote a widely circulated Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.
One of his more notorious works that supports activism is Deaddrop, now renamed to SecureDrop, a platform for secure communication between journalists and sources (whistleblowers) used at several news organizations, including ProPublica, The Intercept, The Guardian, and The Washington Post.
In 2010, Swartz co-founded Demand Progress, a political advocacy group that organizes people online to “take action by contacting Congress and other leaders, funding pressure tactics, and spreading the word” about civil liberties, government reform, and other issues.
Swartz wrote, “these [political hacktivist] tools can be used by anyone motivated and talented enough…. Now it’s up to you to change the system. … Let me know if I can help.”
Swartz was involved in the campaign to prevent passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which sought to combat Internet copyright violations but was criticized on the basis that it would have made it easier for the U.S. government to shut down web sites accused of violating copyright and would have placed intolerable burdens on Internet providers. Following the defeat of the bill, Swartz was the keynote speaker at the F2C:Freedom to Connect 2012 event in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 2012. His speech was titled “How We Stopped SOPA” and he informed the audience:
This bill … shut down whole websites. Essentially, it stopped Americans from communicating entirely with certain groups….
I called all my friends, and we stayed up all night setting up a website for this new group, Demand Progress, with an online petition opposing this noxious bill…. We [got] … 300,000 signers…. We met with the staff of members of Congress and pleaded with them…. And then it passed unanimously….
And then, suddenly, the process stopped. Senator Ron Wyden … put a hold on the bill.
He added, “We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom.” He was referring to a series of protests against the bill by numerous websites that was described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation as the biggest in Internet history, with over 115,000 sites altering their webpages. Swartz also presented on this topic at an event organized by ThoughtWorks.
On December 27, 2010, Swartz filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn about the treatment of Chelsea Manning, alleged source for WikiLeaks.
The was enough for Obama, Clinton and The White House
On the night of January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested near the Harvard campus by MIT police and a U.S. Secret Service agent. He was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on two state charges of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony.
On July 11, 2011, Swartz was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer.
On November 17, 2011, Swartz was indicted by a Middlesex County Superior Court grand jury on state charges of breaking and entering with intent, grand larceny, and unauthorized access to a computer network. On December 16, 2011, state prosecutors filed a notice that they were dropping the two original charges; the charges listed in the November 17, 2011, indictment were dropped on March 8, 2012. According to a spokesperson for the Middlesex County prosecutor, the state charges were dropped to permit a federal prosecution headed by Stephen P. Heymann and supported by evidence provided by Secret Service agent Michael S. Pickett to proceed unimpeded.
On September 12, 2012, federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment adding nine more felony counts, which increased Swartz’s maximum criminal exposure to 50 years of imprisonment and $1 million in fines. During plea negotiations with Swartz’s attorneys, the prosecutors offered to recommend a sentence of six months in a low-security prison, if Swartz would plead guilty to 13 federal crimes. Swartz and his lead attorney rejected that deal, opting instead for a trial in which prosecutors would have been forced to justify their pursuit of Swartz.
The federal prosecution involved what was characterized by numerous critics such as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean as an “overcharging” 13-count indictment and “overzealous” prosecution for alleged computer crimes, brought by the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.
In a 2011 press release announcing Swartz’s indictment on federal charges, Ortiz said “stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.” Even after State Prosecutors dropped their charges, Carmen Ortiz filed a superseding indictment adding nine more felony counts, which increased Swartz’s maximum criminal exposure to 50 years of imprisonment and $1 million in fines.
Carmen Ortiz was nominated to the position by President Barack Obama. In December 2016, Ortiz announced that she would step down from her post in January. Her announcement was not unexpected, due to the fact that President-Elect Donald Trump will have the power to name new US Attorneys and she would have been the first to get the boot.
Ortiz was expected to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s probe into the handling of the Aaron Swartz case. The Department of Justice gave a private briefing about the case to the House Committee, and subsequently, in March 2013, Obama’s lapdog Attorney General Eric Holder defended Ortiz’s aggressive prosecution before the Senate Judiciary Committee, terming it, “a good use of prosecutorial discretion.”
In January, 2015, two years after Swartz’s death, Obama declined to act on the petition to remove Ortiz from office.
Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013. After his death, federal prosecutors dropped the charges. On December 4, 2013, due to a Freedom of Information Act suit by the investigations editor of Wired magazine, several documents related to the case were released by the Secret Service, including a video of Swartz entering the MIT network closet.