Iceland expelled FBI agents seeking to question a WikiLeaks volunteer

Iceland prides itself on its support for free speech, and is effectively a WikiLeaks-friendly nation. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, still blockaded within the Ecuadorian embassy in London, helped Iceland craft its media-friendly International Modern Media Institute (IMMI) project. This is developing a series of laws that are expected to be implemented within the Icelandic constitution, including whistleblower protection, freedom of information, journalist source protection, limiting prior restraint and protecting intermediaries (such as ISPs who are ‘mere conduits’).

Two years ago FBI agents traveled unannounced to Iceland. According to WikiLeaks spokesperson in Iceland, Kristinn Hrafnsson, interviewed by Iceland’s state broadcaster RUV, “The FBI arrived in private planes and landed at the Reykjavik airport... News of the visit reached [interior minister] Ögmundur Jónasson, who reacted sharply, as it was unbelievably presumptuous to come to Iceland that way... Jónasson demanded that the FBI agents pack their bags, get back on board, and leave the country. The matter was then brought before the cabinet and a formal protest was issued to US authorities.”

The story only broke on Friday following a brief telephone conversation between the Associated Press and Jónasson. “I, for one, was not aware that they were coming to Iceland," he said. "When I learned about it, I demanded that Icelandic police cease all cooperation and made it clear that people interviewed or interrogated in Iceland should be interrogated by Icelandic police.”

Neither who the FBI wished to interview, nor why the story has only just been made public is clear. The Pirate Times, however, believes it knows. Elected politician  Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the de facto leader of Iceland’s Pirate Party, is planning to travel to the US in early April. Jónsdóttir was instrumental in bringing out the WikiLeaks ‘collateral murder’ video and is a leading figure in the IMMI project. At the beginning of 2011 the US authorities subpoenaed Twitter to hand over data including her mailing addresses and billing information, connection records and session times, IP addresses used to access Twitter, and e-mail accounts.

This happened, according to the Pirate Times, after the FBI/Jónasson incident. “There can be little doubt they (the FBI) were targeting Brigitta,” says the Pirate Times. It adds, “The Icelandic government and her own lawyers have strongly advised her not to go (to the US).”

However, Jónsdóttir blogged on Friday, “I have decided that it is impossible to live my life in such a way that, as a member of parliament and of the electorate, I have to have such restrictions imposed on me so that I cannot enjoy the freedom to travel to a country that claims to be the land of the free,” (Pirate Time’s translation). Her intention is to demonstrate support for Bradley Manning.

It would seem unlikely that simultaneous news of the FBI’s expulsion and news of Jónsdóttir’s planned visit to the US can be co-incidental, and may be an attempt to make the visit so high profile as to deter any action from the US authorities, despite their antipathy towards WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?