Life is not easy for 30-year-old Matt DeHart.
Just a few years ago he was doing well; as a trained Intelligence Analyst in the US Air National Guard he looked forward to a stable and glamorous career at the center of action, living inside a virtual videogame and fighting America’s enemies via drones. It was a heady combination of gamer geek dreams and the aspirations of a good boy who’d grown up in a military family, following his parents’ path to public service.
Now he sits in a cell in a foreign country, far from his Indiana roots, suffering from PTSD and recovering from two apparent suicide attempts. The last one by diving headfirst onto a concrete floor from a top bunk bed. He’s struggling hard to stay in that cell, too; or at least, never to return to the land of his birth, the land he once served so proudly.
In a series of clipped, yet eloquent, emails Major Paul DeHart, Matt’s father, talked to us about the struggles his family have been through in the days since. “No prison is a good prison. Depriving any human being much less one who has grown up under western law which in theory at least values human dignity and freedom above most things is punishment enough. I will say compared to the way human beings in general and prisoners specifically are treated in any US prison system, state or federal,
Canadian prisoners seem to be treated as human beings with at least the potential for rehabilitation.”
“But, the US approach to warehousing prisoners and exploiting them as resources for labour and prison-industrial-complex
businesses is no different than the way the US approaches old people in nursing homes or labour in general. From a corporatist standpoint, a human resource which is no longer productive is no longer of any value. The concept of intrinsic human value seems to have been forgotten.”
On his son’s complex situation and appeal for sanctuary: “It’s simple in our book. He was tortured by the US. That is a violation of international law. Does anyone doubt any more that the US tortures people? If they have done it overseas to supposed enemies – why not to their own citizens? Why is the US Senate report in CIA torture still not released. You figure it out. Along those lines – I reference what happened to Canadian citizen [Maher] Arar.”
As Matt himself explained to the National Post, “It’s not that I’m not patriotic — I am. I voted for Bush. My family is military, pretty gung ho. But everything has changed.”
The DeHart case (as explained in the masterful five-part National Post chronicle) is neither straightforward nor at first glance tremendously sympathetic. Of his own volition he walked into the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC. What happened there depends on which version of the stories he’s told you believe. Either he was there to look for work and a new start, having lost faith in the US, or he was there to mislead them about drone technology, deliberately handing them misinformation to protect the country he loved. But what does this have to do with the child pornography charges against him, the only charges which have been filed? And if he’s wanted on child pornography charges, why did the FBI interrogate him as part of an espionage investigation, as the documentation shows?
And what does this have to do with Anonymous?
It all started with Chanology. According to statements DeHart gave Adrian Humphreys of the National Post, he participated in Project Chanology, the original “moralfag” action which pitted Anonymous against the Church of Scientology. There were many aspects to the operation, but the most famous was the adoption of the Guy Fawkes mask, since become inextricably associated with the hacktivist collective. The statements DeHart gave were corroborated by operation founder Gregg Housh, although he could not specifically identify participants, having known them only via pseudonyms.
Chanology was DeHart’s first taste of activism, and he liked it. Getting deeper into the hacktivist scene, he eventually ran a server on which some files which may or may not have been destined for WikiLeaks resided.
His American lawer Tor Ekeland told us via email, “This whole matter revolves around a file that appeared in the fall of 2009 on a TOR server Matt was a co-sys admin. People speculate that it was enroute to Wikileaks, although I have not seen any confirmation of this fact. The file was unencrypted for the first two days on the server. According to published reports, it’s an FBI investigative file of domestic criminal activity by the CIA.”
Then came the raid.
That was 2010. No malware and no such mystery file was found on DeHart’s computer equipment; he’d long since deleted the file, which had been uploaded to the server by someone else.
“I opened the door and it was the police task force. Your stomach drops and your heart beats like crazy. It takes you by surprise, even though I had nothing to hide once the server was destroyed…
I was shook up,” Matt said. “I don’t know everything they took, but I know they took everything. After they had left I looked at the search warrant which was left on the couch. It was a generic warrant from the Memphis FBI field office and it said they were searching for child pornography.”
That was when he started to lose faith. Not too long after that he visited the Russian and Venezuelan embassies, looking for the future he could no longer see himself having in the USA. He didn’t find it there and decided to take the same route once taken by escaped slaves, the Underground Railway to the free environs of Canada.
Part of the reasoning, as his father told Humphreys, was that if there was any hold-up with the passport, they’d know the child porn incident wasn’t over. There was no problem with the passport. He left, signed up for a French Immersion course which to his chagrin didn’t take, then enrolled in technical college in scenic Prince Edward Island, intending to study welding. “I figured I’d try something that had nothing to do with computers. I felt good going to Canada,” he explained to the National Post.
All was going well, but in order to start school he needed a student visa, which he had to obtain from his home country.
You see this coming, don’t you?
He bussed across the St Croix river to the American side, where he spent the night at a hotel and took care of the paperwork. Then he headed back to Canada. Presenting his passport at the border, he anticipated no issues. The guard scanned it, checked the computer, scanned it again, went into an office to check something, and suddenly all hell broke loose.
While two guards threw themselves in front of the exit, blocking it, DeHart was cuffed and plopped in a chair. Soon he was tumbled into the back of a Border Patrol vehicle which was driven by an FBI agent and taken to an ICE detention center, where he was refused a lawyer and detained.
DeHart says he was strapped into a lab chair and drugged with an IV drip, before being aggressively questioned for hours. He was shown a new criminal complaint, charging him with soliciting child pornography; it was written that very day.
His father explained some anomalies. “We have repeatedly asked in court in the US for actual transcripts of his interrogations and have been told there are no audio or video records. Yeah right. Two agents are flown out from the national security section in DC to interrogate Matt and there are no records. Hmmm.”
He was transferred from the ICE detention center to another holding facility, where he collapsed and was taken to hospital, where the doctors determined him to be in a paranoid state, claiming persecution by the FBI. His symptoms were consistent with “drug induced psychosis” according to medical personnel.
Department of Justice documents show that DeHart was not actually detained on child porn charges; he was detained relating to an issue of national security/espionage. And he remained detained for months, until a judge added up the inconsistencies in the case, found DeHart a credible witness and not a flight risk, and ordered that he be released with a monitoring bracelet and curfew.
On November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, Million Mask March day, Matt DeHart filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him.
On April 2 of the next year, he and his family fled, driving north almost a full day and night to a border station in Fort Francis, Ontario, where they claimed refugee status and requested asylum from the Canadian government. Ekeland explained, “He and his family are seeking refugee status in Canada based on the fact that Matt was tortured by the FBI and that he cannot get a fair trial in the U.S.”
Paul DeHart said, “We came to Canada to seek protection from the US under international law. We know the tremendous courage it would take any Canadian official to stand up to Canada’s closest ally and biggest trading partner. However, it has been done before. In my generation Canada welcomed war protesters who disobeyed draft laws in the US and came to Canada where tens of thousands of them were granted immigrant status and protected.” In more recent, more Conservative times, however, the Canadian government has been rounding up and repatriating (ie returning to the US) AWOL American soldiers.
The next day the Canadian government from whom they were seeking aid charged Matt with espionage against Canada.
“There are Americans who try to sneak across the Canadian border to flee US law enforcement all the time,'” said Paul DeHart. CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] I’m sure keeps stats. We did not sneak anywhere. We reported to a CBSA office and declared ourselves as asylum seekers under the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT). Matt was not detained by Canadian officials until the following day when a US Judge issued an arrest warrant for failing to appear at a schedule court hearing.”
And this, along with the still-unresolved child pornography charges, is why Matt DeHart has spent the last year in Canadian jail cells. At one point he won limited release, and was reunited with his family, but when the family moved to a different apartment Matt notified his corrections officer of the move in an incorrect manner: by notifying the company in charge of his electronic monitor, who then notified the officer. His father explained, “Someone in the CBSA made a decision to have him rearrested on a
reporting technicality which had nothing to do with flight risk or danger to the community and forfeit the $10,000 bond we put up. Money by the way we could not afford to lose.” He remains in custody. Rallies for his release have been unsuccessful, if high-profile.
Paul DeHart told us, “You should thank God as Canadians you seem to still have a mature and unbiased judiciary. The judge who reviewed Matt’s bond release in Sept 2013, after CBSA challenged it in court, wrote a very well-supported opinion which basically said in paraphrase – in Canada someone is innocent until proven guilty. If her 13-page opinion is indicative of the quality of
Canadian judges, then I’d say at least judicially, Canadians are in good hands.”
“We are awaiting two decisions by the Immigration and Refugee Board. First, we await the admissibility decision for Matt. He is opposed by the govt for the charges in TN. The final submissions were sent in middle of August. A negative decision will start a time clock on a shortened process to have Matt sent back to the US. Actually, it’s my understanding that he would just have to be deported from Canada. Theoretically it doesn’t have to be back to the US, but where else would he be sent?”
“The other decision is whether as a family we qualify under for protection from the Canadian government. Final submission for that hearing are due this month. No telling how long either decision will take. Considering the unusual nature of our claim, we suspect the Canadian government will be sure to make a very thorough examination of each and have detailed rationale for the decisions.” This is going to involve a lot of lawyers, though, and they are not inexpensive, particularly for a couple of new immigrants who left behind established careers. “The [child porn] case in Tennessee is suspended until/unless Matt returns to the US as we understand it.”
The governments in question don’t appear to be in any rush. Major DeHart raises an interesting question: extradition. “After being in Canada since April 2013, a year and a half, there has been no extradition request from the US. Since these are relatively routine it raises the question – why not?”
We asked DeHart about the extent to which the Canadian and US governments were cooperating on the case. “Who knows?” he replied. “Clearly the questions Matt was asked by both CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the “Canadian FBI”] and the War Crimes unit of CBSA were focused on events in the US which had nothing to do with child pornography. Questions Leann and I were asked at the admissibility hearing by CBSA hearings officers seemed to have come directly from the US. And, that makes sense since US border personnel are on Canadian soil and work closely with CBSA.”
Their old government seems content to leave the entire family in the hands of the Canadians, despite maintaining an apparent interest in watching events unfold. “We have not been contacted by anyone from the US government since we came to Canada,” Paul DeHart told us. “I will say that the day after we crossed the border in Ft. Frances we noticed at least a dozen US Homeland Security vehicles parked in that relatively small town. I do know we did not feel safe from the US there.” As a former NSA employee, DeHart is well-equipped to identify HS vehicles.
On September 12 DeHart’s US attorney Tor Ekeland created an online fundraiser to cover his legal expenses. He chose the site GoFundMe, which often works with Anonymous fundraisers.
That same day, the fundraiser was shut down.
“We got an email from GoFundMe saying we’d violated their Terms of Service, and that our account was being terminated,” Ekelund told me via email. “When we asked for explanation we got none. By the time we’d received the email the account had already been deleted.”
Paul DeHart said, “Well, you can draw your own conclusions. Supposedly the site was taken down for a violation of terms of service. But, since it was started and run by a law firm, that makes little sense.”
Not wasting any time, Ekeland immediately rebuilt the fundraiser on Canadian site Fundrazr, which also hosts Julian Assange’s personal fundraiser. “We had the Fundrazr up in an hour or two, most of the time which was spent on looking at alternatives sites. It took about 15 minutes to actually get it up and running again. It stands at $550 of a $10,000 goal.
“No money was lost. Gofundme sent us everything. I really don’t focus on fundraising, and I usually go thousands of dollars out of pocket on the cases I have that are like this. I never make money of these types of cases, and I’m certainly not doing it for the money.”
The future is uncertain, obscured in a blizzard of paperwork, allegations, missing files, and, most recently, very specific publication bans (which we are probably breaking by reporting this). There are two powerful, often collusive, governments
Ekeland explained, “As of this writing, the U.S. government has not taken any action to extradite Matt. They will not try him in absentia.”
Paul DeHart sums it up. “Unless you have spent a large part of your adult life serving in the S military you would have a hard time understanding what an absolutely gut-wrenching, traumatic experience it is to have to fill out a basis of claim form for asylum against the country you love and served. But there is no excuse for what was done to our son, and no one in the US seemed to care about that.”
“It is our intention to remain in Canada and live out the rest of our lives in peace. If we are granted status we would never be allowed to return to the country of our birth. My own mother passed away in May 2013 after we came here. I was unable to attend her funeral.”
“If we are permitted to remain in Canada and Matt is allowed free to pursue life again, then our lives will resume. We will work, live, and make a new life in Canada. We have no ambitions beyond this: to live free from the fear of the US government. Imagine knowing that your head is in the sights of a sniper some 2 miles away. You know that at any moment a trigger can be pulled sending a 50 calibre bullet into your skull and exploding it. I know that’s graphic and perhaps hyperbole, but that is what it
feels like to know that our lives are in the sights of the most powerful government on earth.”
“You wonder if this is the day someone pulls the trigger.”
Featured Image via Free Matt DeHart
NOTE: Matt’s job description has been corrected. He was originally reported to be a drone pilot, but was actually an Intelligence Analyst. His father writes, “His job in the Air National Guard was equivalent to PFC Manning’s in the Army.”
Also, I spelled “Ekeland” wrong. Fixed.