msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/8/2011 7:43:16 AM ET 2011-01-08T12:43:16

U.S. officials have issued a subpoena to demand details about WikiLeaks' Twitter account, the group announced Saturday, adding that it suspected other American Internet companies were also being ordered to hand over information about its activities.

In a statement, WikiLeaks said U.S. investigators had gone to the San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. to demand the private messages, contact information and other personal details of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and other supporters, including the U.S. Army intelligence analyst suspected of handing classified information to the site and a high-profile Icelandic parliamentarian.

WikiLeaks blasted the court order, saying it amounted to harassment.

"If the Iranian government was to attempt to coercively obtain this information from journalists and activists of foreign nations, human rights groups around the world would speak out," Assange said in the statement. He promised to fight the order.

A copy of the court order, dated Dec. 14 and posted to Salon.com, said that the information sought was "relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation" and ordered Twitter not to disclose its existence to Assange or any of the others targeted.

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The order was unsealed "thanks to legal action by Twitter," WikiLeaks said.

Twitter declines comment
Twitter has declined comment on the claim, saying only that its policy is to notify its users, where possible, of government requests for information.

Others named in the order include Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private suspected of being the source of some of WikiLeaks' material, and Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic lawmaker and one-time WikiLeaks collaborator known for her role in pioneering Iceland's media initiative — which aims to make the North Atlantic island nation a haven for free speech.

Jonsdottir wrote on her Twitter page that the Justice Department was requesting information about her from Twitter.

"just got this: Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account in (relation to wikileaks)," she tweeted at about 3:30 p.m. ET Friday.

"usa government wants to know about all my tweets and more since november 1st 2009. do they realize i am a member of parliament in iceland?," she added.

At about 10:30 p.m. ET, she wrote: "If anyone from @twitter legal is reading - I'd like confirm that I am contesting any subpoenas - I do not consent. My lawyer will call."

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The U.S. is also seeking details about Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp and U.S. programmer Jacob Appelbaum, both of whom have previously worked with WikiLeaks.

Appelbaum, whose Twitter feed suggested he was traveling in Iceland, said he was apprehensive about returning to the U.S.

"Time to try to enjoy the last of my vacation, I suppose," he tweeted.

Video: GOP's top watchdog goes on the attack (on this page)

Gonggrijp expressed annoyance that court officials had misspelled his last name — and praised Twitter for notifying him and others that the U.S. had subpoenaed his details.

"It appears that Twitter, as a matter of policy, does the right thing in wanting to inform their users when one of these comes in," Gonggrijp said. "Heaven knows how many places have received similar subpoenas and just quietly submitted all they had on me."

WikiLeaks urges others to unseal subpoenas
WikiLeaks also voiced its suspicion that other organizations, such as Facebook Inc. and Google Inc., had also been served with court orders, and urged them to "unseal any subpoenas they have received."

Google and Facebook's London offices did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

U.S. officials have been deeply angry with WikiLeaks for months, for first releasing tens of thousands of U.S. classified military documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then more recently posting thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables.

U.S. officials say posting the military documents put informers' lives at risk, and posting diplomatic cables made other countries reluctant to deal with American officials.

Reliance on U.S. firms
Although its relations with the U.S. government have been ugly, WikiLeaks and its tech-savvy staff rely have relied heavily on American Internet and finance companies to raise funds, disseminate material and get their message out.

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WikiLeaks' Facebook page, for example, counts 1.5 million fans and its Twitter following is upward of 600,000 followers.

Until recently, the group raised donations via PayPal Inc., MasterCard Inc., and Visa Inc., and hosted material on Amazon.com's servers.

But the group's use of American companies has come under increasing pressure as it continues to reveal U.S. secrets.

U.S. officials have been examining possible charges against WikiLeaks and its staff following the series of spectacular leaks, which have embarrassed officials and tarnished Washington's image.

WikiLeaks denies U.S. charges that its postings could put lives at risk, saying that Washington merely is acting out of embarrassment over the revelations contained in the cables.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: GOP's top watchdog goes on the attack

  1. Closed captioning of: GOP's top watchdog goes on the attack

    >>> there are other changes here in washington, like the new chairman of the house committee on oversight and government reform . it's also called the watch dog committee. california republican darrell isa is coming across like, well, an angry watch dog . our report from nbc's andrea mitchell .

    >> reporter: he's a new cop on the beat. the republican's top watch dog , potentially the obama administration's worst nightmare. even before the election, he put president obama on notice, telling rush limbaugh --

    >> he's been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times .

    >> reporter: today, a very different tone.

    >> i've got a president who inherently wants to get along with me so we can agree on things.

    >> reporter: but he's laid out an ambitious agenda, investigating wikileaks, fannie mae , and the bank bailout. as many as 280 hearings in the first year. and he's already sent more that be 150 letters to industry lobbyists, asking which regulations they would like killed?

    >> they must be extremely happy to have in the chairman of the committee someone who basically says, come on down, show me what you don't like.

    >> reporter: issa 's spokesman says that's no different than president obama holding a summit with industry leaders, or considering a chief of staff with ties to business. but issa also plans to ask officials like tom donilon to testify, reminding veterans of the clinton years of dan burton when he had issa 's job.

    >> i know, but what i can't understand is why you can't give us an answer.

    >> it doesn't matter where the question is political, ridiculous, if there's a subpoena attached to it, you're required by law to produce the documents it asks for.

    >> reporter: the democrats have had the gavel. now the tables are turned.

    >> the biggest pitfall would be if these investigations are perceived as being witch hunts and political in nature as opposed to focused on substance and policy.

    >> reporter: andrea mitchell , nbc news, washington.

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