A C.I.A. whistleblower languishes awaiting trial in a federal prison under inhumane conditions and almost nobody is paying attention.
Joshua Schulte is a former C.I.A. hacker, one of those computer geniuses whose job it is to work his way into the computer systems of our country’s enemies in support of some of the most highly-classified operations the C.I.A. carries out.
The government believes that Schulte was a malcontent who released to WikiLeaks in 2017 the equivalent of 2 billion pages of top secret C.I.A. data with code names like Brutal Kangaroo, AngerQuake and McNugget.
These programs, collectively known as Vault 7, were custom-made techniques used to compromise Wifi networks, hack into Skype, defeat anti-virus software and even hack into smart TVs and the guidance systems in cars. They were the C.I.A.’s modern-day crown jewels. One senior C.I.A. officer likened the revelations to “a modern-day Pearl Harbor.”
The C.I.A. accused Schulte of stealing the data in 2016 and of sending it to WikiLeaks in 2017. He was eventually charged with 13 felonies, mostly related to the Espionage Act. He was later charged with a number of additional felonies related to child pornography, accusations that he has adamantly denied.
Schulte went to trial in New York in early 2020 with the Justice Department accusing him of “the single biggest leak of classified national defense information in the history of the C.I.A.”
After four weeks of testimony and six days of jury deliberation, he was found guilty of contempt of court and making a false statement, both minor charges for which federal sentencing guidelines call for imprisonment of zero-to-six months. The jury deadlocked on all other counts, and the judge declared a mistrial. Schulte remains in prison awaiting retrial. He has been incarcerated since October 2018.
Schulte is not treated like other prisoners in the facility where he is being held, New York City’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC). When he goes to court, for example, he is required to wear shackles around his ankles and chains around his waist to which his handcuffed hands are attached. His hands are then enclosed in a steel box that is itself locked separately.
In the Justice Department’s classified conference room, where he is required to meet his attorneys, he is chained to an eye bolt in the floor, just as the C.I.A. restrains Al-Qaeda prisoners during their interrogations. He is not permitted to use the restroom during these visits. His guards give him a plastic bag at the start of the meetings, and if he has to go to the bathroom, he must urinate and defecate in the bag.
Schulte’s day-to-day existence is far more difficult. First, he has been subject to “Special Administrative Measures” (SAMs) since his arrest. He is in solitary confinement in a cage in a small concrete box the size of a standard parking space 24 hours a day. He is allowed two showers a week and is not permitted to use the phone or email. He is not permitted to watch television or to listen to the radio. He is not permitted to have visitors other than his attorneys. He is not permitted to make purchases from the commissary.
How to Complain
There is a mechanism within the federal Bureau of Prisons by which to complain about these conditions. A prisoner must first fill out a form BP-8 ½, which goes to the person you are accusing of violating your rights, saying, “Hey, you violated my rights.” The response, of course, will be “No I didn’t.”
You then have 14 days to file a Form BP-9, which goes to the warden. The warden, not surprisingly, almost always supports his staff member. You then have 60 days to file a Form BP-10, which goes to the Bureau of Prisons regional office. Once the prisoner loses there, which is almost guaranteed, he can file a Form BP-11, which goes to the Bureau of Prisons headquarters in Washington. No prisoner ever wins at BOP headquarters.
There are also ways in which the prisoner is routinely stymied in an attempt to file a complaint. The filing of every form is time-sensitive, so the warden and others will withhold their responses, backdate them and then send the responses at a point when the prisoner only has a day or two to respond. Since it’s not possible to get it done in time, it’s dismissed as “not responsive in a timely fashion.”
The prisoner has no recourse because the federal courts have ruled that a prisoner must exhaust the “administrative complaint process” before going to the courts. But if the complaint is dismissed by the BOP as “not responsive” because of time, he’s out of luck.
Schulte isn’t complaining just about the heavy-handed circumstances of his incarceration. He’s complaining about what his attorneys argue amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, perhaps torture. They noted in a recent lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons that Schulte is:
“locked in a cage in a concrete box the size of a parking space with purposefully obstructed views of outside, the cages are filthy and infested with rodents, rodent droppings, cockroaches and mold; there is no heating or air conditioning in the cages, there is no functioning plumbing, the lights burn brightly 24 hours per day, and the inmates are denied normal visitation, access to books and legal material, medical care, and dental care. All attorney-client privilege is also void as the prison confiscates, opens, and reads all legal mail. The process imposed is arbitrary and not tailored to any legitimate government interest.”
The attorneys add that,
“No matter what crime an individual is alleged to have committed, the United States Constitution grants all a presumption of innocence. Indeed, no American wants to be treated like a caged animal if accused of a crime — dependent, deserted, dehumanized, demoralized, and detained.”
That is exactly what Joshua Schulte is. He’s dependent, deserted, dehumanized, demoralized, and detained. He hasn’t seen an open window in more than two years. He hasn’t seen a doctor for his congenital heart defect in that period, either. He hasn’t seen a dentist. Denying him bail because of a fear that he might reveal classified information is one thing. Torture is another.
How does it protect the national security to not allow him to see the sky for years at a time? How does it protect the national security to not allow him to see a doctor or dentist? How does forbidding him to read protect the national security? It doesn’t. It just proves that the United States has no respect for human rights or for the rule of law. As the meme goes, “Prove me wrong.”
Crossposted from Consortium News