from the good-points-terribly-made dept
Some CIA phone hacking tools made their way into the wild back in 2017. It didn’t take long for the DOJ to find a suspect to charge. Joshua Schulte, a former NSA and CIA operative, was hit with a long list of charges, including espionage, child porn possession, and (at least momentarily) copyright infringement — the last one on the list being the result of feds discovering a bunch of pirated movies and music on Schulte’s server.
As this prosecution has slowly moved forward, it has gotten wilder. The DOJ claimed Schulte was continuing to leak classified info, even after being jailed while awaiting his trial. According to the DOJ’s filing, Schulte was using a number of smuggled-in phones to smuggle out classified documents turned over to him by the DOJ in response to discovery requests. The government’s filing also made mention of “significant encryption” stymieing its attempts to break into Schulte’s contraband phone but left the definition of that term open to discussion.
Marcy Wheeler (of Emptywheel) was the first to come across Josh Schulte’s latest filing in his case. And it’s… something. Schulte has been openly critical of his incarceration and the US prison-industrial complex generally. Now, he’s attempting to nail down the specifics by filing a complaint[PDF] against the US government for depriving him of a number of his rights and demanding, in a Dr. Evil-esque move, 50 BILLION DOLLARS.
The 88-page [!] complaint opens with Schulte’s handwritten claim the government has ended a career headed for Bill Gates/Jeff Bezos-level personal fortune. The “Relief” section says:
Section 6: Monetary damages associated with illegal Federal Terrorist actions including torture and the loss of income (p. 65-69)
Total loss of income: $50,000,347,000
Total punitive damages: 5,359,270,693
Among the “illegal Federal Terrorist actions” leading to this $55 billion prayer for relief are a long list of things the government routinely subjects prisoners to, including solitary confinement, 24/7 exposure to bright lights, prison library bans, prison commissary bans, television-viewing bans, shackling, use of certain criminal charges (child porn possession) to leverage plea deals on other charges (espionage), a lack of access to hot water, indefinite pre-trial detention, and so on.
Schulte isn’t wrong. A lot of what happens in federal prisons is inhumane. Whether or not it’s worth $55 billion is up to the court and I’m pretty sure this complaint will be greeted with a swift dismissal. Construed liberally, it alleges a host of Constitutional violations that could meet the bar needed to move forward. On the other hand, it demands the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment be declared unconstitutional, along with plea deals, mandatory minimum sentences, and the Classified Information Procedures Act. As a bonus, it asks for the “disbandment of the Fascist Police State including the FBI.”
At best, this all seems unlikely to find a judge willing to entertain while presiding over Schulte’s criminal trial. Many of Schulte’s complaints are legitimate, but they’re also things courts have not found to violate anyone’s rights while they’re incarcerated. Limited contact, extortionate phone call rates, constant surveillance, vetted mail, etc. are part of the prison experience. Many agree these things go above what’s needed to keep prisons secure, but few courts (or legislators) are doing anything about it.
But along with the legitimate complaints about prison life, there’s other stuff. It’s not just the $50 billion Schulte thinks he could have earned if he hadn’t been arrested and jailed. It’s his comparing his experience to Jews during the Holocaust and insisting that his Second Amendment rights are being violated because they won’t let him have a gun in jail.
But perhaps the nadir of the complaint is Schulte claiming possessing child porn is a “victimless crime.”
The plaintiff was charged with a non-violent, victimless crime and subject to the presumption of detention. Even though the plaintiff has never been charged before with ANY crime and had worked for the government at the Central Intelligence Agency, the government knowingly lied and claimed the plaintiff was a danger to society.
Schulte’s underlying point is solid — that the government hasn’t properly demonstrated why he should not be released to await his trial — but it’s made so badly it almost manages to negate itself.
If you can make your way past some of the heated — but not helpful — language, you’ll find a depressing depiction of everyday prison life. It makes no difference to the government whether or not it’s secured a conviction. If it can, it will lock you up until you finally are able to defend yourself against its charges. Until then, your life is over. It belongs to the government and it is willing to treat the presumptively-innocent just as terribly as it treats the guilty.