Matt DeHart: The Silent Whistleblower

As of May 2015, the Obama administration had imprisoned whistleblowers at a rate of 31:1 compared to every other administration combined. 

Washington, DC (TFC   Matt DeHart grew up like most children born of military parents. Born at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Fort Meade, where his parents were stationed, he had nine different addresses before he graduated high school. Following in the footsteps of many relatives on both sides of his family, Matt became a fourth generation member of the armed forces in 2008, when he enlisted in the U.S. Air National Guard. As a result, he has spent most of the last five years in federal prisons for crimes he claims he did not commit.

After Matt enlisted, he was assigned to the 181st Intelligence Wing in Terre Haute, and began his training as an intelligence analyst.  For reference, this is the exact same position which afforded Chelsea Manning the clearance to access and then leak the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diary, as well as video footage of the 2007 Baghdad Airstrike and the 2009 Granai Airstrike in Afghanistan. Manning is currently serving 35 years in prison for supposedly violating the Espionage Act, even though her actions were not deemed to have aided an enemy.

DeHart was honorably discharged in June of 2009 by the Air National Guard, who cited depression as the reasoning for his dismissal.  Matt claims he was discharged because they knew of his connections with the hacktivist group Anonymous, which he became involved with after becoming disillusioned by the state of our post 9/11 United States.

DeHart claims his service had made him aware that the CIA had knowledge of their actions resulting in the deaths of children and innocents.  Disillusioned by the state of our post 9/11 United States, and the CIA’s growing secret drone wars targeting civilian structures, he began working with the hacktivist group Anonymous, and was later honorably discharged from the Air National Guard, who cited Matt’s depression as the reasoning for his dismissal.  Matt remains adamant that the military knew of his activities, saying, “Part of my job with Anonymous, was I helped people communicate securely. I would protect people from NSA spying.”

Part of that work was DeHart running a server out of his home named ‘The Shell’. In mid-September 2009, while monitoring the server, DeHart apparently found an unencrypted folder containing hundreds of documents, including one detailing what looked like to him as an FBI investigation into CIA activities. He says he kept screenshots, but deleted the folder. Shortly afterward, Matt claims to have found an encrypted version of the same file which he believes was meant for Wikileaks.

One of the files supposedly contained in the folder is an FBI investigation of the CIA regarding the Anthrax attacks that killed five people and caused 17 others to fall ill after the September 11th attacks. Even though the “official” story lays blame to Bruce Ivins, a scientist who allegedly committed suicide after being named a suspect, information had already been released confirming that the strain used in the attacks was the same one the US Army produced at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.  According to DeHart, the report went on to claim the CIA was behind the attacks as part of an operation to fuel public terror and build support for the Iraq War.

The production of weaponized anthrax in U.S. military facilities has been hotly debated as a possibly violation of the Biological Weapons Convention, which was largely decided in favor of by Nixon, considering the U.S. had a superior nuclear stockpile at the time. Nixon’s decision led to the halting of the offensive biological warfare program, which was being carried out at several institutions across the country, including the Dugway Proving Ground, mentioned above.

On January 22, 2010, Matt says he received a credible tip from someone who claimed the FBI had questioned them regarding the server. Matt promptly shut the server down and destroyed the hard drives. That same day, the state of Indiana issued a search warrant for the DeHart residence on charges of child pornography.  Three days later, half a dozen officers stormed into the house and seized every device in the home capable of storing data, except for two flash drives Matt had locked in a gun case.  Matt’s father, Paul, surmised that the FBI lacked probable cause, resulting in his son not being arrested. Keeping the hidden flash drives a secret, Matt finally opened up to his parents about his online activities.

“I might have some sensitive files.”

Matt then reportedly drove to Mexico with his parents’ car and $3,000 from his grandmother. While in Mexico, he says he made several copies of the flash drives, mailing them to various contacts. Shortly after he returned to the U.S., Matt went to Washington DC with his father in order to seek political asylum from the Russian Embassy. They were denied. During the same trip, they were denied asylum by Venezuela as well. Matt says he was questioned about WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and specifics regarding U.S. satellites and drone programs, but he simply wanted protection and to not be a spy. The FBI claims Matt collected information he found on the internet, and molded his story in an attempt to secure a job with the Russian government.

Anonymous: The Corrupt Fear Us.

Anonymous: The Corrupt Fear Us.

Paul and Matt’s mother, Leann, were still unaware of the flash drives.

Matt then moved to Montreal, where he began an eight week French immersion course. While there, he still had to apply for a student visa from US soil. On August 6, at the border crossing on St. Croix bridge, he handed over his passport and was immediately arrested and taken into custody by the FBI. That night, while attempting to Skype with their son, Paul and Leann were directed to his voicemail. A recording of a strange man’s voice greeted them. Someone had changed Matt’s voicemail greeting.

Again, his residence was raided, and all information capable devices in his apartment were seized. Only this time, instead of sending them to Tennessee for the investigation, they were sent to Washington DC, to the FBI’s field office, the US Department of Justice.

While being held at Calais’s Large International Avenue Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Center, Matt claims he was strapped to a chair, intravenously drugged and tortured.  As much as that may sound straight out of a spy movie, in 2012, a declassified report from the Pentagon inspector general revealed that prisoners in Guantanamo had been forcibly injected with Haldol, an antipsychotic sedative, and other “mind altering drugs”, before being interrogated.  “In the modern era, with the legal requirement that confessions be voluntary, using drugs to interrogate a suspect would be a clear violation of DeHart’s constitutional rights,” says Jesselyn Radack, former Justice Department ethics adviser who has represented Edward Snowden, and was responsible for revealing the FBI’s ethics violations in the interrogation of John Walker Lindh.

The FBI eventually confessed to other interrogations taking place, but refuse to discuss the details, claiming the reports are “classified”.  Matt claims to have also been restrained naked, and tased while a black pillowcase was held over his head. He also says that one particular agent offered to help drop the fake child pornography charges in exchange for Matt’s cooperation.

According to Matt, the FBI also showed him surveillance of him sitting outside of the Russian Embassy with his father, accompanied by an audio recording of their conversation.

“You know the last words you said to your dad before you left?”

“I told him I loved him,” Matt said, “and God bless him.”

“You’re right,” the agent said.

Details of Matt’s visit to the Russian and Venezualan Embassies are detailed in this FBI document, which also shows he was interrogated, not on suspicion of child pornography, but on suspicion of espionage. The date of the interrogation is noted as 08/06/2010, the same date the U.S. District Court issued Matt’s arrest warrant on charges of child pornography.  Again, Matt DeHart was arrested on charges of child pornography, but was never once questioned on any of those charges by the FBI.

On August 7th, he was taken unconscious in an ambulance from the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor, Maine to Eastern Maine Medical Center where he was diagnosed with acute psychosis, tachycardia, tremors, and bilateral eye irritation. Medical records state that Matt had been in custody of law enforcement since 0800 on 8/6/2010, a full 33 hours prior to his admittance. The report states “the patient is very vague, has multiple rambling complaints and it is difficult to obtain significant details out of the patient”, but then details Matt’s specific claims that “Homeland Security is accusing him as well as several associates of his of espionage for Russia”. Matt repeatedly denied taking any illicit drugs. Even so, the records state that the “Patient’s acute psychosis associated with his tachycardia and tremors is most consistent with possible drug-induced psychosis such as secondary to amphetamines. cocaine, or other stimulant medications”. A urine drug scree confirmed the presence of amphetamines in his system.

Leann DeHart, Matt’s mother, gives details of the torture that led to Mat being diagnosed with PTSD, including him waking up with burn marks on his arms, with no recollection of how they got there.

Matt was released and sent back to jail, where the FBI continued their interrogation, despite his condition. The interrogation is considered classified information, but Matt states that, “They started with people in my military unit, what the connection was between them, me and the Russian embassy; and then started asking me about connections between people in my military unit and Anonymous. They also asked about WikiLeaks”. Matt’s alleged treatment during this time prompted a motion to dismiss the charges on the basis that it shocked “the conscience of the Court and is in violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution”.

Matt also claims it was during this time that an agent first showed him the documentation of the child pornography charges filed against him.  “I looked the guy in the eye and said, ‘I didn’t do that’.”  According to Matt, the agent responded, “I know”.

Matt’s mother Leann, says that Detective Brett Kniss, the officer who filed the criminal complaint against Matt, admitted to Matt’s lawyer and a private investigator that he knew Matt was innocent.

Detective Kniss, who at the time worked for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force of the police department in Franklin, Tenessee, provided as evidence several chat logs that allegedly took place between Matt and at least two underage males.  The logs, which purportedly show Matt posing as a female in order to elicit nude videos from the underage boys, are less than convincing, especially since they are the only evidence ever brought forth against Matt.  They lack timestamps and IP addresses, names were changed, and they appear to be heavily edited.  “The chat came off his computer.  It’s doctored,” claims Matt.

On August 9, 2010, DeHart was brought before U.S. Court Judge Margaret Kravchuk. In a later interview, she admitted his appearance in the court room as “odd”, noticing several things out of the ordinary. The court docket listed Matt’s arrest as taking place two days after it actually occurred. There had been no activity in the case for over a year. The computers and other data saving devices seized in the raid had gone seven months without being analyzed for any evidence of pornography. She also noted that it wasn’t until after his arrest by immigration authorities, that a criminal complaint stemming from the 2008 child pornography allegations had been drafted. Even after all of this, the seriousness of the charges prevailed, and Matt was ordered back into custody to face trial.  Nine days later, DeHart signed consent forms giving permission for any FBI agent and “any Canadian law enforcement”, to record his phone calls with his old military colleagues, and authorized agents to assume his online identity, giving the FBI his aliases, and passwords to his e-mail accounts.  It is unclear what the FBI did with their ability to assume Matt’s identity within the decentralized Anonymous organization and hacker community, but Matt himself seems to have a pretty good idea.

“They are becoming you on the internet, specifically for the purpose of going after Anonymous.

Coincidentally, the FBI made several arrests related to Anonymous over the next year and a half.

June 7, 2011.  Hector Xavier Monsegur, aka “Sabu”, was arrested and later agreed to cooperate as an informant.

July 20, 2011. Mustafa Al-Bassam, aka “Tflow”, was arrested in the UK.

July 27, 2011.  Jake Davis, aka “Topiary”, was arrested in Scotland.

March 5, 2012.  Jeremy Hammond, aka “Anarchaos”, was arrested in Chicago.

After signing away his online identity, Matt spent 21 months in a Tennessee jail, supposedly on the child pornography charges, despite a clear lack of evidence.  He was indicted on one count of production of child pornography, and one count of transportation of child pornography on October 6, 2010 in Nashville. In May 2012, nineteen months later, Judge Aleta Trauger was allowed to read classified documents about DeHart and heard the evidence on the child pornography charges. She ordered DeHart to be released from jail and remain on house arrest until the trial.

Possibly the first independent review of the case, Matt was finally given the chance to speak for himself after nearly two years. Judge Trauger had this to say about DeHart. “I can easily understand why this defendant was much more focused on that [national security] investigation, much more afraid of that investigation, which was propelling his actions at that time.  He thought that the search for child pornography was really a ruse to try to get the proof about his extracurricular national security issues. I found him very credible on that issue. Obviously, child pornography charges are serious offenses. I have learned several aspects of this case which, in the court’s mind, indicate the weight of the evidence is not as firm as I thought it was.” Matt was then released on bond, and into his parents’ custody.

Two years after DeHart’s arrest in Canada, the US Department of Justice admitted he was arrested “for questioning in an espionage matter”, and that it was a “national security investigation”. There was no mention of child pornography.

Another file supposedly contained on Matt DeHart’s flash drive appeared to be internal documents from an agrochemical company accepting responsibility for more than 13,000 deaths related to genetically modified organisms.

On April 3, 2013, Matt and his parents left their home in Indiana for International Falls, Minnesota, where they crossed into Canada. At the border crossing, Paul handed the family’s identification to the border patrol officer and stated, “We need the protection of the Canadian government under the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Because our son was tortured by the FBI.”

The next day, Matt was arrested for missing a detention hearing regarding the child pornography charges, as well as suspicion of espionage.

The guards seized Matt’s flash drives in the process.

By this point, the DeHart’s had sold their home and spent their entire life savings on Matt’s defense. Paul, a former Air Force intelligence analyst turned pastor, said, “There’s only so much a human being can take. I don’t swear, but if I did I’d say, ‘You cannot fuck with us. We’ve had enough. Here we are. Do with us what you want, but we’re not gonna take it anymore. You’re not gonna have my son commit suicide ‘cause you’re jerking him around. We’re here as a family. You answer to us as a family.”

The Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) had begun processing the DeHart’s asylum request upon their arrival on April 3rd. He remained in custody until August of 2013, when he was placed under house arrest in Brampton, Ontario. He remained there without incident until April 22, 2014, when he moved to another apartment upstairs due to a request from the landlord. A CBSA officer and five policemen arrested Matt for breaching the terms of his release, even though his ankle bracelet remained intact.  Matt’s parents and his lawyer show you in this video exactly how ludicrous and bureaucratic the incident was that landed their son in a maximum security prison.

That same month, he was moved to the Central East Detention Center, a super-jail, in Lindsay, Ontario, where he reportedly attempted suicide on two different occasions. While incarcerated, a federal court brought forth a new indictment on Matt. This time for two counts of production of child pornography, one count of transportation of child pornography, and one count of failure to appear in court.  There was no new evidence presented against him.

Although Paul and Leann DeHart now reside in Canada, theirs and Matt’s asylum was eventually denied on February 5, 2015, by the IRB (Institutional Review Board), claiming that the United States “has a fair and independent judicial process”.

Matt had also filed a request to return his flash drives, which was denied as well. Although they are believed by Matt’s attorney to be in the hands of the FBI, there are still several copies in possession of unnamed contacts.

Matt’s parents returned to the US in April of 2015. “I don’t want to be an American anymore,” Leann said. “I think Matt will go somewhere in prison for a long time.”

Detective Brett Kniss has since transferred to a Wyoming police department. Matt’s parents believe it was an involuntary move related to his handling of the case.

Since being deported on March 1, 2015, Matt has been incarcerated in the Niagara County Jail, in New York, then transferred to a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) private jail in northeast Ohio at Youngstown, then transferred to the Grady County Jail in Cickasha, Oklahoma, and again transferred to another CCA private jail in Mason, Tennessee.

Matt’s attorney, Tor Ekeland, is building a case to sue the federal government for violating Matt’s constitutional rights during his detention and interrogation by the FBI. “They have a lot to answer for,” he said, “and we fully intend to make them answer.”

Matt was transferred yet again on March, 23, 2015 to Warren County Jail in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the same jail he spent 21 months in during his pre-trial detention. While in custody, Ekeland announced via Twitter that “the government had moved to dismiss count two” of Matt’s indictment. Matt was originally set to stand trial at the US Federal Court House in Nashville, Tennessee, on December, 8, 2015. However, citing a 93% conviction rate in US Federal Courts, Matt and his attorney accepted a plea deal, admitting to possession of sexually explicit photos of two underage teenagers and avoiding court by fleeing across the border.

“Matt DeHart’s case is not about some kiddie porn charge in Tennessee, but because of information that he became aware of when he hosted the Shell server,” says Jesselyn Radack, the former DOJ Ethics Adviser.  “That’s part of a larger narrative that’s been going on.  It’s not the first time the government has drummed up child porn allegations with regards to whistleblowers.  The easiest way to alienate someone is to name them in the same sentence as something to do with child porn.”

Matt was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in federal prison and thirteen years of post-release supervision.  He received time served for his pre-trial detention in both the US and Canada.  He is set to be released on September 11, 2018.

To this day, the only person confirmed to have seen the information on Matt Dehart’s flash drives is his mother.



Matt is sponsored by the Courage Foundation, a non-profit effort to bring attention and resources to government whistleblowers such as himself, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. For more information, and a complete list of those they sponsor, click the link below.