Federal agents briefly detained and questioned an MIT researcher and friend of accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning as he re-entered the country from a vacation in Mexico last week.
David Maurice House, 23, was met by U.S. customs agents as he deplaned at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport last Wednesday, according to a report by Salon.com. The agents searched House’s bags, then took him to a detention room and questioned him for 90 minutes about his relationship to 23-year-old Manning, the former Army intelligence officer accused of leaking classified documents to the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks. The agents confiscated a laptop computer, a thumb drive and a digital camera (.pdf) from House and reportedly demanded, but did not receive, his encryption keys.
House helped set up the Bradley Manning Support Network, a grassroots group raising money for Manning’s defense, according to Salon. House had also visited Manning in custody at the Marine Corps’ Quantico brig three times since his arrest.
A record of Manning’s Facebook account shows that House was on Manning’s friends list at the time of Manning’s arrest last May.
Under the “border search exception” of United States criminal law, international travelers can be searched as they enter the U.S. without a warrant. Under the Obama administration, law enforcement agents have aggressively used this power to search travelers’ laptops, sometimes copying the hard drive before returning the computer to its owner. Courts have ruled that such laptop searches can take place even in the absence of any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.