This reader sent this advice along. And while it gives a good primer on how to deal with sources – it also gives us a chilling view of how NXIVM leader Keith Raniere uses his “wealth” and (mis)uses the tools of the law to intimidate and attack his enemies….
Our reader advises:
Consult your lawyer about defamation law. The exact phrasing of statements can be important to your defense. Raising questions is likely safer than making assertions. You may have better protection if the statements or questions are made by a recognized press outlet than by a private blog. For you, that’s actually an option!
While normally the truth of a statement is an adequate defense, if you base a statement on an email, you may not be able to prove that it is true in court. An anonymous email may not be given much weight. The author of a non-anonymous email may not wish to reveal him or herself in court, knowing what NXIVM will likely do in retaliation. In fact, they may appear in court and recant the email statements, in a covert deal with NXIVM to avoid litigation themselves.
Note that simply by telling you, a third party, damaging information about NXIVM or its leaders, your informants may be setting themselves up for defamation suits. Even if you don’t publish their statements.
NXIVM may be able to use a defamation suit as an excuse to subpoena your email accounts and computers. They will want to find out the identities of your informants so they can attack them.
ANONYMITY IN EMAILS
To be fair to your informants, you should publicly state that they should avoid including identifying information when they contact you, because you may not be able to protect their identities if you are subpoenaed.
You should consult with your lawyer about how to treat informant emails. You may want to email back and ask how to contact informants for confirmation, in a way that does not require you to keep records that could be subpoenaed to identify them. Note that phone contact records can also be subpoenaed in some cases. Reporter shield laws may be useful.
You should also consult your lawyer about what to do with emails you already have with identifying information. You should probably copy the information, without the identification, then delete the original with the identification.
You should also consult about whether to keep even anonymous emails. The best strategy may be use anonymous email as first contact, reply to set up confirmation by other means, then delete everything as soon as confirmation is established.
You should be careful to keep any anti-NXIVM computer activity segregated from your personal and business computer activity. Otherwise a NXIVM subpoena may be broad enough to give them access to personal and business information.
They are notorious for using information gained in one case to pursue another case. For instance, they could search your subpoenaed business records for evidence of other activities that they could color as illegal, and have one of their tame district attorneys bring criminal action.
You should contact a computer security firm to sweep your systems for evidence of takeovers, and for how to keep them secure. They can also recommend how to set up email for maximum security when dealing with informants. A Gmail account with a good password may be sufficient, but there are probably better arrangements.
You could also ask a consultant about setting up a honey-pot system that you intentionally make less than secure, and monitor for evidence of NXIVM takeover. This may give you an opportunity for a counter-claim against NXIVM.