Posted on | January 8, 2014 | 11 Comments
Siggi Thordarson (left) with Julian Assange
My colleague Ali Akbar called my attention to this Rolling Stone story about Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson, the hacking wunderkind who at age 17 became Julian Assange’s most valuable assistant. Thordason reveals the reckless ambition and cult-like paranoia inside the WikiLeaks freak show, and this 600-word excerpt is pretty brutal:
In the wake of the Manning cables, Assange wanted more newsmaking leaks, but the material coming in wasn’t meeting his insatiable appetite or ambitions. So Siggi reached out to Gnosis, a hacker group that made its name in December 2010 for compromising more than a million registered accounts on Gawker websites.
Gnosis tipped Siggi off to a notorious 16-year-old female from Anonymous named Kayla who had just helped hack HBGary, an IT security firm that worked for the U.S. government. Gnosis claimed to have an unpublished copy of HBGary’s database, including its clients’ names and e-mails. “Don’t release it,” Siggi messaged back. “Allow us.”
Anonymous, however, ended up leaking the files themselves, and Siggi told Gnosis that his boss was pissed. “You can’t really control Anonymous,” Gnosis replied. “You can kinda herd them in the right direction but other than that lol good luck.”
But that didn’t stop Siggi from trying. In January 2011, Siggi got word that DataCell, the hosting service behind WikiLeaks, had valuable contracts pulled by an Icelandic power company called Landsnet, and he wanted revenge. “I have a funny request for you,” Siggi wrote Kayla in one chat. “www.landsnet.is is something ‘Anonymous’ should take down if it’s possible.” Two minutes later, Kayla replied that she’d just unleashed a botnet against the website, a form of a cyberattack that swamps the site with requests. Siggi tried logging on to the Landsnet site. “Haha request timed out,” he wrote.
The attack didn’t stop there. When Siggi explained that the Icelandic government had made a deal to assume DataCell’s contracts, Kayla asked if he wanted her to take down one of its sites too. “Definitely,” Siggi replied. Minutes later, a ministry site was down. But as the sites fell, Siggi joked that Kayla might inadvertently knock Iceland’s power offline too. “If you see a button that says turn off electricity don’t press it please,” he wrote.
With his connections to the Anonymous cell more secure, Siggi suggested that the group could be of even greater help – getting them more secret documents that WikiLeaks could release. “I don’t care where the information comes from,” Assange had told him, which Siggi took as carte blanche to solicit stolen material. So Siggi had Gnosis introduce him to one of the most infamous hackers of all: Sabu, leader of the Anonymous offshoot LulzSec. In the spring of 2011, LulzSec had taken down the sites of high-profile targets including Fox, the CIA and PBS, whose Web page they replaced with the title “FREE BRADLEY MANNING. FUCK FRONTLINE!” But Sabu wanted proof that Siggi was who he said he was by speaking with Assange directly. Siggi claims to have complied and arranged the Skype call.
With Sabu convinced, Siggi put him on a job: to dig further into the Icelandic government’s computers to see if it had intel on the DataCell deal. Soon, Sabu delivered. Siggi says Assange told him to have LulzSec upload the files to a WikiLeaks FTP server, which they did. And Sabu soon had more secrets to offer. He told Siggi his crew had recently hacked Stratfor, a “global intelligence” agency and government contractor, and found more than 5 million confidential e-mails between Stratfor and companies such as Dow Chemical, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, as well as government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.
But as the e-mails poured in, Siggi began to grow anxious and questioned the scale of the operation. Even though he was the one who initiated the relationship with the hackers, he worried that they were going too far. “Crossing this line by accepting stolen information and publishing this is literally just breaking the law,” he says he told Assange. “You’re going away from being a journalist organization and threatening national security.” But, once again, Assange told him he didn’t care how the information was obtained. . . .
You should read the whole thing. It confirms in detail a lot of what anyone with common sense understood intuitively: Assange is an irresponsible psychopath, and contempt for the rule of law was the core value of the WikiLeaks/Anonymous project.
Assange’s supporters will accuse Thordarson of “betrayal,” but how could anyone expect loyalty within an enterprise so profoundly committed to criminality? The moral of this complex story is ultimately simple: Bad causes attract bad people.