The Crazy Story of an Icelandic WikiLeaks Volunteer Turned FBI Informant

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Aug. 9 2013 5:37 AM

WikiLeaks’ Teenage Benedict Arnold

How the FBI used a baby-faced WikiLeaks volunteer to spy on Julian Assange.

(Continued from Page 1)

Thordarson admits that he initiated the contact with the hackers, though he claims it was approved by Assange. It is unclear, however, whether WikiLeaks staff were fully aware of his correspondence with LulzSec and the “assignment” that he says he handed to them. WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told me he believed that if Thordarson had any contact with LulzSec, it was as a rogue operative and that it was “highly unlikely” any other WikiLeaks staff, including Assange, knew what he was engaged in. Thordarson is a dishonest character, Hrafnsson said, who is trying to inflate the role he played as a volunteer.

Either way, in this case, the exchange Thordarson describes does appear to have taken place. It has since been independently corroborated in part by authorities in Iceland and was first reported—from the perspective of the hackers—in a 2012 book by Parmy Olsen, We Are Anonymous. I have also seen chat logs and emails from 2011 that appear to back up Thordarson’s assertion that he was communicating with the hackers, which has significant ramifications. By claiming that he effectively solicited LulzSec to break into government computers, Thordarson has implicated himself in a potential international criminal conspiracy, leaving WikiLeaks open to the allegation that it, too, was somehow involved.  

But the full facts about the incident remain murky—not least because there is another dramatic twist to the tale.

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What Thordarson did not know at the time was that Sabu, the loudmouth figurehead of LulzSec and one of the hackers he was communicating with, was in fact working as an FBI informant—and the online chat about hacking Icelandic government infrastructure was apparently being monitored by the feds. About four days later, the FBI contacted Icelandic authorities to warn them about an “imminent” hacking attack, according to Iceland’s state prosecutor, and this prompted Icelandic police to travel to the United States to discuss the matter. (Sabu, it later turned out, was a then-28-year-old hacker from New York named Hector Monsegur. The FBI reportedly tracked him to his Lower East Side apartment in early June 2011 and managed to “flip” him, because he was the guardian of two young children and desperate to stay out of jail.)

Thordarson says LulzSec never gave WikiLeaks any information about Icelandic government corruption, but hackers close to the group did hand over a confidential Icelandic state police document related to the security of the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik. He also claims that hackers affiliated with LulzSec and Anonymous turned over documents from a bank in Mexico, files from BP, and emails hacked from the Syrian government and the security think tank Stratfor, among others. Between February 2012 and July 2012, a large cache of Syrian government and Stratfor emails were published by WikiLeaks under the names the “Syria Files” and the “Global Intelligence Files.” (As a matter of policy, WikiLeaks does not comment on how its releases are sourced.)

Being at the center of the action had given Thordarson the adrenaline rush he was looking for. But the contact with LulzSec, which he had initiated, made him feel like he had gone too far. He was worried that in maintaining contact with the hackers, he was “breaking quite a lot of laws.” Meanwhile, news reports were saying that the U.S. government was already investigating WikiLeaks for its publication of classified documents, including the Collateral Murder video, diplomatic cables, and military war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq. And just as Thordarson was getting anxious about the high-stakes international affairs he had become entangled with, he also seems to have become bored with WikiLeaks—and he now admits he wanted to embark on a new adventure.

It was then that, at about 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 23, 2011, Thordarson sat down at his computer at home in Kópavogur and typed out a message to the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik. He decided he wanted to become an informant—and, unlike Sabu, he was ready to do so without any threats hanging over his head.

From: [redacted]@live.com
To: reykjavikdatt@state.gov
Subject: Regarding an Ongoing Criminal investigation in the United States.
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 03:33:39 +0000

After a quick search on the internet i have yet not been able to find a reliable contact form to establish a meeting with a person regarding an on going criminal investigation.

The nature of the investigation is not something that i desire to speak over an email conversation.

The nature of the intel that can be brought to light in that investigation will not be spoken over email conversation.

I here by request a meeting at the U.S Embassy in Iceland, or any other place.

I am an Icelandic citizen.

I can be contacted via this email address

Or Via Phone

00xxx-xxxxxxx

I request also that this email will be considered confidential.

Later that day, Thordarson received a phone call. On the other end, he says, was the security chief at the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik. The man asked what exactly the email was concerning, and Thordarson told him it was about the U.S. government’s ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks. He says the security chief denied the existence of any such investigation, but nevertheless asked Thordarson to come to the embassy to meet him. Thordarson agreed. And that afternoon, he turned up at the door of the Reykjavik embassy, explaining briefly that he wanted to share information about WikiLeaks. To prove he wasn’t bluffing, he showed staff a photocopy of Julian Assange’s passport that he had obtained.

He says he was told not to expect any further contact for at least a week, if at all. But less than 24 hours later, Thordarson’s phone rang again. He was asked if he could come back to the embassy for another meeting. This time, it was serious. Unlike the more casual first meeting, he was told to hand over any electronic devices and take off his watch. He was then escorted by the embassy security chief on a walk around Reykjavik, circling the city center a number of times to ensure they were not being followed. Then he was ushered into a conference room in the four-star Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, where, he says, two men were waiting for him. They spoke with American accents and displayed FBI credentials. Iceland’s state prosecutor has acknowledged that this meeting took place, confirming in a document published earlier this year that a handful of FBI agents and federal prosecutors were authorized to jet into the country after an Icelandic citizen contacted the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik. The U.S. Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

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