Within just a few weeks, Siggi was inside Assange's small inner circle, a complex place where decisions centered on the mercurial leader. "There's a video I want to show you," Siggi recalls Assange telling him as they sat inside Jónsdóttir's small house in Reykjavik one wintry night soon after they met in February 2010.
"Are you sure you want to show this to him?" said Jónsdóttir. She was concerned about Siggi's involvement in the project and didn't entirely trust him, but nevertheless felt protective of the boy. "He was just a lonely kid that had been bullied," she recalls, "and I felt sort of motherly towards him in the beginning." Before Assange cued up the clip, she warned Siggi, "This is a disgusting video."
The grainy footage showed an Apache helicopter firing upon men in the streets of Baghdad. "This can cause a World War III," Assange said. Though Siggi was new, he didn't hesitate to express his concerns. "We have to be careful about what we publish," he said. When Assange wanted to call the video "Collateral Murder," Siggi told him he thought that was too dramatic. Assange seemed to value the bluntness of his new recruit. "I considered him a friend, and I believe he considered me a friend as well," Siggi recalls. "If I was against something he said, I told him so, and that was something he liked."
That spring, when the group was riding an international wave of attention after the video's release, Siggi, whom Assange gave the handle PenguinX (he was later known as Q), became his dependable errand boy and confidant: talking regularly, looking for equipment, making encrypted calls to contacts on Assange's behalf. After Bradley Manning was arrested for the "Collateral Murder" leak in May 2010, Assange wrote Siggi that it "might help if people think he's gay. . . . [The] gay lobby in U.S. is very big, and the whole 'gays in the military' thing is very contentious." When Assange eclipsed pop stars in Time's person-of-the-year poll, he giddily messaged Siggi, "We beat Gaga!" But the pressure was getting to Assange. In a chat on July 7th, 2010, Siggi asked Assange how he was doing amid all the controversy. Assange replied, "Stressed."
"Anything i can do to loose some stress?" Siggi typed.
"Find me a pretty girl with lots of warm olive oil;)" Assange replied. But women, too, soon became part of Assange's worries. One night in August, Siggi's cryptophone rang with a call from Assange. "Can I trust you?" he said.
"Definitely," Siggi replied.
"Interpol is most likely going to issue an arrest warrant for me."
Two women in Sweden alleged he had committed rape and sexual harassment, which Assange denied, saying sex with each was consensual. "The best solution to all this mess might just be going to Sweden and finishing the interrogation," Siggi told him. But Assange pushed back, saying the U.S. would try to extradite him. "If you get arrested, I'll just have a backup plan of stealing you from the police," Siggi said in all seriousness.
But by fall, Assange had other problems: the defection of his closest supporters. His controlling nature had grown overbearing. Hacktivist Daniel DomscheitBerg, Jónsdóttir, journalist Herbert Snorrason and others in the small group of insiders battled with Assange over his reluctance to redact the Afghan war logs, which, they feared, would put lives at risk. Jónsdóttir spoke out to the media, calling for Assange to step aside and "let other people carry the torch."
And Assange's confounding closeness with Siggi, which bordered on a paternal relationship, was also an issue. "The perception was that Siggi basically got to a level where Julian trusted him in a matter of days," says Snorrason. The core volunteers considered Siggi a dangerous liability, prone to youthful indiscretions and lies. But, as Domscheit-Berg recalls, the rumors were being stoked by Assange himself. "Julian told us we shouldn't speak to Siggi because he couldn't be trusted," he says. "He told me Siggi was a notorious liar, but then again Julian told people I was a notorious liar probably because he's a notorious liar. I think it's psychological. We knew Julian was dealing with Siggi all the time – it all implied Julian was using him. These are all kinds of games children get into."
Jónsdóttir was among those caught in Assange and Siggi's web. "I told Julian, 'There's something weird, I can't explain it, but I have this feeling,'" Jónsdóttir recalls. "'You just be very careful with this guy.' But he didn't believe me." Though she continuously tried to get Siggi removed from projects, Assange stood by the boy. "He might have trusted him with something that he didn't want him to expose," she says.
For Siggi, there was a simple reason he rose in Assange's eyes: the old guard's weakness. "To be blunt, they were just cowards," he says. "I stayed with Julian through this entire shit. I didn't leave, so that's probably why he started to trust me more – I showed him loyalty."
According to the chat logs, Assange commanded Siggi to insinuate himself with Jónsdóttir, in light of her calls for his resignation, and report back. "But be careful," Assange warned Siggi. "She is good at smelling lies that are intellectual, though not so good at smelling emotional lies." Days later, after Siggi returned with updates on Jónsdóttir, Assange wrote to him, "Good work on B." Siggi suggested Assange confront her in person, to which Assange replied, "I will, but I need to let my anger cool, or it would be with a gun."
Worried that logs of him discussing the rape allegations could be released by Snorrason, Assange told Siggi to hack into the journalist's computer and remove them. "The log, get rid of it," Assange wrote. "His pc must be taken over, and that deleted."
"How can we delete it from his computer?" Siggi replied. "We would need physical access to his computer." Assange said he could be fooled into downloading a trojan, a kind of computer virus. Though they never hacked Snorrason, the schism within WikiLeaks was tearing the group apart. That fall, Domscheit-Berg, Jónsdóttir, Snorrason and others left. But Siggi remained, and he wanted to make sure that Assange understood his dedication. "What about me?" Siggi wrote him late one night in a chat. "Any trust issues at all?"
"No. I know your difficulties and I accept them," Assange replied. "Good intent and loyalty is more important to me."
By October 2010, Assange had appointed Siggi to Snorrason's old post of running the WikiLeaks chat room. It was an important position, vetting the faceless flood of potential allies and leakers, and passing along the cream to Assange. "Keep your eye open for people trying to befriend you or others in an attempt to infiltrate WikiLeaks," Assange instructed him in a chat. "Lives depend on your diligence."
Assange was on the lookout for FBI agents, informants and betrayers. And there was one unlikely group of people whom he feared might be rallying against him: the Bradley Manning Support Network. In July, Assange had pledged to pay for a substantial amount of Manning's defense, which was expected to cost more than $100,000, and the group was increasingly angry that, months later, no money had come through. According to Siggi, Assange had simply moved on.
Throughout the fall, Siggi was getting word from BMSN co-founder David House that David Coombs, Manning's attorney, was threatening to go public. "Coombs will go to the media very soon," House warned Siggi in one chat. "I need someone in WL to do their job and actually start giving a shit about Manning's defense."
But WikiLeaks went on the offensive instead. "Julian wanted to know everything they were doing," says Siggi. On October 7th, Siggi hacked into a Skype conference call of the BMSN and sent the recording to Assange. In the wee hours of November 11th, with word of another Skype call that evening, he asked Assange if he should do it again. "Do you want me to record the BMSN conference?" Siggi wrote.
"YES," Assange replied.
The next night, Siggi reported back: Mission accomplished. "Yey the Recording was successful," he typed in chat. "Want me to upload and send to you?"
"Yes. But going to bed now," Assange wrote. "Good work on the record."
"Ok:) Did you remember to brush your teeths:)"
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