As the increasingly besieged WikiLeaks leader's profile grew, so did his paranoia. Assange asked his protégé to write up psychological profiles of WikiLeaks core members. Siggi, however, initiated more recon on his own. Late one night, he clandestinely cloned their hard drives, including the laptops of Hrafnsson and longtime associate Sarah Harrison, and he provided Assange with a report of their contents.
Though Assange hadn't asked him to do this, Siggi claims he read the findings and Assange allowed him to continue snooping during visits to Ellingham Hall. At one point, Siggi says, Assange asked him to search through the computers of Vaughan Smith, the journalist who owned the home, because he thought Smith was secretly videotaping him. Siggi sneaked into Smith's office, rifling through his things until he found computer-memory cards and drives, which he promptly began wiping clean. I ask Siggi if he felt that spying on the volunteers and their host was wrong. "Privacy is just a myth, you know," he replies. "It doesn't really exist."
But Assange's spy games grew worse. BMSN co-founder House told Wired that Assange asked him in January 2011 to swipe a copy of former insider Domscheit-Berg's WikiLeaks exposé prior to publication. Around the same time, Siggi claims Assange asked him to set up hidden cameras to spy on guests inside Ellingham Hall. "Julian just had this idea that everybody was after him," he says. "He wanted this to be done. It made him feel more secure." Siggi bought coat-hook spy cams and affixed them on the back of doors throughout the house, including bedrooms. He says he also installed a spy cam in a room used for meetings with visitors like Eric Schmidt of Google and Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes.
When I call Smith to ask him if he had ever seen any of these items in his house, he said he recalled finding a coat hook in a box and wondering why it was there. "I remember thinking, 'That's weird,'" he says. "'Why would someone bring a coat hanger into my house?'"
Siggi's infiltrations soon spiraled well beyond Ellingham Hall. While WikiLeaks has always maintained that they are, as Hrafnsson puts it, "passive recipients" of leaks, Siggi spent much of 2011 conspiring with the most renowned hackers on the Net. The operation fulfilled what was now a common pattern: Siggi going rogue but with what he said was his boss's tacit approval. "I understood what Julian wanted," Siggi says.
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.
Back at home in his bedroom, Siggi couldn't sleep. He lay in bed imagining the FBI breaking down his door, storming into his house, past his giant Garfield doll, his sleeping parents and his little sister, and hauling him off to Gitmo for good. For months, he'd had insomnia, but now his mind and heart were racing like never before. When he did manage to fall asleep, he woke up screaming.
Just after 3 a.m. on August 23rd, 2011, the pressure Siggi felt finally broke him. Crawling from bed, he e-mailed the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik and asked for a meeting. It wasn't just the LulzSec association that concerned him. Assange seemed to have changed from the man he met the year before. While he was unwilling to donate the amount he'd promised to Manning's defense, he was ready to blow large sums rehabilitating his ailing image. "I don't care," Assange told him. "We have a million bucks, and we can spend it on buying publicity." For Siggi, it was a turning point. "I realized that this wasn't the same ideology as before," he says. But truth is, Siggi was also trying to save his own ass. Going to the FBI, he hoped, would inoculate him against prosecution. And, he admits, he thought being a spy for the feds would be a thrill. There was just one price to pay: "I would be betraying WikiLeaks, Julian, my friends," he says.
The next day, Siggi got called to the U.S. Embassy and was soon taken to a nearby hotel, where he was met by the FBI. They wanted to know WikiLeaks' physical security, their technical security, locations of computer servers, how Assange lived, his daily routine, "literally, everything," Siggi says. And he had plenty of data to share: several hard drives of WikiLeaks private files that he had amassed during his time with the organization – just in case he ever needed them.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus