Here's a new wrinkle to the Anonymous–Stratfor "5 million hacked emails" story.
Background — Recall that, as the story first broke, Anonymous was reported to have broken into the email archive of a big global security firm named Stratfor and hijacked about 5 million emails going back at least six years. Here's how the Telegraph characterized some of the emails released, those dealing with Osama Bin Laden and the Pakistani ISI (my emphasis and some reparagraphing everywhere):
Osama bin Laden was in routine contact with several senior figures from Pakistan's military intelligence agency while in hiding in the country, according to a large cache of secret intelligence files.And we've been treated to leaks from that email cache since (for example, here).
The disclosure was contained in e-mails from the private US security firm, Stratfor, which were published by WikiLeaks website on Monday after being obtained by the Anonymous hacking group.
But how did Anonymous get the emails? Now we know, from a group called LulzSec.
LulzSec is a very small, skilled group of Anonymous-type hackers, but they are not Anonymous per se. LulzSec as a separate entity (if "entity" can be used to describe amorphous groups). LulzSec was responsible for hacking Sony Pictures in 2011, and they were covered by Rachel Maddow for breaking into Arizona law enforcement files.
And now the news
LulzSec has been hacked, in the old fashioned way. The FBI caught one of their leaders, a man going by the handle "Sabu," arrested and charged him, then "convinced" him to work for their side as a mole, a double-agent. He's been the FBI's man ever since.
From BoingBoing (my emphasis and reparagraphing):
The Guardian has more on the big hacking news which Fox News broke yesterday (as noted in a post by Rob). "Sabu," the trash-talking, self-appointed leader of LulzSec, has been working for the FBI for the last six months.So that's how they got "Sabu" to switch teams. Here's what they got him to do.
The FBI says he helped the US and various European governments identify and arrest five alleged LulzSec members charged with participating in defacement, DDOSing, and "doxing" against high-profile government and corporate targets. Sabu ... was charged with 12 criminal counts of conspiracy to engage in "computer hacking and other crimes" last year, pled guilty in August, 2011, then "snitched" on his LulzSec friends.
Sabu-LulzSec hacked an FBI conference call with Scotland Yard. The Guardian:
In a US court document, the FBI's informant [Sabu] – there described as CW – "acting under the direction of the FBI" helped facilitate the publication of what was thought to be an embarrassing leak of conference call between the FBI and the UK's Serious and Organised Crime Agency in February [where] both sides of the Atlantic were heard discussing the progress of various hacking investigations[.]For more on that conference call story, see our report here. If the Guardian is right, the FBI set itself up for the intercept. I wonder if they let the other side of the conference call (Scotland Yard) in on the secret.
But the other story that Sabu was involved in, post his arrest and squealage, is the story mentioned at the top, the hacking of that 50-million-email cache from Stratfor Forecasting, the one that WikiLeaks is now releasing. The Guardian again:
A second document shows that Monsegur [Sabu] – styled this time as CW-1 – provided an FBI-owned computer to facilitate the release of 5m emails taken from US security consultancy Stratfor and which are now being published by WikiLeaks.Now we know how WikiLeaks and Anonymous got the emails — from Sabu and LulzSec. Which mean ... from the FBI.
That suggests the FBI may have had an inside track on discussions between Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and Anonymous, another hacking group, about the leaking of thousands of confidential emails and documents.
What does this add up to?
This is a lot of interesting data to absorb. For example:
(1) The FBI got its own mole to use LulzSec to hack its own conference call. Just that makes you pause.
(2) The FBI also got its mole to get LulzSec to hack 5 million badly protected emails — covering a six year span — from Stratfor, a global security consulting firm that was described thus by Bloomberg in 2008:
Strategic Forecasting in Austin, Texas ... consults for companies and governments around the world, was described in a 2001 Barron's article as "the shadow CIA."What? What top global security company advises its clients to keep six years of emails, much less does it themselves? And what is the FBI doing hacking such a company?
(3) Did Stratfor know it was being set up? One of Stratfor's clients could easily be the U.S. government, through any one of its spook-like agencies (DHS comes to mind, for starters).
This is a many-handed game. You could get very John LeCarré as you think about this stuff — but you'd have to imagine very bad villains. After all, here's a "global intelligence company" with Fortune 500 clients, along with who-knows-from-where government agencies — yet they keep years of emails on an Internet-accessible server. These are rank amateurs; circus clowns.
So let's ask a few more questions — or let others do it — to dig a few layers deeper:
■ "tas" (a working "IT professional" writing at the Agonist) offers this thought:
So a FBI computer was used to help the Stratfor leaks. It makes me wonder if the American intelligence community decided to let the private emails of a private intelligence company leak as some sort of warning to them.■ Marcy Wheeler adds:
One other neat detail about the suggestion, of course, is that the CIA went around claiming to be FBI agents while they tortured people. Was this Sabu preparing to go around hacking for the FBI while hinting he was CIA?Be sure to click through to the text exchange she references between a Guardian writer and someone the writer takes to be Sabu. It contains some intriguing implications.
■ And finally, Wheeler again, in an allegation I think is dead-on:
Sabu, the head of LulzSec, offered an FBI computer to facilitate the publication of Stratfor (no doubt [to] set up a LulzSec-assisted indictment of Julian Assange in the future)Of course. Watch your back, Julian — also your front and sides. (And if "Sabu" really is helping to bring down Assange, he better watch is own back; that's a betrayal.)
Very John LeCarré, but with casting by Austin Powers. Our world, in their hands — I feel safer already.
(To follow on Twitter: @Gaius_Publius)