#OpISIS 8.8: Winter 2010-2011 (Part 3)

In the last article published in this sub-series, I covered two statements that Julian Assange made in 2009 and 2010, respectively, both of which became the catalyst for Bank of America (BofA), Palantir, HBGary Federal, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to conspire and plot WikiLeak’s demise. In October 2009, Assange announced that he possessed five gigabytes of data from Bank of America:

At the moment, for example, we are sitting on 5GB from Bank of America, one of the executive’s hard drives.

A little over a year later, Assange told Forbes Magazine that WikiLeaks was going to publish a “megaleak” in early 2011:

We have one related to a bank coming up, that’s a megaleak. It’s not as big a scale as the Iraq material, but it’s either tens or hundreds of thousands of documents depending on how you define it.

When asked if the “megaleak” was about a U.S. bank, Assange responded, “Yes, it’s a U.S. bank,” and with that, Bank of America concluded that Assange’s 2010 comments about a “megaleak” was in reference to his 2009 comments about having five gigabytes of BofA data, setting off a wild chain of events.

But at the end of the day, WikiLeaks never delivered on the five gigabytes. In fact, they never published any Bank of America documents. A year later, WikiLeaks and Assange accused former WikiLeaks volunteer, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, of stealing the material and he didn’t exactly deny it. But the story is a bit more complicated than that.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Despite what Daniel Domscheit-Berg has said in the press, he didn’t join WikiLeaks until approximately December 2008, when he was given a WikiLeaks email address and appointed press contact in Germany.

According to some accounts, as early as January 2010, Domscheit-Berg’s relationships within the organization deteriorated and WikiLeaks staff began “phasing him out” of collaborations such as Collateral Murder, Afghan War Diaries, and Cablegate.

Fast forward to August 20, 2010, the day that Assange was accused of rape in Sweden. Five days after that, Domscheit-Berg reportedly tried to take over WikiLeaks’ system. And the day after that, Newsweek published a story with a headline that read, “Is WikiLeaks Too Full of Itself?” Domscheit-Berg was suspected of being the source behind the story.

He denied the rumors during an online chat with Assange later that day but tensions continued to rise, and Assange made the decision to suspend Domscheit-Berg from WikiLeaks for thirty days. 

According to Domscheit-Berg, he officially resigned from WikiLeaks in September while still on suspension, and for the next few months he hit the mainstream media circuit, criticizing Assange and WikiLeaks at every opportunity. He also announced that he was starting his own leak platform called OpenLeaks.

At no point was it mentioned in the press yet that Domscheit-Berg stole source material from WikiLeaks and that he sabotaged their submission system on the way out the door.

On November 28th, WikiLeaks started publishing Cablegate and the very next day Assange made that infamous comment to Forbes Magazine about an upcoming “megaleak.”

We have one related to a bank coming up, that’s a megaleak. It’s not as big a scale as the Iraq material, but…

Again, everyone, including Bank of America, assumed that Assange was referring to the five gigabytes of Bank of America data he mentioned the year prior while he was in Malaysia for a 2009 cyber conference.

But remember, even though it wasn’t public information yet, at the time of the Forbes interview (November 2010), Domscheit-Berg had already resigned from WikiLeaks, taking with him all of their source material. Theoretically, this would have included the five gigabytes of Bank of America data.

On January 11, 2011, CNBC‘s John Carney announced that an inside source told him that WikiLeaks’ next target, the “megaleak,” to be exact, was Bank of America. But again, how could this be? Domscheit-Berg stole those documents back in September 2010, when he “resigned” from WikiLeaks, right? Was this a different BofA leak?

Less than a month later, the Financial Times published their story profiling HBGary Federal’s CEO, Aaron Barr, and how he infiltrated Anonymous, which worked out for Barr said no one ever. In return, Anonymous hacked HBGary and leaked all of the emails.

In the meantime, snippets of Domscheit-Berg’s upcoming book entitled, “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website,” were leaked to Cryptome.org on February 7th. Two days later, Domscheit-Berg told the world that the five gigabytes of Bank of America material supposedly in Assange’s possession was “completely unspectacular.”

February 9, 2011

On February 9th, and literally smack dab in the middle of the HBGary/Anonymous debacle, Stern Magazine published an interview with Domscheit-Berg in which he admitted that he stole source material from WikiLeaks. But read carefully what he told Stern, “Wikileaks cannot reliably protect its secret documents and sources anymore. That’s why former staff ‘secured’ a large part of the data collected.”

He didn’t admit to taking the whole enchilada, only part of it. Stern went on to report that the Bank of America documents were “not part of the data secured by Domscheit-Berg.” But, even if he didn’t steal the documents, he certainly read them because he told Stern that the five-gigabyte cache was “quite completely unspectacular.”

But were they really, or was Domscheit-Berg trying to minimize the gravity of what he had done? Or is it possible that Domscheit-Berg wanted everyone to believe that Assange still had the documents so that Bank of America and Peter Thiel’s Palantir would continue to target WikiLeaks, rather than himself.

For instance, on the same day that Domscheit-Berg issued the denial, WikiLeaks published, “The WikiLeaks Threat,” a presentation leaked by Anonymous that HBGary Federal and Palantir created (on behalf of Bank of America) on how to destroy WikLeaks.

On February 9th, Reuters published their own extraordinary story about the Bank of America documents:

Assange has said privately he does not know if his cache of internal Bank of America data, whose public release he has suggested might be imminent, contains any big news or scandal, according to three people familiar with the WikiLeaks leader’s private discussions about the material.

They said that Assange said it consists of e-mails from the hard-drive of a Bank of America executive’s computer and that the latest messages are dated sometime in 2006.

The sources said that Assange privately acknowledged the material was not self-explanatory and that he personally was unable to make much sense of it. Assange indicated it would require a substantial amount of effort by financial experts to determine whether any of the material was newsworthy, according to the sources.

Assange’s private characterizations of the Bank of America material as being dated and difficult to interpret contrasts with inflammatory public statements he has made — some as recently as last month — touting the significance of bank-related materials WikiLeaks has been planning to publish.

First, Reuters erroneously conflated the two statements that Assange made in 2009 and 2010. They reported that Assange “suggested” the “imminent” release of “Bank of America data” which came from the “hard-drive of a Bank of America executive’s computer.” However, the Bank of America data that came from the hard-drive of a BofA executive came from the statements Assange made in 2009. The “suggestion” that a leak was “imminent” came from the statements Assange made in 2010 about a banking “megaleak.”

At no point did Assange mention Bank of America in his 2010 statements. Like, never. Maybe the “megaleak” was, indeed, about Bank of America but he never suggested it. Everyone just assumed that it was. So that’s the first problem with this article.

Second, I have no idea if Domscheit-Berg was the source for it but he was hitting the media circuit pretty hard between February 7-9th to promote his upcoming book, so it wouldn’t surprise me. A story like this would certainly get Domscheit-Berg off the hook for stealing the documents because, meh, who cares. They were worthless.

Third, I couldn’t find anything online where WikiLeaks or Assange denied the story. I’m not saying they didn’t. I’m saying I couldn’t find it, if they did. But WikiLeaks did fire back and here’s what they said:

WikiLeaks has been taking legal action against former employee, Daniel Domscheit-Berg who was suspended from the organization in September. The reasons for these actions will gradually become clear, but some are hinted at by extracts from Domscheit-Bergs book.

In the book Domscheit-Berg confesses to various acts of sabotage against the organization. The former WikiLeaks staffer admits to having damaged the sites primary submission system and stolen material.

The sabotage and concern over motives led to an overhaul of the entire submission system, an ongoing project that is not being expedited due to its complex nature and the organization´s need to focus its resources on publication and defense.

It should be noted that Domscheit-Berg´s roles within WikiLeaks were limited and started to diminish almost a year ago as his integrity and stability were questioned. He has falsely misrepresented himself in the press as a programmer, computer-scientist, security expert, architect, editor, founder, director and spokesman. He is not a founder or co-founder and nor was there any contact with him during the founding years. He did not even have an email address with the organization until 2008 (we launched in December 2006). He cannot program and wrote not a single program for the organization, at any time.

Domschiet-Berg was never an architect for the organization, technically, or in matters of policy. He was a spokesperson for WikiLeaks in Germany at various times, but he was never the spokesman for WikiLeaks, nor was he ever WikiLeaks editor, although he subedited some articles. He was also never a computer scientist, or computer security expert, although he was a computer science student many years ago. His accounts of the crucial times in WikiLeaks history since April last year are therefore based upon limited information or malicious falsifications.

There’s no mention of any specific source material taken by Domscheit-Berg in the statement and, again, WikiLeaks didn’t deny Reuter’s article or Domscheit-Berg’s comments that the Bank of America files were “completely unspectacular.” But their silence was about to come to an end.

August 15 – August 23, 2011

The situation between Domscheit-Berg and WikiLeaks reared it’s ugly head once again during the late summer. On August 15th, Andy Müller-Maguhn, the spokesperson for the German hacker group, Chaos Computer Club, revealed that he had spent the last eleven months trying to mediate between Domscheit-Berg and WikiLeaks in order to get Domscheit-Berg to return the source material he stole from them.

Five days later, WikiLeaks released another statement:


Oof. Domscheit-Berg responded by telling Der Spiegel that he “shredded” over 3,500 files “over the past few days” because apparently this was the closest he could get to a calm and rational decision while handling a bunch of global secrets.

Former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg claims to have destroyed more than 3,500 unpublished files obtained from unknown informants. The information they contained is now apparently lost, irrevocably. The documents in question were stored on the WikiLeaks server until late summer 2010, when Domscheit-Berg left the organization, taking the files with him upon his departure.

Now Domscheit-Berg says that these documents were “shredded over the past few days in order to ensure that the sources are not compromised.”

When Michael Corleone said, “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business,” he definitely wasn’t referring to Domscheit-Berg.

WikiLeaks Publicly Accuses Domscheit-Berg of Stealing and Destroying BofA Material; “Megaleak” Was Never About 5 Gigabytes

There was no mention of the Bank of America documents specifically in WikiLeaks’ second public statement but they did accuse Domscheit-Berg of stealing “banking” documents. Domscheit-Berg didn’t mention them either in the Speigel interview, but the following day, he told Wired that “he didn’t take the 5GB of Bank of America documents,” which was the same story that he told Stern Magazine back in February.

Domscheit-Berg also said that he only took documents from January 2010 – September 2010, which would have been after Assange received the five gigabytes of data from a BofA executive’s hard drive. However, on August 21, 2011, WikiLeaks made it abundantly clear that he took them:

The only thing we know with some certainty is that in the above tweet WikiLeaks was referring to the same five gigabytes of data that Assange mentioned in 2009—not necessarily the “megaleak” documents he mentioned in 2010.

More importantly, the moment that WikiLeaks publicly stated that Domscheit-Berg stole the five gigabytes of Bank of America material when he left in September 2010, was the moment that it became impossible for Assange’s 2010 “megaleak” announcement to Forbes to be about the five gigabytes of BofA material. How could it? WikiLeaks had just admitted on Twitter that Domscheit-Berg stole the documents months prior to Assange’s announcement.

If WikiLeaks’ statement was true, then the statement that Assange made to Forbes in November 2010 about an upcoming “megaleak,” the very statement that set everything in motion like Bank of America, Palantir, HBGary, “The WikiLeaks Threat,” Aaron Barr’s obsession with Anonymous, and the subsequent HBGary email leak, was NEVER about five gigabytes of Bank of America material in the first place.


So, what exactly was the “megaleak” about, why didn’t WikiLeaks publish it, and why didn’t anyone ever question this? According to Assange’s own statements, they clearly still had the material and/or received it after Domscheit-Berg left WikiLeaks. I mean, WikiLeaks isn’t admitting that for over two months after Domscheit-Berg left they didn’t notice that he stole more than five gigabytes of data from them, are they?

During the late summer of 2011, Reuters also reported that Domscheit-Berg admitted to destroying around 3,000 submissions, but they reported that the 3,000 submissions related strictly to the Bank of America. And of those 3,000 submission, Domscheit-Berg said that 85-90% of it was “junk.”

So, according to Domscheit-Berg’s assessment, out of the five gigabytes of material WikiLeaks received in 2009, which he called “completely unspectacular,” plus the 3,000 submissions, WikiLeaks only had in their possession about 10-15% of legitimate Bank of America materials and he destroyed all of it.

And how many Bank of America sources did WikiLeaks have exactly? Was the 10-15% of legit material that was submitted but later destroyed by Domscheit-Berg from the same Bank of America executive who sent WikiLeaks the five gigabytes of data? Or was this a different source(s)? The same could be asked about the “megaleak” source. And frankly, if Domscheit-Berg was telling the truth, why didn’t he take the five gigabytes of data?

According to Forbe’s Andy Greenberg, WikiLeaks, indeed, had plans to release a trove of Bank of America documents based on two unreleased posters that were created by “Agents of Chaos” in late 2010. They were leaked to Greenberg by an ex-WikiLeaks volunteer (Domscheit-Berg?):

[A]n ex-WikiLeaks volunteer has provided me with two unreleased posters the group had created in late 2010 to promote the Bank of America leak it planned to publish in early 2011. One shows a sinister-looking spider with a Bank of America logo on its body sitting in a web of trapped flies, with a reference to Assange’s comment to me last November about exposing an “ecosystem of corruption” written below it. The other shows a house of cards with Bank of America logos and dollar bills on each card, a real-estate sign that reads “ethics for sale” and the phrase “expose unethical banking” below.

First, I’ve seen no documentation that proves that these posted were created in “late 2010.” Second, whoever shared the posters with Greenberg was telling the truth about their existence because an archived page from WikiLeaks’ website shows that at least one of the BofA posters was uploaded to their website.


What does this mean in terms of source material and whether or not Domscheit-Berg took the files? Who knows. And, as to whether or not WikiLeaks had multiple Bank of America leaks, or why they didn’t publish the “megaleak,” remains unknown and no one seems terribly curious about it.

At the end of the day, Bank of America had nothing to worry about because the Bank of America leaks never materialized. What did materialize was an Anonymous Twitter account’s claims that they were a former executive for Bank of America, as well as a “trove of damning documents on Bank of America,” that were leaked by another alleged member of Anonymous in March 2011. But exactly how damning were they?

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