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Teen volunteer to WikiLeaks' Assange dug dirt and wooed Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney

Ryan Gallagher, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Julian Assange was drawing up an enemies list. It was November 2010, and WikiLeaks, the controversial organization and website that Assange founded, had in the previous months exploded onto the global stage after publishing thousands of classified U.S. government documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange turned to a teenager for help. He provided the volunteer with names of prominent journalists, researchers and former WikiLeaks associates who had turned against the organization and asked him to compile information about them. "The enemies list should also have key identifiers. e.g. Twitter accounts, email, photo," Assange instructed.

The volunteer was Sigurdur Thordarson, a then 17-year-old Icelandic citizen, whose conversations with Assange are revealed in previously undisclosed online chat transcripts seen by Bloomberg. Thordarson, otherwise known as "Siggi," began volunteering with WikiLeaks earlier in 2010, and later became close to Assange, working alongside him for a period of time in England, according to multiple former WikiLeaks employees and volunteers. But the Icelandic teenager later grew disenchanted with WikiLeaks -- and became an informant for the FBI, according to four people familiar with the matter, documents and emails reviewed by Bloomberg.

On June 24, the Justice Department released a new indictment against Assange, accusing him of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and unauthorized obtaining of national defense information. The indictment doesn't add new charges against Assange -- who was previously indicted in 2019 -- but broadens the conspiracy allegations against him. Part of the new indictment includes references to information gathered by "the teenager."

There isn't a reference to Thordarson, but a person familiar with the investigation said "the teenager" in the indictment is the Icelandic man.

The indictment alleges that in early 2010, Assange asked the teenager "to commit computer intrusions and steal additional information, including audio records of phone conversations" of high-ranking officials at an unnamed government that is part of NATO. According to a person familiar with the investigation, the government was Iceland.

 

Parts of Thordarson's story, and some portion of the chat logs, have been previously reported, and WikiLeaks has long sought to distance itself from him. But the previously undisclosed chat transcripts -- which were obtained by two people familiar with the matter -- suggest that Thordarson was, at least for a period of time, a trusted colleague of Assange's, and they provide new details about his role in trying to recruit hackers and put them into contact with the WikiLeaks founder. They also provide fresh insights into WikiLeaks' internal operations during some of its most consequential releases of U.S. government secrets -- a period that would shape the organization's trajectory in the subsequent decade and leave Assange embroiled in an ongoing legal fight.

Thordarson declined to comment for this article. Assange is currently in jail in London, awaiting a decision on extradition to the U.S. WikiLeaks said in statements posted on Twitter that the new indictment was a "pathetic attempt by the DOJ to dupe the public" and one that relies on a "convicted fraudster" -- a reference to Thordarson and his legal woes in Iceland -- to make up more "bogus claims."

Thordarson's role was to manage a chat portal used by volunteers to communicate. Assange also tasked him to find places for him to stay, to develop partnerships with some news organizations and to cultivate celebrity support. In 2011, while WikiLeaks was facing accusations of treason from some U.S. congressmen, Thordarson tried unsuccessfully to reach out to pop stars such as Justin Bieber and Paul McCartney to get them to attend Assange's 40th birthday party and lend support to WikiLeaks, according to the transcripts.

After falling out with Assange over money and other disputes, Thordarson handed the FBI -- between August 2011 and March 2012 -- thousands of chat transcripts, photographs, videos and other data gathered from his time at WikiLeaks, according to two of the people familiar with the investigation.

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