Twitter DMs obtained by BuzzFeed News show that in the summer of 2016, WikiLeaks was working to obtain files from Guccifer 2.0, an online hacktivist persona linked to by Russian military intelligence, the clearest evidence to date of WikiLeaks admitting its pursuit of Guccifer 2.0.
“[P]lease ‘leave,’ their conversation with them and us,” WikiLeaks asked journalist Emma Best, who was also negotiating with Guccifer 2.0 for access to what it had teased on its blog as “exclusive access” to hacked Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee files. “[W]e would appreciate it if you did not dump the docs and obviously archive.org will delete them anyway.”
WikiLeaks had mentioned Guccifer 2.0 a single time before, tweeting in June 2016 — five weeks before it released its first dump of Democratic National Committee emails — that the persona had claimed it gave WikiLeaks DNC emails.
But by the time of the DM conversation with Best, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had shifted the story of how WikiLeaks acquired those emails, giving repeated TV interviews that floated Seth Rich, a Democratic staffer who had been murdered in what police concluded was a botched robbery, as his real source.
The messages between Assange and Best, a freelance national security journalist and online archivist, are the starkest proof yet that Assange knew a likely Russian government hacker had the Democrat leaks he wanted. And they reveal the deliberate bad faith with which Assange fed the groundless claims that Rich was his source, even as he knew the documents’ origin.
Best told BuzzFeed News she first reached out to Guccifer 2.0 in August 2016 after it posted on its WordPress account a call for journalists who wanted its files. “I sent them a Direct Message and referred to that, asking what they had in mind,” Best told BuzzFeed News over Signal. Best has experience posting large data sets, and wondered if she could host the files on archive.org, a nonprofit digital library.
But Guccifer 2.0 had another idea. “[I] gonna send a large trove to wikileaks,” it said. Best, who had DMed with WikiLeaks before, relayed that message to WikiLeaks in a direct message on Twitter. Neither party conveyed to her whether they had interacted together before.
“I told them that Guccifer 2.0 was considering giving me at least part of the cache, which is when they asked me to be their ‘agent,’ which they said I would get ‘credit’ for,” Best said. She didn’t agree to act as Assange’s agent, she said, but stopped messaging with Guccifer 2.0.
WikiLeaks was adamant in its communications with Best that it didn’t want anyone else to leak the files.
“[T]hese other media groups are very likely to take a stupid initial angle,” WikiLeaks said in one message sent Aug. 12 at 9:14 p.m., adding that other news outlets would focus less on the content of the leaks than how they came to be. “‘We don’t know if its true. Possibly russians who knows blah blah blah.’”
WikiLeaks’s pitch worked. “I dropped the matter with both parties and never received or passed on any exclusive G2, DNC, Podesta, etc. documents,” Best said.
Less than an hour after WikiLeaks’s last message to Best, Guccifer 2.0 tweeted that it had handed those documents over.