Between 9 and 11 March, an incident occurred on Twitter, which raised concerns that two journalists, from the Guardian and the New Statesman, may have disclosed a journalist's private information (held by their papers' websites), in order to attack Julian Assange.
The following is a brief description of the incident:
James Ball @jamesrbuk: @Jemima_Khan Julian [Assange] ought to think very carefully before leaking private emails relating to WikiLeaks, even through fronts. 7:07 AM - Mar 9, 2013
James Ball then sent a tweet to the journalist Asher Wolf, which addressed the same topic - the leaking of an email from Joseph Farrell (a staff member at WikiLeaks) to Jemima Khan. The contents of the leaked email detailed issues created by Khan's recent article in the New Statesman and her relationship with Julian Assange:
James Ball @jamesrbuk: @Asher_Wolf @jemima_khan The few people still loyal to [Julian Assange] who aren't sockpuppets aren't going to change their mind this late. 7:37 AM - Mar 9, 2013
The tweet containing the leaked 'Farrell/ Khan email' occurred at 10:51 AM - Mar 7, 2013.
By chance I happened to notice it, decided it was newsworthy and posted the email here and tweeted a link to it at 3:05 PM - Mar 7.
The story was then picked up by various websites, one of which is Julian Assange Defence Fund’s (JADF) website.
On the 9th of March, the freedom of information activist Susanne Maier (@gerge42) sent a tweet to James Ball questioning his use of the term “sockpuppet” and “front” (for WikiLeaks) in describing my Twitter account and website:
Susanne Maier @gerge42: @jamesrbuk So @StjarnaFranfall is a "front" for JA? Getting a bit conpiratorial aren`t we James? 6:37 PM - Mar 9, 2013
When I saw Susanne Maier's tweet 'mentioning' StjarnaFranfall, the previous tweets by James Ball were also brought to my attention. As I am an independent journalist that writes about WikiLeaks, I decided to reply to her tweet in order to present a different understanding of James Ball's accusations:
Stjärna Frånfälle @StjarnaFranfall: @gerge42 The question is @jamesrbuk who are you a front for? BBC Radio 4 has reported(this week) on MI6 asset 'reporters' in the Guardian. 9:19 PM - Mar 9, 2013
James Ball @jamesrbuk: @StjarnaFranfall yeah, during the Cold War. But let's talk about you - how is Kensington these days? I hear tales of your IP... 1:40 PM - Mar 9, 2013
A few months ago, I saw several tweets - by people who were considered to be professionally opposed to WikiLeaks - suggesting that StjarnaFranfall was Julian Assange, but took this behaviour as just harmless nonsense. I mentioned this to James Ball, expecting that his declarations about my IP address were an aberration. At this point the exchange was not notable and, as far as I was concerned, it was over.
James Ball then re-tweeted the following:
Ben McCombe @BenMcCombe: So it seems Assange has been tweeting using a sockpuppet (@StjarnaFranfall) , who is a blonde Swedish woman. The IP is same as EC embassy. 4:39 PM - Mar 9, 2013
After seeing these tweets re-tweeted, I became worried by the continued dishonesty displayed by James Ball. StjarnaFranfall is obviously not Julian Assange and my IP address is not currently London based, let alone from the Ecuadorean Embassy or Kensington. The tweeted 'whois' by Ben McCombe was not intrusive, but only because the personal information of marthamitchelleffect.org's domain registration has been obfuscated by its registrar – Gandi.net. The 'whois' clearly shows that there is absolutely no link between my website and justice4assange.com, other than the fact that they are both registered by Gandi.net.
Despite this, James Ball re-tweeted Ben McCombe's tweet as though it demonstrated that there was something of significance to his Julian Assange's personal "sockpuppet" account allegations.
James Ball persisted with his tweets, which became increasingly concerning:
James Ball @jamesrbuk: @MWhalan @benmccombe Second-hand I'm afraid. A website admin had an interesting conversation about tracing IP of that username. 4:06 AM - Mar 10, 2013
James Ball @jamesrbuk: @MWhalan @benmccombe can't say too much more I'm afraid as it was off-record. 4:06 AM - Mar 10, 2013
Helen Lewis is the Deputy Editor of the New Statesman. She is also a friend of James Ball's and they often converse on Twitter. Like James Ball, she seemed to be awake at an unusually early hour and interested in @StjarnaFranfall:
Helen Lewis @helenlewis: Quick, activate @jeremyduns - could @StjarnaVerkare really be Julian Assange's sockpuppet? Apparently IP traces to Kensington. 3:12 AM - Mar 10, 2013
Helen Lewis @helenlewis: @jamesrbuk @BenMcCombe "Her" Guardian commenting history makes for interesting reading. 3:12 AM - Mar 10, 2013
March 17, 2013
James Ball and Helen Lewis, having tweeted to 40,000 people (and the New Statesman website has been displaying the offending Tweets made by Helen Lewis ever since she posted them) that my IP address was the “Ecuadorean Embassy” and that a “website admin” had confirmed this, now “activated” the journalist Jeremy Duns and publicly sent him my Guardian 'comment is free' (Cif) account history. Jeremy Duns writes articles and books about spying and, through this work, has links to the UK security services. I do not know if any other information was passed to him privately - alongside the link to my Cif account history.
When I first wrote about WikiLeaks on the Martha Mitchell website, it was in the context of censorship in the Guardian's Cif sections. In Cif I used the pseudonym Stjärna Verkare (stjarnaverkare). And every time the Guardian disappeared my comments and deleted my account, I added a number to my pseudonym and created a new account. I started documenting this censorship at stjarnaverkare3 and ended at stjarnaverkare12, when the phenomenon had been clearly demonstrated.
The IP addresses used to create and log in to Stjärna Verkare are identical to a Cif account that is under my actual name. This information links me to the pseudonym I write under and it is available to the Guardian's “website admin”. It is possible that this IP information was passed to Jeremy Duns. It is also possible that James Ball used my private information to make his “Kensington” “Ecuadorean Embassy” claims. However, these claims are a distortion, because although I used to live in London, I have never visited Kensington.
Jeremy Duns @jeremyduns: So. Having checked, I'm sure @StjarnaFranfall isn't Julian Assange after all. 3:06 PM - Mar 10, 2013
The StjarnaFranfall Twitter account is a group account, used not only by myself but by several other journalists. Jeremy Duns was made aware of this.
During Jeremy Duns's attack, a colleague was using the Twitter account and engaged James Duns as he sought to strip those who contribute to Martha Mitchell of their anonymity. We use a pseudonym when writing about politically sensitive issues, because such issues can cause some people to behave strangely.
In November 2012 the account received three threatening direct messages which were then deleted by the sender (who then deleted their Twitter account). These direct messages contained personal information and were clearly written by somebody with access to private records.
Jeremy Duns was informed about this – and still continued his attack. My colleague is pregnant and has small children, so, with the added context of the aforementioned Twitter direct messages, she found Duns's behaviour absolutely terrifying:
Jeremy Duns @jeremyduns: @StjarnaFranfall @x7o I do know. You have an Orange number. My contact? I know who Grace Kelly is. Why are you all pretending to be her? 4:35 PM - Mar 10, 2013
Jeremy Duns @jeremyduns: @StjarnaFranfall @x7o Tried your number - didn't work, so fair enough. I'm not a magician! I don't get why you don't just use your own name. 4:42 PM - Mar 10, 2013
Throughout the whole of the 11th of March, Jeremy Duns continued to attack the Twitter account and the concept of anonymity. His rationale for this attack was that a photo of Grace Kelly and a name meaning "star decline" amounted to a fake identity, not an avatar. He then tried and failed to make harassing telephone calls. Duns's certainty that an Orange mobile was linked to Martha Mitchell makes it likely that he'd obtained private information. I have not held an Orange account for over 6 months and that number was never put online. Further, my previous number does not appear in cached web pages. After this harassment, I blocked his Twitter account. The question remains, where did Jeremy Duns get this private information from? Has this information been obtained by him through gaining possession of my old and current IP addresses? And was a tracing agent or private detective used?
I have no idea whether or not private data, held by both the Guardian and the New Statesman (I have also commented in the New Statesman under my pseudonym) has been used to attack my privacy. And if it has, how or when it will be used next.
James Ball began by stating that StjarnaFranfall was a "front" or "sockpuppet" of WikiLeaks. He then changed his mind, apparently through a "website admin" "off-the-record source" he knew that StjarnaFranfall had been "traced" to the "EC embassy". If this "source" is real and not another of his inventions, he may have distorted the information provided in order to attack Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and depending on the nature of his source, he may have broken the Data Protection Act 1998, Section 55, as well as Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
If James Ball's source actually exists, then the potential illegality of these actions shadow the privacy breaches and data protection crimes detailed in the Leveson Inquiry. And if his source is a complete fiction or if he has distorted the information the source provided - as he must have done, because his statements are completely false - then his actions reflect some of the most damning testimony given to the inquiry:
Leveson Report - Volume 2, Chapter 6, 9.4 Fabrication or deliberate embellishment of stories: "The Inquiry heard sufficient evidence to conclude that some sections of the press have deliberately invented stories with no factual basis in order to satisfy the demands of a readership."
Journalists who believe they can write lies and break laws with impunity have increasingly discovered they are wrong.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website: "There are a number of tools available to the Information Commissioner’s Office for taking action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. They include criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The Information Commissioner also has the power to serve a monetary penalty notice on a data controller."
Lord Justice Leveson: “The Operation Motorman evidence demonstrates an attitude to compliance with the law relating to data protection which can only be described as cavalier, if not worse.”
Charles Batchelor, Financial Times (12 May 2006), "People who buy and sell unauthorised personal information should face up to two years in prison rather than a fine, the information commissioner said yesterday. The Information Commissioner's Office has found "the existence of a pervasive and widespread industry devoted to illegally buying and selling people's personal information including addresses, details of car ownership, ex-directory telephone numbers, criminal records and bank account details".