Sometimes a story just lands in your lap that is so incredible that you can’t believe it, but it’s such a great story that you can’t just ignore it, either. Sometimes you wind up debunking it, sometimes you wind up confirming it, and sometimes, you take the story as far as you can and still don’t know what to believe. At those times, you may well wonder whether you are being played as a “useful idiot” for someone’s propaganda purposes. Because I couldn’t confirm this story, I withheld it until after the election. It’s just one of a few conspiracy claims I became aware of in the past month or so that raise questions about whether the hack of the Democrats and Clinton was solely by Russian state actors.
In the Beginning
Back in February, DataBreaches.net reported on a leak of Palm Beach County law enforcement officials’ and judges’ personal information. The leak was orchestrated by friends of John Mark Dougan, a former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputy. Dougan had created a site, PBSOtalk.com, to try to expose alleged corruption in Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s office. At some point, he told me, he sold the site to Russian friends, who took over its operation and content. In retaliation for the PBSO allegedly hacking Dougan’s accounts and attempting to retaliate against him for trying to expose problems in the department, his friends decided to leak Florida officials’ personal information.
One month later, when I attempted to follow up on the leak, one of Dougan’s Russian friends, known to me as “BadVolf,” demonstrated to me that the sites from which the data had been obtained were still not secured. DataBreaches.net contacted the agencies whose data were still too easily accessible, and reported on it, including a picture I was sent of Dougan, BadVolf, and others in Moscow.
In what seemed relatively innocuous at the time, during my communications with BadVolf, he contacted me to say he had forgotten to redact something from a screenshot, and asked me to correct his mistake before publishing the screenshot. What he had forgotten to redact was the part of the screenshot that showed his login. His error would take on special significance months later.
Shortly after my report appeared, the FBI raided Dougan. For more background on the case, see Jose Lambiet’s numerous articles in Gossip Extra and Gawker‘s coverage of Dougan’s allegations of corruption in the PBSO.
In any event, a few weeks after the raid, and wearing his mother’s blonde wig and blue sunglasses, Dougan fled to Russia, where he sought – and reports that he was eventually granted – asylum.
But when Dougan fled to Russia in April, he left his wife and young children behind. He fears that if he returns to the U.S., he will be arrested and put in a situation where cronies of PBSO will ensure that he is treated brutally. Not being able to see his wife and family has been the hardest part of this all, he told me:
I watched, thinking about ways to destroy US law enforcement out of bitterness and I came up with an idea to decimate their intelligence gathering abilities. But then I realized it’s not only hurting law enforcement, it’s hurting the citizens too. Still, I’m angry and I want revenge. They tore apart my family, for what? Exposing their dirty secrets?
And that’s where Dougans’ friends in Russia allegedly come in….. again.
Wait… WHAT did I Just See?
Fast forward to September, when I was reporting on another leak orchestrated by Dougan’s friends. This one involved the Florida Bar Association and had been posted to PBSOtalk.ru, where the site had been moved to protect it from the kind of takedown PBSOtalk.com had experienced after earlier leaks.
Trying to understand whether the bar association data had actually been hacked or if this was an enumeration, I reached out to BadVolf to ask him to send a more detailed explanation of what they had done.
With the same cheery cooperation he had displayed in the past, BadVolf sent me an .mp4 file showing step-by-step directions. I was on my third viewing of it when I suddenly realized that BadVolf had once again apparently forgotten to redact his login at the top of the screen. But what I was seeing made my jaw drop, as it indicated he was logged in as [email protected].
I contacted BadVolf, who told me he had no problem with me showing him logged in as root at dcleaks.com, and that he was proud of what he was doing to help his good friend Dougan.
Somewhat incredulous at the thought that BadVolf could have anything to do with DCLeaks, and even more skeptical that DCLeaks could have anything to do with Dougan, I started asking BadVolf whether he was really involved in DCLeaks, and if he was, whether he had any data or proof that hadn’t already been published on WikiLeaks. And of course, I wanted to know why he would be doing this. The story BadVolf told me was what I can only describe as a “Hail Mary” play of such epic proportions as to defy belief.
According to both BadVolf and Dougan, the intent of DCLeaks was to create backlash against Clinton so that Trump would get elected. But why did they want to get Trump elected? As BadVolf told me, “Mark [Dougan] say Trump is outsider that everyone is scared of. He say his only chance of blanket pardon for unknown crimes would be from Trump….. We do not care who wins as long as it is not Hilary (sic) Clinton because she will keep current leadership of doj/fbi…. Trump would fire those leaders because they are bought by the clintons…”
Of course, in light of what happened in the past few weeks, BadVolf might have changed his opinion, as Clinton may blame the FBI for her election loss and Trump may want to send flowers and a thank-you to Director Comey, but keep in mind that this conversation was in early October. And if what they were telling me was true, this could be the most hare-brained political plot I had ever heard. To be clear, according to BadVolf, Trump himself had no knowledge of, or involvement in DC Leaks at all. This was all their doing, BadVolf told me, to try to influence the outcome of the election to help Dougan.
My Kingdom for Some Proof?
Unsurprisingly, I asked for some proof. But when BadVolf attempted to provide me with copies of all the emails – including, he said, emails that had not yet appeared on WikiLeaks, he was unable to do so, and said he needed to contact Guccifer2.0, who, to my surprise, showed up in our chat to provide a new link where I was able to download everything. But there was nothing in what I downloaded that hadn’t already appeared on WikiLeaks. Despite repeated requests, I was not given any material that might have proved I was dealing with those who had had access to Clinton’s email server or Democrats.org.
For that matter, maybe I should have said that someone claiming to be Guccifer2point0 had showed up in chat, as I was never able to definitely confirm that the individual I was chatting with in one setting was the same individual who had dealt with other journalists and the same individual who controlled the Guccifer2 Twitter account. Then again, the Guccifer2 Twitter account never asked me what I was talking about when I contacted him via DM to ask for confirmation of something.
So why didn’t the individual identifying himself as Guccifer2 answer me after our initial conversation?
According to BadVolf, by that time, Guccifer2 was mad at journalists and was also unhappy that BadVolf and Dougan were talking to reporters about DCLeaks as it might bring the Russian government down on all their heads. None of them, BadVolf claims, are state actors. And he claimed that they were concerned for their own safety from their government. “Everyone here already on edgy about this story,” BadVolf told me one day when I told him that I wanted Guccifer2 to DM me from his Twitter account to prove that he was the individual with whom I had been chatting. “We have been discussing who will he first to get murdered by robbery or struck croasing road by runaway car,” BadVolf told me (typos as in the original).
“Clinton is blaming president putin. It is big lie!” BadVolf said in another chat. “In fact one reason we fear this story is we can be arrested by our government. They do not in any way support the actions we do,” he added.
But of course, if they were state actors, that’s exactly what we would expect them to say, right? But then, if they were state actors, then why couldn’t BadVolf provide me with the kind of proof requested to prove that he had access to DCLeaks? BadVolf’s explanation – that he was the database guy and not the web server guy, was not totally convincing to those who reviewed the mp4 files he provided. Claiming that Guccifer2 would not cooperate with the story pretty much killed any chance of getting proof of some of BadVolf’s claims, as he said that only Guccifer2 could have uploaded a file to the web server.
But why would Guccifer2 even be involved in this long-shot operation? When I put the question to him as to his motivation for participating in DCLeaks, the individual claiming to be Guccifer2 in our chat answered my question this way:
I have many reasons.
- I am Russian.
- the challenge
- bettering of society
- to help a someone who needs this to be donw (sic)
- I am Russian.
When I asked him if the “someone” in #4 was Mark (referring to Dougan), he replied, “Oh you know him?”
So “Guccifer2point0” seemed to know Dougan, and Guccifer2 had seemingly shown up when BadVolf asked him to, but how did BadVolf and Guccifer2 know each other?
According to what BadVolf told Gawker in March, BadVolf works in IT for a “local government agency” that he wouldn’t name. But when I asked BadVolf the same question recently, he told me he worked in an actuarial/database position for an insurance firm. He also claimed that he and Guccifer2 were friends and had worked at the same place, although it was not clear whether that was in the past or currently.
In any event, according to BadVolf, there were three people involved in DCLeaks: him, Guccifer2, and a third party that he didn’t name. And while it was Guccifer2 who purportedly provided me with all the DNC emails, they both provided me with what they claimed were the email logins to Clinton’s email server back in April (before the hack had been detected and passwords changed). The passwords were never published on WikiLeaks or anywhere else. And wait until you see the login credentials they allege they used to gain access to Clinton’s email server and to Democrats.org:
Passwords to Hillary Clinton’s email accounts allegedly included “LeadTheSheeple2016, while Former President Bill Clinton’s password was allegedly “Saxaphone1994%”
Okay, this had to be a joke or fake, right? Even though the mp4 file allegedly demonstrating access showed the same login credentials, how could this possibly be true? Without confirmation or proof, it could have all been faked to embarrass Clinton even more.
I asked BadVolf about the password, and whether it was really “LeadTheSheeple2016” or if that was just a joke on their part. BadVolf’s response was
Why. What is metal have to do with password. What means sheeple.
It took me a while to realize that the reference to “metal” in his response was not a typo and was linked to “lead” as a heavy metal instead of as a verb. Could he have been feigning ignorance? Sure, but if the passwords were fake, my money was on BadVolf not being their creator. And yet he claimed that those passwords worked when he went to pull emails from Clinton’s email server and democrats.org.
I will not post all the screenshots and evidence BadVolf provided to prove his claim that they were responsible for DCLeaks. I will only say, for now, that he was unable to provide the kind of proof that is generally sought such as a file uploaded to the web server confirming access. Except, as he explained, he’d always said that his role/access was to the database server, not the web server. So although he provided me with a lot of statements about the three servers, their router, and port forwarding, he couldn’t – and Guccifer 2 reportedly wouldn’t – do the one thing really needed: for BadVolf to prove he had access to DCLeaks.com by uploading a file or message that could be verified.
So there it was….. this wild story claiming that DCLeaks was an operation designed and/or run, in part, to get Trump elected so that he might pardon Dougan and Dougan could return to the U.S. without fear of prosecution by the DOJ.
Was this all true or was any of it true? I have no idea. The FBI is not inclined to answer questions such as “Were these the passwords to Clinton’s email server and to Democrats.org earlier this year?” and an inquiry sent to Clinton’s campaign went unanswered. But if it is true, then how many entities were hacking Clinton’s email server and democrats.org?
After dealing with and interacting with BadVolf since February, it is hard for me to envision him as any kind of state actor, although I wouldn’t rule out him cooperating with a state actor for his own purposes. He’s a young man who is intensely loyal to his friend Dougan, and who hates our government for what they’ve done to Dougan. I have no doubt that he would do whatever he can to help him. Could he try to use DCLeaks to get attention to Dougan’s plight? Yes. But did he actually get involved with Guccifer2 in hacking Clinton and Democrats.org for that purpose? As far-fetched as it sounds, I think he would. But did he? My guess is that he did, but whether any state actor(s) were involved and without more compelling evidence, we may never know.