Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o hacker do amor

Chris McKunlay é um génio da matemática. Mas tinha pouca sorte ao amor. Mesmo estando inscrito em sites de encontros. Recebia poucas respostas e ainda menos convites para sair. Até que uma noite decidiu criar um algorritmo que lhe permitisse aparecer no topo das pesquisas das femininas. E tudo mudou. Passou a ser um dos homens mais procurados do site OKCupid. Marcava mais do que um encontro por dia. E ao 88º encontrou  mulher com quem se vai casar. Uma bela história, da revista Wired, que deu também um livro.

Emily Shur

Emily Shur

“How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love

Chris McKinlay was folded into a cramped fifth-floor cubicle in UCLA’s math sciences building, lit by a single bulb and the glow from his monitor. It was 3 in the morn­ing, the optimal time to squeeze cycles out of the supercomputer in Colorado that he was using for his PhD dissertation. (The subject: large-scale data processing and parallel numerical methods.) While the computer chugged, he clicked open a second window to check his OkCupid inbox.

McKinlay, a lanky 35-year-old with tousled hair, was one of about 40 million Americans looking for romance through websites like Match.com, J-Date, and e-Harmony, and he’d been searching in vain since his last breakup nine months earlier. He’d sent dozens of cutesy introductory messages to women touted as potential matches by OkCupid’s algorithms. Most were ignored; he’d gone on a total of six first dates.

On that early morning in June 2012, his compiler crunching out machine code in one window, his forlorn dating profile sitting idle in the other, it dawned on him that he was doing it wrong. He’d been approaching online matchmaking like any other user. Instead, he realized, he should be dating like a mathematician.

OkCupid was founded by Harvard math majors in 2004, and it first caught daters’ attention because of its computational approach to matchmaking. Members answer droves of multiple-choice survey questions on everything from politics, religion, and family to love, sex, and smartphones.

On average, respondents select 350 questions from a pool of thousands—“Which of the following is most likely to draw you to a movie?” or “How important is religion/God in your life?” For each, the user records an answer, specifies which responses they’d find acceptable in a mate, and rates how important the question is to them on a five-point scale from “irrelevant” to “mandatory.” OkCupid’s matching engine uses that data to calculate a couple’s compatibility. The closer to 100 percent—mathematical soul mate—the better.

But mathematically, McKinlay’s compatibility with women in Los Angeles was abysmal. OkCupid’s algorithms use only the questions that both potential matches decide to answer, and the match questions McKinlay had chosen—more or less at random—had proven unpopular. When he scrolled through his matches, fewer than 100 women would appear above the 90 percent compatibility mark. And that was in a city containing some 2 million women (approximately 80,000 of them on OkCupid). On a site where compatibility equals visibility, he was practically a ghost.

He realized he’d have to boost that number. If, through statistical sampling, McKinlay could ascertain which questions mattered to the kind of women he liked, he could construct a new profile that honestly answered those questions and ignored the rest. He could match every woman in LA who might be right for him, and none that weren’t.

Even for a mathematician, McKinlay is unusual. Raised in a Boston suburb, he graduated from Middlebury College in 2001 with a degree in Chinese. In August of that year he took a part-time job in New York translating Chinese into English for a company on the 91st floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. The towers fell five weeks later. (McKinlay wasn’t due at the office until 2 o’clock that day. He was asleep when the first plane hit the north tower at 8:46 am.) “After that I asked myself what I really wanted to be doing,” he says. A friend at Columbia recruited him into an offshoot of MIT’s famed professional blackjack team, and he spent the next few years bouncing between New York and Las Vegas, counting cards and earning up to $60,000 a year.

The experience kindled his interest in applied math, ultimately inspiring him to earn a master’s and then a PhD in the field. “They were capable of using mathema­tics in lots of different situations,” he says. “They could see some new game—like Three Card Pai Gow Poker—then go home, write some code, and come up with a strategy to beat it.”

Now he’d do the same for love. First he’d need data. While his dissertation work continued to run on the side, he set up 12 fake OkCupid accounts and wrote a Python script to manage them. The script would search his target demographic (heterosexual and bisexual women between the ages of 25 and 45), visit their pages, and scrape their profiles for every scrap of available information: ethnicity, height, smoker or nonsmoker, astrological sign—“all that crap,” he says.

To find the survey answers, he had to do a bit of extra sleuthing. OkCupid lets users see the responses of others, but only to questions they’ve answered themselves. McKinlay set up his bots to simply answer each question randomly—he wasn’t using the dummy profiles to attract any of the women, so the answers didn’t mat­ter—then scooped the women’s answers into a database.

McKinlay watched with satisfaction as his bots purred along. Then, after about a thousand profiles were collected, he hit his first roadblock. OkCupid has a system in place to prevent exactly this kind of data harvesting: It can spot rapid-fire use easily. One by one, his bots started getting banned.

He would have to train them to act human.

He turned to his friend Sam Torrisi, a neuroscientist who’d recently taught McKinlay music theory in exchange for advanced math lessons. Torrisi was also on OkCupid, and he agreed to install spyware on his computer to monitor his use of the site. With the data in hand, McKinlay programmed his bots to simulate Torrisi’s click-rates and typing speed. He brought in a second computer from home and plugged it into the math department’s broadband line so it could run uninterrupted 24 hours a day.

After three weeks he’d harvested 6 million questions and answers from 20,000 women all over the country. McKinlay’s dissertation was relegated to a side project as he dove into the data. He was already sleeping in his cubicle most nights. Now he gave up his apartment entirely and moved into the dingy beige cell, laying a thin mattress across his desk when it was time to sleep.

For McKinlay’s plan to work, he’d have to find a pattern in the survey data—a way to roughly group the women according to their similarities. The breakthrough came when he coded up a modified Bell Labs algorithm called K-Modes. First used in 1998 to analyze diseased soybean crops, it takes categorical data and clumps it like the colored wax swimming in a Lava Lamp. With some fine-tuning he could adjust the viscosity of the results, thinning it into a slick or coagulating it into a single, solid glob.

He played with the dial and found a natural resting point where the 20,000 women clumped into seven statistically distinct clusters based on their questions and answers. “I was ecstatic,” he says. “That was the high point of June.”

He retasked his bots to gather another sample: 5,000 women in Los Angeles and San Francisco who’d logged on to OkCupid in the past month. Another pass through K-Modes confirmed that they clustered in a similar way. His statistical sampling had worked.

Now he just had to decide which cluster best suited him. He checked out some profiles from each. One cluster was too young, two were too old, another was too Christian. But he lingered over a cluster dominated by women in their mid-twenties who looked like indie types, musicians and artists. This was the golden cluster. The haystack in which he’d find his needle. Somewhere within, he’d find true love.

Actually, a neighboring cluster looked pretty cool too—slightly older women who held professional creative jobs, like editors and designers. He decided to go for both. He’d set up two profiles and optimize one for the A group and one for the B group.

He text-mined the two clusters to learn what interested them; teaching turned out to be a popular topic, so he wrote a bio that emphasized his work as a math professor. The important part, though, would be the survey. He picked out the 500 questions that were most popular with both clusters. He’d already decided he would fill out his answers honestly—he didn’t want to build his future relationship on a foundation of computer-generated lies. But he’d let his computer figure out how much importance to assign each question, using a machine-learning algorithm called adaptive boosting to derive the best weightings.

With that, he created two profiles, one with a photo of him rock climbing and the other of him playing guitar at a music gig. “Regardless of future plans, what’s more interesting to you right now? Sex or love?” went one question. Answer: Love, obviously. But for the younger A cluster, he followed his computer’s direction and rated the question “very important.” For the B cluster, it was “mandatory.”

When the last question was answered and ranked, he ran a search on OkCupid for women in Los Angeles sorted by match percentage. At the top: a page of women matched at 99 percent. He scrolled down … and down … and down. Ten thousand women scrolled by, from all over Los Angeles, and he was still in the 90s.

He needed one more step to get noticed. OkCupid members are notified when some­one views their pages, so he wrote a new program to visit the pages of his top-rated matches, cycling by age: a thousand 41-year-old women on Monday, another thousand 40-year-old women on Tuesday, looping back through when he reached 27-year-olds two weeks later. Women reciprocated by visiting his profiles, some 400 a day. And messages began to roll in.”

O artigo completo está aqui. 

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: como a NSA quase acabou com a internet como a conhecemos

Nos últimos seis meses, os jornais The Guardian e The Washington Post, bem como a revista Der Spiegel, com base nos documentos revelados por Edward Snowden têm divulgado os vários programas da NSA para aceder a dados supostamente privados dos internautas. Neste artigo da Wired, Steven Levy, explica as consequências que estas revelações tiveram na industria e como elas podem levar a algo há muito temido: a balcanização da internet, que seria o seu fim.

@Christoph Niemann

@Christoph Niemann

How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet

  • 01.07.14
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the other tech titans have had to fight for their lives against their own government. An exclusive look inside their year from hell—and why the Internet will never be the same.

On June 6, 2013, Washington Post reporters called the communications depart­ments of Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and other Internet companies. The day before, a report in the British newspaper The Guardianhad shocked Americans with evidence that the telecommunications giant Verizon had voluntarily handed a database of every call made on its network to the National Security Agency. The piece was by reporter Glenn Greenwald, and the information came from Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old IT consultant who had left the US with hundreds of thousands of documents detailing the NSA’s secret procedures.

Greenwald was the first but not the only journalist that Snowden reached out to. The Post’s Barton Gellman had also connected with him. Now, collaborating with documentary filmmaker and Snowden confidante Laura Poitras, he was going to extend the story to Silicon Valley. Gellman wanted to be the first to expose a top-secret NSA program called Prism. Snowden’s files indicated that some of the biggest companies on the web had granted the NSA and FBI direct access to their servers, giving the agencies the ability to grab a person’s audio, video, photos, emails, and documents. The government urged Gellman not to identify the firms involved, but Gellman thought it was important. “Naming those companies is what would make it real to Americans,” he says. Now a team of Post reporters was reaching out to those companies for comment.

It would be the start of a chain reaction that threatened the foundations of the industry. The subject would dominate headlines for months and become the prime topic of conversation in tech circles. For years, the tech companies’ key policy issue had been negotiating the delicate balance between maintaining customers’ privacy and providing them benefits based on their personal data. It was new and contro­versial territory, sometimes eclipsing the substance of current law, but over time the companies had achieved a rough equilibrium that allowed them to push forward. The instant those phone calls from reporters came in, that balance was destabilized, as the tech world found itself ensnared in a fight far bigger than the ones involving oversharing on Facebook or ads on Gmail. Over the coming months, they would find themselves at war with their own government, in a fight for the very future of the Internet.

It wasn’t just revenue at stake. So were the very ideals that had sustained the TECH WORLD since the birth of the INTERNET.

But first they had to figure out what to tell the Post. “We had 90 minutes to respond,” says Facebook’s head of security, Joe Sullivan. No one at the company had ever heard of a program called Prism. And the most damning implication—that Facebook and the other companies granted the NSA direct access to their servers in order to suck up vast quantities of information—seemed outright wrong. CEO Mark Zuckerberg was taken aback by the charge and asked his exec­utives whether it was true. Their answer: no.

Similar panicked conversations were taking place at Google, Apple, and Microsoft. “We asked around: Are there any surreptitious ways of getting information?” says Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel. “No.”

Nevertheless, the Post published its report that day describing the Prism program. (The Guardian ran a similar story about an hour later.) The piece included several images leaked from a 41-slide NSA PowerPoint, including one that listed the tech companies that participated in the program and the dates they ostensibly began fully cooperating. Microsoft came first, in September 2007, followed the next year by Yahoo. Google and Facebook were added in 2009. Most recent was Apple, in October 2012. The slide used each company’s corporate logo. It was like a sales force boasting a series of trophy contracts. Just a day earlier, the public had learned that Verizon and probably other telephone companies had turned over all their call records to the government. Now, it seemed, the same thing was happen­ing with email, search history, even Instagram pictures.

The tech companies quickly issued denials that they had granted the US govern­ment direct access to their customers’ data. But that stance was complicated by the fact that they did participate—often unwillingly—in a government program that required them to share data when a secret court ordered them to do so. Google and its counterparts couldn’t talk about all the details, in part because they were legally barred from full disclosure and in part because they didn’t know all the details about how the program actually worked. And so their responses were seen less as full-throated denials than mealy-mouthed contrivances.

They hardly had the time to figure out how to frame their responses to Gellman’s account before President Obama weighed in. While implicitly confirming the program (and condemning the leak), he said, “With respect to the Internet and emails, this does not apply to US citizens and does not apply to people living in the United States.” This may have soothed some members of the public, but it was no help to the tech industry. The majority of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo customers are not citizens of the US. Now those customers, as well as foreign regulatory agencies like those in the European Union, were being led to believe that using US-based services meant giving their data directly to the NSA.

“Every time we spoke it seemed to make matters worse,” one tech executive says. “We just were not believed.”

The hard-earned trust that the tech giants had spent years building was in danger of evaporating—and they seemed powerless to do anything about it. Legally gagged, they weren’t free to provide the full context of their cooperation or resistance. Even the most emphatic denial—a blog post by Google CEO Larry Page and chief legal officer David Drummond headlined, “What the …”—did not quell suspicions. How could it, when an NSA slide indicated that anyone’s personal information was just one click away? When Drummond took questions on the Guardian website later in the month, his interlocutors were hostile:

“Isn’t this whole show not just a face-saving exercise … after you have been found to be in cahoots with the NSA?”

“How can we tell if Google is lying to us?”

“We lost a decade-long trust in you, Google.”

“I will cease using Google mail.”

The others under siege took note. “Every time we spoke it seemed to make matters worse,” an executive at one company says. “We just were not believed.”

“The fact is, the government can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” says Face­book’s global communications head, Michael Buckley. “We can put out any statement or statistics, but in the wake of what feels like weekly disclosures of other government activity, the question is, will anyone believe us?”

At an appearance at a tech conference last September, Facebook’s Zuckerberg expressed his disgust. “The government blew it,” he said. But the consequences of the government’s actions—and the spectacular leak that informed the world about it—was now plopped into the problem set of Zuckerberg, Page, Tim Cook, Marissa Mayer, Steve Ballmer, and anyone else who worked for or invested in a company that held customer data on its servers.

Not just revenue was at stake. So were ideals that have sustained the tech world since the Internet exploded from a Department of Defense project into an interconnected global web that spurred promises of a new era of comity. The Snowden leaks called into question the Internet’s role as a symbol of free speech and empowerment. If the net were seen as a means of widespread surveillance, the resulting paranoia might affect the way people used it. Nations outraged at US intelligence-gathering practices used the disclosures to justify a push to require data generated in their countries to remain there, where it could not easily be hoovered by American spies. Implementing such a scheme could balkanize the web, destroying its open essence and dramatically raising the cost of doing business.

Silicon Valley was reeling, collateral damage in the war on terror. And it was only going to get worse.”

O artigo completo está aqui

O que fazer às aspirinas fora do prazo de validade

Tal como limpamos o frigorífico, ocasionalmente damos uma vista de olhos pelo armário dos remédios. E lá vamos nós deitar fora todas aquelas aspirinas e anti-inflamatórios fora do prazo. Mas será que fazemos bem? Ou será que a data de validade é apenas uma forma de as farmacêuticas nos fazerem continuar a comprar comprimidos? O Mr. Know-it-all da revista Wired tem a resposta.

Olhem bem para o vosso café. Sabem o que lá está dentro?

Feromonas de baratas, sabores de carne morta… para além da cafeína, as substâncias que compõem o café podem ser assustadoras. Mas sabe realmente bem. Agora por isso. Vou tomar mais um – enquanto revejo este vídeo da revista Wired.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o infiltrado do FBI na WikiLeaks

Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson era um dos protegidos de Julian Assange. Um dos seus rapazes de confiança. No entanto, o estagiário que o fundador da WikiLeaks jurou proteger em troca de lealdade absoluta, preferiu traí-lo e tornar-se num informador do FBI. É o próprio que o admite, neste artigo da revista Wired:

Photo: Courtesy Sigurdur Thordarson

Photo: Courtesy Sigurdur Thordarson

“On an August workday in 2011, a cherubic 18-year-old Icelandic man named Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson walked through the stately doors of the U.S. embassy in Reykjavík, his jacket pocket concealing his calling card: a crumpled photocopy of an Australian passport. The passport photo showed a man with a unruly shock of platinum blonde hair and the name Julian Paul Assange.

Thordarson was long time volunteer for WikiLeaks with direct access to Assange and a key position as an organizer in the group. With his cold war-style embassy walk-in, he became something else: the first known FBI informant inside WikiLeaks. For the next three months, Thordarson served two masters, working for the secret-spilling website and simultaneously spilling its secrets to the U.S. government in exchange, he says, for a total of about $5,000. The FBI flew him internationally four times for debriefings, including one trip to Washington D.C., and on the last meeting obtained from Thordarson eight hard drives packed with chat logs, video and other data from WikiLeaks.

The relationship provides a rare window into the U.S. law enforcement investigation into WikiLeaks, the transparency group newly thrust back into international prominence with its assistance to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Thordarson’s double-life illustrates the lengths to which the government was willing to go in its pursuit of Julian Assange, approaching WikiLeaks with the tactics honed during the FBI’s work against organized crime and computer hacking — or, more darkly, the bureau’s Hoover-era infiltration of civil rights groups.

“It’s a sign that the FBI views WikiLeaks as a suspected criminal organization rather than a news organization,” says Stephen Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “WikiLeaks was something new, so I think the FBI had to make a choice at some point as to how to evaluate it: Is this The New York Times, or is this something else? And they clearly decided it was something else.”

The FBI declined comment.

Thordarson was 17 years old and still in high school when he joined WikiLeaks in February 2010. He was one of a large contingent of Icelandic volunteers that flocked to Assange’s cause after WikiLeaks published internal bank documents pertaining to that country’s financial crisis.

When a staff revolt in September 2010 left the organization short-handed, Assange put Thordarson in charge of the WikiLeaks chat room, making Thordarson the first point of contact for new volunteers, journalists, potential sources, and outside groups clamoring to get in with WikiLeaks at the peak of its notoriety.

In that role, Thordarson was a middle man in the negotiations with the Bradley Manning Defense Fund that led to WikiLeaks donating $15,000 to the defense of its prime source. He greeted and handled a new volunteer who had begun downloading and organizing a vast trove of 1970s-era diplomatic cables from the National Archives and Record Administration, for what became WikiLeaks’ “Kissinger cables” collection last April. And he wrangled scores of volunteers and supporters who did everything from redesign WikiLeaks’ websites to shooting video homages to Assange.

He accumulated thousands of pages of chat logs from his time in WikiLeaks, which, he says, are now in the hands of the FBI.

Thordarson’s betrayal of WikiLeaks also was a personal betrayal of its founder, Julian Assange, who, former colleagues say, took Thordarson under his wing, and kept him around in the face of criticism and legal controversy.

“When Julian met him for the first or second time, I was there,” says Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Icelandic Parliament who worked with WikiLeaks on Collateral Murder, the Wikileaks release of footage of a US helicopter attack in Iraq. “And I warned Julian from day one, there’s something not right about this guy… I asked not to have him as part of the Collateral Murder team.”

In January 2011, Thordarson was implicated in a bizarre political scandal in which a mysterious “spy computer” laptop was found running unattended in an empty office in the parliament building. “If you did [it], don’t tell me,” Assange told Thordarson, according to unauthenticated chat logs provided by Thordarson.

“I will defend you against all accusations, ring [sic] and wrong, and stick by you, as I have done,” Assange told him in another chat the next month. “But I expect total loyalty in return.”

Instead, Thordarson used his proximity to Assange for his own purposes. The most consequential act came in June 2011, on his third visit to Ellingham Hall — the English mansion where Assange was then under house arrest while fighting extradition to Sweden.

For reasons that remain murky, Thordarson decided to approach members of the Lulzsec hacking gang and solicit them to hack Islandic government systems as a service to WikiLeaks. To establish his bona fides as a WikiLeaks representative, he shot and uploaded a 40-second cell phone video that opens on the IRC screen with the chat in progress, and then floats across the room to capture Asssange at work with an associate. (This exchange was first reported by Parmy Olson in her book on Anonymous).

Unfortunately for Thordarson, the FBI had busted Lulzsec’s leader, Hector Xavier Monsegur, AKA Sabu, a week earlier, and secured his cooperation as an informant. On June 20, the FBI warned the Icelandic government. “A huge team of FBI came to Iceland and asked the Icelandic authorities to help them,” says Jonsdottir. “They thought there was an imminent Lulzsec attack on Iceland.”

The FBI may not have known at this point who Thordarson was beyond his screen names. The bureau and law enforcement agencies in the UK and Australia went on to round up alleged Lulzsec members on unrelated charges.

Having dodged that bullet, it’s not clear what prompted Thordarson to approach the FBI two months later. When I asked him directly last week, he answered, “I guess I cooperated because I didn’t want to participate in having Anonymous and Lulzsec hack for Wikileaks, since then you’re definitely breaking quite a lot of laws.”

That answer doesn’t make a lot of sense, since it was Thordarson, not Assange, who asked Lulzsec to hack Iceland. There’s no evidence of any other WikiLeaks staffer being involved. He offered a second reason that he admits is more truthful: “The second reason was the adventure.”

Thordarson’s equivocation highlights a hurdle in reporting on him: He is prone to lying. Jonsdottir calls him “pathological.” He admits he has lied to me in the past. For this story, Thordarson backed his account by providing emails that appear to be between him and his FBI handlers, flight records for some of his travels, and an FBI receipt indicating that he gave them eight hard drives. The Icelandic Ministry of the Interior has previously confirmed that the FBI flew to Iceland to interview Thordarson. Thordarson also testified to much of this account in a session of the Icelandic Parliament, with Jonsdottir in attendance.

Finally, he has given me a substantial subset of the chat logs he says he passed to the FBI, amounting to about 2,000 pages, which, at the very least, proves that he kept logs and is willing to turn them over to a reporter disliked by Julian Assange.

Thordarson’s “adventure” began on August 23, 2011, when he sent an email to the general delivery box for the U.S. embassy in Reykjavík “Regarding an Ongoing Criminal investigation in the United States.”

“The nature of the intel that can be brought to light in that investigation will not be spoken over email conversation,” he wrote cryptically.

An embassy security officer called him the same day. “He said, ‘What investigation?’ I said the Wikileaks,” says Thordarson. “He denied there was such an investigation, so I just said we both know there is.”

Thordarson was invited to the embassy, where he presented a copy of Assange’s passport, the passport for Assange’s number two, Kristinn Hrafnsson, and a snippet of a private chat between Thordarson and Assange. The embassy official was noncommittal. He told Thordarson they might be in touch, but it would take at least a week.

It happened much faster.

Photo: Courtesy Sigurdur Thordarson

FBI agents and two federal prosecutors landed in a private Gulfstream on the next day, on August 24, and Thordarson was summoned back to the embassy.

He was met by the same embassy official who took his keys and his cell phone, then walked with him on a circuitous route through the streets of downtown Reykjavík, ending up at the Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, Thordarson says. There, Thordarson spent two hours in a hotel conference room talking to two FBI agents. Then they accompanied back to the embassy so he could put money in his parking meter, and back to the hotel for more debriefing.

The agents asked him about his Lulzsec interactions, but were primarily interested in what he could give them on WikiLeaks. One of them asked him if he could wear a recording device on his next visit to London and get Assange to say something incriminating, or talk about Bradley Manning.

“They asked what I use daily, have always on,” he says. “I said, my watch. So they said they could change that out for some recording watch.”

Thordarson says he declined. “I like Assange, even considered him a friend,” he says. “I just didn’t want to go that way.”

In all, Thordarson spent 20 hours with the agents over about five days. Then the Icelandic government ordered the FBI to pack up and go home.

It turns out the FBI had misled the local authorities about its purpose in the country. According to atimeline (.pdf) later released by the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, the FBI contacted Icelandic law enforcement to report Thordarson’s embassy walk-in, and ask for permission to fly into the country to follow up. But the bureau had presented the request as an extension of its earlier investigation into Lulzsec, and failed to mention that its real target was WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks is well regarded in Iceland, and the incident errupted into a hot political topic when it surfaced there this year, with conservatives arguing that Iceland should have cooperated with the FBI, and liberals complaining about the agents being allowed into the country to begin with. “It became a massive controversy,” says Jonsdottir. “And then none of them knew what sort of person Siggi is.”

Politics aside, the FBI was not done with Thordarson.

The agents persuaded Thordarson to fly to Copenhagen with them, he says, for another day of interviews. In October, he made a second trip to Denmark for another debriefing. Between meetings, Thordarson kept in touch with his handlers through disposable email accounts.

In November 2011, Thordarson was fired from WikiLeaks. The organization had discovered he had set up an online WikiLeaks tee shirt store and arranged for the proceeds to go into his own bank account. WikiLeaks has said the embezzlement amounted to about $50,000.

Thordarson told the FBI about it in a terse email on November 8. “No longer with WikiLeaks — so not sure how I can help you more.”

“We’d still like to talk with you in person,” one of his handlers replied. “I can think of a couple of easy ways for you to help.”

“Can you guys help me with cash?” Thordarson shot back.

Image: Courtesy Sigurdur Thordarson

For the next few months, Thordarson begged the FBI for money, while the FBI alternately ignored him and courted him for more assistance. In the end, Thordarson says, the FBI agreed to compensate him for the work he missed while meeting with agents (he says he worked at a bodyguard-training school), totaling about $5,000.

With the money settled, the FBI began preparing him for a trip to the U.S. “I wanted to talk to you about future things we can do,” his handler wrote in February. The FBI wanted him to reestablish contact with some of his former WikiLeaks associates. “We’ll talk about specific goals of the chats, but you can get a head start before our meet by just getting in touch and catching up with them. If you need to know who specifically, we can discuss on the phone.”

The three-day D.C. trip took place in February of last year. Thordarson says he flew on Iceland Air flight 631 to Logan International Airport on February 22, and transferred in Boston to JetBlue flight 686 to Dulles International Aiport, where he was greeted by a U.S. Customs official “and then escorted out the Dulles terminal into the arms of the FBI.”

He stayed at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, where the Justice Department’s investigation into WikiLeaks is centered, and met there with his two usual FBI contacts, and three or four other men in suits who did not identify themselves.

“At the last day we went to a steak house and ate, all of us,” he says. “Where they served Coca Cola in glass bottles from Mexico.”

On March 18, 2012, he had one more meeting with the FBI in Denmark. On this trip, he brought along eight of his personal hard drives, containing the information he’d compiled while at WikiLeaks, including his chat logs, photos and videos he shot at Ellington Hall. The FBI gave him a signed receipt for the hardware.

Then they cut him off.

Today, Thordarson, now 20, has new problems. He’s facing criminal charges in Iceland for unrelated financial and tax crimes. In addition, WikiLeaks filed a police report for the tee-shirt shop embezzlement.

The legacy of his cooperation with the FBI is unclear. A court filing revealed last week shows that in the months following Thordarson ’s last debriefing, Justice Department officials in Arlington, Virginia, began obtaining court orders targeting two of Thordarson ’s former WikiLeaks colleagues in Iceland: Smari McCarthy and Herbert Snorrason.

Snorrason, who ran the WikiLeaks chat room in 2010, before Thordarson took it over, had the entire contents of his Gmail account handed over to the government, under a secret search warrant issued in October 2011.

The evidence used to obtain the warrant remains under seal. “I do wonder,” says Thordarson, “whether I’m somewhere in there.”