Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government said the online hacker group Anonymous intercepted a telephone call between FBI agents and U.K. authorities involving a joint investigation of the group.
Members of the hacker-activist group obtained details on a Jan. 17 conference call, including dial-in information, and posted a recording of it on Google Inc.’s YouTube website and other Internet sites, according to messages posted on Twitter accounts associated with Anonymous members.
Barrett Brown, an informal spokesman for Anonymous, said that in an unrelated attack a team of hackers had also stolen more than two years’ worth of e-mails and attachments relating to the 2005 Haditha massacre, in which 24 Iraqi civilians died. He said the e-mails would be posted shortly on a file-sharing site accessible by the public.
The phone recording suggests a significant security breach of Federal Bureau of Investigation protocols, according to E.J. Hilbert, a former agent in the bureau’s cyber security division. Hilbert said the recording suggests federal investigators weren’t identifying everyone on the call as they dialed in.
“It sounds like somebody screwed up -- it’s as simple as that,” said Hilbert, now a partner at Kroll Inc., the New York- based security firm.
The 16-minute call detailed confidential aspects of the investigation into Anonymous by the FBI and U.K. law enforcement. It included information on efforts to infiltrate the group through means including informers.
“The information was intended for law enforcement officers only and was illegally obtained,” Jenny Shearer, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s cyber division, said in an e-mail yesterday confirming the breach. “A criminal investigation is under way to identify and hold accountable those responsible.”
She didn’t dispute or confirm the authenticity of the recording posted on YouTube.
Calls to the Metropolitan Police in London weren’t immediately answered.
The hackers who recorded the law enforcement call were also involved in stealing the e-mails from the computer servers of Puckett & Faraj, the law firm that represented Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, one of the marines accused in actions related to the deaths of Iraqi civilians, Brown said.
Law Firm Website
A person who answered the phone at Puckett & Faraj’s offices in Alexandria, Virginia, said the firm had no comment beyond confirming that its website was down. The person declined to give her name.
“The guys who did this are the best we have,” Brown said, referring to the Anonymous members who stole the e-mails and intercepted the FBI call.
Brown said the e-mails, which go back as far as 2009, may contain evidence and undisclosed details about the Haditha incident, as well as other cases the firm has worked on.
Wuterich, who won’t serve jail time, took responsibility for the deaths during a sentencing hearing in January. His sentence, handed down in a military court, included a reduction in pay and a demotion, and may have motivated the attack by Anonymous, according to several Twitter posts on accounts associated with the group.
Disclosures on Call
Among the potentially serious disclosures in the call, U.K. investigators revealed that they know the identity of two top Anonymous members and they are temporarily delaying new charges and another round of arrests at the request of the FBI.
“We’ve got our prosecutorial counsel making an application in chambers without the defense knowing, to seek a way to try and factor some time,” one of the U.K. investigators can be heard saying on the recording of the call posted on YouTube.
The agents can also be heard discussing an Anonymous member who goes by the nickname TehWongZ, who they said is a 15-year- old boy arrested just before Christmas. Investigators said the teenager had confessed to hacking the Manchester Credit Union.
A Metropolitan Police official on the recording said TehWongZ is also linked to the hack of a gaming site, including the theft of the names, logins and credit-card numbers of 32,000 users. The FBI agents said the intrusion was under investigation by the FBI in Baltimore. The youth admitted to his acts, the U.K. officials said on the call.
“Looks like he’s cleaning the slate now that he’s come to the notice of police,” one of the officials can be heard saying. “I suspect a smack from mom or dad is behind it all.”
Some Twitter accounts of the infiltration said Anonymous broke into the e-mail accounts of investigators to gain the call-in details.
“The FBI might be curious how we’re able to continuously read their internal comms for some time now,” an Anonymous member posted on an account linked to the group.
Hilbert said the agents also may have been re-using the same line and pass code for conference calls with investigative partners.
“If anybody should be checking who’s on their calls, it should be the government -- especially these guys,” he said.
--Editors: Andrew Dunn, David E. Rovella
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