Weekly Obsession: WikiLeaks? No, WilliamsonLeaks

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 6:10pm
By Jim Ridley

Congratulations, Nashville! For once, a national tech story broke in Middle Tennessee. And for a few shining hours last week, it focused media outlets ranging from The Atlantic to The Drudge Report on the presumed capabilities of our local geek squad.

OK, so the occasion — an anonymous group or individual who claimed to have hacked Mitt Romney’s much-coveted tax records via the Franklin offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers — wasn’t exactly the unveiling of Microsoft’s Southern campus. But from the moment reporter Ken Whitehouse broke the story, at roughly the same instant people across America were gazing enviously at Michelle Obama’s guns at the DNC, it inspired equal parts yeah-right skepticism and what-if-it’s-true speculation.

With the former, online commenters were quick to point out details in the purported perpetrators’ excerpted post that seemed fishy — from their motives (releasing the encrypted documents by Sept. 28, extorting the online currency known as “Bitcoins”) to the suggestion that not only does gazillionaire Romney sign his own returns, he uses an easy-breezy 1040 form. (Uh-huh, and Donald Trump flies coach.) If these budding Dr. Evils really had the goods, commenters on the Nashville Scene’s “Pith in the Wind” blog wondered, why would they say they were sending their incriminating flash drives to the low-stakes likes of the Williamson County GOP and Democratic offices?

But the latter — the chance it might be true — took on a sliver of credibility once it was learned that the flash drives in question had indeed been delivered, and that the Secret Service had confiscated them. After all, it sounded just as far-fetched when a Knoxville college student was accused of hacking then-vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s email account in 2008. And yet David Kernell was convicted two years later of felony obstruction of justice in the matter.

Until more evidence surfaces, or the encryption on the flash drives is cracked, the most probable outcome is that investigators will find the whole affair is an elaborate hoax. But evidence isn’t enough to shut down a good conspiracy theory — and the perpetrators may well have scored a victory just by planting seeds
of doubt.

At this moment, Brentwood’s answer to Julian Assange may be plotting his next strike. Does The Puffy Muffin have Wi-Fi?