FBI met WikiLeaks informant in Copenhagen

Unknown whether the FBI illegally interviewed an Icelandic informant in Denmark, or whether the government let the FBI pursue investigation against WikiLeaks

The Justice Ministry is remaining tight-lipped about whether it knew that FBI agents had travelled to Denmark to meet with an Icelandic informant working for the whistle-blowing organisation WikiLeaks.

According to Wired magazine, WikiLeaks volunteer Sigurdur Thordarson, 20, said he met with the FBI twice in Copenhagen in 2011 and once in Aarhus in 2012, where he handed over hard drives containing information about WikiLeaks.

The FBI paid for Thordarson’s flights and hotel for his two trips to Copenhagen in late August and early October 2011, and in March 2012 the FBI travelled to meet Thordarson in Aarhus where he was working at the time.

The Justice Ministry declined The Copenhagen’s Post request to comment on whether the government allowed the FBI to use Danish territory to question Thordarson about WikiLeaks. It would be illegal for the FBI to interview Thordarson in Denmark without their consent. 

This June, Wired magazine broke the story that described how the young Icelander decided to turn on WikiLeaks in 2011 after joining the organisation as a volunteer the year before at the age of just 17.

WikiLeaks was the focus of an FBI investigation due to its publishing of secret and classified US government documents that had been supplied to it by whistleblowers, such as the convicted US Army soldier Bradley Manning, who handed over hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and restricted army reports.

In interviews with both Slate and Wired magazines, Thordarson explained how in August 2011 FBI agents travelled to Iceland to interview him after he had contacted the US Embassy in Reykjavik. The FBI told the Icelandic government that they were in the country to investigate an attempt by US hackers to break into Icelandic government computers, but the Icelandic government soon started to suspect that the FBI was actually using its time in Iceland to build its case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“I think it was a question of trying to frame Julian Assange,” the then Icelandic interior minister, Ögmundur Jónasson, told Slate. “And they wanted Icelandic authorities to help them with that.”

The FBI agents were told to leave the country, which is when they made their first trip to Copenhagen with Thordarson. Thordarson said in his interview with Slate journalist Ryan Gallagher that he was put up at the Hilton hotel by the airport, a detail that Gallagher did not include in his article but which he confirmed to The Copenhagen Post.

Thordarson's second trip to Copenhagen to meet with FBI agents took place on 3 October 2011, when Thordarson told Gallagher that he was put up at the Marriott.

The third time Thordarson met with the FBI was in Aarhus on 18 March 2012, when he handed the agents eight hard drives containing a total of over a terabyte of data including chat logs, photographs and other information about WikiLeaks. Thordarson presented Gallagher a US Justice Department receipt given to him by the FBI agents for the hard drives.

Journalisten – the magazine published by Danish journalism union Dansk Journalistforbundet – reported that these hard drives could have contained information about Danish journalists who had been collaborating with WikiLeaks.

One of them is Charlotte Aagaard from the newspaper Information.

“If [the meeting in Aarhus] took place without the knowledge of the Danish authorities then it would be illegal,” Aagaard told Journalisten. “But even if the meeting took place with the approval of the Danish government, that’s still not a comforting thought.”