The @B3nRaching3r Allegations – Part Five

If you have paid any attention to Twitter or the Herald in the last few days, you will be aware that the people behind the blog Lauda Finem decided to release a series of intimate images that were sent to Ben Rachinger by a prominent journalist. I won’t link to the post in question, and I’ll trust readers to realise that giving page views to Lauda Finem is simply a bad idea. I will also talk about the incident without mentioning the journalist’s name, because they are the victim in this piece, no matter what you think of the various conspiracy theories on offer.

So, let us get the big issue out of the way. The photos are of the journalist in question, and they were sent to Rachinger over the a prolonged period of time. It is fair to say that Rachinger and the journalist were engaged in some kind of relationship. At some point these images – which had been sent to Rachinger – were fed to a third party, and that third party provided them to someone at the Lauda Finem blog. Lauda Finem then published the pictures, in part to try and recentre the Rachinger story on their particular claim that the real purpose of Rachinger’s online activity was to entrap the people behind Lauda Finem. They also published the images, it seems, to punish said journalist for connecting Lauda Finem with Cameron Slater and the Whaleoil social media empire.1

So, the big question is who gave the pictures to who?

The Lauda Finem story

The person behind the Lauda Finem post suggests they got the photos from someone in the Press Gallery. Rachinger allegedly sent to the images to the entire Press Gallery because he was blackmailing the journalist in question, in order to destroy their career. The journalist, however, asked their friends in the Press Gallery to ignore Rachinger, and so the story went nowhere. That was, at least, until Lauda Finem “went to press”. They published the images to show Rachinger was untrustworthy, and that his story about a solo investigation into Cameron Slater’s activities should not be taken seriously.

It is also clear that the people behind Lauda Finem also wanted to get revenge on the journalist for daring to associate them with Slater. In the post in question they claim they reached out to all and sundry about these images before going to print, so there’s a real question as to why they think thought it was wise to publish this material. Yes, they want to take Rachinger down, but if this is the only ammunition they have – the only way they can prove he’s untrustworthy – it’s an off (to put it really lightly) strategem. Why make a victim out of the journalist in order to attack Rachinger when it makes both Rachinger and Lauda Finem look guilty of leaking private information. Whatever moral high ground the people at Lauda Finem think they might have goes right out the window when they engage in the spreading of the same information they say makes Rachinger look untrustworthy. Oh, they try to make out that Rachinger, the journalist, et al. are all attached somehow to Lauda Finem’s pet enemy, Matthew Blomfield, but most of the actual talk is about leftish and corrupt journalists who need taking down a peg.

Which is to say, the one of the stated reasons the people behind Lauda Finem end up using to defend their release of the images seems to come straight out of Slater’s playbook. Corrupt journos, they say, need to be exposed, by any means necessary. This, for them, inadvertantly supports the idea that Lauda Finem is a satellite blog of the Whaleoil media empire. If the people behind Lauda Finem really aren’t vassals of Cameron Slater, they sure are acting like they are.

The Lauda Finem-sponsored conspiracy theory is itself a weird beast. They have tried hard to sidestep the Slater connection, and make their personal feud with Rachinger all about Matthew Blomfield. The case for a conspiracy by Blomfield against Lauda Finem has not really been set out to any adequate evidential standard; it’s mostly bluster about how he’s very well connected and that he has the Press and Police in the palms of his hand. The fact this conspiracy keeps getting bigger and bigger, involving more and more of the Press indicates either a huge conspiracy on the part of one failed business person, Blomfield, or the people behind Lauda Finem are suffering from acute conspiracist ideation about Blomfield (which is to say they believe in the existence of a conspiracy for no good reason), or this is all part of a disinformation campaign by the Slater media empire – with Lauda Finem as its spokesblog – to distract from the guts of the Rachinger allegations.

Now, it seems unlikely that there is a all-embracing conspiracy concerning the machinations of one Matthew Blomfield, so the most likely hypothesis to explain Lauda Finem’s vendetta against Rachinger and the recent leak of images is either acute conspiracism, or a disinformation campaign. The more Lauda Finem write on the topic, the more they make their particular conspiracy theory look less and less plausible, and the more they make it look as if they might well be doing the work of others.

The Ben Rachinger story

Rachinger claims that he did not have a relationship with the journalist in question, that he did not send those images to a third party and he has not tried to blackmail the journalist. As such, he claims he cannot be held in any way responsible for the leak of the images.

The first claim – that he was not in a relationship with the journalist – is what we might term a “Bill Clinton defence” given that President Clinton was famous, among many things, for claiming that he had never smoked weed because he never inhaled and he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky because they never had penis-to-vulva intercourse. Rachinger seems to be claiming, in effect, that because he and the journalist were never officially “going steady”, that they were not in a relationship and thus – so it seems – the photos cannot originate from him.

denial1

denial2

This is, to quote the “kids”, “weaksauce”. Whilst maybe we can quibble about the precise nature of the relationship, it did happen. 2 Denying that actually puts the boot into the victim of this piece, the journalist, once again. Either we have to now imagine the images were unsolicited (which still raises the question of how they got out of Rachinger’s posession) or Rachinger is throwing someone he was in a relationship under the bus (so to speak) in order to make himself look innocent of passing sensitive information to others.

The claim he did not send the pictures to a third party (which he intimates would have to be Cameron Slater – more on that in a moment) does not seem plausible. For one thing, Rachinger has published online private information sent to him, presumably in confidence, before which was irrelevant to the case he was pressing against Cameron Slater. As such, he has prior history of passing on correspondence when it suits his agenda to show how connected he is.3

For another thing, how did someone else get the images that were sent to Rachinger by the journalist? The images themselves support the hypothesis that they were sent by Rachinger to some third party. Here are two interesting details “hidden” in the images:

rachinger

“Aww bro she’s like 45. I’m 26” – which is the respective ages of the journalist and Rachinger, and suggests that the message genuinely does come from him.

Rachinger 2

This one is much harder to decipher, although “I’m a … get some … voices paid I can help”, which suggests some line about paying invoices. Notably, this is a message from the third party, and this detail fits in with the story of Rachinger doing paid work for Slater. As such, the leaked images support the theory these images came from Rachinger.

The images in questions are not screencaps but rather photos of a device showing the messages. Rachinger himself identifies the phone as the kind Slater uses in this tweet:

blackphone

So, it’s plausible to think that Rachinger sent the images to a third party, likely Slater, given that he received them in the first place the images provide circumstantial evidence sent the images on to a third party. So, why is Rachinger is denying being the sender. Why? Well, two reasons. One is that he feels there isn’t sufficient evidence to show he can be the originator:

denial3

And because the Lauda Finem story, which denies any role in this matter to Slater, makes out that the images came from someone attached to Rachinger’s alleged blackmailing of the journalist to the Press Gallery. If he can deny that link – he claims to be no blackmailer, after all – then how could the images have originated from him in the first place?

Some have argued that Rachinger could not have sent those images to Slater because by December 18th (the date the images were sent) the working relationship between Rachinger and Slater had soured. Yet according to Rachinger’s own leaks he was asking and receiving money from Slater in February of this year:

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So, the theory the photos can’t have orginated from Rachinger because the relationship between he and Slater had soured by that time is contradicted by Rachinger’s own leaks. We know that Rachinger was asking for and getting money from Slater in as late as February. Not only that, but the general tenor of the leaked communications from February does not suggest that the relationship had soured but rather was in the process of souring. February looks to be the time period in which Rachinger becomes distant from Slater, not December, which indicates that it is well within the realms of possibility that Rachinger passed those images on to Slater.

The most credible hypothesis

The most plausible hypothesis in this particular case is that Rachinger passed the images on to Slater in mid December, and Slater only recently released them to the people behind Lauda Finem in order to destroy Rachinger’s credibility with respect the Nation story. That fits in with idea of Lauda Finem being a Cameron Slater satellite blog and it fits in with these messages Rachinger leaked back when he was writing the Medium posts:

0D2569D9-153E-4FD2-ADC5-16625ED5F4B2

These messages in totum (which can be seen here, although some of the tweets seem to have disappeared) suggests that in February Slater was taking stock of what Rachinger had given him, and decided he had not received much for the money he had spent on Rachinger’s services. This, co-incidentally, fits in with Rachinger’s oft-repeated claims that when he alleged hacked the Standard he provided Slater with nothing other than publicly available data. This, however, leaves open the question of what Slater is referring to when talking about the “nice pics of cunt journalists”? The most plausible hypothesis at this stage is that the images in question are the pics Slater is referring to.

Why might Rachinger have passed on these images to Slater? Whereas the previous analysis relies on looking at publicly available evidence, the following claims really are conjecture.

There’s the “Matey hypothesis”, where Rachinger, in a moment of friendly discussion with Slater, passes on without thinking much of it, images of the journalist because he’s mentioned knowing said journalist in a somewhat intimate manner. This is the kind of slip people do make, where they feel compelled to prove something they have intimated, thus breaching privacy.

Then there are the variety of “Digger hypotheses”: Rachinger may well have given the images to Slater either as ammunition for Slater’s dirt collection on local journalists or to curry favour with Slater or as part of an attempt to keep Slater’s money coming in (which seems a plausible hypothesis, given what appear to be references to invoices in the images). If any of these hypotheses are true, then they push Rachinger out of the Noble Hacker category (as discussed in the last post). It would leave him firmly in the category of being suspicious in his motivations.

Isn’t this a distraction from the real story?

Some will say “Isn’t this all a distraction from the main story, which is about #dirtypolitics?” Yes, it kind of is, but it also speaks to the allegations themselves. On a “positive” side it really does indicate that Slater and Company are worried about the Rachinger allegations and want it shutdown. That shows the existence of a conspiracy. As I have argued in the previous posts, we need to treat this claim serious, because it has all the hallmarks of being a warranted conspiracy theory; this is all evidence that the #dirtypolitics campaign continued after the 2014 General Election.

However, the analysis of this material also shows that part of the narrative Rachinger wants us to believe – that he’s a noble hacker – simply isn’t – as many people have already noted – the most plausible hypothesis. It seems likely that he – for some reason – passed on sensitive information to Slater.

What this also shows is that it is plausible to believe that Rachinger may well have been a willing accomplice of Slater for some time up to and after the release of “Dirty Politics” (which he claims changed his opinion on Slater as a person). If Rachinger passed the images on to Slater in December, post the election, then either Rachinger has misled us about when he changed his opinion on Slater (which supports the other hypothesis in this matter, which is that they had a falling out rather than Rachinger going rogue and starting a one person investigation) or Rachinger thought that the sacrifice of the journalist was worth it to keep Slater happy and unsuspecting as Rachinger performed his investigation. Either way, this new evidence (which happens to dovetail nicely with some of the evidence Rachinger himself has leaked) challenges the narrative Rachinger has presented, and suggests that, at least up until February, Rachinger might have been a willing conspirator in #dirtypolitics.

Now maybe, just maybe, Rachinger is innocent of leaking images of the journalist to some third party, and this is all a large and elaborate plot against him (certainly, people are claiming that I have fallen for a plot by Cameron Slater and the people behind Lauda Finem to smear Rachinger). Given what we know about Slater’s operations post the release of “Dirty Politics”, it is very likely indeed that the leaking of the images of the journalist was designed to derail the debate about the seriousness of Rachinger’s allegations. However, we also know that Slater’s modus operandi is the weaponising of dirt; he collects information to use against others and attacks by insinuation and then by release. What’s striking about this particular attack by (as we all presume, Slater, operating through Lauda Finem) is that Rachinger’s actions – releasing large chunks of data online – means he has provided evidence himself that makes it seem likely he passed those images on to Slater in December (for reasons which may not be not entirely clear). There is enough circumstantial evidence, some of it which much be stressed emanated from Rachinger himself, to support the claim he’s not entirely innocent in this matter. At the moment the most plausible story about the source of the images in the Lauda Finem post is that Rachinger likely passed the aforementioned images on to Slater, and somehow they were passed on to the “fine” people at Lauda Finem.

Notes

  1. Which seems less imperial now due to Slater’s “Decade of Dirt” party absolutely fizzling.
  2. As part of my continued failure to screencap tweets at the beginning of the year, I cannot offer you as proof the tweets Rachinger was posting publicly on Twitter back in January as evidence that they certainly were involved in some way at that time.
  3. Rachinger’s argument at the time as to why this sharing of information was not obviously immoral was that as the information was shared with him rather than him getting it via some hack. However, as many argued at the time, if someone shares information with you, you have to be able to argue that either they have no issue with your then passing that information on to a third party, or there is some moral imperative as to why you breach their privacy. At the time, Rachinger’s release of private correspondence was slapdash and seemed, in some cases, simply designed to prove he was connected, rather than because the release of that correspondence was necessary to uncover some crime or immoral act.

The @B3nRaching3r Allegations – Part Four

The Ben Rachinger1 story has been picked up by the media. It started with on TV3’s “The Nation” last Saturday and then was followed up by an article in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday. Rachinger had suggested just a few weeks back on Twitter – despite prior claims to the contrary – that all was good in the mainstream media, which is when I think we can date the Nation taking an interest in his story.

The story itself, as presented in the 10 or so minutes on the Nation, is interesting precisely because of how it differs from Rachinger’s narrative in the (now deleted) Medium posts.2 The story we saw on Saturday morning was simple and concise: Rachinger first got in contact with Slater when the Whaleoil blog was hit by a denial of service attack in early 2014. Rachinger offered to help Slater secure his site against further attacks, and they struck up a correspondence. This led to Rachinger being paid by Slater to do work for him. Eventually Rachinger was sufficiently trusted by Slater that he asked Rachinger to hack the Labour Party-aligned blog, the Standard. However, by this time Rachinger was aware of the claims made against Slater in Nicky Hager’s book “Dirty Politics” and he claims he decided to launch his own investigation/entrapment of Slater. So, whilst Slater thought Rachinger was hacking the Standard, Rachinger was simply pulling publicly available data from the site. Slater eventually worked out that he really was getting nothing useful and terminated the relationship.

The story on the Nation, then, is the story Rachinger posted on Medium but stripped of much of the ancillary and sometimes quite questionable details. There is no hyperbole about Rachinger’s sacrifice, or how he is now being hounded by influential people and has had to go on the run. There is no talk about the Tony Lentino job Slater tried to get for Rachinger, which always seemed like an irrelevant sideline. The discussion about Slater’s connection with the Israeli Embassy: gone. Finally, there was no attempt to link the Standard hack to David Farrar or Matthew Hooton (which, as I covered previously, was always a stretch). Just a simple story of a hacker who was asked to infiltrate a blog and took Cameron Slater along for a ride.

Part of me would like to think that the calm, cautious reporting of the salient details is very much due to this series of blogposts. Realistically, though, it’s much more likely to be the result of good journalism on the part of the Nation’s staffers. Getting an actual journalist to present your story can do wonders.

The Nation story also plays down the police informant angle; there was nothing about Rachinger’s claims to be regularly meeting with a police handler throughout his association with Slater. Indeed, there was little to no discussion as to when Rachinger decided to start his one person investigation/entrapment of Slater.3 This is important, because according to numerous internet commentators (including myself), either:

  • Rachinger went in at the beginning as a noble hacker intent on blowing open Slater’s criminal activities (what we might call the “Noble Rachinger” hypothesis), or
  • Rachinger was sincere in his offer to help Slater and later came to regret his association (the “Credulous Rachinger” hypothesis) or
  • Rachinger was an eager and willing accomplice to Slater who then was either burnt by Slater or burnt Slater, causing them to become enemies (the “Suspicious Rachinger” theory).

I think it’s fair to say that Rachinger’s deleted Medium posts and (for the moment) inaccessible tweets slip and slide between the Noble and Credulous hypotheses. Yet a lot of people side with the Suspicious construal because they either:

  1. claim to have been in correspondence with Rachinger over the period of time he was working for or with Slater, and thus they say this correspondence reflects a different story from the one Rachinger has presented or
  2. they cite Rachinger’s past behaviour online (doxing, threatening to contact people’s employers, et cetera) and argue that there is no reason to charitably assume Rachinger was acting nobly.

Myself? I suspect some version of the Credulous or Suspicious hypothesis is the most likely, given his past behaviour, the nature of some of the correspondence Rachinger leaked and the fact he came to the attention of Slater due to a video which criticised one of the people on Slater’s hit list, Kim Dotcom. That, however, is by-the-by; the story we saw on the Nation states that Rachinger was bluffing Slater by the time it came to the request that the Standard be hacked. If we accept that to be true, then what the Nation presented was clear evidence that Slater decided to pay someone to illegally access data on a blog as part of his ongoing #dirtypolitics campaign, which is conspiratorial in nature.

So, is this a warranted conspiracy theory? Well, no matter what we think of Rachinger himself the evidence he has provided seems reasonably clear (if we assume the various screenshots, bank account transactions and the like have not been faked). Slater and at the very least his mysterious funder (more on that in a second) were engaged in a criminal conspiracy.

How involved, then, was Rachinger? Well, Rachinger says he did not hack the Standard. There are two good reasons to believe this. The first is that Slater’s response and subsequent falling out with Rachinger shows that Slater not only thought he got nothing useful from Rachinger, but that he had been played. The second reason is that Lynn Prentice, the Editor at the Standard, claims there was no evidence of a hack.4 As such, it seems that whatever happened, the Standard remained unhacked.

Now, some are speculating that Rachinger planned to hack the Standard, but failed or discovered such a hack was outside his realm of IT comfort. That is to say, Rachinger might be trying to make his failure and subsequent falling out with Slater look noble.5 However, for our purposes we can ignore claims about his motivations (and potential failures) and focus purely on the fact Rachinger is admitting he was complicit to some extent in Slater and Company’s criminal enterprise.6

Slater has, of course, denied criminal activity. In fact, he claims he operates entirely legally. As Russell Brown pointed out on Twitter, that’s just not true, and Lynn Prentice has called Slater out on the hypocrisy of crying foul when the Whaleoil blog was hacked (which led to the eventual #dirtypolitics revelations) but then wanting to hack the Standard. However, the Herald story mentions that the Counties Manukau CIB are investigating Rachinger’s claims, which means they at least think there is a case to be made for this being a serious offence. However, they also admit that Rachinger’s history of putting evidence online has complicated the investigation. This is a serious problem, because the investigated know what they are being investigated for and thus can work to answer those questions preemptively (and to their favour). This is what I call the “Kerry Bolton defence”, named after the far-right, Aotearoa (New Zealand) based author Kerry Bolton.7 It’s much harder to prosecute someone if they not only know the details of an investigation but can then work to counteract those details whilst the investigation is on-going. The worry is that Rachinger’s publication of his amassed evidence (including large chunks of private correspondence which was irrelevant to his central claims about a criminal conspiracy led by Slater) will lead to the police saying “Too difficult; we give up!” or “Well, we can’t use this in court now…” Whilst there will be, I suspect, huge public and political pressure for this investigation to get as far as the prosecution phase, it is also possibly that it will end badly for the public (and not so badly for the conspirators).

Which leaves me – for the time being – with the biggest unanswered question in this morass of conspiracy theories. Who is Slater’s mysterious funder, the person who was able to stump up the $5000 Rachinger offered (or asked for) when the Standard hack was proposed? In the Medium posts Rachinger hinted that the identity of the funder would eventually come out. In the Nation story, however, he admits he does not know who Slater’s funder is, which either means he never knew or the person who suspected it of being is no longer a viable suspect. So, the funder remains mysterious.

It’s possible there is no funder, of course. This ties into my previous discussion of Slater as a fantasist; he may have claimed there was someone wealthy working with him to make himself look more important. Some have mooted that the $5000 likely came from one of Slater’s many fundraising drives, since Slater keeps pleading poverty. Or there really is a funder and it’s one of the likely suspects named in “Dirty Politics”. Or… Or is there another player-qua-conspirator yet to be revealed? Will time tell, or is the investigation now so comprised that we will never know? I guess we might find out should there ever be reason for me to write part five…

Notes

  1. I must apologise for consistently mispronouncing his name on the podcast; it irritated me when the people behind Lauda Finem couldn’t do enough due diligence to spell my surname correctly, so sorry.
  2. Thank the gods for services like Instapaper.
  3. Indeed, the fact he refers to it as being his own investigation – rather than one in which he was supposedly helping the police – is interesting to the point that you would either think he has post facto made up a noble reason to have got onside with Slater, or that the police asked the Nation not to mention Rachinger’s central role in their investigation.
  4. Although there are two reasons why Prentice might say that if an undisclosed hack had occurred. The first is that the hack was successful and invisible, and thus Prentice didn’t know about it. The second is that you might not want to admit to being hacked in the first place. However, given the evidence of the falling out between Slater and Rachinger, I think we should accept Prentice’s supporting claim here as good evidence that there was no hack.
  5. Indeed, given that we got no story about him working with the police throughout this period, this particular hypothesis seems like a reasonable thing to consider.
  6. I know some will say that ignoring Rachinger’s motivations here is a bad idea, since it speaks to character and his past behaviour online. I’m not downplaying that. Rather, I am focused in this particular analysis on the claim of conspiracy by Slater and Company.
  7. Bolton was accused of being a Holocaust denier on a Radio New Zealand programme by (my friend) Scott Hamilton. Bolton denied this and complained to the Broadcasting Standards Association (BSA) and initially had his complaint upheld. However, this was, in part, because Bolton took down many of the web resources Hamilton used as evidence, and so Bolton made it look as if Hamilton was smearing him unjustly. However, Hamilton was able to show that a) the resources had existed and provided other written evidence, which lead to a rare retraction of a BSA ruling.

Episode 49 – The @B3nRaching3r Allegations

In which Josh and meself talk about the Ben Rachinger allegations of conspiratorial wrongdoing by Cameron Slater and Company, along with the claim that the real conspiracy is one against the “fine” people at Lauda Finem.

The @B3nRaching3r Allegations – Part Three

Lauda Finem Redux

A quick update on the Lauda Finem issue; apparently one “Matthew Denteth” is causing them trouble, and they have evidence of him doing something shady in Hamilton. This “Matthew Denteth” they keep banging on about seems to look exactly like me, but has a last name that is almost-but-not-quite my own. You would almost think – given how consistently they misspell my name – that they had been told about me over the phone (or in person) and then told to write a blogpost about me. Certainly, if they had actually been reading my blog and researching me (as they claim), you would think they would be able spell my last name. Then again, they also call Keith Ng “David”; Lauda Finem’s research credentials are just a little suspect, aren’t they?1

The Matthew Hooton Connection

Let me put on my overt political hat for a minute and say that I think Matthew Hooton is a despicable character who makes great issue out of how moral and open he is, whilst at the same time happily supplying Nicky Hager’s address to Cathy Odgers (so she can pass that on to disgruntled clients to enact vengeance). My personal opinion is that Hooton is a terrible person with no real moral centre, other than a self-aggrandising belief that he is basically a decent guy.

I put this hat on because, like many people on the Left who read “Dirty Politics”, I thought Hooton came across as a nefarious co-conspirator in Cameron Slater’s #dirtypolitics campaign. Yet Hooton has stage managed his role so well that he’s still a political commentator of some note. As such, when Ben Rachinger had a post about Hooton I thought “Oh goody!” As did Rachinger; , since in this installment he claims that he has proof Hooton lied about knowing what Rachinger and Slater were up to with regards to hacking blogs. Except that, on careful reading, the evidence does not say that at all. My “Oh goody!” moment became a “Oh noes…” instead.

It all starts with an email from Matthew Hooton to David Farrar, the primary author of KiwiBlog (the blog which epitomises the adage “Don’t read the comments!”). Hooton who had been searching The Standard, a Labour-aligned blog which you probably also shouldn’t read the comments of (for example, you’ll find a fair number of approving references to Lauda Finem there) and realised that the Standard’s search system was picking up on internal (and thus not public) discussions between moderators. Farrar then asked if these discussions could be extracted from the Standard without hacking (i.e. if they could be found legitimately). After all, what treasures which would benefit the Right might be unearthed by such an action?

Farrar’s response to Hooton was cc-ed to Slater, and Slater forwarded that email to Rachinger. Forwarded is the word we need to focus on here, because Rachinger seems to use this forwarded email as evidence that Hooton knew about Rachinger’s hacking assiciation with Cameron Slater. As he claims about Hooton:

Why send this email to a hacker? Why deny the emails existence and then defame ruthlessly the ‘hacker’? Was Mr Hooton lying when he said he didn’t know anything about me?

Well, I would day in response, it’s presumably because – unless Rachinger has further emails sent to him by Hooton – the e-mail he uses as evidence Hooton knew about him was forwarded by Slater, not sent by Hooton. As we know – and surely Rachinger knows as well – if someone forwards an email to you, there is no reason to think that the original emailer has any idea their email has been passed on. As such, there’s no reason – given the provided evidence – to think that Hooton subsequently lied when he said he knew nothing about Rachinger. Rachinger knew about Hooton because Hooton and Farrar’s correspondence was forward to him by Slater, not because Hooton or Farrar cc-ed him into said correspondence.

As to why the email was forwarded to Rachinger… Well, presumably it was because Slater wanted access to those internal communications and was ignoring Farrar’s request that this information should be extracted legally rather than via some hack.2 As such, given that Farrar, at the very least, was saying “No hacking!”, it would make sense for Slater to forward that email along and not notify Farrar (and presumably Hooton) that he was asking a hacker how they might (illegitimately) get to such a dataset.

Unless Rachinger has further email correspondence that shows that Hooton was aware of his work with Slater, then it does not seem we have grounds to think Hooton is lying about knowing Rachinger’s role in the conspiracy. So, whilst I – with my political hat back on – would love more evidence of Hooton’s central role in the “Dirty Politics” scandal to emerge, Rachinger has not provided it here. Maybe he has other evidence to support his claim, or maybe this is just evidence that he sometimes he overstates his case or makes faulty inferences from what data he has.

Who or what is Ben Rachinger, anyway?

I am not fond of ad hominem attacks, particularly when it comes to talk of conspiracy theorists. However, there is a class of legitimate ad hominem, the class which call into question the ability for someone to be the right kind of witness. For example, it is inappropriate to say that because someone wears corduroy trousers, then they cannot contribute to a debate on economic policies. However, if someone turns out to have bad night vision, it is appropriate to call into question their ability to accurately report what they saw on some dark and stormy night. Arguments cannot be dismissed via an ad hominem, but testimony can.

I bring this up because some people are wary of Rachinger’s testimony about his exploits with Slater because Rachinger was a member of the Young Nats.

The Young Nats, for those of you unaware of such abstract entities, is – like Young Labour – a group of young people who have decided to support one of the major political parties here in Aotearoa (New Zealand), to whit the National Party. It’s like the entryway drug to becoming a politician, and most of us outside the two major parties in Aotearoa (New Zealand) look at the members of the Young Nats and Young Labourwith a mixture of suspicion and derision. So, the fact Rachinger was an admitted Young Nat and he worked with Slater makes some think that his story must be some ruse, or play, by the Whaleoil (National Party-aligned) social media machine, a distraction from some other terrible happenstance. Others think that we have grounds to suspect Rachinger’s story because Rachinger was an ally of Slater and the National Party who at some point got burnt by Slater, and thus is getting his revenge on Slater and, by extension, National.

Both versions of this story are arguments to the extent that we can ignore or dismiss Rachinger’s claims because his narrative is disinformation emanating from Slater’s camp, or from an ally-turned-enemy of Slater. There may well be something to this, because Rachinger’s narrative is a little opaque at times. Whilst Rachinger presents himself as the hero of his story – a tale of a bold hacker who decided to infiltrate the Whaleoil social media empire and find out its secrets – the evidence he presents also fits with a rival narrative, in which he happily worked for Slater until such time Slater’s corrosive company pushed him away.

For example, Rachinger appears to agree to hack the Standard (although he claims he did not actually perform such a hack) and, as evidence, he presents bank records which indicate Slater gave him a down payment for said hack. This means we have to ask whether Rachinger:

  1. Attempted the hack and failed (thus accruing the wrath of Slater),
  2. Succeeded in the hack but then found that Slater was unwilling to pay him more (something Rachinger presumably could not publicly admit to), or
  3. Whether he really was a double-agent, working against Slater and seeing what it was Slater would be stupid enough to ask him to do?

Herein lies the issue: in his various posts Rachinger has has told stories about going to the police (and claiming they wanted to use him as part of a fishing expedition for information), seeking work from Slater’s associate Tony Lentino (and a blackhat hacker), and agreeing to hack the Standard. It’s a confusing tale, where you really aren’t sure whether he’s a noble hacker who decided to go undercover or just another of the villains in the “Dirty Politics” scandal, albeit one who ended up on the wrong side of Cameron Slater. All we have is his word, or more precisely, his version and interpretation of those events. He wants us to believe the noble hacker hypothesis is the best interpretation of the story, but he would, wouldn’t he? The fact is that if we believe he was undercover the entire time, then we are relying on the word of a good liar – since he conned Slater – which should give us reason to doubt at least some of his accounting of what really happened.

This is not me saying “Don’t trust the words of Ben Rachinger!” Rather, I am simply saying there is something to the idea that the way he tells his story opens him up to accusations that what we are getting is his interpretation of events, wherein he is the noble hero, rather than a totally honest accounting of what really happened. It seems clear that Rachinger witnessed (and maybe was complicit) in a variety of Slater’s #dirtypolitic activities. As such, Rachinger’s narrative fits in with Hager’s exposé of Slater and Company. What isn’t clear is Rachinger’s motivations. None of this detracts from the information released by Rachinger; it just raises interesting questions about what we might not be being told.

Notes

  1. As for what I might have done in Hamilton; attended a conference, taught at Waikato and given a eulogy. Dreadful dealings the lot of them.
  2. After all, if it turned out you could access the information on the Standard via a simple search or by accessing a unlinked but public page, then the fault would be on the hosts of the Standard for not securing their communications. However, if the information could only be accessed via a hack, then accessing that information would require criminal activity.