Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Gotcha Moment in Motherboard's Interview with Guccifer 2.0

On June 21st, Motherboard presented readers with two versions of their Guccifer 2.0 interview: a transcript and a summary.

Since both documents were prepared by the same writer (Lorenzo Franceschi-Bichhierai), I was surprised to discover that the summary and the transcript bear little resemblance to one another on the subject of Guccifer 2.0's facility with Romanian.

Of the summary's fourteen paragraphs, exactly one is dedicated to evaluating just how Romanian Guccifer 2.0's Romanian really is:
But when we asked him to explain to us how he hacked into the DNC in Romanian, he seemed to stall us, and said he didn’t want to “waste” his time doing that. The few short sentences he sent in Romanian were filled with mistakes, according to several Romanian native speakers.
Got that? He only gave them a "few short sentences" of Romanian before losing patience.

In fact, Guccifer replied in Romanian to eleven out of thirty questions. But instead of debating whether eleven qualifies as a "few" of anything, let's focus on the aggravating feature of Motherboard's sudden switch from Romanian to English to Russian in a transparent attempt to trick Guccifer 2.0 into exposing himself as the Russian cyberspy that CrowdStrike and the DNC say he is:
De ce faci toate astea? [Why are you doing this?]
Asta e din partea următoare [That's the next]
Am spus deja, e un filigran, un semn special [I have already said, it's a watermark, a special sign]
Do you like Trump?
I don't care at all
кто-то говорит мне, что ты румынская полна ошибок [Someone tells me that your Romanian is full of mistakes.]
What's this? Is it russian?
You don't understand it?
R u kidding? Just a moment I'll look in google translate what u meant. "Someone tells me that you are full of mistakes Romanian."
Hai sa-ti pun cateva intrebari, ca sa vad ca esti cu adevarat roman [Let me ask you a few questions to see that you are truly native.]
Man, I'm not a pupil at school.
What do you mean?
If u have serious questions u can ask. Don't waste my time. 
Although I can understand Motherboard's impulse to do some linguistic sleuthing on an unknown source of unverified information, I can also understand Guccifer 2.0's display of impatience (under these circumstances) as far more justifiable than the summary made it out to be.

But is this seeming discrepancy even worth mentioning? Shouldn't our primary task concerning anything leaked in the public interest be to focus on what was leaked rather than who leaked it?  

I thought so a few days ago. I'm less certain now. As I see the Guccifer 2.0 story dissipating into background noise, it's plain that the main takeaway CrowdSource wanted to impose on the public is almost the only part of the story that is sticking in the public consciousness: "That DNC hack was probably done by Russians, though you can never tell with cybercrime, but it was definitely probably Russians, including that Guccifer 2.0, who was undeniably and indisputably part of a Russian disinformation campaign in all probability."

Even if Guccifer 2.0's claims regarding her/his ethnicity and first language are irrelevant (as I think they are, since hackers generally rely on anonymity and deception), it's still a good idea to keep facts separate from rumors. The fact is that Motherboard's interview proved nothing conclusive about Guccifer 2.0's Romanian-ness, and yet the interview was used to support rumors about the hacker being a Russian who couldn't convincingly impersonate a Romanian in an online interview with web translation tools at his disposal.

That's how things feel today. But I had a DM conversation with @Guccifer_2 this afternoon that makes me think things won't feel that way for long. More on that tomorrow. 

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