A strange hacking incident earlier today tied up another loose end for Gov. Sarah Palin.
Overnight, one of Palin's Yahoo e-mail accounts was compromised, allegedly by members of the leaderless collective of hackers known as "Anonymous." A hacker apparently cracked the password to the e-mail address "email@example.com," posted it to a public forum, and then multiple users copied some of the e-mails and information the acccount contained.
This morning one user reset the password, notified a Palin aide of the security breach, and the Yahoo account was soon deleted. Simultaneously, a second personal Yahoo account used by Palin, "firstname.lastname@example.org," was also deleted.
Screenshot of one of Palin's Yahoo e-mails
An e-mail from July between Palin and Alaska Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell gives insight into Palin's tendency to demonize her political opponents. In reference to local talk radio host Dan Fagan, who has refused to back Parnell's bid for Congress, Palin commented, "His fighting you reveals some evil stuff going on with him."
Last week, the Washington Post reported that Palin regularly used one of the two Yahoo e-mail accounts that was deleted today, "email@example.com," to conduct public business, and copied her husband, Todd, on some e-mails. A Republican activist in Anchorange, Andrée McLeod, has filed suit seeking to have 1,100 e-mails made public that Palin has withheld from an open records request, on suspicion that Palin aides engaged in political activity on state time.
McLeod calls Palin's use of Yahoo accounts for official state business "the most nonsensical, inane thing I've ever heard of." Todd Palin was often copied on e-mails relating to the Troopergate scandal, says McLeod, which nullifies her claim of executive privilege for witholding the e-mails. According to an appeal filed last week to release the rest of Palin's Yahoo e-mail trail:
"(Gov. Palin) has allowed Todd Palin -- who has not been elected by the people of Alaska, who is not a state employee -- to entangle himself apparently as he sees fit in the operations of the executive branch of the state government."
Palin's reliance on personal e-mail accounts for her official duties makes a mockery of her 2006 pledge while campagning for Governor of Alaska to run an "open and transparent" administration. "Where you've got a governor apparently using a Yahoo account for state business, that's kind of a complete inversion of what ought to be happening in terms of public records," said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
Special assistant Ivy Frye, whose name appears in screenshots of the hacked account's inbox, was one of the Palin appointees who tried hard to find loopholes in the law that would allow Gov. Palin to continue conducting state business on personal e-mail accounts without fear of disclosure. Frye, 27, worked as a receptionist before joining Palin's gubernatorial campaign, and her frequent interactions with the Palin children have earned her the title of "the babysitter" among Alaska legislators. As the Washington Post revealed:
"On March 17, minutes after peppering a state official about whether e-mails about state business contained on a personal BlackBerry could become public, senior Palin aide Ivy Frye addressed a message to both Palins and two other aides: 'In sum, it's just as I thought -- questions of confidentiality are still unanswered by law.'"
The Anchorage Daily News confirms Palin "has one of the devices (which allow users to read and send e-mails) for state business, another for personal matters, but those worlds intertwine."
Palin and her two BlackBerries, backstage at McCain VP announcement rally in Ohio on Aug. 29
Anonymous is the same group of hackers embroiled in an ongoing feud with the Church of Scientology. Last January, members were responsible for posting an internal Scientology training video featuring an interview with Tom Cruise on YouTube. It was widely viewed and ridiculed. Soon after, they coordinated denial-of-service attacks against Scientology websites, prank calls, and sending black faxes to Scientology centers.
Taking its activism offline, Anonymous helped organize protest marches in cities around the world against Scientology on March 15, including Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Vancouver, Toronto, Berlin, and Dublin.
Two weeks later, the collective was blamed for allegedly posting flashing computer animations on the Epilepsy Foundation of America's website, which could induce seizures in epileptic viewers. Anonymous members denied responsibility for the attack, suggesting the Church of Scientology was actually behind it, attempting "to ruin the public opinion of Anonymous."
The truly troubling part of this episode is that both of Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail accounts were deleted this morning - not just the compromised one, but also the other personal Yahoo account that Palin acknowledged using for public business (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Has this hacking incident given Palin a convenient way to dodge the eventual release of whatever else she had hidden in her Yahoo e-mail accounts?
(UPDATE 9/18 - Wired has posted a supposed first person account of the hacking. There is debate over whether the individual who first hacked Palin's e-mail was a self-identified Anonymous member, or simply posted the account's password to an on-line message board frequented by Anonymous hackers.)
(UPDATE 10/8 - David Kernell, 20, of Memphis, TN, was indicted yesterday on a single count of "intentionally accessing without authorization" Palin's Yahoo e-mail account. Kernell, who was arraigned today and pleaded not guilty, is the son of Tennessee state Rep. Mike Kernell, a Democratic state legislator.
But far from being a Democratic Party operative or even activist, Kernell appears to have allegedly hacked Palin's e-mail for other reasons, describing the incident as "just some prank to me" in a purported first hand account previously published by Wired. He is also a troubled individual who claims to have been hospitalized twice for depression.
"My name is David Kernell I am 15 a white cacasian male i live in memphis, TN. My favorite and only hobby is chess, more like an obsession. I am not afraid to say that i have acute depression and have been institutionalized twice, one at th age of 9 in Texas and one this past year. I have been strugleing with this for my entire life...")
Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina and blogs at The Latest Outrage.