I’ve already written a bit about how Ryan McKnight and myself came in contact, and how MormonLeaks, as it is known today, came to be. In this post, I hope to provide a little more context.
I knew in order to get credibility, MormonLeaks was going to have to set up their submission process correctly in a way they could guarantee the anonymity of their sources. I felt confident in my ability to do this, so I reached out to McKnight via Reddit with this message:
*Note: I have not edited any of the original typos in any of the messages in this post.
Dear FearlessFixxer, I know this will be the first time you see my handle. I just recently made it in order to conceal my identity. I am going to great lengths to protect my privacy and maintain anonymity not because I'm scared, but because I still not sure I want my true name associated with the project I am about to propose. I realize you may think this is a bit overkill and that I may be paranoid and crazy. I may be paranoid, but I am not crazy. You may have seen the handle I regularly use in the sub. I don't post frequently, but I have had a few posts that were upvoted quite a bit. I realy admire the work you guys do here, especially the recent video leaks. However I believe that these may only be milk compared to some potential meatier leaks out there. I believe that there may be something that we can do together to empower leakers to come forward (especially those who work inside TSCC) with confidence that their anonymity will be protected and maintained. If we can accomplish this and embolden more from the community that really have dirt on the church, I think we can accomplish a great good. I will say that I am not a current church employee. If you would like to hear more about my ideas please respond and we can establish a more secure way of communicating whether it be PGP, OTR, Telegram, or some other encrypted means. How would you rate your technical abilities? All three solutions that I just mentioned are easy to use once you do it once. If you would like further verification that I am legitimate, I can provide it to you easily. Again, I know this may seem like overkill, but I still haven't made up my mind if I would like to be associated with my idea publicly. If you do respond, expect a delayed response from me as I will not be able to respond until later due to the privacy measures I have taken. I can explain later. Securely yours, 3P
In reading through this message again, I honestly don’t know what I was referring to when I said “If you would like further verification that I am legitimate, I can provide it to you easily.” I eventually did do this upon his request, but I was extremely hesitant. One day, I may feel comfortable going into detail about how I did this, but not today.
I chose the name Privacy P. Pratt after Parley P. Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. The man signed his letters with the signature of “3P”, which I obviously mimicked.
I figured McKnight had already been contacted by several other people like me, and honestly I’m not sure how I would have felt had he chosen to work with one of them rather than me. Hindsight is 20/20, but I imagine I would be fairly, but privately, upset yet glad he had other viable options. You can bet your ass I would have followed the project closely and scrutinized over their operations though.
McKnight was confused and thought I was someone with a leak. I’m not sure if something I said made him think that or if he just didn’t read my message carefully. I think it is likely the latter as the hype from the videos he had recently released was still at its peak. Here is his response:
ok. please monitor this reddit account for a pm from me later tonight about the secure connection. It may come very late as I am extremely busy today. I will patiently wait your response to that message based on your privacy concerns. also, when we connect outside of reddit, feel free to prove what you can, but I do not want to know who you are. If you have something truly newsworthy I have the cell number of the key players at NYT and SLTrib Cheers
Very cordial. I responded with this:
Perfect. Just to be clear, I have nothing to leak myself, only looking to collaborate on a project to make it easier for those that do have newsworthy info to leak it. It could be that others are already working on something like this. I just want to offer my expertise.
He must have not responded for a day or two because I then sent him another message:
Just seeing if there is still interest. I know that you are busy and that's fine. Again, I think we can easily facilitate leakers to come forward with more confidence and ease. 3P
To which he said:
When you said project in your first message, I thought you meant that you had something to leak. Now I see that you want to help people facilitate. There is nothing wrong with that, I hope you are able to help someone if you are approached. Surely you can understand how I cannot work on the facilitation end of things with an anonymous person. Cheers.
I found this to be a completely reasonable response. I mean, you are approached by a guy you have never heard of before using an obviously fake name offering help to facilitate the release of confidential documents.
I remember getting somewhat cold feet to the response. I saw that he had posted an interview he did on the Mormon Transitions podcast. I figured I would give it a listen to get a better idea if his motives really matched mine. I listened to it that same morning on my way to work and sent him this message later that night.
Yes, I can understand your reservations. However, I don't think it would be as difficult as you think. That being said, after reading and listening to several interviews from you, I have concluded that you are the type of person that I can likely trust in this situation and would be willing to reveal my identity to you. This would be done under an understanding that you would not reveal me to others unless I agree to it. I'm very sorry for the secrecy, but when we can communicate over a secure connection, I can tell you more and you will understand. In your interview on Mormon Transitions, you said that you weren't a "hacker". I am. You said that you don't know much about computers. I do. The way the leakers have recently approached you is dangerous. They are leaving behind dozens of virtual fingerprints that can be traced directly to them. And while it may not be inherently illegal, if what is being leaked is considered intellectual property by the church and they get someone in the government on their side, then yes the leaker can get in very big legal trouble. I have already said more than what I'm comfortable revealing about myself over Reddit. If you are interested in protecting your sources taking very easy to steps to cover their tracks in the "cyber" contact me via Telegram (telegram.org), a secure, private messaging platform. You can download it onto your phone and I will get the message on mine. Don't worry, I won't be able to see your number and you won't be able to see mine. I hope to hear from you. Securely yours, 3P
For clarification, when I said I am a “hacker” I meant it in the traditional sense of exploring technologies and getting them to work for my benefit and not in the more modern sense of someone who breaches secured networks, which is illegal if done without permission. Yes, I have hacked secured networks, but never outside of a lab or professional setting without permission. To many, my claim of if “they get someone in the government on their side, then yes the leaker can get in very big legal trouble” may seem outlandish, and perhaps it is, but it is most definitely not outside the realm of possibility. My use of the word “cyber” was in reference to then candidate Donald Trump’s obvious misunderstanding and apparent vageness of the word.
As I indicated in the last paragraph, I was saying more than I wanted to on Reddit. I wanted to speak in a more secure and encrypted channel before revealing more information. At this point, I still wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to reveal my indentity to the public, or even if I would remain with the project in the long term. So I ended the conversation on Reddit and asked him to move it to Telegram. I figured if he was interested, he would message me there and if not, he wouldn’t.
I received a message from McKnight via Telegram that same day and I admitedly was very excited. Unfortunately I do not have the transcript of our conversation there as we have since deleted it, but he immediately made it clear that he had been contacted by others like me and had not made a decision with whom to work with but that he was interested in hearing my proposal. I outline this part of the story in my previous post, but my intention was to build the solution myself. I’m still confident that I would have been able to do so, but then I was told about SecureDrop, but that’s a story for another post. In my next post, I will go into depth about how the rest of our initial team came together.