Who the Hell Keeps Leaking Kremlin Correspondence?

Finding the leak in the Kremlin has been tricky business, when it comes to Anonymous International. Images edited by Kevin Rothrock. (Original photo is a scene from the spy comedy Archer.)

In Russia, the data-leaking group Anonymous International struck again on Tuesday, March 31, releasing an online archive of around 40,000 text messages that the group claims belong to Timur Prokopenko, an influential Kremlin official.

This is not the first time that Anonymous International has targeted Prokopenko, who helped shape the Putin Administration’s domestic policy from 2012 to 2014. In fact, as recently as February of this year, the group published roughly 9,500 emails allegedly belonging to Prokopenko. In addition to the SMS messages at the end of March, Anonymous International also leaked yet another trove of messages in early April, this time including correspondence lifted from the messaging app Telegram, and again supposedly from Prokopenko.

The group’s history

Anonymous International emerged at the end of 2013, when it published the full text of Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s national address a few hours before the speech was broadcast on television. Ever since, the group has busied itself with exposing the inner workings of certain political forces in Russia.

Anonymous International is widely known by the name that its “press office” goes by, Shaltai Boltai, which is what the nursery rhyme character Humpty Dumpty is called in Russian.

The group publishes the leaks on its website, However, Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor ordered access to the site blocked in July 2014, and it is accessible in Russia today only through a virtual private network or a mirror site. The group also tweets from the accounts @b0ltai, which is also blocked in Russia, and @b0ltai2, a duplicate account that is still accessible in the country. In announcing the new text-message leak, Shaltai Boltai tweeted:

Text-message correspondence from the Department of Internal Policy of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation. 2011–2014.

Intriguingly, Shaltai Boltai has been willing to speak about the group’s activities with journalists, although getting a face-to-face meeting often requires elaborate security measures. Meduza’s Daniil Turovsky had to travel to Thailand, for example, just to meet a Shaltai Boltai representative.

In Bangkok, one of the group’s members revealed to Turovsky new details about their operation: ”You understand, Anonymous International isn’t my main job—it’s not our main job. We don’t do it all the time. Shaltai Boltai is a byproduct of other games. We do information technology security… Our work is gaining access [to information]. … We have a small circle of regular clients. It’s enough for us. Our prices start at around $30,000. I won’t say how high they go. We earn enough to live comfortably and to travel.”

Meddling in the media

According to a Meduza write-up of Anonymous International’s latest leak, several exchanges stand out from among Prokopenko’s 40,000 text messages, such as his conversations with Nikolay Molibog, general director of the Russian media group RBC, and with Alexander Zharov and Maxim Ksenzov, the head and deputy head of the Kremlin’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor.

Prokopenko supposedly tried to influence editorial policy at RBC and suppress stories that did not tow the official government line, including stories related to Ukraine. Other text messages allegedly show Prokopenko’s close communication with the Roskomnadzor leadership, such as a discussion about prosecuting the creator of the popular nationalist website Sputnik & Pogrom for promoting extremism. (Prokopenko apparently argued against doing this.)

In one exchange, Roskomnadzor deputy head Maxim Ksenzov allegedly texted Prokopenko about his readiness to block the BBC in Russia after the outlet published a story about activists in Siberia who support a devolution of political power away from Moscow toward the regions. Prokopenko supposedly advised against the move, however, warning Ksenzov that blocking the BBC in Russia could put Russia Today’s position in the UK at risk, and Ksenzov never followed through with the action:

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