Katz has kept a low profile since the raid and says he avoids speaking with friends in Iceland about his brush with the law."[W]hen I got raided, they rounded up my entire support network—all of my friends, all of my close family, and just wrecked all of that," he tells Motherboard. "It made me very wary of involving anyone around me with what all of this was about."Several times during a voice call interview that he initiated with Motherboard, he questioned the wisdom of talking now.
"I don't regret my actions, because they led me on a really interesting journey."
A few weeks after he downloaded the files, Katz says, a programmer working at Brookhaven suffered a mental health crisis over the Christmas break. The worker, whom Katz describes as an immigrant from Asia, had no family in the area. So when the lab closed for the holidays and everyone went home, he reportedly remained on campus alone. The extended isolation apparently triggered a psychotic episode. Katz remembers receiving a phone call from the worker during the holiday break and having a "nonsensical" conversation with him.
"It appealed to the hacker ethos. The David-Goliath archetype."
The agents told him they weren't really interested in him; their focus was on someone else. His memory is foggy, but he recalls being handed a document containing the names of Assange, Manning and Jacob Appelbaum—the latter a friend of Assange and WikiLeaks who occasionally made public appearances on WikiLeaks' behalf—but can't remember if that occurred the day of the raid or later. If he helped them out, they said, they'd let prosecutors know that he'd cooperated."I said, 'that's great, if you can put that in writing I will hand it over to my lawyer and we'll get back to you,'" Katz said.By chance, Katz says he had a business card in his wallet from Rainey Reitman, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whom he'd met a month earlier at Shmoocon, an annual hacker conference held in Washington, DC. He excused himself to call Reitman and got the name of a defense lawyer in New York who could help him. (Motherboard called Reitman for comment, but did not receive a response in time for this article's publication).Katz's meeting with the FBI lasted more than an hour, by his recollection. And during that time, Katz says his apartment in Brooklyn was raided, as was a house on Long Island that belonged to his girlfriend's family. The FBI allegedly imaged his roommate's laptop as well as other laptops in the apartment, and examined computers in his girlfriend's home. Katz says his girlfriend saw an FBI agent take something from his car, which was parked outside her parents' house; Katz thinks it may have been a GPS tracker.
He recalls being handed a document containing the names of Assange, Manning and Jacob Appelbaum…
Although he still had a few months left to work on his job at Tower, when Katz returned to his office after the raid, the hedge fund company fired him. (Motherboard called Tower Research Capital for comment, but did not receive a response in time for this article's publication.)Over the next couple of weeks, Katz says anyone he had more than a passing acquaintance with was approached by the FBI. His girlfriend was also subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in Virginia, and agreed to go after securing immunity, but Katz says she didn't know anything about his involvement with WikiLeaks."I didn't involve a lot of people in what I did," he explained. "So nobody could say with certainty anything if they were asked questions."After refusing to testify to the grand jury himself, Katz decided to proceed with his move to Iceland. Lamo has publicly stated that Katz ran to Iceland to avoid prosecution.But Katz's visa application for Iceland required that he pass an FBI background check. So while still under FBI suspicion for his involvement with WikiLeaks, Katz dutifully mailed his fingerprints to the FBI. He got a clean report back several months later and moved to Iceland in February 2012. He never asked the FBI to return the laptop they seized from him, fearing that doing so would renew the agency's interest in his case. (Motherboard emailed the FBI for comment about their investigation into Katz, but did not receive a response in time for this article's publication).Eight months after making the move, he founded the Pirate Party with Icelandic politician and former WikiLeaks collaborator Birgitta Jónsdóttir, and a handful of other WikiLeaks supporters and activists."All of this stuff with the FBI forced my hand into following through on activist angles," Katz said. "There was no going back at that point."Subscribe to Science Solved It, Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.
"I didn't involve a lot of people in what I did. So nobody could say with certainty anything if they were asked questions."