Tag: Ben Rachinger

The @B3nRaching3r Allegations – Part Five

If you have paid any attention to Twitter or the Herald in the last few days, you will be aware that the people behind the blog Lauda Finem decided to release a series of intimate images that were sent to Ben Rachinger by a prominent journalist. I won’t link to the post in question, and I’ll trust readers to realise that giving page views to Lauda Finem is simply a bad idea. I will also talk about the incident without mentioning the journalist’s name, because they are the victim in this piece, no matter what you think of the various conspiracy theories on offer.

So, let us get the big issue out of the way. The photos are of the journalist in question, and they were sent to Rachinger over the a prolonged period of time. It is fair to say that Rachinger and the journalist were engaged in some kind of relationship. At some point these images – which had been sent to Rachinger – were fed to a third party, and that third party provided them to someone at the Lauda Finem blog. Lauda Finem then published the pictures, in part to try and recentre the Rachinger story on their particular claim that the real purpose of Rachinger’s online activity was to entrap the people behind Lauda Finem. They also published the images, it seems, to punish said journalist for connecting Lauda Finem with Cameron Slater and the Whaleoil social media empire. ((Which seems less imperial now due to Slater’s “Decade of Dirt” party absolutely fizzling.))

So, the big question is who gave the pictures to who?

The Lauda Finem story

The person behind the Lauda Finem post suggests they got the photos from someone in the Press Gallery. Rachinger allegedly sent to the images to the entire Press Gallery because he was blackmailing the journalist in question, in order to destroy their career. The journalist, however, asked their friends in the Press Gallery to ignore Rachinger, and so the story went nowhere. That was, at least, until Lauda Finem “went to press”. They published the images to show Rachinger was untrustworthy, and that his story about a solo investigation into Cameron Slater’s activities should not be taken seriously.

It is also clear that the people behind Lauda Finem also wanted to get revenge on the journalist for daring to associate them with Slater. In the post in question they claim they reached out to all and sundry about these images before going to print, so there’s a real question as to why they think thought it was wise to publish this material. Yes, they want to take Rachinger down, but if this is the only ammunition they have – the only way they can prove he’s untrustworthy – it’s an off (to put it really lightly) strategem. Why make a victim out of the journalist in order to attack Rachinger when it makes both Rachinger and Lauda Finem look guilty of leaking private information. Whatever moral high ground the people at Lauda Finem think they might have goes right out the window when they engage in the spreading of the same information they say makes Rachinger look untrustworthy. Oh, they try to make out that Rachinger, the journalist, et al. are all attached somehow to Lauda Finem’s pet enemy, Matthew Blomfield, but most of the actual talk is about leftish and corrupt journalists who need taking down a peg.

Which is to say, the one of the stated reasons the people behind Lauda Finem end up using to defend their release of the images seems to come straight out of Slater’s playbook. Corrupt journos, they say, need to be exposed, by any means necessary. This, for them, inadvertantly supports the idea that Lauda Finem is a satellite blog of the Whaleoil media empire. If the people behind Lauda Finem really aren’t vassals of Cameron Slater, they sure are acting like they are.

The Lauda Finem-sponsored conspiracy theory is itself a weird beast. They have tried hard to sidestep the Slater connection, and make their personal feud with Rachinger all about Matthew Blomfield. The case for a conspiracy by Blomfield against Lauda Finem has not really been set out to any adequate evidential standard; it’s mostly bluster about how he’s very well connected and that he has the Press and Police in the palms of his hand. The fact this conspiracy keeps getting bigger and bigger, involving more and more of the Press indicates either a huge conspiracy on the part of one failed business person, Blomfield, or the people behind Lauda Finem are suffering from acute conspiracist ideation about Blomfield (which is to say they believe in the existence of a conspiracy for no good reason), or this is all part of a disinformation campaign by the Slater media empire – with Lauda Finem as its spokesblog – to distract from the guts of the Rachinger allegations.

Now, it seems unlikely that there is a all-embracing conspiracy concerning the machinations of one Matthew Blomfield, so the most likely hypothesis to explain Lauda Finem’s vendetta against Rachinger and the recent leak of images is either acute conspiracism, or a disinformation campaign. The more Lauda Finem write on the topic, the more they make their particular conspiracy theory look less and less plausible, and the more they make it look as if they might well be doing the work of others.

The Ben Rachinger story

Rachinger claims that he did not have a relationship with the journalist in question, that he did not send those images to a third party and he has not tried to blackmail the journalist. As such, he claims he cannot be held in any way responsible for the leak of the images.

The first claim – that he was not in a relationship with the journalist – is what we might term a “Bill Clinton defence” given that President Clinton was famous, among many things, for claiming that he had never smoked weed because he never inhaled and he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky because they never had penis-to-vulva intercourse. Rachinger seems to be claiming, in effect, that because he and the journalist were never officially “going steady”, that they were not in a relationship and thus – so it seems – the photos cannot originate from him.



This is, to quote the “kids”, “weaksauce”. Whilst maybe we can quibble about the precise nature of the relationship, it did happen. ((As part of my continued failure to screencap tweets at the beginning of the year, I cannot offer you as proof the tweets Rachinger was posting publicly on Twitter back in January as evidence that they certainly were involved in some way at that time.)) Denying that actually puts the boot into the victim of this piece, the journalist, once again. Either we have to now imagine the images were unsolicited (which still raises the question of how they got out of Rachinger’s posession) or Rachinger is throwing someone he was in a relationship under the bus (so to speak) in order to make himself look innocent of passing sensitive information to others.

The claim he did not send the pictures to a third party (which he intimates would have to be Cameron Slater – more on that in a moment) does not seem plausible. For one thing, Rachinger has published online private information sent to him, presumably in confidence, before which was irrelevant to the case he was pressing against Cameron Slater. As such, he has prior history of passing on correspondence when it suits his agenda to show how connected he is. ((Rachinger’s argument at the time as to why this sharing of information was not obviously immoral was that as the information was shared with him rather than him getting it via some hack. However, as many argued at the time, if someone shares information with you, you have to be able to argue that either they have no issue with your then passing that information on to a third party, or there is some moral imperative as to why you breach their privacy. At the time, Rachinger’s release of private correspondence was slapdash and seemed, in some cases, simply designed to prove he was connected, rather than because the release of that correspondence was necessary to uncover some crime or immoral act.))

For another thing, how did someone else get the images that were sent to Rachinger by the journalist? The images themselves support the hypothesis that they were sent by Rachinger to some third party. Here are two interesting details “hidden” in the images:


“Aww bro she’s like 45. I’m 26” – which is the respective ages of the journalist and Rachinger, and suggests that the message genuinely does come from him.

Rachinger 2

This one is much harder to decipher, although “I’m a … get some … voices paid I can help”, which suggests some line about paying invoices. Notably, this is a message from the third party, and this detail fits in with the story of Rachinger doing paid work for Slater. As such, the leaked images support the theory these images came from Rachinger.

The images in questions are not screencaps but rather photos of a device showing the messages. Rachinger himself identifies the phone as the kind Slater uses in this tweet:


So, it’s plausible to think that Rachinger sent the images to a third party, likely Slater, given that he received them in the first place the images provide circumstantial evidence sent the images on to a third party. So, why is Rachinger is denying being the sender. Why? Well, two reasons. One is that he feels there isn’t sufficient evidence to show he can be the originator:


And because the Lauda Finem story, which denies any role in this matter to Slater, makes out that the images came from someone attached to Rachinger’s alleged blackmailing of the journalist to the Press Gallery. If he can deny that link – he claims to be no blackmailer, after all – then how could the images have originated from him in the first place?

Some have argued that Rachinger could not have sent those images to Slater because by December 18th (the date the images were sent) the working relationship between Rachinger and Slater had soured. Yet according to Rachinger’s own leaks he was asking and receiving money from Slater in February of this year:


So, the theory the photos can’t have orginated from Rachinger because the relationship between he and Slater had soured by that time is contradicted by Rachinger’s own leaks. We know that Rachinger was asking for and getting money from Slater in as late as February. Not only that, but the general tenor of the leaked communications from February does not suggest that the relationship had soured but rather was in the process of souring. February looks to be the time period in which Rachinger becomes distant from Slater, not December, which indicates that it is well within the realms of possibility that Rachinger passed those images on to Slater.

The most credible hypothesis

The most plausible hypothesis in this particular case is that Rachinger passed the images on to Slater in mid December, and Slater only recently released them to the people behind Lauda Finem in order to destroy Rachinger’s credibility with respect the Nation story. That fits in with idea of Lauda Finem being a Cameron Slater satellite blog and it fits in with these messages Rachinger leaked back when he was writing the Medium posts:


These messages in totum (which can be seen here, although some of the tweets seem to have disappeared) suggests that in February Slater was taking stock of what Rachinger had given him, and decided he had not received much for the money he had spent on Rachinger’s services. This, co-incidentally, fits in with Rachinger’s oft-repeated claims that when he alleged hacked the Standard he provided Slater with nothing other than publicly available data. This, however, leaves open the question of what Slater is referring to when talking about the “nice pics of cunt journalists”? The most plausible hypothesis at this stage is that the images in question are the pics Slater is referring to.

Why might Rachinger have passed on these images to Slater? Whereas the previous analysis relies on looking at publicly available evidence, the following claims really are conjecture.

There’s the “Matey hypothesis”, where Rachinger, in a moment of friendly discussion with Slater, passes on without thinking much of it, images of the journalist because he’s mentioned knowing said journalist in a somewhat intimate manner. This is the kind of slip people do make, where they feel compelled to prove something they have intimated, thus breaching privacy.

Then there are the variety of “Digger hypotheses”: Rachinger may well have given the images to Slater either as ammunition for Slater’s dirt collection on local journalists or to curry favour with Slater or as part of an attempt to keep Slater’s money coming in (which seems a plausible hypothesis, given what appear to be references to invoices in the images). If any of these hypotheses are true, then they push Rachinger out of the Noble Hacker category (as discussed in the last post). It would leave him firmly in the category of being suspicious in his motivations.

Isn’t this a distraction from the real story?

Some will say “Isn’t this all a distraction from the main story, which is about #dirtypolitics?” Yes, it kind of is, but it also speaks to the allegations themselves. On a “positive” side it really does indicate that Slater and Company are worried about the Rachinger allegations and want it shutdown. That shows the existence of a conspiracy. As I have argued in the previous posts, we need to treat this claim serious, because it has all the hallmarks of being a warranted conspiracy theory; this is all evidence that the #dirtypolitics campaign continued after the 2014 General Election.

However, the analysis of this material also shows that part of the narrative Rachinger wants us to believe – that he’s a noble hacker – simply isn’t – as many people have already noted – the most plausible hypothesis. It seems likely that he – for some reason – passed on sensitive information to Slater.

What this also shows is that it is plausible to believe that Rachinger may well have been a willing accomplice of Slater for some time up to and after the release of “Dirty Politics” (which he claims changed his opinion on Slater as a person). If Rachinger passed the images on to Slater in December, post the election, then either Rachinger has misled us about when he changed his opinion on Slater (which supports the other hypothesis in this matter, which is that they had a falling out rather than Rachinger going rogue and starting a one person investigation) or Rachinger thought that the sacrifice of the journalist was worth it to keep Slater happy and unsuspecting as Rachinger performed his investigation. Either way, this new evidence (which happens to dovetail nicely with some of the evidence Rachinger himself has leaked) challenges the narrative Rachinger has presented, and suggests that, at least up until February, Rachinger might have been a willing conspirator in #dirtypolitics.

Now maybe, just maybe, Rachinger is innocent of leaking images of the journalist to some third party, and this is all a large and elaborate plot against him (certainly, people are claiming that I have fallen for a plot by Cameron Slater and the people behind Lauda Finem to smear Rachinger). Given what we know about Slater’s operations post the release of “Dirty Politics”, it is very likely indeed that the leaking of the images of the journalist was designed to derail the debate about the seriousness of Rachinger’s allegations. However, we also know that Slater’s modus operandi is the weaponising of dirt; he collects information to use against others and attacks by insinuation and then by release. What’s striking about this particular attack by (as we all presume, Slater, operating through Lauda Finem) is that Rachinger’s actions – releasing large chunks of data online – means he has provided evidence himself that makes it seem likely he passed those images on to Slater in December (for reasons which may not be not entirely clear). There is enough circumstantial evidence, some of it which much be stressed emanated from Rachinger himself, to support the claim he’s not entirely innocent in this matter. At the moment the most plausible story about the source of the images in the Lauda Finem post is that Rachinger likely passed the aforementioned images on to Slater, and somehow they were passed on to the “fine” people at Lauda Finem.

The @B3nRaching3r Allegations – Part Four

The Ben Rachinger ((I must apologise for consistently mispronouncing his name on the podcast; it irritated me when the people behind Lauda Finem couldn’t do enough due diligence to spell my surname correctly, so sorry.)) story has been picked up by the media. It started with on TV3’s “The Nation” last Saturday and then was followed up by an article in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday. Rachinger had suggested just a few weeks back on Twitter – despite prior claims to the contrary – that all was good in the mainstream media, which is when I think we can date the Nation taking an interest in his story.

The story itself, as presented in the 10 or so minutes on the Nation, is interesting precisely because of how it differs from Rachinger’s narrative in the (now deleted) Medium posts. ((Thank the gods for services like Instapaper.)) The story we saw on Saturday morning was simple and concise: Rachinger first got in contact with Slater when the Whaleoil blog was hit by a denial of service attack in early 2014. Rachinger offered to help Slater secure his site against further attacks, and they struck up a correspondence. This led to Rachinger being paid by Slater to do work for him. Eventually Rachinger was sufficiently trusted by Slater that he asked Rachinger to hack the Labour Party-aligned blog, the Standard. However, by this time Rachinger was aware of the claims made against Slater in Nicky Hager’s book “Dirty Politics” and he claims he decided to launch his own investigation/entrapment of Slater. So, whilst Slater thought Rachinger was hacking the Standard, Rachinger was simply pulling publicly available data from the site. Slater eventually worked out that he really was getting nothing useful and terminated the relationship.

The story on the Nation, then, is the story Rachinger posted on Medium but stripped of much of the ancillary and sometimes quite questionable details. There is no hyperbole about Rachinger’s sacrifice, or how he is now being hounded by influential people and has had to go on the run. There is no talk about the Tony Lentino job Slater tried to get for Rachinger, which always seemed like an irrelevant sideline. The discussion about Slater’s connection with the Israeli Embassy: gone. Finally, there was no attempt to link the Standard hack to David Farrar or Matthew Hooton (which, as I covered previously, was always a stretch). Just a simple story of a hacker who was asked to infiltrate a blog and took Cameron Slater along for a ride.

Part of me would like to think that the calm, cautious reporting of the salient details is very much due to this series of blogposts. Realistically, though, it’s much more likely to be the result of good journalism on the part of the Nation’s staffers. Getting an actual journalist to present your story can do wonders.

The Nation story also plays down the police informant angle; there was nothing about Rachinger’s claims to be regularly meeting with a police handler throughout his association with Slater. Indeed, there was little to no discussion as to when Rachinger decided to start his one person investigation/entrapment of Slater. ((Indeed, the fact he refers to it as being his own investigation – rather than one in which he was supposedly helping the police – is interesting to the point that you would either think he has post facto made up a noble reason to have got onside with Slater, or that the police asked the Nation not to mention Rachinger’s central role in their investigation.)) This is important, because according to numerous internet commentators (including myself), either:

  • Rachinger went in at the beginning as a noble hacker intent on blowing open Slater’s criminal activities (what we might call the “Noble Rachinger” hypothesis), or
  • Rachinger was sincere in his offer to help Slater and later came to regret his association (the “Credulous Rachinger” hypothesis) or
  • Rachinger was an eager and willing accomplice to Slater who then was either burnt by Slater or burnt Slater, causing them to become enemies (the “Suspicious Rachinger” theory).

I think it’s fair to say that Rachinger’s deleted Medium posts and (for the moment) inaccessible tweets slip and slide between the Noble and Credulous hypotheses. Yet a lot of people side with the Suspicious construal because they either:

  1. claim to have been in correspondence with Rachinger over the period of time he was working for or with Slater, and thus they say this correspondence reflects a different story from the one Rachinger has presented or
  2. they cite Rachinger’s past behaviour online (doxing, threatening to contact people’s employers, et cetera) and argue that there is no reason to charitably assume Rachinger was acting nobly.

Myself? I suspect some version of the Credulous or Suspicious hypothesis is the most likely, given his past behaviour, the nature of some of the correspondence Rachinger leaked and the fact he came to the attention of Slater due to a video which criticised one of the people on Slater’s hit list, Kim Dotcom. That, however, is by-the-by; the story we saw on the Nation states that Rachinger was bluffing Slater by the time it came to the request that the Standard be hacked. If we accept that to be true, then what the Nation presented was clear evidence that Slater decided to pay someone to illegally access data on a blog as part of his ongoing #dirtypolitics campaign, which is conspiratorial in nature.

So, is this a warranted conspiracy theory? Well, no matter what we think of Rachinger himself the evidence he has provided seems reasonably clear (if we assume the various screenshots, bank account transactions and the like have not been faked). Slater and at the very least his mysterious funder (more on that in a second) were engaged in a criminal conspiracy.

How involved, then, was Rachinger? Well, Rachinger says he did not hack the Standard. There are two good reasons to believe this. The first is that Slater’s response and subsequent falling out with Rachinger shows that Slater not only thought he got nothing useful from Rachinger, but that he had been played. The second reason is that Lynn Prentice, the Editor at the Standard, claims there was no evidence of a hack. ((Although there are two reasons why Prentice might say that if an undisclosed hack had occurred. The first is that the hack was successful and invisible, and thus Prentice didn’t know about it. The second is that you might not want to admit to being hacked in the first place. However, given the evidence of the falling out between Slater and Rachinger, I think we should accept Prentice’s supporting claim here as good evidence that there was no hack.)) As such, it seems that whatever happened, the Standard remained unhacked.

Now, some are speculating that Rachinger planned to hack the Standard, but failed or discovered such a hack was outside his realm of IT comfort. That is to say, Rachinger might be trying to make his failure and subsequent falling out with Slater look noble. ((Indeed, given that we got no story about him working with the police throughout this period, this particular hypothesis seems like a reasonable thing to consider.)) However, for our purposes we can ignore claims about his motivations (and potential failures) and focus purely on the fact Rachinger is admitting he was complicit to some extent in Slater and Company’s criminal enterprise. ((I know some will say that ignoring Rachinger’s motivations here is a bad idea, since it speaks to character and his past behaviour online. I’m not downplaying that. Rather, I am focused in this particular analysis on the claim of conspiracy by Slater and Company.))

Slater has, of course, denied criminal activity. In fact, he claims he operates entirely legally. As Russell Brown pointed out on Twitter, that’s just not true, and Lynn Prentice has called Slater out on the hypocrisy of crying foul when the Whaleoil blog was hacked (which led to the eventual #dirtypolitics revelations) but then wanting to hack the Standard. However, the Herald story mentions that the Counties Manukau CIB are investigating Rachinger’s claims, which means they at least think there is a case to be made for this being a serious offence. However, they also admit that Rachinger’s history of putting evidence online has complicated the investigation. This is a serious problem, because the investigated know what they are being investigated for and thus can work to answer those questions preemptively (and to their favour). This is what I call the “Kerry Bolton defence”, named after the far-right, Aotearoa (New Zealand) based author Kerry Bolton. ((Bolton was accused of being a Holocaust denier on a Radio New Zealand programme by (my friend) Scott Hamilton. Bolton denied this and complained to the Broadcasting Standards Association (BSA) and initially had his complaint upheld. However, this was, in part, because Bolton took down many of the web resources Hamilton used as evidence, and so Bolton made it look as if Hamilton was smearing him unjustly. However, Hamilton was able to show that a) the resources had existed and provided other written evidence, which lead to a rare retraction of a BSA ruling.)) It’s much harder to prosecute someone if they not only know the details of an investigation but can then work to counteract those details whilst the investigation is on-going. The worry is that Rachinger’s publication of his amassed evidence (including large chunks of private correspondence which was irrelevant to his central claims about a criminal conspiracy led by Slater) will lead to the police saying “Too difficult; we give up!” or “Well, we can’t use this in court now…” Whilst there will be, I suspect, huge public and political pressure for this investigation to get as far as the prosecution phase, it is also possibly that it will end badly for the public (and not so badly for the conspirators).

Which leaves me – for the time being – with the biggest unanswered question in this morass of conspiracy theories. Who is Slater’s mysterious funder, the person who was able to stump up the $5000 Rachinger offered (or asked for) when the Standard hack was proposed? In the Medium posts Rachinger hinted that the identity of the funder would eventually come out. In the Nation story, however, he admits he does not know who Slater’s funder is, which either means he never knew or the person who suspected it of being is no longer a viable suspect. So, the funder remains mysterious.

It’s possible there is no funder, of course. This ties into my previous discussion of Slater as a fantasist; he may have claimed there was someone wealthy working with him to make himself look more important. Some have mooted that the $5000 likely came from one of Slater’s many fundraising drives, since Slater keeps pleading poverty. Or there really is a funder and it’s one of the likely suspects named in “Dirty Politics”. Or… Or is there another player-qua-conspirator yet to be revealed? Will time tell, or is the investigation now so comprised that we will never know? I guess we might find out should there ever be reason for me to write part five…

The @B3nRaching3r Allegations – Part Three

Lauda Finem Redux

A quick update on the Lauda Finem issue; apparently one “Matthew Denteth” is causing them trouble, and they have evidence of him doing something shady in Hamilton. This “Matthew Denteth” they keep banging on about seems to look exactly like me, but has a last name that is almost-but-not-quite my own. You would almost think – given how consistently they misspell my name – that they had been told about me over the phone (or in person) and then told to write a blogpost about me. Certainly, if they had actually been reading my blog and researching me (as they claim), you would think they would be able spell my last name. Then again, they also call Keith Ng “David”; Lauda Finem’s research credentials are just a little suspect, aren’t they? ((As for what I might have done in Hamilton; attended a conference, taught at Waikato and given a eulogy. Dreadful dealings the lot of them.))

The Matthew Hooton Connection

Let me put on my overt political hat for a minute and say that I think Matthew Hooton is a despicable character who makes great issue out of how moral and open he is, whilst at the same time happily supplying Nicky Hager’s address to Cathy Odgers (so she can pass that on to disgruntled clients to enact vengeance). My personal opinion is that Hooton is a terrible person with no real moral centre, other than a self-aggrandising belief that he is basically a decent guy.

I put this hat on because, like many people on the Left who read “Dirty Politics”, I thought Hooton came across as a nefarious co-conspirator in Cameron Slater’s #dirtypolitics campaign. Yet Hooton has stage managed his role so well that he’s still a political commentator of some note. As such, when Ben Rachinger had a post about Hooton I thought “Oh goody!” As did Rachinger; , since in this installment he claims that he has proof Hooton lied about knowing what Rachinger and Slater were up to with regards to hacking blogs. Except that, on careful reading, the evidence does not say that at all. My “Oh goody!” moment became a “Oh noes…” instead.

It all starts with an email from Matthew Hooton to David Farrar, the primary author of KiwiBlog (the blog which epitomises the adage “Don’t read the comments!”). Hooton who had been searching The Standard, a Labour-aligned blog which you probably also shouldn’t read the comments of (for example, you’ll find a fair number of approving references to Lauda Finem there) and realised that the Standard’s search system was picking up on internal (and thus not public) discussions between moderators. Farrar then asked if these discussions could be extracted from the Standard without hacking (i.e. if they could be found legitimately). After all, what treasures which would benefit the Right might be unearthed by such an action?

Farrar’s response to Hooton was cc-ed to Slater, and Slater forwarded that email to Rachinger. Forwarded is the word we need to focus on here, because Rachinger seems to use this forwarded email as evidence that Hooton knew about Rachinger’s hacking assiciation with Cameron Slater. As he claims about Hooton:

Why send this email to a hacker? Why deny the emails existence and then defame ruthlessly the ‘hacker’? Was Mr Hooton lying when he said he didn’t know anything about me?

Well, I would day in response, it’s presumably because – unless Rachinger has further emails sent to him by Hooton – the e-mail he uses as evidence Hooton knew about him was forwarded by Slater, not sent by Hooton. As we know – and surely Rachinger knows as well – if someone forwards an email to you, there is no reason to think that the original emailer has any idea their email has been passed on. As such, there’s no reason – given the provided evidence – to think that Hooton subsequently lied when he said he knew nothing about Rachinger. Rachinger knew about Hooton because Hooton and Farrar’s correspondence was forward to him by Slater, not because Hooton or Farrar cc-ed him into said correspondence.

As to why the email was forwarded to Rachinger… Well, presumably it was because Slater wanted access to those internal communications and was ignoring Farrar’s request that this information should be extracted legally rather than via some hack. ((After all, if it turned out you could access the information on the Standard via a simple search or by accessing a unlinked but public page, then the fault would be on the hosts of the Standard for not securing their communications. However, if the information could only be accessed via a hack, then accessing that information would require criminal activity.)) As such, given that Farrar, at the very least, was saying “No hacking!”, it would make sense for Slater to forward that email along and not notify Farrar (and presumably Hooton) that he was asking a hacker how they might (illegitimately) get to such a dataset.

Unless Rachinger has further email correspondence that shows that Hooton was aware of his work with Slater, then it does not seem we have grounds to think Hooton is lying about knowing Rachinger’s role in the conspiracy. So, whilst I – with my political hat back on – would love more evidence of Hooton’s central role in the “Dirty Politics” scandal to emerge, Rachinger has not provided it here. Maybe he has other evidence to support his claim, or maybe this is just evidence that he sometimes he overstates his case or makes faulty inferences from what data he has.

Who or what is Ben Rachinger, anyway?

I am not fond of ad hominem attacks, particularly when it comes to talk of conspiracy theorists. However, there is a class of legitimate ad hominem, the class which call into question the ability for someone to be the right kind of witness. For example, it is inappropriate to say that because someone wears corduroy trousers, then they cannot contribute to a debate on economic policies. However, if someone turns out to have bad night vision, it is appropriate to call into question their ability to accurately report what they saw on some dark and stormy night. Arguments cannot be dismissed via an ad hominem, but testimony can.

I bring this up because some people are wary of Rachinger’s testimony about his exploits with Slater because Rachinger was a member of the Young Nats.

The Young Nats, for those of you unaware of such abstract entities, is – like Young Labour – a group of young people who have decided to support one of the major political parties here in Aotearoa (New Zealand), to whit the National Party. It’s like the entryway drug to becoming a politician, and most of us outside the two major parties in Aotearoa (New Zealand) look at the members of the Young Nats and Young Labourwith a mixture of suspicion and derision. So, the fact Rachinger was an admitted Young Nat and he worked with Slater makes some think that his story must be some ruse, or play, by the Whaleoil (National Party-aligned) social media machine, a distraction from some other terrible happenstance. Others think that we have grounds to suspect Rachinger’s story because Rachinger was an ally of Slater and the National Party who at some point got burnt by Slater, and thus is getting his revenge on Slater and, by extension, National.

Both versions of this story are arguments to the extent that we can ignore or dismiss Rachinger’s claims because his narrative is disinformation emanating from Slater’s camp, or from an ally-turned-enemy of Slater. There may well be something to this, because Rachinger’s narrative is a little opaque at times. Whilst Rachinger presents himself as the hero of his story – a tale of a bold hacker who decided to infiltrate the Whaleoil social media empire and find out its secrets – the evidence he presents also fits with a rival narrative, in which he happily worked for Slater until such time Slater’s corrosive company pushed him away.

For example, Rachinger appears to agree to hack the Standard (although he claims he did not actually perform such a hack) and, as evidence, he presents bank records which indicate Slater gave him a down payment for said hack. This means we have to ask whether Rachinger:

  1. Attempted the hack and failed (thus accruing the wrath of Slater),
  2. Succeeded in the hack but then found that Slater was unwilling to pay him more (something Rachinger presumably could not publicly admit to), or
  3. Whether he really was a double-agent, working against Slater and seeing what it was Slater would be stupid enough to ask him to do?

Herein lies the issue: in his various posts Rachinger has has told stories about going to the police (and claiming they wanted to use him as part of a fishing expedition for information), seeking work from Slater’s associate Tony Lentino (and a blackhat hacker), and agreeing to hack the Standard. It’s a confusing tale, where you really aren’t sure whether he’s a noble hacker who decided to go undercover or just another of the villains in the “Dirty Politics” scandal, albeit one who ended up on the wrong side of Cameron Slater. All we have is his word, or more precisely, his version and interpretation of those events. He wants us to believe the noble hacker hypothesis is the best interpretation of the story, but he would, wouldn’t he? The fact is that if we believe he was undercover the entire time, then we are relying on the word of a good liar – since he conned Slater – which should give us reason to doubt at least some of his accounting of what really happened.

This is not me saying “Don’t trust the words of Ben Rachinger!” Rather, I am simply saying there is something to the idea that the way he tells his story opens him up to accusations that what we are getting is his interpretation of events, wherein he is the noble hero, rather than a totally honest accounting of what really happened. It seems clear that Rachinger witnessed (and maybe was complicit) in a variety of Slater’s #dirtypolitic activities. As such, Rachinger’s narrative fits in with Hager’s exposé of Slater and Company. What isn’t clear is Rachinger’s motivations. None of this detracts from the information released by Rachinger; it just raises interesting questions about what we might not be being told.

The @B3nRaching3r Allegations – Part Two

The curious thing about the Ben Rachinger posts up on Medium is that if you followed #dirtypolitics, it doesn’t seem all that remarkable that Cameron Slater and Company are continuing to try to drive the politics of Aotearoa (New Zealand) towards the kind of thing we see in the American Primaries. They tried it with the Len Brown smear campaign and they tried — with more success — in the 2014 General Election.

Which is to say that Rachinger’s allegations fit into a pre-existing narrative. This doesn’t make them automatically true; the thing about pre-existing narratives is that they are easy to copy (and not that hard to subvert). However, the amount of evidence Rachinger has amassed in support of his claims certainly lends credence to the claim there is something to his story. Either that or this is a very elaborate distraction some weeks or months in preparation.

Which is not to say we should accept everything Rachinger says uncritically. However, before we do that, we really should talk about what happened two days ago.

The Lauda Finem Attack

Depending on how closely you are following Rachinger’s Twitter feed you may or may not be aware of a quite incredible post about him over at the Lauda Finem blog. In short (and I’m not positing a link because I don’t think it would be ethical, for reasons which will become obvious), the “fine” people at Lauda Finem have produced what can only be described as a “character assassination” piece about Rachinger, claiming that the real conspiracy is not about Cam Slater and Company but, rather, the New Zealand Police Force using Rachinger to try and bring Lauda Finem down. Their evidence for this is a series of tweets from Rachinger, an inside and unnamed source and a lot of words, most of which signify nothing more than wind and fury.

The Lauda Finem blog is a curious beast. For a while now the rumour has been that they are a vassal blog of the Cameron Slater social media empire. Lauda Finem have denied this repeatedly, claiming that they are neither Left nor Right, and that their only agenda is exposing police and judicial corruption (along with revealing the pedosadists in power in our society). Yet, the attack piece on Rachinger is odd; if Lauda Finem really is independent of Slater and Company, the attack piece makes it look as if they are at least in talks with that set of ne’erdowells.

The piece is also an example of a dox; the “fine” people at Lauda Finem have revealed details of Rachinger’s schooling, the ages of his siblings (along with their names), what turns out to be a former address of his parents, and a number of other things of a personal nature. Some commentators might find this somewhat funny; after all, Rachinger has been accused of doxing others, so what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? We actually don’t need to take sides, however, because doxing is bad no matter the victim. Even if you think Rachinger doxes others, that does not justify the doxing of his family.

But that’s not all; the Lauda Finem post is long. Very long. That’s par for the course; most of their posts tend to be lengthy disquistitions. It’s quite possible that it was written in the matter of a few hours yesterday, like my post (if you don’t care about quality you can get a two thousand word post out in under an hour; call now to learn how!). However, the suspicious mind might look at it and ask “How long have they been sitting on that for?” Because it looks designer built to be a takedown of Rachinger, a failsafe blogpost deployed to nuke a discussion. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I couldn’t help but think “There’s more going on here than meets the eye.”

Indeed, if the Lauda Finem post was designed to either stop Rachinger (by virtue of scaring him off) or stop debate about his revelations (by making us think the real conspiracy is at the level of the New Zealand Police Force), then it has failed. Whilst certain elements of the Left and Right seem to cite Lauda Finem posts approvingly (as seen in the comments on posts at, say, the Standard and Public Address), a lot of the reaction online has been outrage towards the doxing, and the voicing of suspicions that an attack post like that means Rachinger must be on to something. Certainly, if it was an attempt to shutdown the discussion, it’s failed. If it was merely an attempt to draw attention to their own particular conspiracy theory, well, that seems to have failed too.

Which, I might add, seems strange. Not to detract from Rachinger’s narrative, but as said previously, the claims he is making do not seem all that big and bold once we take into account the publication and veracity of “Dirty Politics”; his story supplements the #dirtypolitics conspiracy theory rather than subverts or replaces it. As such, I really don’t see what the point of the Lauda Finem post was, unless they either really do believe their own conspiracy theory that Rachinger is working for the Police against them, or they are afraid Rachinger has information which will damage them, and so they want the story shutdown. I suppose they might just be troublemakers who don’t like the attention being elsewhere, but whatever the case, it’s a strange move.

Slater the Fantasist

Let me restate a hypothesis I discussed in my review of “Dirty Politics”: if Slater is a fantasist who inflates or even invents a large amount of his role and importance to politics in Aotearoa, then much of what Slater says about himself, his associates and his sources needs to be taken with a grain of salt. I accused Nicky Hager, in that review, of always taking literally whatever Slater claimed, when sometimes it seemed more likely that Slater – in his correspondence – was giving himself a starring role in the work of others. I think the same complaint can be laid at the feet of Rachinger; sometimes he takes Slater at his word when really, the right response would be the classic Kiwi “Yeah, right…”

Rachinger’s stance is understandable; it seemed for several years that the entirety of Aotearoa (New Zealand) took Slater to be very, very important. He was on TV, he was on the radio (I’m surprised he wasn’t a star in some local movie), despite the fact that many people questioned why we were treating a blogger with the deference of a spokesperson for the PM. Slater’s blog, despite a supposed huge audience share, was an echo chamber when it came to actual commenters; for many of us it seemed that the stories of Slater’s power were greater than his actual power.

One reading of “Dirty Politics” seemed to suggest that Slater was as powerful as he was made out to be. Another reading (admittedly my own, but shared by a few others) was that Slater and Company were bumbling fools, but fools with so many things on the go that sometimes they had what turned out to be remarkable successes. According to that reading, Slater used those scant successes to make himself look to be a big player in local politics, and because people thought he was a player, you got the spectacle of people like Stuart Nash and Chris Trotter (amongst many on the so-called “Left”) sometimes allying themselves with someone who was on the nasty end of the Nasty Right.

Which, I guess, is why I sometimes read some of the Rachinger material and go “That interpretation? Really?” Let me give you a choice example.

At the time “Dirty Politics” was released, Slater happened to be in Israel (some people claim that was a cover story, but let’s go with it for the sake of this example). Questions where asked, mostly along the lines of “Where you say?” and “Why? Rachinger asserts that Slater’s trip to Israel was “funded by Israel”. I assume he got that impression from Slater. Yet “Israelis” — the term being tossed abou here — is ambiguous. It could refer to the nationstate (or one of its arms), it could refer to a group operating in Israel of a non-governmental nature or it could simply refer to a set of Israelis (such as some friends of Slaters who happen to be based in Israel).

Now, the Israeli thing is not a major part of Rachinger’s story, so why am I focussing on it? Well, it’s because if Rachinger believes this because Slater told him it’s the case, then we need to think carefully about which of the three definitions of “Israelis” we should be operating with. It would be easy to think that “Israelis” means “State of Israel”, but that would not be the obvious inference to draw. After all, if Slater likes to inflate his role in proceedings (which I think is a fair inference to make given the revelations of “Dirty Politics”), then its not clear that Israelis must refer to the State of Israel (or some part of it). If we assume he really was in Israel (as he claims), then we have grounds to think he associates with Israelis. However, assuming that his security advice comes from the State of Israel seems forced, especially if we think Slater is a fantasist (as I do). At best you might think that Slater has met Israeli officials and asked them “How you do encrypt your communications?” and then spun that as some privileged communication between himself and his “good friends” in the Government of Israel.

Update 1: Slater’s friends are in the Israeli Embassy in Wellington and he was paid (technically by the State of Israel) to go to Israel. So “Israeli” here does seem to be mean at least “Israeli officials”. You can read about his trip here. (Thanks, @jofromgreylynn

Update 2: Here’s another article shedding light on Slater and the Israeli connection. This one goes a little more into the details of the funding of that trip last August; Slater claims he covered most of the costs. Frankly, this blurs things even further to some extent. Yes, Slater went to Israel by invitation of the Israeli Embassy (which is an invitation by the State of Israel), because, according to the Head of Mission, Slater is a “spiritual person” (insert sarcasm here) and thus it is not beyond the bounds of possibility he got security advice from Israeli officials whilst there. Then again, if you accept the fantasist argument, you can also imagine a scenario where Slater claims his security advice comes from the Israelis because it makes him look more powerful and connected (rather than, say, talking to someone locally, or simply doing a search for “secure communications cellphone”). However, the fact he was in Israel and has communication with the Israeli Embassy at the very least means its reasonable to assume that when he says “Israelis” he’s referring to people from Israeli with some official capacity.

As I said, this is really just a minor, passing remark in Rachinger’s narrative, but it’s the kind of thing you need to be aware of when appraising evidence. Being told that Slater’s use of Threema was due to a recommendation by the eponymous “Israelis” suggests at least three possibilities. This doesn’t speak against Rachinger’s narrative as so much as question how we interprets some of the evidence. Sometimes what looks to be clear evidence of something turns out not to be; the question is whether this is a systemic issue in the narrative? More on this in a subsequent post.

Next time: Matthew Hooton, the Young Nat connection and a question as to whether Ben Rachinger is the hero, or just another villain in his own story.

The @B3nRaching3r Allegations – Part One

Nota bene: In case people aren’t familiar with my work (which is quite possible), let me state for the record once again that my use of the terms “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” are not meant pejoratively. I define a conspiracy theory as “any explanation of an event which cites a conspiracy as a salient cause” and conspiracy theorist as “anyone who believes a conspiracy theory”. My work to date has centred on showing how using general, non-pejorative definitions of “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” allows us to analyse the wider class of conspiratorial explanations and show that our suspicion of conspiracy theories is not warranted. Why not read my book and find out more?

I am about to say something very annoying and it’s all Lee Basham’s fault: I am not here to render judgement about whether you should believe Ben Rachinger’s conspiracy theory. Rather, I’m here to shine a light on the epistemic issues. If you come away from this post with an opinion about the theory’s truth or falsity… Well, bully for you!

Why am I saying this? Well, it’s because I increasingly see myself more as someone who talks about how to talk about conspiracy theories, rather than an arbiter of whether said theories are warranted or unwarranted. It’s all Lee’s fault; he has been pressing me to keep to a studied agnosticism for s whole and just focus on providing people with a toolset and I’m finally convinced. My thinking conspiracy theory x or y is warranted doesn’t necessarily tell you that you should believe x or y. Rather, by explaining my reasoning and illustrating the necessary tools, you can come to your own conclusions. My role really should just be the whole teaching critical thinking about conspiracy theories, and we need a lot more of that than we need the whole “Person like Matthew tells you what you should think about this particular conspiracy theory!”

So, let’s talk about the Rachinger allegations, shall we?

In short, Ben Rachinger, a former Young Nat (more on that in a subsequent post) got involved with Cameron Slater, aka Whale Oil, aka Canon Best Blogger award winner, aka a co-conspirator in the #dirtypolitics scandal of last year. Rachinger was either co-opted or volunteered to get involved in a spot of dirty politicking but eventually got cold feet about it. You can read about his exploits at Medium (and/or a decent summary of the findings to date at Carrie Stoddart’s blog here and here).

The whole point of the #dirtypolitics (which was named because it came out of Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Politics”) reveal last year was to show how elements of the National Party were using Cameron Slater and Company to attack the Opposition in order to make the Prime Minister, John Key, seem like the kind of guy who only says nice things and doesn’t engage in attack politics (a strategy that only works because hardly anyone watches Parliamentary TV and thus they don’t realise just how nasty that nice Mr. Key is in the debating chamber. He literally is someone who laughs at the notion children are going hungry). I reviewed Hager’s book at the time and found it to be mostly good.

Rachinger’s allegations about his particular role in the #dirtypolitics saga provides more evidence of those dodgy dealings. On the face of it, they are quite damning and show that, on some level, the publication of “Dirty Politics” did nothing to stop #dirtypolitics. Still, before I go into full fisking mode of Rachinger’s claims, let’s take a step back and look at the landscape under which these allegations are being made. To do that, we unfortunately need to talk a little bit about Ben Rachinger.

Rachinger is, unfortunately, his own worst enemy when it comes to presenting and defending his case. The material up on Medium comes across clearly and concisely; it makes for interesting reading. However, Rachinger does not take criticism of his narrative well. For example, Carrie Stoddart and Giovanni Tiso have both questioned (in different ways and on different points) both the inferences he draws from the evidence and the legitimacy of his evidence (particularly whether he is acting ethically in releasing parts of it). Rachinger’s response in both cases was to attack the questioner, and imply that they were using attack lines from a group who are out to smear him. This is a common tactic of his: on more than one occasion he has taken criticism of his argument to be criticism of his person, and then claimed such criticism originates from a third party, variously made up of people on the Left and/or the Right. ((My own experience with Rachinger is interesting in this regard. I have been following his work for a while (as one does when planning to write a book on local conspiracy theories) and someone pointed out to me that Rachinger’s list of followers looked to be inflated with bots. Of the approximately five and an half thousand followers he had at the beginning of the year, about four thousand of them were accounts which had only tweeted once and followed just one person, to whit Ben Rachinger. I followed this up and verified that, yes, my source was correct. When Rachinger decided to make a big issue out of his follower count being 95% genuine, I raised the problem with him. I was attacked for carrying out a smear on him. Oddly enough, at the same time he had a conversation with someone else where he admitted that those four thousand-ish accounts were, indeed, not genuine (but that he also hadn’t created them).)) I presume it’s more than one campaign, although the notion of Cameron Slater and, for the sake of a hyperbolic example, Giovanni Tiso sitting down to chair the “Stop Ben!” committee is an amusing thought. I can say that if there really is an organised smear campaign working against Rachinger, I am not privy to it (despite what certain conspiracists have said, I am not currently funded by the Establishment and do not wish to serve them).

Such a campaign is not, however, beyond the bounds of possibility. Rachinger has pissed off a lot of people, some of whom are either powerful or, at least, think they are. It would certainly be in the interest of these people to smear Rachinger, in the same way it was in the interest of John Key’s Government to smear both Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager for their revelations. Given that Rachinger, if we accept his story, will have got on the bad side of Cam Slater, and given that we know Slater holds grudges and, if we accept the claims of Hager in “Dirty Politics” that Slater goes out of his way to get revenge, then some of the opprobrium Rachinger is currently suffering might well be the product of Slater and his political machine. However, given that Rachinger’s modus operandi when questioned is to take offence and sometimes apologise later, it’s also easy to believe that the group of people who are saying “Be cautious around Ben!” or “Be skeptical of what he’s saying!” are not out to smear him but are worried about his very public behaviour towards his critics.

This is a shame, because critiquing Rachinger’s claims is vital if the story is going to have legs. Such criticism should not be seen as negative. There is, unfortunately, a tendency by leakers and people involved in revealing malfeasance to believe that the evidence stands for itself. It does not; philosophers talk about this kind of problem with respect to the Duhem-Quine thesis, the idea that bits of information (the evidence) do not tell us which one interpretation, which would tie the information together, is the best. Rachinger’s evidence is tied into, and affects, the way he tells the story and interprets key events. As such, criticism of his narrative by-and-large plays the role of working out whether Rachinger’s interpretation is the best, or whether – in a worse case scenario – he is just leading us on.

Think of it this way: Rachinger’s claims are extraordinary in two important senses.

  1. They are claims that challenge our assumptions of how our civic society works, particularly the way in which our current government operates.
  2. They are claims which are routinely pooh-poohed or dismissed by influential members of our society, and segments of the population think we have grounds to trust those influential members and thus distrust the kind of claims Rachinger is making.

Rachinger’s claims are extraordinary and by critiquing them we can either show them to be false, or the evidence – properly considered – provides for an alternative interpretation, or that his claims are true. Both Stoddart and Tiso, by critiquing Rachinger’s interpretation of the evidence, are aiming to work out which of those three options is the most likely. They are to be commended for doing this vital work because, at this stage, it is not work we are seeing be done by the traditional media.

Which itself is an interesting question. At this particular point in time Rachinger has eleven posts up on Medium. However, there is precious little talk about his claims going on outside blogs and Twitter. So. what’s going on? Why might people be ignoring Rachinger’s revelations (if we put to one side the claim that there is an organised and conspiratorial smear campaign going on against him by both the Left and Right)?

Well, maybe it’s an example of what Lee Basham calls a “toxic truth”: Rachinger’s claims are the kind of thing you don’t report on or investigate because, although true, they are toxic and thus threaten your place, your standing and the very structure of the society in which you think you live. A toxic truth in this case is evidence so extraordinary that you don’t want to acknowledge it because you:

  1. Don’t want to reconsider the kind of society in which you live, and
  2. You don’t want to piss off the people who pooh-pooh such truths.

Say, for example, you are a journalist in Aotearoa and someone approaches you with clear and unequivocal evidence of wrongdoing? Who do you go for to comment? Well, obviously the Prime Minister, John Key, the joking version would go. Yet the reason why that joke might be funny (in the hands of a more skilled comedian) is a problem: we currently live in a media cycle where the PM is the go-to person for comment on any issue. The question then is, do you want to endanger that relationship, especially if the evidence of malfeasance adversely affects his office or person? Probably not, Basham would argue. And even if you, the good and honest journalist, decide to sally forth and publish that damning evidence, will your editor even allow you to go to print?

That hypothetical is just one example of what Basham’s terms a “toxic truth”. Since the #dirtypolitics fiasco of last year there has been a lot of talk about toxicity in the way our media covers political events and scandals (albeit not in these particular philosophical terms). So, maybe Rachinger’s allegations are being ignored because they are too toxic?

Another viable option is that they are being ignored because they merely tell us what we already know (or suspected): #dirtypolitics, on the part of Slater and Co., did not stop post the General Election last year, and we kind of already knew that (or, at the least, suspected it). Rachinger’s evidence supplements the case set out by Nicky Hager, but does not change the details. Those of us still outraged by #dirtypolitics want to know more, but for those already burnt out on the topic (or not that interested in it to begin with) it adds little new information.

The third option is that the evidence is just too technical for a lot of people. Words like “threema”, “TOR”, and the like turn off some readers (or so some claim). I’ve never been entirely convinced that this is true, but then again I am a technically-minded kind of person. Your mileage might vary. ((For example, a prominent blogger told me off for using the term “false dilemma” in an argument, claiming that it’s talk like that which makes the Left look out-of-touch to the ordinary voter. I laughed and laughed and laughed.)) Whatever the case, at the moment what seems like it should be a story is turning out to be the kind of thing which is big on Twitter but not elsewhere (I say, aware that as soon as I publish this post, the situation will likely change and make me look like an idiot). Maybe its something about the story itself? Let us, then, take a look at the content (and inferences) of Rachinger’s allegations.

Next time: The Lauda Finem attack, the Israeli connection, and Slater the Fantasist.