Either way, this shows how difficult it is to maintain bulletproof operational security.
An enterprising Gizmodo reporter seems to have found the private Twitter account of the head of the FBI, James Comey.
In a Thursday afternoon e-mail to Ars, the FBI National Press Office wrote: “We don’t have any comment.”
The reporter, Ashley Feinberg, wrote up a detailed narrative as to how she was able to locate him by first finding his son, Brien Comey, on Instagram. When she followed this lead, even though that account is locked, Instagram suggested other accounts that Feinberg may wish to follow. Those included one named @reinholdniebuhr.
Earlier this month, none other than Edward Snowden pointed out that Comey said publicly that he had an Instagram account.
Comey even said specifically that it had nine followers, which the @reinholdniebuhr Instagram account did at the time of Feinberg’s reporting. She then linked Niebuhr, a real 20th century American theologian, to a 2014 article about Comey. That article mentioned that Comey had written his thesis on Niebuhr.
Feinberg next went back to Twitter, looking for accounts with some variant of the “Niebuhr” handle. She eventually stumbled onto @projectexile7, an egg account with the display name Reinhold Niebuhr. As Feinberg noted, Project Exile happens to be a federal program that James Comey helped develop when he was a US attorney living in Richmond. She continued:
But how to be sure? There is only one person currently following the account: Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare. Wittes is no Twitter neophyte. He is an active user with more than 25,000 followers, and he only follows 1,178 accounts—meaning he is not a subscriber to the “followback” philosophy. If he is following a random egg—and is the only account following it—there is probably a reason.
That reason could be the fact that, as Wittes wrote here, he is a personal friend of James Comey. (We’ve reached out to Wittes for comment but have yet to hear back.)
Feinberg went on to list the people being followed by @projectexile7 in an attempt to find more Comey associations. Almost instantly after Feinberg’s article, the series of tweets from @projectexile7 began to disappear.
Wittes said he had no response beyond this tweet.