Matthew Keys, the former deputy social media editor for the Reuters news agency who is accused of conspiring with the hacking group Anonymous, says he was fired because of the federal case against him, not his social media activities as the agency contends.
In what appears to be a written warning from Reuters to Keys that he published on his Twitter account Monday, the company addressed a parody Twitter account Keys created last year that he used to mock the chief executive of Google.
In an interview with the news website Politico, Keys said Reuters executives fired him for violating the terms of that warning, which included showing more “discretion” in social media.
“There’s already a lot of information floating around on Twitter that this is somehow related to the indictment that came down,” Keys told Politico, referring to the federal case against him.
“And to Reuters’ credit, they did not mention the indictment during the phone call [Monday],” he continued. “Now, one has to wonder if the two are connected, but I can’t tell you that it is connected. I can only say that I assume it is, that I assume they were looking for an out.”
Keys, 26, announced from his Twitter account Monday morning that he “Just got off the phone. Reuters has fired me, effective today. Our union will be filing a grievance. More soon.”
Reuters spokesman David Girardin confirmed the firing.
Keys was charged last month with three hacking-related counts in a December 2010 incident. The hack appeared on a news story on the website of the Los Angeles Times, which is owned by Tribune Co.
“Reuters made no mention of the indictment during today’s phone call in which we discussed the termination of my employment,” Keys told The Times in an email Monday. “I clearly do not agree with the reasons Reuters cited as the termination of my employment and will have more on what happened in a post I hope to publish later today.”
Keys told Politico that Reuters took issue with his tweets after the Boston Marathon bombing.
“It’s my understanding that Reuters did not agree with some of the coverage I did on my own during the Boston Marathon events from last week,” Keys told Politico after he announced he’d been fired. “And they have a specific set of reasons for the termination which I don’t agree with and the union that represents me does not agree with.”
Keys was on Twitter throughout last week’s manhunt for the Boston marathon bombers. Some of his tweets were based on chatter overheard on police scanners. Some of what Keys and others repeated was incorrect.
In their indictment, prosecutors allege Keys conspired with Anonymous members to access the company’s servers “for the purpose of learning how to alter and damage it.” According to federal authorities, Keys provided a username and password for Tribune servers to hackers in an online chat room after he left KTXL Fox 40, a Tribune TV station in Sacramento, in late October 2010.
With the information from Keys, prosecutors say, a hacker accessed a news story on The Times’ website and changed a headline on a tax-cut-related story to read: “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337.”
"[T]hat was such a buzz having my edit on the LA Times,” the hacker using the screen name “sharpie” wrote to Keys, according to the indictment.
“Nice,” Keys, using the screen name “AESCracked,” allegedly replied.
Keys said he was using a virtual private network “to cover my tracks,” according to the indictment.
Prosecutors wrote in the indictment that Tribune spent more than $5,000 responding to the attack and restoring its systems.
Authorities are seeking forfeiture of the tools Keys used in committing the alleged offenses, including his MacBook Pro. Keys also faces a $250,000 fine for each count. According to the indictment, Keys conspired with hackers via a chat room known as “internetfeds.”
Keys had written about gaining access to the chat room and communicating with hackers in a blog post for Reuters last year. Keys said the chat room was a “top-secret” place where “elite hackers assembled.”
“If there was a political or economic reason behind their mayhem, so much the better. If not, they did it for kicks,” he wrote of the hackers’ motivations for their attacks.
He wrote in the post of the hack on The Times’ site, without acknowledging any personal involvement.