The Envoy

The end of PrimorisEra: the strange case of an accused Twitter spy-bot

The Envoy

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A digital-age spy mystery caromed through the Twitterverse over the past week. And now that some of the story has come to light, one central question remains unresolved: Who, if anyone, was @PrimorisEra working for?

PrimorisEra was one of the Twitter handles of a variously identified woman who purported to be a player in U.S. national security matters. She -- or at least, her bikini-clad avatar -- was also a looker, and seemingly unusually apt to ply her attractiveness -- as well as an enthusiasm for missiles -- in defense-oriented corners of the Twitterverse.

However, the sometimes contradictory claims she posted to her many accounts and her habit of soliciting detailed information from her national security twitter-contacts soon earned her a less admiring sort of attention; and once a few other national-security tweeters cast suspicion on her possible credentials and motives, PrimorisEra suddenly disappeared. Her Facebook account went dark, as did her logins on various other discussion boards and social-media outlets where she posted content under numerous digital aliases.

And this being Washington, the whole mysterious disappearing act fueled further speculation. Was PrimorisEra a "honeypot"--in the vein of deported Russian spy Anna Chapman--seeking to use her social-media charms to solicit national security information from drooling defense geeks? Or was she a bored defense contractor in some drab northern Virginia office park who simply got carried away with her avatar's fantasy life as a covert agent -- a spook wanna-be? Or was she some combination of the above?

Wired's Spencer Ackerman investigates the curious case. As Ackerman explains, PrimorisEra beat her hasty retreat from the social media world after a female Defense Department contractor used her own Twitter account to publicly accuse her of being an information-seeking honeypot -- or honey-bot, as the case may be. Ackerman's reconstruction of the whole odd saga bears quoting at length:

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The subject of much confusion and even more speculation, @PrimorisEra purports to be a woman in her late 20s named Shawn Elizabeth Gorman. Many have corresponded with her through Google Chat, IM, Facebook, and Twitter. Very few of them have met her in person. She claims to hold a security clearance and work for a Defense Department contractor that she won't identify. According to Johns Hopkins University, a woman with that name is pursuing a masters' degree in government and business. ...

Over the last several months, some in the world of national security learned about @PrimorisEra through her prolific tweets about various missile programs and efforts. ...She also liked to tweet about her familiarity with the dark world of spies and special operators. ......

To some people she direct messaged, it crossed a line. One male tweeter on active duty she contacted through DM and chat thought most of her banter was harmless. But some of it struck him as "creepy," he tells Danger Room: "Where I was stationed, where I was deploying, pressing me for details… A lot that we shouldn't be talking about." He thought she should know better not to ask for sensitive specifics like that, especially on unclassified forums, since @PrimorisEra "presented herself as a DoD [Department of Defense] employee." ...

As for PrimorisEra's swift disappearance, it all started when a female Defense Department contractor who uses the Twitter handle @FrostinaDC accused her last week of strategically seeking defense information from her male interlocutors. As Ackerman explains:

"Just to be clear," [@FrostinaDC] tweeted on Saturday, "I have intel that @PrimorisEra is a Honey Pot & if you're in my field you know what that means."

What it means is someone who uses sex appeal to get someone to divulge their secrets. It implies that @PrimorisEra is the agent of a foreign power. That was an accusation no one had heard before. ...

Gorman responded by culling the social media accounts that got her so much attention. By Sunday, @PrimorisEra was no longer an active account. Her Facebook profiles either got locked or deleted. Other accounts were shut down. "WIN!!!!!" was @FrostinaDC's reaction....

Someone claiming to be "Shawna" later called Ackerman, and insisted that "she's never solicited classified or sensitive information," and hoped that the whole "non-story" would soon go away.

Meantime, @FrostinaDC tells Ackerman that she has provided Defense investigators with further information on @PrimorisEra's allegedly suspect online social-media chats with national security officials, he reports, but adds that she did not provide him the details.

You should read Ackerman's stellar piece in full here. Also recommended, the take on the case by Claire Berlinski, the author of a great spy novel, Loose Lips.

(A Sept. 2009 photo posted to TwitPic of Shawna Elizabeth Gorman, aka @Shawna1814, one of the twitter aliases, along with @PrimorisEra and @LadyCaesar,  allegedly authored by Gorman.)

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