Determined to get to the bottom of the recent controversy surrounding Hamza Tzortzis and the Ashley Madison data leak, Dilly Hussain says it’s imperative to distinguish fact from fiction.
Last weekend, one of the British Muslim community’s most prominent international speakers and debaters, Hamza Tzortzis, was informed that his email, credit card details and other personal information were found on the Ashley Madison (AM) leaked database. Subsequently, Tzortzis posted a status on his Facebook page stating that he did not use the infidelity site or pay to use any of its services.
According to Tzortzis, it was a case of identity theft or fraud. Strangely, he later edited and removed the post – when asked; he told me it was due to the huge online interest that resulted in abuse, hatred, violent threats, and right wing media attention it garnered.
Since Tzortzis’ public statement, a number of right wing media outlets have misrepresented the facts, and have used this opportunity to continue their demonisation of Muslim public figures, as well as exposing their inherent hatred of Islam. According to a data expert who cannot be named for legal reasons, “the data and circumstantial evidence clearly shows that Mr Tzortzis could have been a victim of some kind of malicious identity fraud.”
Fact and fiction
This is a point-by-point breakdown of some of the evidence that was shared with me by the data expert and other sources.
1. Hamza Andreas Tzortzis’ personal and business details are easily accessible and available online. These include his date of birth, business address, home address, parents’ address, emails, and public profile. This public information would make any identity fraudster’s job significantly easier. All they needed was to access Tzortzis’ credit card, laptop or his phone. Accessing someone’s phone, laptop and credit card details is quite common, and the majority of these criminals cannot be identified or charged.
Tzortzis is a man who travels a lot, delivering lectures and courses across the world. He has visited Australia on three occasions, and has used his credit card in almost every country he goes to. Hence, any transactions that were made did not give the bank any cause to be alarmed, especially if it was a small amount.
2. According to an ex-police officer who specialised in identity theft and white collar crime, the hacked data shows that under the relevant table (something the right wing news did not mention, in order to imply not only did he register on the site, but he used it for wrong doing): bc_mail_last_time, bc_chat_last_time, or reply_mail_last_time, contained the default “0000” values. This strongly indicates that the site’s messaging services were not used at all. If they were used they would have valid dates and times.
The same source (although they have said this is highly unlikely) mentioned that a couple of site messages could have been sent but there were no replies or correspondence. So the question one must ask is – why would anyone pay money for site credits and not use them? Coupled with the fact that Tzortzis was in Australia at the time with a busy schedule and various meetings, the circumstantial evidence suggests – not confirms – third party wrongdoing.
3. Some of the right wing media falsely suggested that the email address (which Tzortzis seldom uses) must have been verified. This is also not true. Our data expert who’s been following the Ashley Madison data leak since its inception has clarified this issue. The site did not send out email confirmations, and the information on the data leak refers to “email campaigns” – not email verifications. The email verification indication is to establish that an email follows the standard email structure (firstname.lastname@example.org), and not the fact that someone verified their own email address. Unsurprisingly, this was a typical and deliberate piece of misinformation too common with the Islamophobic Breitbart London news site.
4. The motives of the alleged fraud do not appear to coincide with the database hack, as already highlighted by Tzortzis on his original Facebook update, (another thing some media outlets did not mention, accusing Tzortzis of peddling conspiracies), yet they included information that would have created problems with his spouse. There have already been a number of cases where people, including an Edinburgh MP, have argued that their details were registered as part of a potential smear campaign. The person who did this, also did not know that the AM hack will occur, so it shows that the motives of potential fraudsters are common, and not out of this world.
Spouses making enquiries about their husband’s bank statements has happened to other people and resulted in breakups, way before the database hack: http://whocallsme.com/Phone-Number.aspx/8667906550
5. According to the data leak, the following schema “updatedon” timestamp NOT NULL DEFAULT CURRENT_TIMESTAMP ON UPDATE CURRENT_TIMESTAMP, means that the time listed is automatically set at any time the data in the table changes. This could be for whatever reason, for example: an administrator changing something, or any of the fields being updated. Hence the person behind the account last made an update within a period of a maximum 90 minutes (the difference between the first update and the last). However, these updates only included profile updates, and did not include the use of any messages or chats (as substantiated by point 2). Hypothetically speaking, it would be strange for someone to pay for a service and not use it.
6. Furthermore, the Ashley Madison website does not take monthly direct debits. It works with a credit payment system. The reoccurring £15 pounds on Tzortzis’ bank statements were on similar dates every month. According to the site’s terms and conditions, it is their way of keeping an account active, which further indicates that the account was not used for any purpose, other than potentially getting Tzortzis into trouble.
Again, why would Tzortzis pay for the account and not use it? If he did see the money being taken from his account, why didn’t he stop it if he wasn’t using it? It is far more reasonable to assume that Tzortzis didn’t see the small amounts (the description on the bank statements is a set of numbers and the letters “AMBD”, and not anything blatant, and he has similar regular amounts leaving his account on a monthly basis).
Tzortzis explained this to me, which has been substantiated by his friends and family. Taking into consideration that the AM emails were sent to junk along with other spam mails, this further supports the plausibility of identity fraud.
7. Tzortzis’ accountant, who I have also grilled over this matter, has access to his accounts. Another question one must ask is, why would Tzortzis use his business account card and not his personal one? That would be an absurd risk to take, as it could increase the likelihood of being caught.
8. According to Breitbart London’s “exclusive”, the AM profile appears to mimic Tzortzis’ public personality, with the use of words like “compassionate”. This would be quite far-fetched if Tzortzis wanted to discretely use the AM site. As mentioned earlier in the article, Tzortzis is a popular speaker and is well-known for addressing arguments and concepts that focus on the non-Muslim population. To then create a profile that basically mirrors his public personality is again very strange, and only strengthens his case that it was a fraudulent account aimed at embarrassing, blackmailing or destroying his reputation.
9. Whoever opened this account tried to use Tzortzis’ parents’ address, where his siblings also reside. Putting someone’s own parents’ address (or even the same street) would be quite audacious if they wanted to have a promiscuous rendezvous outside of wedlock. He is well known in the area, so attracting females from the same area would not be the work of someone who wants to be discrete. The account creator could have easily used any fake address for the location if this was the work of a “horny Hamza”. His parents’ address was his home for 14 years; his friends and family, including myself know the address. In the last eight months, the house has always been occupied by either his parents or siblings. It’s also known publicly, as he always bangs on about being “raised in Hackney”.
The must ask question that keeps propping up is – why would Tzortzis use it if he wanted to have a secret affair? If it was a fraudster who opened the account, all he or she had to do is go to 192.com to register, and search for his name. Tzortzis’ name is registered to his parents’ address.
10. Tzortzis’ identity has just recently been duplicated. During Ramadan, many of his followers were about to donate money to a fake Facebook profile pretending to be Tzortzis, and when his followers had email conversations with the fraudster, they still believed it was him (according to private page messages and comments seen by 5Pillars). Tzortzis found out and immediately sent out various posts telling people not to believe the person.
11. Tzortzis informed me that his phone has shown “signs” of hacking in the past. According to various sources I spoke to in Qatar, when Tzortzis would send text messages to his friends, they would appear as many unidentifiable numbers with parts of the text in each number’s text content. This included receiving unusual texts and the phone breaking calls for no apparent reason.
12. Even Breitbart, the right wing media outlet that took a lead on this story did not rule out the possibility of the Tzortzis’ alleged AM account to be fraudulently hacked. To even suggest it is unlikely dismisses key statistics concerning hacking (including phone), and identity fraud, especially in the context of Tzortzis’ work and accessibility of his personal data. Rather, it is far more likely that Tzortzis was the victim of either a hack or identity fraud, as opposed to a well known international speaker who addresses non-Muslims, to pay for an account and not use it, yet mirrors his public profile, and puts the wrong postcode of his parents’ home address on the account.
Over 221,000 confirmed frauds were identified during 2013. Identity crimes still account for over 60% of all frauds (and this is just the UK). Therefore, can anyone seriously in their right state of mind without a grudge dismiss the possibility of identity fraud or hacking?
This includes people who do not have a public profile like Tzortzis:
13. According to the leaked data, the transaction was made on Wednesday 22nd October 2014 at around 5:09pm. If the time was based on Sydney time, Tzortzis claims he was with an outreach team on the way to a lecture that started at 6pm (there are many witnesses to this account). If it’s based on UTC time (which such databases may use as a default), then Tzortzis claims he was asleep (assuming a 10 hour time difference). However, an investigation concerning the server’s time zone is currently underway to clarify this matter. Again, what is the likelihood of Tzortzis finding time to get up to no good during a busy trip to Australia, with public and private meetings surrounded by Muslims?
14. According to the data analyst under the aminno_member table the set_chat_available field would be set to “1” to indicate that someone is online and available for chatting. On the account attributed to Tzortzis it is set to “0”, which would be the expected default value. It says that the person is not available to chat. However, the “updatedon” field in the same table is also a timestamp field, which means it updates any time a field in that table is changed, and its set to the same time as the account was created.
This means that when the account was created, it was configured to be not available for chat (for whatever reason), and it was never changed after this. The bc_chat_last_time = 0000-00-00 00:00:00 field indicates that the account was never even enabled for chatting in the first instance. This is further proof that the account was never actually used; even in that 90-minute window, one might have expected someone curious to maybe at least set themselves available for chat and see what happens. But the data shows that never happened.
To critics and people of reason
Journalists and internet trolls who have questioned the plausibility of a fraudster or hack doing this, clearly do not understand how the numbers of identity-theft crimes have soared in recent years, especially with the amount of personal information Tzortzis has on the web. Also, if it was a hacker or fraudster, he or she didn’t have to live in Sydney – they could have just accessed Tzortzis’ phone or laptop via some form of virus, malware or software. It is also quite possible that the culprit was there at the time, as Tzortzis has an equally big following of haters from all around the world due to the nature of his work. In this age of technology and the internet, one doesn’t have to have physical access anymore.
The circumstantial evidence clearly implies that Tzortzis did not register and use the account; it clearly supports his argument that this was a case of identity fraud. The evidence and analysis above should suffice for muscular liberals, militant atheists and right wing Islamophobes to conclude that it is more of a legitimate possibility that Tzortzis was a victim of identity fraud, rather than a promiscuous individual with adulterous intentions who got exposed. Personally, it appears as a common case of personal vendetta and foul play, and this happens to millions of people around the world.
However, for the critics who cannot be reasoned with, please take away the following undeniable points:
- Even if Tzortzis is guilty, keep in mind that according to the data the AM account was not used for any particular immoral activity. It was a mute account for around eight months, with no emails, and if there were any, they had no replies.
- If you think he is a hypocrite, then know that Tzortzis’ work is about calling to the truth of Islam and not about his character. This accusation appears to be an ad homenim attack, as he always mentions that the religious advice he gives applies to him first and foremost.
- Let’s just say, for arguments sake, that Tzortzis did open the AM account…surely, by the very values and tenets of secular liberalism, his critics should be out in the thousands waving their pompoms in defence of Tzortzis for utilising the services a free liberal society has to offer? The fact that they aren’t, shows ideological inconsistency and hypocrisy, which is basically reflective of their entire worldview.
Support from the Muslim community
On a more positive note, Tzortzis has received overwhelming support from Muslims around the world, including scholars and leaders of organisations that have contacted him via email or phone, and reassured him that he has the community’s unreserved backing. The atheist, secular and neo-liberal trolls on the other hand, who have had a field day by resorting to emotional arguments and abuse, fail to understand that Tzortzis’ arguments (like that of many other leading Muslim figures) defending the veracity of Islam are not affected by such smearing, and only expose the inherent hatred and irrationality they have.
The right wing and neo-liberal media have used this opportunity to character assassinate Tzortzis, just like they have done with many other Muslim personalities nearly on a weekly basis. They have deliberately missed out the above aspects of the data, and tried to depict Tzortzis as a promiscuous and adulterous individual.
To conclude, I have reviewed and sought counsel with industry experts, a former police officer and lawyers with regards to this article. After speaking to Tzortzis yesterday evening, he informed me that he wishes to move on from this incident and continue focusing on articulating a “compassionate, intelligent”, yet “assertive case for Islam” to the wider community. From his tone and language, I sensed that the world should expect a more ideologically driven Tzortzis, with even more determination and conviction to intellectually challenge atheism and secular liberalism. He and his family have just returned from a camping retreat in Oxford, and they seem to be closer and happier than I’ve ever known before.
It just so happens, that Tzortzis’ next debate is on Tuesday 22 September in my hometown of Bedford, where he’ll be discussing the limitations of free speech against Sarah Cox, the editor of Bedfordshire on Sunday (also my former employers), which I’ll have the pleasure of chairing.