Over the weekend, the twists and turns in the Wire-Meta saga continued.
First, BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya against the portal’s founding editors and a journalist for criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery and defamation.
Next, the Wire filed a police complaint against its researcher Devesh Kumar for “fabrication of documents and forgery” of evidence used in its now-revoked Meta stories. The complaint was filed under penal sections pertaining to forgery and sections 65 and 66D of the IT Act. An FIR hasn’t been registered yet.
According to the complaint, Devesh was employed as a consultant with the Wire between April 2021 and July 2022. The Wire alleged he “fabricated” an email from a senior Singapore-based Instagram executive that led his colleagues to believe it was a legitimate source.
The news portal alleged Devesh has “malintent towards the Wire and its editors and staff”, and claimed he “confessed” to fabricating all material on October 27 to Mithun Kidambi, the Wire’s business and product head.
Meanwhile, as this report was being edited, the Delhi police conducted searches on the homes of the Wire’s editors Varadarajan and MK Venu, and journalist Jahnavi Sen.
Through conversations with those involved with the Meta stories, here’s what we know, and what we don’t.
Why didn’t Devesh Kumar have a byline in the first Meta story?
The first Meta story, which was about Malviya, was published on October 10 under the byline of Jahnavi Sen, the Wire’s deputy editor. The next story on October 11 was bylined by Sen and Siddharth Varadarajan.
There were two sources – A and B. Source A gave the Wire a post-incident report; source B gave them an email from Andy Stone, communications director at Meta.
On October 19, after the Wire pulled its stories, Varadarajan that “Devesh Kumar is the only person who has met” source A. On source B, he said “a number of my colleagues have interacted with source B, who is a longer standing source of ours, going back four or five months”.
However, the Wire’s complaint says Devesh was the point of contact between the supposed sources and his colleagues.
Newslaundry learned Devesh didn’t want a byline for the first two reports because it would apparently compromise the two sources, who are purportedly his friends. He took a byline for the third report on October 15.
Do we know who these sources are?
The Wire’s complaint names Philip Chua, a Singapore-based Instagram executive.
The complaint says Devesh “claimed to have received” an email “from Philip Chua of Instagram (Annex 2) and, subsequently, a ‘Post Incident Review Report’ through a messaging app with the username ‘Antadweep’ to Jahnavi Sen (‘Jeeva’) (Annex 3-4), both of which stated that the take down was on the basis of a complaint by Amit Malviya.”
The next day, on October 11, Devesh claimed a source at Meta had forwarded him Stone’s email. He had supposedly received it on his ProtonMail account and shared it with Sen and Varadarajan.
Newslaundry reached out to Chua and the communications team at Meta to ask if Chua had ever been contacted by anyone at the Wire. Chua is the Singapore-based APAC head of public policy at Instagram. This report will be updated if they respond.
Additionally, Sen Newslaundry on October 12 that both the post-incident report and the email had each been independently corroborated by at least two sources within Meta.
Internal review led by the Wire’s Mithun Kidambi
Kidambi is the news portal’s product and business head and also the person to whom Devesh “confessed” on October 27, according to the police complaint.
A source told Newslaundry that Kidambi is currently leading the internal review at the Wire. The Wire does have an ombudsperson, Pamela Phillipose, but she told Newslaundry she’s not part of the internal review process.
Conversations with the ‘expert’
Among the controversies surrounding the Meta stories is the Wire claimed to have consulted two anonymous cybersecurity experts while furnishing details of its technical process. Both experts later they had never been part of the process.
Before the Wire suspended its stories, its science editor Vasudevan Mukunth got in touch with one Kanishk Karan – one of the two “experts” whom the Wire said had anonymously verified their stories. Both Mukunth and Karan confirmed to Newslaundry that this conversation took place and its contents. Their messages were set to disappear after one hour.
At approximately 12.35 pm IST on October 18, Mukunth asked Karan if he had verified the Andy Stone email or been part of the verification process.
No, said Karan to both. Later the same day, he asked Mukunth if there was an update. Mukunth said the Wire would put out a statement. Karan asked if the “emails” purported to be from him would be addressed, and Mukunth said no.
Karan then on how he had not been a part of the Wire’s process.
Since then, Karan says nobody from the Wire’s internal review team has been in touch with him. But he did have an interaction with Devesh Kumar, a few hours after the Wire published its story on the post-incident report on October 10. “Devesh made an odd request to see my payslips, which I declined,” he told Newslaundry.
An ‘endorsement’ that never was
On October 11 or 12, Devesh Kumar shared a screenshot of an email with V Anand, the co-founder of DeepStrat. The email was purportedly from one Ujjwal Kumar, who works at Microsoft.
The Wire would publish it on October 15 as part of the details of its technical process. Except the email in this story was timestamped October 14.
Ujjwal would later tell Newslaundry that he, like Karan, “did not participate in any such thing”.
Anand, meanwhile, was “spooked” by the different date. Days later, he told Newslaundry, he learned Devesh Kumar was allegedly sharing snippets of their conversations to claim Anand had “endorsed” Kumar’s work on the verification of the Andy Stone email.
Anand then on October 20 to clarify he had not endorsed Kumar’s work.
Ayushman Kaul was not involved
Ayushman Kaul, a senior analyst at Logically, had co-authored with Devesh Kumar the now-suspended Tek Fog series for the Wire. The stories were published in January 2022.
Kaul was also involved in the Meta series – he provided the voiceover for an email verification video, and was on two phone calls with Devesh as the latter solicited experts to verify the DKIM signature process. These were calls with policy analyst Pranesh Prakash and Karan.
Two sources told us the Wire had emailed Kaul’s employer, Logically, to confirm that he did not contribute to the Meta stories apart from lending his voice to the email verification video.
Kaul declined to comment for this story. Newslaundry sent Logically a questionnaire; this report will be updated if they respond.
Newslaundry has reached out to Devesh multiple times via FaceTime, telephone calls, Signal, text and iMessage. His FaceTime, iMessage and Signal seem to be deactivated. This reporter managed to speak to him on the morning of October 16 over a FaceTime video. Devesh then said he would call later, but he did not. When we asked, during that brief call, if we could meet him in Delhi, he said he was at home in Gaya, Bihar.
Update at 11.30 am, Nov 1: V Anand is cofounder of DeepStrat, not an independent cybersecurity expert as previously described. This has been corrected.
Update at 12.00 pm, Nov 2: The name Mithun Kidambi was misspelled as Kadambi. This has been corrected.
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