msnbc.com
updated 5/30/2011 3:15:44 PM ET 2011-05-30T19:15:44

Hackers attacked the website for broadcaster PBS, posting a fake story late Sunday that dead rapper Tupac Shakur was "alive and well," according to reports.

The group Lulz Boat claimed responsibility and also posted what it said was username and password information for PBS staff and other internal information about the company on its Twitter page.

It said in a Twitter message that the attack was in response to a Frontline documentary, called "WikiSecrets," about the leaking of U.S. government secrets to the WikiLeaks website, its founder Julian Assange and the alleged leaker, former army intelligence officer Bradley Manning.

On May 27, WikiLeaks described the program as a "smear" in a Twitter message. In a message posted on its Twitter site at about 6:30 a.m. ET Monday, WikiLeaks noted that "PBS finds Tupac found alive and well in NZ after WikiLeaks supporters retaliate over smear."

Lulz Boat appeared to have come in for criticism from some Twitter users.

It complained of "lots of twitter trolls tonight." "The Lulz Boat tears through silly whitehats that have their heads up their asses. And with that, goodnight!" it said in a tweet.

White hat is a term used for a person who hacks into websites in order flag up problems and thus help the owner improve security.

'Why would they lie?'
"Dudes. Of course Tupac is alive. Didn't you see that official @PBS article? Why would they lie to their 750,000+ followers?" Lulz Boat said in another tweet.

The rapper, as many know, was shot in a car in Las Vegas in September 1996 and died six days later.

The headline for the Tupac story was still visible on PBS's site at 7 a.m. ET Monday, but clicking on the story resulted in a 404 error. Anne Bentley, PBS' vice president of corporate communications, said in an email that erroneous information posted on the website has been corrected. The original fake story can be viewed here.

The Boing Boing website carried a statement from "LulzSec," which said the group was "less than impressed" by the WikiSecrets documentary.

"Say hello to the insides of the PBS servers, folks," the statement said.

"They (PBS) best watch where they're sailing next time. The PBS program Frontline, and specifically the producers of the 'WikiSecrets' episode, may have been the intended target — but the scope of intrusion and damage would appear to be significantly more broad," it added.

PBS billed its "WikiSecrets" documentary as revealing "the inside story of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history."

In information about the documentary, PBS said Assange had denied having direct contacts with Manning or any of WikiLeaks sources, but cited people involved in the case as saying Assange and Manning had been in touch with each other.

It also quoted David Leigh, a journalist on the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, which published stories based on the leaked information, as saying Assange was very reluctant to remove — or redact — names of informants and others from the documents even if revealing their identities could put them in danger.

"We said: 'Julian, we've got to do something about these redactions. We really have got to.' And he said: 'These people were collaborators, informants. They deserve to die.' And a silence fell around the table," PBS quoted Leigh as saying. Assange denies saying this.

'Childish and faintly worrying'
Leigh told msnbc.com that the attack on PBS was "childish and faintly worrying."

"It doesn't exactly improve the level of civic discourse if every time journalists write something or broadcast something, other people who don't care for that then try and vandalize their operation," he said.

"I think it's sort of the equivalent of throwing stones through people's windows," Leigh added. "It's hostile to journalists, it's basically mob behavior."

He said Assange had "pronounced in advance this was going to be a hostile documentary because he was unable to control it and they interviewed people who he didn't want to see interviewed, like me."

Leigh said Assange's complaints about the program were a "green light to his more juvenile followers to try to revenge themselves on PBS."

A posting on a WikiLeaks news site quoted Assange as complaining bitterly about the "deserve to die" quote, insisting he had not said this and that it was a "false and libelous statement" to say he had.

"David Leigh is well known to be locked into tawdry personal vendetta against WikiLeaks ...," Assange said, according to the posting. "The statement has been repeatedly denied by me, is the subject of pre-litigation legal action and two Spiegel reporters who were at the table ... (the only independent witnesses) deny it," Assange said, referring to the German newspaper Der Spiegel.

The Huffington Post reported that a PBS NewsHour online staffer Teresa Gorman had spent much of Sunday night telling people on Twitter that the site had been hacked.

PBS NewsHour's Twitter feed, run by Gorman, contained several messages saying the Tupac story was false and confirming PBS's site had been hacked.

"If you missed it: our site has been accessed by hackers. Thanks for staying with us ^TG," said one message.

"Ok, so you're awake Twitter. Just checking! (Kidding). Again, that story was not a PBS NewsHour story," said another.

Producer: Hack 'irresponsible' and 'chilling'
Bentley, of PBS, said the hackers also posted login information for two internal PBS sites: one that media use to access the PBS press room and an internal communications website for stations, she said. She said all affected parties were being notified.

David Fanning, executive producer of "Frontline," said he was learning of the hacking early Monday, nearly a week after "WikiSecrets" aired. The documentary, produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, generated criticism and debate on the program's website in recent days from those sympathetic to Assange and from those who thought the program was fair, Fanning said.

"Frontline" producers hear impassioned responses all the time, Fanning said. Having a group attack the PBS website over a news program was unusual but "probably not unexpected," he said.

"From our point of view, we just see it as a disappointing and irresponsible act, especially since we have been very open to publishing criticism of the film ... and the film included other points of view," Fanning said. "This kind of action is irresponsible and chilling."

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler wrote about the "WikiSecrets" documentary in his weekly column Thursday, saying it had generated only a handful of complaints, though he had expected more mail from viewers.

"This may be a good thing for Frontline if it suggests that most viewers found the program to be in keeping with Frontline's reputation for fair yet tough reporting," Getler wrote.

Getler raised some questions about the reporting in the program but said he found the questioning by interviewer Martin Smith to be "tough but proper."

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