Guccifer, the hacker who leaked George W. Bush paintings, reportedly arrested in Romania

The infamous hacker Guccifer has reportedly been arrested in Romania, a bit of early-morning gossip that startled fans of George W. Bush’s pet portraits and left everyone else wondering who, exactly, this Guccifer guy is.

Romanian media report that Guccifer is 40-year-old Marcel Lazar Lehel, a resident of Arad who was convicted of several other computer crimes in 2012. But it’s Guccifer’s online identity that’s caught the public imagination — as a hacker of celebrities and politicos, an espouser of conspiracy theories, and the original broadcaster of the 43rd president’s much-discussed artwork, which he found when he hacked Bush family e-mails.

One of G.W. Bush's famous pet portraits. The Bush family released this one themselves. (Bush family) One of G.W. Bush’s famous pet portraits. The Bush family released this one themselves. (Bush family)

It’s an impressive career for a hacker who wasn’t even known in the U.S. at this time last year. That changed last Feb. 7, when Guccifer broke into the accounts of several Bush friends and relatives — including George W.’s sister and brother-in-law — and passed dozens of e-mails and photos to the Smoking Gun, a Web site that collects incriminating public documents, mugshots and other miscellanea. The e-mails included intimate details on George H.W. Bush’s health problems and vacation plans. They also included one of the world’s first titillating glimpses of George W. Bush’s creative work (pictured here): two self-portraits of him in the shower and bathtub, and a landscape with a church in Maine. The Secret Service promptly launched an investigation.

Since then, Guccifer has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on high-profile e-mail accounts, including those of Colin Powell, Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal and even “Arrested Development’s” Jeffrey Tambor. In some cases, it’s difficult to tell if he’s bluffing: While the Powell, Blumenthal and Tambor cases were well-documented and widely publicized, some of the attacks have never been reported outside of Guccifer’s own accounts. In either case, Guccifer told the Smoking Gun that he has hacked the e-mails of:

  • Actor Steve Martin
  • Editor Tina Brown
  • Ex-Nixon aide John Dean
  • Biographer Kitty Kelley
  • Actress Mariel Hemingway
  • Former U.S. ambassador John Negroponte
  • Journalist Carl Bernstein
  • “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell
  • Actor Rupert Everett
  • “Downton Abbey” writer Julian Fellowes
  • MetLife chief excecutive Steven Kandarian
  • Oceanographer Robert Ballard

… among many others. Guccifer’s victim list also suspiciously included George-Cristian Maior, the head of Romania’s Intelligence Service, and came with the cryptic warning that Guccifer knew law enforcement was  watching and that he could “disappear” soon.

Why he continued publicizing his hacks, despite those fears, remains a bit of a mystery — as does the reasoning behind Guccifer’s targets. It seems he sometimes chose his victims after chancing upon their e-mail addresses elsewhere. (According to the Smoking Gun, he found Everett, Bushnell and Bernstein’s information in Tina Brown’s address book.) But outside of that, there’s no discernible pattern — Guccifer hacked everyone from high-level military officials to C-list actresses with equal gusto.

Then again, maybe there’s a pattern only Guccifer could see: He espoused conspiracy theories on the Illuminati and New World Order that were eagerly seized upon by other fringe theorists. “Guccifer e-mails link Tony Blair to top-secret Bohemian Grove gathering,” crowed a headline on Infowars and Russia’s RT — referring to the annual California retreats that have become a favorite fascination of Alex Jones and his ilk.

Admittedly, a New World Order planned by Candace Bushnell and Julian Fellowes is one I’d be interested in hearing more about. Too bad Guccifer never found those files.

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (tinyletter.com/cdewey)

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