Following The New Yorker’s most recent longread on Christopher Doyon, I did a little search on my bookmarks/Pocket to find all the longreads I had on Anonymous. This post is neither comprehensive nor free-standing, but I thought I might as well share it since I wanted it for my own records.
1. We Are Legion: The Story of Hacktivists (link goes to full documentary on YouTube)
"WE ARE LEGION: The Story of the Hacktivists, takes us inside the complex culture and history of Anonymous. The film explores early hacktivist groups like Cult of the Dead Cow and Electronic Disturbance Theater, and then moves to Anonymous’ own raucous and unruly beginnings on the website 4Chan.
Through interviews with current members – some recently returned from prison, others still awaiting trial – as well as writers, academics and major players in various “raids,” WE ARE LEGION traces the collective’s breathtaking evolution from merry pranksters to a full-blown, global movement, one armed with new weapons of civil disobedience for an online world.
To further test his ideas and to drum up interest in them, Barr proposed a talk at the BSides security conference in San Francisco, which takes place February 14 and 15. Barr’s talk was titled “Who Needs NSA when we have Social Media?” and his plan to draw publicity involved a fateful decision: he would infiltrate and expose Anonymous, which he believed was strongly linked to WikiLeaks.
“I am going to focus on outing the major players of the anonymous group I think,” he wrote. “Afterall – no secrets right? :) We will see how far I get. I may focus on NSA a bit to just so I can give all those freespeech nutjobs something… I just called people advocating freespeech, nutjobs – I threw up in my mouth a little.”
With that, the game was afoot.
The real turning point was lunchtime, with six hours to go until the Super Bowl kickoff. As Barr sat on the living room couch in his home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., dressed comfortably for the day in a T-shirt and jeans, he noticed that his iPhone hadn’t buzzed in his pocket for the last half hour. Normally it alerted him to an email every 15 minutes. When he fished the phone out of his pocket and pressed a button to refresh his mail, a dark blue window popped up. It showed three words that would change his life: Cannot Get Mail. The email client then asked him to verify the right password for his email. Barr went into the phone’s account settings and carefully typed it in: “kibafo33.” It didn’t work. His emails weren’t coming through.
He looked down at the small screen blankly. Slowly, a tickling anxiety crawled up his back as he realized what this meant. Since chatting with a hacker from Anonymous called Topiary a few hours ago, he had thought he was in the clear. Now he knew that someone had hacked his HBGary Federal account, possibly accessing tens of thousands of internal emails, then locked him out. This meant that someone, somewhere, had seen nondisclosure agreements and sensitive documents that could implicate a multinational bank, a respected U.S. government agency, and his own company.
One by one, memories of specific classified documents and messages surfaced in his mind, each heralding a new wave of sickening dread. Barr dashed up the stairs to his home office and sat down in front of his laptop. He tried logging on to his Facebook account to speak to a hacker he knew, someone who might be able to help him. But that network, with his few hundred friends, was blocked. He tried his Twitter account, which had a few hundred followers. Nothing. Then Yahoo. The same. He’d been locked out of almost every one of his Web accounts, even the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Barr silently kicked himself for using the same password on every account. He glanced over at his Wi-Fi router and saw frantic flashing lights. Now people were trying to overload it with traffic, trying to jam their way further into his home network.
He reached over and unplugged it. The flashing lights went dead.
Were they all anons? Were the Polish parliamentarians? Can anyone even say for sure? Especially now that Anonymous has broken the bounds of the digital and pushed its way out onto the streets, it has become a radical movement unlike any other. It doesn’t have a founding philosopher or a manifesto; there’s no pledge or creed. It’s true that Anonymous does have a politics, but it’s hardly a specific platform—just a support for online freedom and a rage at anyone who tries to curtail it. No, what Anonymous has become, in reality, is a culture, one with its own distinctive iconography (the Fawkes masks, the headless man in the business suit), its own self-referential memes, its own coarse sense of humor. And as Anonymous campaigns have spread around the world, so too has its culture, bringing its peculiar brand of cyber-rebellion to tech-savvy activists in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Like a plastic Fawkes mask, Anonymous is an identity that anyone can put on, whenever they want to join up with the invisible online horde.
During Operation Payback, in early December, Anonymous directed new recruits, or noobs, to a flyer headed “HOW TO JOIN THE FUCKING HIVE,” in which participants were instructed to “FIX YOUR GODDAMN INTERNET. THIS IS VERY FUCKING IMPORTANT.” They were also asked to download Low Orbit Ion Cannon, an easy-to-use tool that is publicly available. Doyon downloaded the software and watched the chat rooms, waiting for a cue. When the signal came, thousands of Anons fired at once. Doyon entered a target URL—say, www.visa.com—and, in the upper-right corner, clicked a button that said “IMMA CHARGIN MAH LAZER.” (The operation also relied on more sophisticated hacking.) Over several days, Operation Payback disabled the home pages of Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal. In court filings, PayPal claimed that the attack had cost the company five and a half million dollars.
To Doyon, this was activism made tangible. In Cambridge, protesting against apartheid, he could not see immediate results; now, with the tap of a button, he could help sabotage a major corporation’s site. A banner headline on the Huffington Post read “MasterCard DOWN.” One gloating Anon tweeted, “There are some things WikiLeaks can’t do. For everything else, there’s Operation Payback.”
By the end of 2010, the authorities were starting to catch up with Anonymous, but they still weren’t getting far enough. A 16-year-old Dutch kid was arrested for allegedly participating in the attacks. The F.B.I. raided a Texas server-hosting company in Dallas, claiming that some of the Operation Payback DDoS traffic had come through their I.P. address, along with servers in British Colombia and Germany, where a log entry read, “Good_night,_paypal_Sweet_dreams_from_Anonops.”
But these were just minor deterrents, these government investigations, and Anonymous was still going strong, defending WikiLeaks’ cause—after all, as they like to say, Julian Assange is the “most successful international troll of all time!” They executed attacks on the Web site of Ireland’s main opposition party and even the official site of Zimbabwe’s government, after President Robert Mugabe’s wife sued a newspaper for publishing a WikiLeaks report that she was involved in the trade of illicit diamonds.
Anonymous felt compelled, as well, to support the revolutions in Middle Eastern nations, and went after targets like the Tunisian stock exchange and the Tunisian prime minister’s Web site, where they placed a note: “We will use this brief span of attention we’ve captured to deliver a clear and present message. Like a fistful of sand … the more you squeeze your citizens the more that they will flow right out of your hand.” But then everything seemed to come to a screeching halt.
The impossibility of forming any comprehensive, consistent picture of Anonymous is precisely what makes the group so unsettling to governments. Anonymous has, until last summer’s arrests, effectively evaded state power. But even while eluding surveillance, Anonymous has worked to expose the collection and mining of personal information by governments and corporations—and in doing so deflated the notion that such a thing as “private information” exists, as opposed to information in the public sphere. This distinction is one of the foundations of the neoliberal state, the very means by which individuality is constituted—and tracked. Anonymous has made it clear that there’s no difference between what we imagine to be our private and public selves—between singular individuals and fragmented “dividuals,” in Gilles Deleuze’s terms; or, at least, Anonymous has revealed that the protection of information (which helps guarantee that difference) by a benevolent security apparatus is a myth. At the same time, Anonymous has put forward its own model—the practice of anonymity—for maintaining that very distinction, suggesting that citizens must be the guardians of their own individuality, or determine for themselves how and when it is reduced into data packets.
“If I told you that a flower bloomed in a dark room, would you trust it?”
This line encapsulates the concept of a good kid in a bad city, and it cuts into one of the most moral questions in human existence: Can good come from evil? The best part about the line, as is true of the best poetry, is that it doesn’t answer the question it asks. For Kendrick’s immediate purposes, he’s the flower and the city is the dark room. The question is: Can you trust him?
The cost of becoming white is hard to measure. It is ethical rather than material. By passively accepting the privileges of whiteness, Asian-Americans become complicit in America’s present system of hierarchy, a system in which the nation’s institutions inflict ongoing injustices on a racial underclass. Highly paid Asian-American Google employees do not bear more responsibility to combat racial injustice than similarly positioned white people, but they don’t bear less either. Silence and inaction on the part of those receiving privilege only makes it harder for those who are not so lucky to change the status quo.
The truth is, no one really knows what a society that does not privilege whiteness would look like in the U.S.; we haven’t seen it yet. How might we build such an alternative structure?”
Small Container, Fury
by Sandra Lim
Rembrandt paints his carcass of beef.
You see a little blood near the poppies
and don’t think of detachment.
Humbert and his girl are driving across America.
One has a thirst so unslakeable, one walks
right into the river.
How exciting spring is! and how errant,
holding out love and death
like a platter of the daintiest cakes.
As I do my work, I think, let me topple,
wear thin. Let the world eat me, but
then, let the world sob, not me.