How Anonymous (Narrowly) Evaded the Cyberterrorism Rhetorical Machine

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How Anonymous (Narrowly) Evaded the Cyberterrorism Rhetorical Machine
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Anonymous—a enigmatic protest ensemble that first emerged as an activist force in 2008—has been thrust repeatedly into the media limelight due to a series of high stakes digital protest attacks, stretching from Distributed of Denial Service attacks to high profile hacks. By 2011, Anonymous targeted Fortune 500 corporations and military defense contractors. Mercenary hackers doxed Anons, revealing their identities to law enforcement by publishing their legal names, personal photos, and addresses. Anons started to leak sensitive, classified, or humiliating information. Given the prevalence of cyberware and terrorism rhetoric, it would seem effortless and straightforward for government officials to paint Anonymous as a new breed of dangerous cyberterrorists. Despite a few notable attempts to forge this precise connection, the government has thus far failed in slotting Anonymous into this well worn scaremongering trope; the great majority of news media accounts treat Anonymous not as violent cyberterrorists, but foremost as insurgent digital activists.
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so let the hand
and yeah what hi everyone i'm it's a pleasure to be back in Republic of this is
my 2nd time when I came here in 2011 I started to research anonymous and I just published a book in the fall and what I'll be talking about today actually some of the material that never made it into the book but I'm just gonna jump right and so it's it's a kind of set the mood for the talk i would like to quote Cory Doctorow who in fact will be talking I believe on stage in a couple hours making us suspicious of each other calling dissenters traders the point of terrorism is to terrify us the Department of Homeland Security terrifies me and this is from his wonderful book little brother which I really recommend so we live in a world not of terrorism but we live in a world of multiple and proliferating terrorism's even of the term has been in existence for a long time it has proliferated in recent times as we know government officials across the western world use the term to track and capture multiple types of people and activities in its next along with jihadist the American government for example has successfully labeled environmentalists animal rights activists and toward her and she were protesters and others as terrorists now in some cases changing the LOD dramatically helps to define an activity is terrorism for example in 2006 in existing law which is called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act was changed to become the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act since then animal rights activists in the United States have been indicted under the law including a group who simply
pro tested using speech and was non violent form of protest as we know in the United States the use of the anonymizing tool toward can also be grounds for suspicion as quoted extensively in the news the former NSA director General Keith Alexander stated that all those communicating with encryption will be regarded as terror suspects and will be monitored on this side of the Atlantic French government officials recently invented and new very troubling category and it's called the pre terrorist and this classification
was applied to a collective group called Harnack 9 who allegedly orchestrated and non acts of direct action and sabotage against the train system in France there was no loss of life or even any threat of loss of life but nevertheless are being considered pre terrorists were terrorists where the interesting things is well is that because the collective did not own cellphones this was also considered 1 of the reasons why the culprit terrorists I'm and I recently gave up my cell phone so I guess I might also be a precarious in France so 1 of the reasons why I'm interested in who is labeled a terrorist is because I study and wrote a
book about anonymous a very rowdy protests ensemble that has engaged in hundreds of political operation since 2008 now because of the prevalence and because of the power of the terrorism frame I assumed over the course of my research that law-enforcement might be able to successfully brand anonymous as a new dangers breed of cyber extremist or terrorist under the right circumstances and with the right propaganda would be possible to represent them as the online equivalent of al-Qaeda and then in the in the prospect rob them of their political power now I don't think this is happens anonymous is controversial but I think most people don't consider them terrorism and to give you too little data points to kind of back this up I've gone through many news articles in the English speaking world and in the great majority of them refer to them as hacktivists for activists and don't use the T word now make my 2nd example is the my favorite 1 about once a week I get an e-mail from very enthusiastic high school students from around the world who were like dear Mrs. Coleman I'm writing a research paper about anonymous because I really like them can we interview you and you know if they were considered like I said I don't think you have scores of high school students you know writing term papers and these very positive ways it so I think tanks an escape the framing but let me tell you 3 distinct reasons why I think the association with in potential right for making some of these are going to strike is obvious but they're still
important to lay out so the first one is the long-standing cyber warfare and cyberterrorism frame so government officials across the West have been pounding loudly consistently this drama for decades and this is precisely what I find interesting it's not simply a post 9 11 phenomenon in fact some of the very 1st warnings of cyberterrorism came in the early 19 nineties so show you quote from a report call computers and risk that was published by the US government and they claim tomorrow's terrorist may be able to do more damage with a keyboard then with a bomb now of course after 9 11 this rhetoric only intensified massively and a new term was invented that has been just used over and over again then that's cyber
Pearl Harbor of catastrophic event that would lead to massive was loss of life now the 2nd reason concerns anonymous itself I don't think the activities qualify as terrorism or
violence is Cory Doctorow put it there is insane risk-taking in the collective there's a lot of high risk activities take the summer of 2011 by this time anonymous had jumped and made an unpredictable leap from hell raising internet trolls into activists breakaway groups in the summer of 2011 in specific well 2nd intersect were happy
non stop and happened with impunity they targeted Fortune 500 companies they targeted NATO they targeted military defense contractors and many many more they told the FBI to fuck off and non themselves became paranoid 1 hacker confessed to me he was scared of being caught and being shipped off to some terrifying place like 1 time and they were at minimum would end up in solitary confinement it had been which the case for Chelsea Manning even if anonymous his actions did not constitute terrorism they were again hi how rest frame just the right way anonymous could be cast as computer extremities 3rd and this is where it gets quite
interesting even if the US and other governments rarely called anonymous extremists or use the T word others absolutely dead so for example in February 2011 after anonymous ruthlessly hacked a security firm by the name of HB Gary its president Greg who once told a
reporter what they're doing right now is not hacktivism it is terrorism and the more interesting that is that even if the US government did not officially call anonymous terrorists in secret they were making those connections thanks to a recently we know that the FBI place 1 anonymous Hopper Jeremy Hammond under secret terrorist watchlist Hammond is currently serving a 10
year jail sentence for hacking intelligence from call strap on but to be clear he was not tried as a terrorist had he been I assure you his sentence would probably have been 2 decades not 1
decade thanks to this node in weeks we also know that the British gchq demonized anonymous In a presentation slide evaluating various uses of toward hacktivist like anonymous are slotted firmly into the bad category immediately adjacent to pedophiles and other criminals but most important on once single location in the U. S. government made a very public attempts to associate anonymous with terrorism was on February 21st 2012 in an article published by The Wall Street Journal it
reported that he's General Alexander who was then the director of the NSA had briefed officials at a secret White House meeting Alexander claimed and this is a quote that anonymous could have the ability
within the next year or 2 to bring about a limited power outage do a cyber attack even without using the dreaded keywords and I found it
curious that they decided not to use the T word but nevertheless were basically saying so in this quote his claim was meant to portray anonymous as the grave menace as a threat like the same type of threat posed by Islamic Jihad as it was the most vigorous attempt to convince the public that anonymous without roots nefarious now as the news spread all over social media I wonder who disclaims step I mean the Wall Street Journal is after all a very reputable news source but the end of the story proved unconvincing 1st of all there was no known evidence that was given to the reporter and have same very disappointed that the Journal was but basically published a
propaganda without evidence it fell flat on its feet and subsequent news reports actually quoted security apps experts who dismissed the NSA claims
as ridiculous and unlikely so the Government was bigger is attempting casting anonymous into this well worn scaremongering trope of extremism fail but why why would they have been successful in the past so for the rest the talking they offer 5 reasons as to why the state failed in its attempt I think that there is many more but picked the ones that could fit into the rest of the talk so 1st as is the case with so much in life part of the reason concerns the importance
of timing and in specific cool anonymous decided to support early on in its active like so if you all might recall back in December of 2010 much of the Internet was pissed off and I have a great little quote from Twitter that will take us back in time of what have either Sonja WikiLeaks actually been convicted that allows Visa MasterCard PayPal Amazon to withdraw services week this of course refers to the banking blockade
after WikiLeaks releases the diplomatic cables everyone is royally pissed off in fact US government officials at this point tried to put the terrorism Fremont assigned himself Sarah pale famously says assigned to be hunted down with the same urgency would pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders now everyone is very upset at this blatant act of censorship and the largest and most visible entity to rise up in support of WikiLeaks was anonymous who targeted pay pal MasterCard in Amazon
with a distributed denial of service attack and and in the aftermath of this deed asked the media attention was simply frenzied I've never seen so much media attention on anonymous an anonymous even landed a couple of times on CNN which is America's biggest network and 1 of the crucial moments was when a liberal commentator a moderate that came out in support of the
deed us I wanted to show you a clip but it's now gone from you to but you can see here social media expert Nicole Miller said he admires supporters of WikiLeaks was shutting down major websites like Visa so this kind of erected an initial important framing for the American public but subsequent interventions were important for extending the positive frame up until then anonymous tended to focus on Internet issues user censorship but during 2011 anonymous intervenes in every single 1 of the revolts which
so exceptional captured the world's attention in solidarity with the Tunisian people Anonymous hopped into government websites many of the Indignados in spain who occupied others solo adopted the symbol an anonymous played an integral role in disseminating the call to occupy Wall Street and they continue to offer its propaganda services and in many other non is actually went to the camps I across Europe and the United States their engagement with revolutionary movements was crucial had anonymous only stuck to
happen and never assisted in these historical social movements it might have been a lot easier to simply take them a cyber extremists now the next 1 is probably my favorite example it's the adoption of the guy Fox maps and of all the explanations as might be the most ironic but the most important guy foxes Fox is an actual historical figure and for most of
history he was portrayed as the villain as a terrorist because he and other Catholic dissenters tried to murder in overthrow the parts thinking in 1605 by trying to blow up Parliament that the British state for many many years again control the image of by Fox and portrayed him in a negative light and but eventually they lost control over the meaning associated with the icon today guy Fox is more positive rather than negative associations he is the quintessential symbol for revolutionary descent so how did I Fox undergo this transformation I know what
everyone is he uh thinking here
of Alan Moore's graphic novel and the 2006 Hollywood film adaption V for Vendetta absolutely helped secure the leak from terrorist a champion of the people but the Metamorphoses of guys Fox started much earlier back in 1841 with this book
by Fox where the gunpowder treason it was a kind of romance novel the author represented guy Fox for the 1st time in a slightly more favorable light and then children's books started to be published in the early 19 hundreds that started to portrayed by Fox as an action hero but in contemporary times it is the graphic novel and the film which really cemented and secure the positive association these media went the extra mile by Fox
became woven into the fabric of popular culture and around the globe I think there's other reasons to why the film graphic novel matter after the Snowden revelations of 2013 the representations in the film I think strike many lessors fiction and more as an approximation of reality even if the British and American governments are not quite as
fascist as portrayed in the film we do know again things to that these governments extensively monitor their citizens and blatantly lied to them famous slogans from the novel which have been widely adopted by anonymous such as people should not be afraid of the government's government should be afraid of the people rang more true than ever In short the positive associations with guide Fox as well as with the film I think have been partly transferred to anonymous more important if the filming graphic novel made by Fox part of popular culture and anonymous took this cultural and fictional material and made part of every day protest culture OK next anonymous is flexibility and incoherent as everyone knows anonymous is the single creed it has no single philosophy it's not it's a name that's been used by different groups of people to get involved in very different types of causes from publicizing break cases to fighting state corruption in Peru this sort of collective is active
this phenomenon is not entirely new it's an example of what market this year as calls on multiple use name pool in my slides the stuff it In
this 0 0 if it if it if it moves
in it which it OK so back to the top I Ch
there are multiple use name and as an anonymous is not the 1st multiple name in history 2 other examples are Luther Blissett set which was invented by Italian activists in the early 19 nineties and became a symbol that was adopted by leftist activists in Europe
to lay claim to bind to pain and then Captain Swing with the name taken by farmers in the English Swing Riots of 18 thirties to protest the introduction of new machinery but what's so interesting about a multiple use name like with the boy said my captain swing like anonymous is that it's difficult to brand entire multi-use name and eat those as a single thing when something is not limited by scope or membership or creed and when it displays the diversity of manifestations it's hard to characterize and dismiss it as a single pejorative thing so what is often seen as a weakness of anonymous that they have no single
message in some ways it can be it's strain for the name Anonymous has powerful resonance I think today anonymous is undeniably dramatize the importance of anonymity and privacy in an area were both have
been severely eroded giving the ubiquity of government and corporate surveillance I think that there's something important and appealing in anonymous is protest against surveillance but especially its powerful symbolism around anonymity my final point is a little more elaborate because I think it's quite important and like to highlight now the importance of a
single notable events that made it just a little bit harder for the government to
portray anonymous as extremists it was January 2012 in governments all over the world were considering the ratification of the US-led trade proposal which was called after the anti counterfeit trade agreements now anonymous like many people across Europe war against after they thought it would control and limit the core freedoms of the
Internet on January 19 2012 the Polish government announced it would sign the treaty in response to anonymous issued the following ominous press release welcome to operation and tie after it began we encourage you to spread the word of contract of foreign why the top priorities to steal and meet any classified information including e-mail and
documentation prime target of Polish government websites in other high ranking establishments now these government websites were indeed knocked off with indeed it sent a clear message to politicians who were gonna vote yes by the final week of january over 10 thousand citizens had assembled in Krakow in a last-ditch ditch effort to influence the votes and then something unexpected happened on January
26 2012 while casting their votes in Parliament as a group of Polish parliamentarians conceal their
faces with a guy walks mass at
the height of an anonymous Diaz campaign government officials adopted the symbol when anonymous activist blogged about it and about the importance of the act anonymous is not unanimous an
opinion on D DOS is perhaps more divided than any other tactic indeed this very faction in consultation with aren't I act and geos has been calling for a halt to the deed DOS the last several days but after this photo of Polish part politicians protecting protesting actor went viral yesterday is time we all we evaluate the role and legitimacy of the DOS these parliamentarians were wearing anonymous by Fox mass for the Parliament website was down due to a G . I can emphasize that point enough this is a game
changer I think this gesture was just as important was a game changer for how it legitimated the collective as well as its tactics this was the 1st time that government officials inside government chambers had taken on a symbol now irreducibly associated with anonymous after this photo it became a bit harder to paint anonymous as extremist or terrorist so perhaps it will come as a surprise when I tell you that's remember the Wall Street Journal article about and with
the Keith Alexander saying that anonymous had the capability to take down proof of critical infrastructure will that came a couple of weeks after this events and I don't think it's a mistake I have no way to prove this by it was likely 1 last desperate attempt to tarnish and feather the reputation of anonymous just at the moment when the US government was losing its ability to control the message about the protest selective so what lessons
may be drawn from this story why does this matter that anonymous escaped the extremism frame 1st I think it's that ideas and symbols really matter whether it's the ideal the anonymity the figure by Fox
or the contemporary figure the hacktivist symbols and ideas are part of the terrain and which politics get thoughts and also determines movies and books in art can under the right circumstances change the world in legal changes are vital for transformation but too often those that champion policy and legal changes discount the role of popular grass-roots movements whose power lies in part in their ability to package ideas and symbols in a compelling in artistic fashion ideas and symbols channeled through movies books and other media are as instrumental in so far as they mobilize large republics 2nd even if anonymous managed to avoid being framed as cyber extremists anonymous hackers and their associates are often punished and very extreme terms especially in United States you don't need the label of terrorism to receive overblown punishments and this alone can deter others from joining in yeah 3rd and there's also no guarantees that in the future hacktivist like anonymous won't be caught by the rhetorical tropes of terrorism the cyber warfare and cyberterrorism pumps have been so prime and for so long that all it will take is 1 hacking attack on infrastructure to potentially demonize the entire field of hacktivism so long as some credible association is made between the attack and hacktivism and well I don't think contemporary hackers want to do this the fact of the matter is the government spends far more on the surveillance apparatus then securing critical infrastructure and let's not rule out the very real possibility of a false flag operation which could be used to justify more cyber spending and precisely be used to mobilize on the terrorism frame to discredit activists finally if the social life of symbols are essential for the success of political movements they can be manipulated they can be tarnished they can be sullied or alternatively like by Foxy can be reclaimed by the people for political lean progressive purposes what we do know is that the states especially the American government hold a very tight monopoly on what gets called terrorism the US government has engaged in many dubious and deeply troubling acts such as killing people based on metadata alone which was something that Michael Hayden the x CIA director admitted to this might be considered terrorism by some as the famous saying goes 1 man's terrorist
is another man's freedom fighter given the state's monopoly to label something is terrorism citizens will always struggle to define what the government does is terrorism but the state has enormous resources to label who they want as extremists indeed I think all radical interventions are so very susceptible to marginalization and together with the nation through this sort of rhetorical pollution but despite its radicalism anonymous managed to dodge the bullet for now others like Snowden and Manning
and sons who also engaged in daring and radical acts as a direct action have similarily evaded this track I think they command considerable even if not total public sympathy at least for now will they in 5 years we will they in 10 years I hope so but that's really up to us part of our job is engaged citizens is to ensure that people will continue to view hacktivist like anonymous like the signs in others not as rabid extremists but is principled activists engage in some of the more essential acts of democratic resistance thank you very much FIL so and
in the