Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hacktivism Vise: Government and Corporate Intelligence Agencies are Extraordinarily Non-transparent

""A review of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: the Many Faces of Anonymous, by Gabriella Coleman. First published at TeleSUR English.
On December 17, independent journalist Barrett Brown, who has been in jail for two years without trial, had his first sentencing hearing (see the report by The Intercept). Barrett Brown was threatened with one hundred years in prison for analyzing documents that were hacked from private security companies HBGary and Stratfor. Brown never hacked anything - he received the documents and was reporting on them.
Interesting points emerge from a posting by Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who reacted to the sentencing hearing. Assange pointed out that the charges against Brown were of two kinds: the first, pertaining to his reporting on the Stratfor documents, which should be protected under free expression. The other, pertaining to things he said when the FBI threatened to charge his mother unless he turned over his source material. The worst thing Brown said about the FBI agent was a tweet that read, "illegally shoot the son of a bitch". Assange pointed out that this tweet was Brown quoting Fox News's Bob Beckel, who called for Assange's assassination. (Assange posted this link as proof.) Beckel has faced no FBI investigation, no legal consequences, no arrests. Barrett Brown, who quoted him, has been in jail for two years and is threatened with many more. Brown and his lawyers have gag orders against them - the prosecution told the court that Brown has shown "intent to continue to manipulate the public through press and social media comments," thus undermining the enormously powerful government's right to a fair chance of obtaining a harsh conviction against this independent journalist.
The Stratfor emails got into Barrett Brown's possession by way of Jeremy Hammond, a hacker who is now serving a 10-year sentence for stealing the secrets of the private intelligence company. Stratfor is a part of a $350 billion security industry that seamlessly links government, police, and private intelligence networks. The Stratfor emails provided, in Gabriella Coleman's words, "solid nuggets of proof that Stratfor profited from morally dubious practices, such as corporate propaganda dressed as public relations and the monitoring of activists." One of Stratfor's founders, Ronald Duchin, devised the "Duchin formula" for attacking movements, published by journalist Steve Horn and quoted in Coleman's book: "isolate the radicals, 'cultivate' the idealists and 'educate' them into becoming realists. Then co-opt the realists in agreeing with industry."
Government and corporate intelligence agencies are extraordinarily non-transparent. What the public knows about them is known almost entirely because of hackers like Hammond and Assange, independent journalists like Brown (and Poitras and Greenwald), and whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden. People like Hammond, Snowden, and Manning took tremendous risks to get these materials to the public, and Hammond and Manning and Brown, among others, are suffering greatly for it.

Neither Hammond nor Manning were caught because they made technical mistakes, even though both of them obtained their data through some technically sophisticated means. Manning's mistake was befriending someone named Adrian Lamo, who informed on her to the FBI. Hammond was a part of Anonymous, and interacted throughout the hacks with Hector Monsegur, aka "Sabu", who helped entrap Hammond and many other hackers when Sabu became an FBI informant.
But the arrests and jail terms were not the end of Anonymous. Anonymous's main twitter feed, @YourAnonNews, has 1.36 million followers. Having maintained a media presence for years, Anonymous is now a powerful media organization in its own right. In addition to the Stratfor hacks, Anonymous can claim credit for exposing abusive police during Occupy, for exposing rapists and rape culture in Canada and the US, and for participating in the Arab Spring in operations against Tunisia's dictatorship. They are currently highly active against murderous police in the US, in Ferguson and NYC. They have an uncanny ability to land on the side of the oppressed, even where many progressives flounder - as in Israel's recent massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.
As the arrests and jail sentences show, Anonymous is just as subject to vengeance by the powerful as any other group of activists in history. And yet, Anonymous's mystique is hard to resist: the Guy Fawkes masks, the idea of some huge number of people everywhere, with extraordinary technical skills, able to frighten the powerful, avenge wrongs, and get away with it. How could anyone begin to understand such a phenomenon?
The starting point would be to do what Gabriella Coleman did for her book, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: the Many Faces of Anonymous: spending time in the Anonymous's IRC chat rooms, getting to know them, studying what they do and how they do it. Coleman's methods are anthropological, the same methods she used in her previous book, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. In Hacker, Hoaxer, Coleman helps her readers make sense of the bewildering array of actions, statements, and reprisals that have occurred in this relatively new field of activism and the unique group that has brought it so much attention.""

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