Tag Archives: Anonymous

Homeland security, the dark side and fear

I often joke with my law enforcement friends that they see people divided into two groups:  criminals and others who just haven’t been convicted yet.

Of course, jokes like that are funny because they usually contain an element of truth.  Unfortunately, that sort of outlook also permeates much of the homeland security community as well.  When it comes to how homeland security is conducted, therefore, citizens are seen through the lens of paranoia and suspicion.  That’s why you get treated like livestock at the airport, aren’t allowed to take pictures when you’re at the train station, or have a file on you if you’re Muslim, brown and anywhere near New York City.

It also leads to a lack of any real attempt to engage with the public about terrorist threats and countermeasures.  And so…here’s the latest.

My opinion is this is a bullshit report (you can read it here).  I get that everyone is going to spin this as intrusive government surveillance of constitutionally protected activity but I think that misses the real story (or stories).

  • This is a calorie free report.  It doesn’t contain any real insight or analysis but that might be fine.  The Occupy movement had a lot of people scratching their heads so some context might be fine.
  • The conclusion is both banal and troubling.

The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence. While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure (CI). The continued expansion of these protests also places an increasingly heavy burden on law enforcement and movement organizers to control protesters. As the primary target of the demonstrations, financial services stands the sector most impacted by the OWS protests. Due to the location of the protests in major metropolitan areas, heightened and continuous situational awareness for security personnel across all CI sectors is encouraged.

That’s pretty standard language and I think you could safely translate that as:

“We don’t have any evidence of a threat but a) in order to justify our jobs we need to say something is threatening b) don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of a senate testimony is things go wrong and c) our overlords are already treating this like a threat and nothing else will get through the system.”

It is worthwhile to note that this isn’t a ‘law enforcement sensitive’ document and, therefore, probably had a fairly wide distribution within the private sector.

The extent of private sector/homeland security cooperation is the real story here. 

People should be asking how much information is being shared back and forth between the two communities and how each respond to the others needs.  How much do private sector priorities drive intelligence and investigative priorities?  Does the relationship allow for inappropriate exchanges of information based upon personal relationships (the revolving door is not limited to federal government employees and industry) or political considerations?

And the whole idea of information operations remains unexplored territory.  It’s not just that few in the community are familiar with the concept, even fewer have a shred of interest in it or believe it has value.  It’s almost as if they’re institutionally incapable of processing that sort of information.

And as the environment changes dramatically (as it may be doing now) this inability to change one’s perspective to things of rising importance will mean that we continue to apply old solutions to new challenges.

That tends to not work out so well.

So, why do they do this sort of thing?

Paul Pillar comes to the rescue while discussing an article in the latest Foreign Affairs (which I haven’t read yet but it’s on my list).  He describes the numerous reasons why the homeland security community is hardwired  to exaggerate risks (and to be fair, this also extends to law enforcement).  In particular, I’d like to point your attention to the following excerpt:

The bureaucracies’ role in the exaggeration process is less a matter of pecuniary interests than of engrained expectations. The biggest annual presentation that the director of national intelligence, for example, is required by law to make to Congress is supposed to be about worldwide threats. So naturally he describes a world that appears to consist mainly of threats.

And just about every agency involved in homeland security has to produce some sort of periodic threat assessment.  Sometimes such reports are mandated by law or regulation and sometimes they’re needed for budgetary/institutional interests.  Whatever the reason, however, the fact remains that the expectation is for the threats to always be high.  Think about it, how many times can you recall a threat assessment (either about a country on the other side of the globe or about the local crime problem in your neighborhood) that said things were getting less threatening?

Sometimes you’ll hear that it’s ‘our job’ to err on the side of caution and that may be true.  But that only works if it’s somebody’s job to act as a counterbalance and view things through a lens of realism. And let’s face it, there ain’t nobody at that helm…

Everything is changing

The National has an insightful review of ‘Why it’s Kicking off Everywhere‘ by Paul Mason. The book discusses the rise of ‘frustration’ movements (a term I just made up…add that to TwShiloh lexicon) that includes such diverse movements as the Arab Spring, Occupy movements, the London riots, and demonstrations in Greece and Russia.

Now I haven’t read the book and I’m a little leery of attempting to weave very recent events into a grand historical narrative (after all, I can imagine that the invention of the Number 2 pencil was heralded as a civilization changing event – at least by the inventor’s mom).  In fact I’m not even sure we can say these events will be more than a footnote a decade from now.  After all, it’s not like any of these movements has really achieved anything yet.  They may get smothered by the power of the Westphalian nation state.

But Jamie Kenny’s review of Mason’s work does attempt to link all these disparate movements together and provide a framework for considering them.

Specifically, I’d like to draw your attention to this paragraph:

…where earlier generations of revolutionaries exemplified the enlightenment project of general emancipation, their successors have been trained to work in the info-capitalist context of zero loyalty, self-reliance and flexibility. They value skills over knowledge, fluidity over permanence, networks over hierarchy. Once, they were supposed to be the job-hopping consultants, freelancers and executives of the future. “The revolts of 2010-11,” writes Mason, “have shown, quite simply, what this workforce looks like when it becomes collectively disillusioned, when it realises that the whole offer of betterment has been withdrawn.”

And that is what connects the various movements we’ve seen over the past couple of years.


Ouch….FBI is the subject of some lulz

The hive mind scored a symbolic success by released a recording of an FBI conference call that discussed Anonymous and various other hacking entities.

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There’s nothing particularly interesting here in terms of content (unless you are, or affiliated with, one of the parties they’re looking at) but I have to imagine this sort of this is going to freak out the powers that be.  Perhaps someone hacked into whatever system stores the recordings of these conference calls or maybe there’s a mole at work.  I can’t imagine either possibility is very attractive.

Then, to rub salt into the wound, a few hours later, Anonymous released the names and email addresses of all the participants who were invited to the call.

This is probably not how you want your Friday to go.

And as a side note, the TwShiloh Snark-o-matic prize of the day goes to YouTube commenter BonkersFFXI who, after listening to the banal banter of the participants wrote:

These guys should just cut the sexual tension and fuck each other


A bit of subversion…

Two items for today…

First you may have heard that last week New Zealand authorities, at the behest of the U.S. Department of Justice arrested the persons behind Megaupload.com and shuttered the site.

Within an hour or so of the DOJ’s press release the Anonymous hive mind sprang into action and began firing up the LOIC and forcing websites by the DOJ, MPAA, and a host of others offline.

Now, the attack itself isn’t that big of a deal practically.  It’s not like any of the affected organizations will have to stop conducting business just because their websites were overloaded with traffic and rendered inaccessible.  But…

This sort of thumb in your eye operation accomplishes one of Anonymous’ key goals of attracting attention.  In addition the timing AND subject of this action was very favorable for Anonymous.  Right on the heels of the SOPA battle, people concerned about internet freedom were primed for action and the DOJ handed it to them in an incredibly poorly timed operation.This is the de-facto flag of the organization ...

Anonymous was able to begin mobilizing supporters to conduct DDOS attacks within minutes which is just amazing given this is a non-organizational movement.

And supporters?  Boy did they attract supporters.

The [LOIC] was downloaded most in the United States, Imperva said, at 7,328, followed by France and Brazil with about 4,000 downloads each. Germany and Spain rounded out the top five.

That’s in addition to one of Anonymous’ twitter feeds gathering 200,000 followers in a couple of days.  And I suspect lots of Megaupload users who suddenly find they can’t access their files (legit and illegit) might be upset and willing to cheer whoever takes a bit of revenge.

In addition, someone created a web-based version of the LOIC which allowed used to just click a link and thereby hand over a portion of their computer’s power to conduct DDOS attacks.  Some accused Anonymous of trickery and duping innocent people (the link didn’t indicate which users would get when they clicked the link) but I’m not so sure.  Assuming some person(s) did abuse Anonymous sympathizers with a trick like this AND users are so offended by being used in this way, it seems this would be a one shot operation and do damage to the ideas Anonymous wants to spread.

But, given that contributing to a DDOS attack is against the law and can result in jail time, I can’t help wondering if Anonymous is crazy like a fox here.  Have they just provided sympathizers with a way to participate in DDOS and also give a credible defense (reasonable doubt) that they had no idea what they were doing.  Certainly it would make proving such a charge more difficult since authorities would not just have to prove that a suspect participated in a DDOS attack but also that a reasonable person would have known that clicking an unmarked (or falsely marked) link was likely to make them an accomplice.

If that’s true we might be seeing the beginning of an evolution in hacking and hactivism.  I can certainly picture an arms race in which the authorities do what they can to make attacks like this illegal which Anonymous develops workarounds which allow users to maintain plausible deniability.

The second story involves Will Potter over at Green is the New Red.  Will is a writer and journalist with a definite point of view.  He’s very sympathetic to the animal rights movement (and was an activist for awhile) and writes about government actions which criminalize activists and label some terrorists.  I certainly don’t agree with everything Will writes but I’ve never seen him explicitly OR implicitly advocate violent or criminal activity.

So, it comes as a disappointment to see this post by Will in which he describes how he found out that his website was described as an “animal rights extremist website” by some US Attorneys in a sentencing memorandum against a Jordan Halliday.

I am not familiar with Halliday and so can make so comments on his guilt or innocence.  It appears that the Attorneys were quite sloppy here and cutting corners in order to make their case sound more compelling.  As Will puts it:

Prosecutors say that since my article mentioned Halliday in a photo caption, it means he placed himself “above the law” and violated an order to have “No association with animal group[s] A.L.F., E.L.F., Vegan Straight Edge (VSE).” [The ALF and ELF are the underground Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. “Vegan Straight Edge” is a punk lifestyle, not a terrorist group…

I’d want to see some evidence that Potter is a known member of ALF or ELF, otherwise how can one say that Halliday violated the letter (or spirit) of the order?  Was the guy supposed to interpreted it so broadly that he shouldn’t have watched Animal Planet lest he saw someone being nice to an animal?