Hacktivists Anonymous and Wikileaks: Taking a cyberstand for children like Justina Pelletier

Hacktivists Anonymous and Wikileaks: Taking a cyberstand for children like Justina Pelletier

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Anonymous - Julianne Assange
Anonymous - Julianne Assange

HARTFORD, Conn, April 27, 2014— The hacker group Anonymous has reportedly decided to get to the bottom of why the State has failed to reunify 15-year-old Justina Pelletier with her family in Connecticut. The Boston Globe reports that hackers claiming to be related to the hacktivist group Anonymous have attached the  Boston Children’s Hospital the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network’s websites.

READ ALSO: Justina Pelletier, 15, held captive at Boston Mass. by Department of Children and Families

According to the Baltimore City Paper, Anonymous was born in 2003 out of an obscure internet chat board called 4chan.org. The hacktivist group has no leader and its members have no identities. Some of the rules most Anons live by are that they do not disclose their identity, they do not talk about the group, and they do not attack the media. They are most famous for conducting various publicity stunts and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on government, religious, and corporate websites that the hacktivists believe are exploiting or harming the public.

Justina’s parents told me yesterday that the family has nothing to do with Anonymous, #OpJustina, or the cyber attacks on Wayside and BCH, nor do they condone them. The family’s primary focus remains getting their child  home safely, but their efforts do not include participation in of any sort of illegal activity.

A source who runs an independent social media campaign to #FreeJustina clarified that “publicly in Social Media, [Anons] have supported peaceful awareness for Justina by participating in our weekly TweetStorms and have shown nothing but unending support to bring her home. Anonymous has condemned any acts that would jeopardize the well being of any child.”

Although hacktivists have taken actions that broach national security, they also play an important role in revealing important truths to the public.

In a world where the government is allowed to use security as an excuse to hide the truth and monitor the phone calls and emails of prominent journalists who report unfavorably on them, the question has become who else besides a band of cyber bandits is competent to deliver the proof required to preserve democracy for the people? Where do we draw the line?

The birth of hacktivism

When the movie Weird Science was released in 1985, the film gave teenage boys everywhere a reason to buy a computer and learn how to “hack” to make their dreams come true.  Her name was Kelly LeBrock, and she represented the endless possibilities that digital connectivity and hacking innovation provided.

Inspired by the movie “Frankenstein,” teenage nerds Wyatt Donnelly and Gary Wallace  hacked into the government’s mainframe computer system using a Memotech MTX512 (with a Barbie doll and a scanner full of porn attached to it) to create the perfect exploitable sex goddess. In the end, LeBrock’s character managed to destroy Wyatt and Gary’s bullies, made the nerds the most popular kids in school, and got them real girlfriends to play with.

Today, there are thousands of Gary and Wyatt’s out there who have used hacking as a way to improve their corner of the universe. They are called “hacktivists,” and they are using privately developed technology and secret networks to mobilize social movements that change the way journalists, the government and corporations do business.

Government, it seems, is not pleased.

READ ALSO: Hacktivist Guccifer strikes, Hammond pleads guilty

Last month, Senate Intelligence Chair Diane Feinstein experienced a “welcome to the club” moment when she expressed her outrage at being targeted by a hacker, someone who secretly gained access to her computer to mine and exploit her information.

Ironically, in 2013, Feinstein voiced little concern over the complaints of journalists and members of the public who launched similar complaints with authorities after their emails, phones, social media accounts, and bank accounts were hijacked and exploited.

Although Kapersky Security Labs estimates that billions of random “opportunistic” cyber attacks occurred in 2013, most data breaches on private citizens aren’t carried out by fraudsters or vengeful ex-spouses, they are carried out by the National Security Agency or corporate advertisers.  Rarely do such reports result in arrests.

In Feinstein’s case, it appears employees of the CIA removed classified documents from her staff’s computers, but unlike privacy activists Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning, Feinstein’s unlikely to end up in jail or exile for speaking out about the secret programs that targeted her.

Wikileaks: Hacking, data dumps and scientific journalism

Perhaps the most famous hacktivist in the world is Julian Assange, a convicted hacker and the founder of nonprofit media outlet WikiLeaks, most notable for publishing the Iraq and Afghanistan “War Logs” and a 2007 video shot over the skies Baghdad and secretly delivered to Wikileaks by PFC Bradley Manning. The video depicted US soldiers in Apache helicopters gloating over the skies of Bagdad as they slaughtered what appeared to be 18 unarmed civilians, including women, children, and two Reuters reporters. If it weren’t for Manning, the public might never have known the truth about the US government’s activities in Iraq and Afghanistan

But before there was Wikileaks, Assange founded another activist group called the Parent Inquiry Into Child Protection to address the Australian agency’s  “underlying philosophy of deflecting as many cases away from itself as possible,” and the lack of remedy available to parents once the State made a determination.

Ironically, Assange has spent a significant portion of his life battling with defective child protection systems. According to the New Yorker, from the age of eleven to sixteen Assange lived on the run with his mother in Australia out of fear that the State would allow Assange’s younger brother to be trafficked to the infamous cult “The Family.” The cult’s leader was Anne Hamilton-Byrne, who built up the group by “acquiring” 14 infants and recruited psychiatric patients into the group and their coercion into following its precepts by the administration of LSD, electroconvulsive therapy and even brain surgery (conducted by physicians who belonged to the group).

Not long after Assange turned 18, he became a father and was charged with 31 counts of hacking. The relationship with the child’s mother was short lived, and Assange reportedly sued for sole custody when CPS failed to rescue the child from what he considered to be a dangerous situation in her care. It was a battle that would last until 1999 when the couple settled, which Assange’s mother says left him with severe PTSD and snow white hair.

“What we saw was a great bureaucracy that was squashing people,” Assange’s mother told the New Yorker.

The activist group Assange founded with his mother not only raised awareness on the issue, but was meant to serve as a “central database” for members of the public and State workers alike to share information about Australia’s child protection agency’s doings.

In the summer before his arrest in December 2010, Assange told the New Yorker that he founded WikiLeaks in 2006 because he wanted to set a new media standard call “scientific journalism”

“If you publish a paper on DNA, you are required, by all the good biological journals, to submit the data that has informed your research—the idea being that people will replicate it, check it, verify it. So this is something that needs to be done for journalism as well. There is an immediate power imbalance, in that readers are unable to verify what they are being told, and that leads to abuse.”
WikiLeaks has no fixed office, just a complicated maze of websites and internet servers all over the globe staffed by nameless volunteer reporters. These journalists rely on and publish primary source documentation obtained mainly from sources who have leaked information through the website’s secure electronic drop box.

Pfc. Bradley Manning’s leak of classified documents to WikiLeaks are the largest  in US history and is responsible for changing public opinion and the course of world history by exposing the brutal realities of the war.  Yet the public and the media remained largely silent as Manning was tortured and humiliated in jail while awaiting trial. In August 2013, Manning was sentenced as a traitor to 35 years in Federal prison.

Swedish authorities have issued a warrant for Assange related to allegations of sexual misconduct. He has not, however, officially been charged with any crimes.

Assange is currently residing in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, where he has lived since June 19, 2012. International authorities appear to be using the Swedish allegations as leverage and are effectively confining him without charging him with any crime. Is unlawful coercive confinement now a routine alternative to true justice and a means of silencing critics

“We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

Hacktivists portray themselves as Robin Hoods and freedom fighters, but you never know what you are going to get when you reach out to a group of outlaws for help.

The fact that some hactivists proclaim to abide by a code of conduct that requires them to protect the poor and disenfranchised masses from exploitation and oppression while the government stands by and does nothing only makes us want to root for the outlaws. But is the devil we know worse than the one we don’t?

#OpJustina is just the latest of many cyber attacks that Anonymous has taken credit for in the name of protecting children, veterans, and the disabled from predators. Last year, Anons launched an attack on the Westboro Baptist Church protesters for protesting at veteran’s funerals. In Operation Darknet, Anons hacked into the child porn site “Lolita City” and disabled forty image-swapping pedophile websites that employed the anonymity network Tor. Afterwards, Anons released 1,589 usernames from Lolita City and leaked the names of users of a suspected child pornography site in OpDarknetV2.

Brian Kelly categorized Anons in the BU Law Review as an anarchic digital brain that operates off “a very loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than directives” so that no one act can be attributed to their group as a whole. Although it’s not clear to what extent, Anons collaborate with off-shout groups like LulzSec and AntiSec, who some speculate were created by software security makers to scare consumers into buying their products, but most security companies would not hack into the CIA’s computers or have the sense of humor to pull the types of pranks these groups are infamous for.

This lack of group cohesion became apparent in #OpJustina when several Anons publicly disagreed with eachother as to whether a children’s hospital was a suitable target and if the method of attack was appropriate.

Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer once wrote that the group’s decentralized structure implies that “If you believe in Anonymous, and call yourself Anonymous, you are Anonymous.”

One of the first protest campaigns led by Anonymous was Project Chanology (2008) which sought to expose and waste the resources of scientologists

Then in 2010, Anonamous launched operation “Payback Is A Bitch”in retaliation for the entertainment industry’s blocking and prosecution of users of file sharing websites like Pirate Bay in violation of copyright laws. The total downtime for websites attacked during Operation Payback (including the US Copyright Office) was 537.55 hours. In 2012, Anons responded to the US Department of Justice’s shut down of the file-sharing site Megaupload for piracy and copyright violations by shutting down websites belonging to various US government and copyright organizations, including the FBI.

“Operation Avenge Assange” was launched in 2010 after Amazon.com caved under pressure and booted WikiLeaks from its servers. Targets included US Senator Joe Lieberman’s website who had pushed for the service cut offs, Amazon.com, PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, as well as other financial institutions and web hosting services denying service to WikiLeaks.

in January 2011, Anons took a  more prominent role in international politics by helping dissidents topple regimes Tunisia and Egypt by attacking government websites and helping dissidents access and share information. They also hacked Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s website in retaliation for the Parliament of Uganda’s consideration of an anti-homosexuality law permitting capital punishment.

By the fall of 2011, Anonymous became a household name after protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks started appearing in numbers at Occupy Wall Street rallies.  While mainstream media ignored the rallies, Anonymous videos began appearing all over YouTube decrying various social injustices and striking fear into the hearts of the 1% with the words “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

That was probably the moment in time when the 99% understood what Anonymous was, and when many fell hopelessly in love with a group of faceless vigilantes who could potentially represent or save the country from the biggest threat to national security the world has ever seen.

READ ALSO: Anonymous: Hackers retaliate against US Government for death of Aaron Swartz

In 2012, Time Magazine named Anonymous one of the 100 most influential people in the world, but the FBI was not impressed.  Over the years, several dozen Anons have gone to jail for their participation in taking down various government websites and losing customer data. In August 2013, the FBI announced “We’ve dismantled the leaders of anonymous” following the arrests of 5 members of Lulzsec.

Julian Assange and the Mockery of Justice

Today’s hacktivists have unleashed a revolution in journalism that the NSA and many others believe to be at the expense of public safety. They are a menace to law enforcement all over the globe because they publish highly classified and incriminating documents obtained by questionable, if not illegal, means through a complicated and virtually untraceable maze of websites and internet servers all over the world.

Anonymous also publishes important stories and documents the traditional media won’t touch. Perhaps the mainstream media withholds these stories from the public out of fear for their own survival, but maybe it’s because they know the anarchy which may ensue when public revolt causes lucrative corporations to be shut down, influential politicians get prosecuted, and government regimes are overthrown.

When asked for by reporters for comment on the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest in 2010, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates responded  “It sounds like good news to me.”

For years, authorities from around the world have found that efforts to prosecute Assange in connection with the organization’s publication of millions of classified government documents has been like trying to nail jello to a wall.  Then along came Swedish Director of Public Prosecution Marianne Ny to answer their prayers.

Violent sexual predators pose a serious threat to public safety, but apparently Swedish authorities did not believe WikiLeaks founder was one when two women complained to them on August 20, 2010 that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with them. If so, Swedish authorities could have detained Assange when he came in for questioning ten days later, or at least issued an arrest warrant charging him with a crime before he flew to London over a month later on September 27th.  But they didn’t, probably because Swedish authorities admit there is no DNA evidence linking Assange to the alleged crimes.

Although  the cost of a plane ticket to fly Ny to London to question Assange would probably cost less than the $715 maximum penalty Assange would have to pay if found guilty of the crimes she was investigating, this did not stop Ny from engaging in a three-year long multi-national campaign to extradite Assange to Sweden merely for questioning.

Although Ny is no longer on the case, Swedish prosecutors refuse to end the standoff by questioning Assange in London or signing an agreement not to extradite Assange to the US should he voluntarily agree to meet them in Sweden.

READ ALSO: Limits to online anonymity

The US Department of Justice announced last November that it would probably not prosecute Assange, but London is unlikely to grant Assange safe passage given that he is reportedly in violation of his bail terms.
At the end of the day, two of the wealthiest countries in the world have outsourced the costs and task of detaining Assange to Ecuador, a third world country where according to the World Bank, one and a half million people live in such extreme poverty that they cannot meet their own nutritional requirements even if they spend everything they have on food.

While Assange and various members of the hacker community remain incarcerated, Assange is not Anonymous, and the attacks on Boston Children’s Hospital and the Wayside Youth Center show the battle is far from over for the feds.

The question is not only what impact will these hacktivists ultimately have on Justina Pelletier’s case when the data they mined is revealed, but what impact the hacker’s potential arrest would have on national security and the institution of justice?

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