Prosecution of Anonymous activists highlights war for Internet control
The US and allied governments exploit both law and cyber-attacks as a weapon to punish groups that challenge it
By Glenn Greenwald/ The Guardian/ November 23, 2012
From a video posted by the Anonymous hacking collective urging the US public to stop the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection act (Cispa) in the Senate Photograph: YouTube/TheAnonMessage
Whatever one thinks of WikiLeaks, it is an indisputable fact that the group has never been charged by any government with any crime, let alone convicted of one. Despite that crucial fact, WikiLeaks has been crippled by a staggering array of extra-judicial punishment imposed either directly by the US and allied governments or with their clear acquiescence.
In December 2010, after WikiLeaks began publishing US diplomatic cables, it was hit with cyber-attacks so massive that the group was ”forced to change its web address after the company providing its domain name cut off service”. After public demands and private pressure from US Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, Amazon then cut off all hosting services to WikiLeaks. Sophisticated cyber-attacks shortly thereafter forced the group entirely off all US website services when its California-based internet hosting provider, Everydns, terminated service, “saying it did so to prevent its other 500,000 customers of being affected by the intense cyber-attacks targeted at WikiLeaks”.
Meanwhile, Chairman Lieberman’s public pressure, by design, also led to the destruction of WikiLeaks’ ability to collect funds from supporters. Master Card and Visa both announced they would refuse to process payments to the group, as did America’s largest financial institution, Bank of America. Paypal not only did the same but froze all funds already in WikiLeaks’ accounts (almost two years later, a court in Iceland ruled that a Visa payment processor violated contract law by cutting of those services). On several occasions in both 2011 and 2012, WikiLeaks was prevented from remaining online by cyber-attacks.
Over the past two years, then, this group – convicted of no crime but engaged in pathbreaking journalism that produced more scoops than all other media outlets combined and received numerous journalism awards - has been effectively prevented from functioning, receiving funds, or even maintaining a presence on US internet servers. While it’s unproven what direct role the US government played in these actions, it is unquestionably clear that a top US Senator successfully pressured private corporations to cut off its finances, and more important, neither the US nor its allies have taken any steps to discover and apprehend the perpetrators of the cyber-attacks that repeatedly targeted WikiLeaks, nor did it even investigate those attacks.
The ominous implications of all this have never been fully appreciated. Recall that all the way back in 2008, the Pentagon prepared a secret report (ultimately leaked to WikiLeaks) that decreed WikiLeaks to be a “threat to the US Army” and an enemy of the US. That report plotted tactics that “would damage and potentially destroy” its ability to function. That is exactly what came to pass.
So this was a case where the US government – through affirmative steps and/or approving acquiescence to criminal, sophisticated cyber-attacks – all but destroyed the ability of an adversarial group, convicted of no crime, to function on the internet. Who would possibly consider that power anything other than extremely disturbing? What possible political value can the internet serve, or journalism generally, if the US government, outside the confines of law, is empowered – as it did here – to cripple the operating abilities of any group which meaningfully challenges its policies and exposes its wrongdoing?
But what makes all of this even more significant is the vastly disparate treatment of those who launched far less sophisticated and damaging attacks at those corporations which complied with US demands and cut off all funding and other services to WikiLeaks. Acting in the name of Anonymous, a handful of activists targeted those companies with simple “denial of service” attacks, ones that impeded the operations of those corporate websites for a few hours.
In stark contrast to the far more significant attacks aimed at WikiLeaks, these attacks, designed to protest the treatment of WikiLeaks, spawned a global manhunt by western nations and, ultimately, the arrest of dozens of mostly young alleged hackers, four of whom are now on trial in London:
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