100 Years Worth of Federal Prison Charges for Alleged 'Hactivist'?
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“In some ways, I blame myself for [the current position of] Barrett,” Housh confesses.
The danger was greater still. As “namefags,” Housh and Brown began feeling the heat now from both sides. Some Anons resented the work they were doing. Housh claims that certain Anons even handed over fake chat logs to the FBI in an effort to “prove” that he in fact ran Anonymous.
The Arab Spring uprisings of early 2011 gave many of the idealists in Anonymous an opportunity to assert control of the brand and usher in a whole new understanding of their work. Already “namefags,” Housh and Brown continued their rise in prominence as “moralfags.” Brown was reportedly on the frontlines of Anonymous’s work in North Africa and the Middle East: taking control of and defacing the websites of oppressive governments, as well as authoring manuals on street fighting and first aid.
“During that initial stuff in Tunisia, the one thing we figured out sitting there talking to Tunisians on the ground was that a lot of the people in the streets didn’t know what they were doing,” says Housh.
“We had the ability to do some quick research and figure out what you’re supposed to be doing…[such as] wearing thin cotton garments that would tear easily when grabbed by police, or make for quick first-aid material…they would put [the information] together in PDF’s. Barrett was the driving force in making these.”
It was that new guiding ethos of ”doing good”—exemplified by Anonymous’s actions during the Arab Spring—that motivated Operation Payback. Anonymous saw financial companies that were willing to process payments to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), America’s oldest domestic terrorist organization, but not to a group ostensibly publishing government material for the public good.
In the minds of participating Anons, the decision by Joe Lieberman’s office to extra-judicially pressure those companies (and for them to comply) was fundamentally unconstitutional, insofar as donating money to organizations of one’s choice is considered free speech—an interpretation that still holds in American jurisprudence. Following Operation Payback, in January 2011 the FBI issued more than 40 search warrants in a probe of the attacks; these yielded no arrests.
But the drama was far from over. Anonymous’s stature was rising; it was increasingly seen as a group that, through its mastery of the Internet, could operate beyond the reach of government and Washington’s “cyber security” experts.
Stirring The Hornet’s Nest
It was at this point that the Financial Times published an article quoting Aaron Barr, CEO of a company called HBGary Federal and a “private security researcher,” in which he claimed to have identified three top members of Anonymous. When he announced plans to “out” them at an upcoming conference that month, it seemed that Anonymous had met its match.
However, Brown and Housh claimed that HBGary merely had pseudonyms, and that publicizing them would only result in people with similar names being wrongly targeted for FBI raids. Regardless, Anonymous sent out a press release (reportedly in conjunction with Brown) that acknowledged its “downfall.” The press release was clearly written with a sly grin befitting Guy Fawkes’s visage and a tongue firmly planted in the author’s cheek.
One day after the FT piece was published, the internal servers and websites of HBGary Federal and its parent company, HBGary, were hacked, defaced, and destroyed. Upwards of 75,000 e-mails were compromised and put up for public scrutiny. One terabyte of data (1,000 GB) from HBGary’s backup servers was wiped, as well as the contents of its CEO Aaron Barr’s iPad, while all of his personal information was put on the Internet. HBGary Federal’s website was replaced with a message from the hackers: “Now the Anonymous hand is bitch-slapping you in the face.” Later that month, Barr resigned .