The mainstream media has started to take Anonymous more seriously than it has in the past in the last two days. Part of this is born of the mainstream media’s continuous pursuit of an “Us vs. Them” narrative, and part of this comes from the human need to find someone to cheer for in this dark, bloody time.
Here is The Hill, a daily in Washington, DC: “Anonymous claims it has eliminated 5,500 ISIS Twitter accounts.” Here is Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC, who landed an interview with “the person behind the #OpParis Twitter account” (@opparisofficial, by the way): “Anonymous takes on IS.” Cellan-Jones’ interview was conducted by email, not on camera, and was not recorded.
Cellan-Jones revealed that he believes his contact is “an Italian man.” In my column yesterday, I noted that the first video response to the November 13 Paris attacks that Anonymous had published on YouTube came from “Anonymous Italy,” and that the person onscreen did not have his voice modified or synthesized and that he had an Italian accent.
One of the things that I and anyone writing about Anonymous is quickly learning about the loose collection of “hackers, crackers, Hacktivist, phishers, agents, spies, or just the guy from next door, […] from all races, countries, religions and ethnicities—united as one, divided by zero” (their declaration) is how fluid the organization is. The name is, after all, Anonymous, and there is no leader. There is also no “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval to identify one statement from another; just because someone has set up a Twitter account or a webpage with “Anonymous” in the name and the group’s logo and started publishing claims means little or nothing. For instance, someone took advantage of last week’s OpKKK plan and published the names of famous politicians as being members of the Ku Klux Klan “one day early.” This served to inoculate the public against the real publication, which was less of a headline-grabbing effort but was no less valuable a piece of work against the KKK and the real racists among us. Was the false publication simply the work of an Anonymous sympathizer? a wannabe? a copycat? or someone who wanted to protect the KKK or those politicians?
A source in Anonymous wrote something to me last night that clarified this for me. The source reported that some Anonymous operations in North America have been infiltrated, but two operations remain clean, “pure,” and they are France and Italy. Thus, as of right now, anything from the “Italian man” email-interviewed by the BBC, anything from @opparisofficial, is trustworthy.
Yesterday, it was reported that ISIS had released its own video threat against Anonymous and had even published a fairly basic set of rules for its members to follow to avoid infiltration (the rules included the reminder to change passwords frequently and not use one’s email address as a Twitter handle, so, yes, basic). The OpParis account claimed today that even after that threat, it had infiltrated an additional 5500 Twitter accounts:
— #OpParis (@opparisofficial) November 17, 2015
By my count, this brings to more than 8000 the number of accounts that have been brought to Twitter’s attention. A spot check of a Pastebin site with 900 Twitter accounts reveals that many of the accounts are indeed now suspended; those that have not yet been suspended or terminated are interesting: often, they have been used to Tweet only one time. These temporary accounts are the potentially dangerous ones, created in order to share but one piece of information.
An article today in the Mirror, a UK tabloid, reports that a source in a section of Anonymous called “GhostSec” made available to its correspondent five names, addresses, and phone numbers of Isis recruiters. The Mirror did not publish the names, but reported, “We have contacted some of the men who have been named, but they have not replied and we have been unable to verify if the allegations against them are true.”
Since October 31, ISIS has taken credit for or been blamed for several attacks against civilians: a bombing of a Russian airliner, suicide bombings in Beirut on November 12, the well-publicized simultaneous attacks in several locations in Paris. It uses every electronic tool available to communicate dreams and plans, to raise funds, to coordinate, to attract potential recruits. It uses the Telegram messaging service and even employs the live chat services associated with popular role-playing games.
Whatever Anonymous can do to make it more difficult for Islamic State members to plan and train and raise funds, I am all for it. Whatever Anonymous can do to trace those funds, I hope it does. (I am not a reporter; I am a columnist. I am against murder, either from the sky in the form of bombs or terrorism.)
Both sides, Daesh and Anonymous, are growing ever more capable and confident at sophisticated cyber-warfare and at the old-fashioned tools of publishing so much that the information flow is blocked, but only one of these sides is pro-death and pro-bloodshed. I alluded to an issue yesterday: isn’t it better that the ISIS or Daesh Twitter accounts remain in place so they can continue to be monitored? Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC asked the OpParis operative just that question: “Isn’t it better for the fight against IS if its members talk openly on Twitter where the security services can see them, rather than being driven underground?”
The reply is, I think, an important one: “The propaganda of ISIS is based on advertising their actions. They want to strike terror with their name, with bloody images, with violent videos. We can not fight them with guns and rifles, stopping their propaganda is an effective way to weaken their manpower and their presence in the Internet. Disrupting their communications makes it difficult to organise their attacks in a fluid manner.”
The latest threat from ISIS came 24 hours ago, and it specified a Paris-style attack in “the heart of Washington, DC.” Part of that plan may have been shared among those 5500 accounts. Those five recruiters that the Mirror reports it attempted to contact may know something.
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