Anonymous is an online activist community that came to international attention in 2008 after orchestrating a series of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks on Scientology websites, and then again last year, for DDoS attacks on banks that had withdrawn banking facilities from Wikileaks – thus bringing down both the Mastercard and Visa websites on December 8. This year’s targets have included Tunisian government websites, which were crashed prior to the toppling of ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. A spokesperson for the organisation discussed Anonymous’s ideas and structure with Dean Kissick – via the internet, of course.
Illustration: Tim Holloway
Dean Kissick So how did you become involved with Anonymous?
Anonymous My background is that I was raised Catholic, and applied to seminary out of high school, but the bishop asked me to reapply after I got my bachelor’s degree. So I went to college and majored in philosophy, with every intention of proving the existence of god. I asked myself what non-physical phenomena I had access to, and I immediately thought of consciousness – I took “philosophy of mind” immediately after my intro class, and pursued conscious- ness for the duration of my college career. Meanwhile, I was actively involved in internet arguments and discussions. I began as a defender of the faith, but I am now an atheist.
Now, until I stumbled on the 4chan imageboard for Project Chanology [a protest against the Church of Scientology] in early 2008, I was oblivious to it. But I knew the Church of Scientology was bad. When I first saw the South Park episode that deconstructed the Mormon faith, my immediate thought was, “I wish they’d do this for Scientology!” And I was elated when they later obliged. I got up one morning in January 2008 and saw an online thread, “Tom Cruise goes crazy on screen” [his infamous appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show] or some such, and clicked it. It was 10 minutes long, and I needed to leave right away, and I knew the Church of Scientology would pull the plug on it, so I let the file load so I could watch it when I got home. And, as I expected, the Church of Scientology had the video pulled off YouTube. But what I didn’t expect was for Anonymous to declare war. Suddenly there was another thread, “Anonymous declares WAR on the Church of Scientology...”
DK So what does Anonymous stand for?
A It’s complicated, as without any formal commander or leader, there’s no formal platform. Every anon is responsible for his or her own actions, and every anon is free to do what he or she pleases. Nobody has any obligation to obey you, and you’ve no obligation to obey anybody else. It’s (almost) all online, and the result is that everyone must work towards a consensus through communication. Much of the organisation is done on IRC, Internet Relay Chat – basically, a chatroom. And when needed, those folks will set up a wiki, or a forum, or an imageboard, or whatever serves their purpose. There are more and more young people who grew up with the internet, and who are fluent in it. They understand the internet natively. Many of these kids are now in college, and they’re one day going to rule the world. So I believe Anonymous is, in this respect, a sign of culture to come. A 15- or 16-year-old kid would have no difficulty finding the instructions on how to download and install the LOIC [Low Orbit Ion Cannon, an application used for DDoS attacks], and would be able to point it at the target IP address and fire when the order comes. And these kids don’t know how to keep themselves safe. They’re not hackers, but the information is available to them, and they use it.
DK What happens when one of these kids is caught, like the 16-year-old arrested by Dutch police in December?
A Each anon is responsible for themselves – if they get nabbed, if they get thrown in prison, the general consensus is, “And nothing of value was lost.” Individuals are not essential to the system, just as individual neurons are not essential to the functioning of your brain. That said, if the FBI starts looking into some DDoS attack and ends up with the IP address of some 16-year-old kid, then sure, confiscate their computer. Look it over, see if they’re running a botnet [a collection of malicious software agents] – odds are they’re not – and if not then let them go. If you’re looking for the source of an attack and all you can come up with is some teenager who sent a few packets to the target IP address, you’ve failed in your job, you’ve not found the person responsible. And a sufficiently distributed DDoS attack – say, one where no botnets are used, but there’s a large number of individuals running the LOIC – won’t involve anyone that really fits the definition of “responsible.” No more so, anyway, than a stampede at a soccer stadium does.
DK Why were so many attacks organised in support of WikiLeaks?
A Wikileaks is an example of the online community stealing important information that it desperately needed. The theft was done by Private Bradley Manning, who is being tortured for it, and the broadcasting was done by Julian Assange and his team. Assange did nothing illegal, and he’s being painted as a terrorist and a traitor. Now, I’d been telling people to expect the govern- ments of the world to declare war on the internet, and I believe that when the US government made WikiLeaks out to be criminals, they did just that. This is what the battle over WikiLeaks represents to me. And I don’t care what your goal is, I don’t care how noble your aims, censorship is necessarily a tool of oppression.
DK So what comes next?
A There’s this huge internet culture whose whole means of communication revolution- ised the way they relate to each other, creating a massive meta-consciousness, and Anonymous is only a symptom of this, a fraction of what is possible. This meta-consciousness is incredibly bright. And it’s being ignored, it’s being ignored as the world falls apart. The people who control the narrative are dismissing this incredible culture as childish, or anarchistic, or cruel, or to be avoided, or shadowy, or illegal, or nihilists. According to Fox News, “hackers on steroids”. They all see us, and they all see us as a threat. This battle is happening, but it’s nonviolent – we are not blowing anything up. We are not injuring or harming people. §