The 24-hour Athenian democracy

I’M AWARE of your need to stay anonymous, but I have to be able to describe the scope of this movement. Can any of you tell me where you’re typing from?

I am talking to members of a group called “Anonymous”, using a web-based collaborative text-editing service. It is the first such interview for all of us, and their answers begin to collide on the page. One member comes from Norway; another shows surprise, then offers that she is from New Zealand. Another writes that group members come from Nepal and Eastern Russia. They all speak through pseudonyms, but I don’t even know which psuedonym comes from what country because shortly after I read these answers, someone who calls himself “Tux” erases them all and writes

We are Everywhere. We are everyone. We are Anonymous.

Members of Anonymous, whoever they are, have in the last week taken offline websites run by Postfinance, a Swiss bank that closed the account of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks; PayPal, an online payments processor that halted donations to WikiLeaks; and the Swedish prosecutor who has brought a case against Mr Assange. As I followed some “anons” over internet relay chat (IRC) on Tuesday, they voted among themselves not to attack the “UK metro police”. I’m not sure which website they were referring to. After I left the chat, they turned their attention to, the website of the American senator Joe Lieberman. According to Sean-Paul Correll, a threat researcher at Panda Security, that site was down, briefly, at 7:11 US Eastern time on Tuesday. Logs from the chat room the group was using indicate that for some time all of—the website of every American senator—was either down completely or slow in many parts of the world. What all of these sites have in common is that their owners have in some way impeded the work of WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange.

Anonymous is not WikiLeaks, and the more famous whistle-blower does not seem to be pulling the strings. Nor, in fact, does anyone. At any point, anybody can show up in one of several IRC conversations and make a case for a target. Whoever else is there registers a vote, or an argument. During the attack on Mr Lieberman’s site, anons argued that America’s .gov domains would be difficult to take offline, and therefore were not a worthwhile target. One anon pointed out that the Senator does not do business through his website. One wrote, simply, that the site was down in Germany, and that they were all going to jail.

But there is order, of a sort, within Anonymous. Anons, though they know each other only by their pseudonyms, develop trust over time through constant participation in the organising chats. The power of the group lies in a piece of software called a “low-orbit ion cannon”. Do not be put off by this scrap of jargon; an ion cannon is a fictional weapon used in fictional space epics. But the very real software allows someone to volunteer his own computer and network connection as part of a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, a coordinated mass of requests that can crash a web server. Traditionally, a DDoS comes from personal computers that have been illegally loaded with software and tethered to a single command server as part of a “botnet”. The low-orbit ion cannon is, essentially, a volunteer botnet that Anonymous uses to take down websites.

About ten people, called “OPs”, are able to launch an attack. If any OP abuses his power—if he fails to heed what anons call “the hive mind” in IRC conversations— the other OPs can lock him out of the chat. If any anon fails to be inspired by the target, she can remove her own computer from the volunteer botnet, reducing its effect. Anonymous is a 24-hour Athenian democracy, run by a quorum of whoever happens to be awake. It’s hard even to define Anonymous as a “group”, since not all members participate in all projects. The attempt to take down Mr Lieberman’s site, for example, is part of an effort called “operation payback”, a demonstration of support for Mr Assange. According to Mr Correll,

Anonymous does not have a typical hierarchical government, but each mission does have a self-appointed dedicated organising body. This organizing body begins the process of setting up the necessary infrastructure, recruiting new members, researching/identifying vulnerable targets, media outreach, and more. However, the organizing body is free to change (and has changed) as the mission evolves day to day. I have observed at least one takeover when the greater group was not happy about what the organisers were doing. Steve (from TheTechHerald) and I had asked the Pirate Party to issue a statement asking Operation Payback to stop their attacks and resort to legal measures of protest. Many organisers agreed, but the greater bulk of the Anonymous group did not. They became extremely angry at the organisers and temporarily took control of the entire campaign, even releasing their own statement to the media.

Anons do understand their limitations. The ones I talked to know that to take down a Swedish prosecutor’s website does not halt the prosecution in Sweden. They described their motivations, variously, as trying “to raise awareness”, “to show the prosecutor that we have the ability to act” and “damage and attention”. This is all that a denial-of-service attack can do: register protest. It is not cyberwar. It is a propaganda coup. And it’s limited to a limited set of websites: vulnerable, but important. Or, as an anon put it while discussing targets yesterday,

Paypal and visa are unbeatable, so do is Everydns, and interpol will rape all of us, Postfinance is the most able to suffer our rage, who the **** is lieverman?

He’s just a senator. Almost became vice-president, once. It was years ago.

Source: Washington Post

WikiLeaks: US targets EU over GM crops

US embassy cable recommends drawing up list of countries for ‘retaliation’ over opposition to genetic modification.

John Vidal, environment editor.

The US embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country which opposed genetically modified (GM) crops, newly released WikiLeaks cables show.

In response to moves by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety in late 2007, the ambassador, Craig Stapleton, a friend and business partner of former US president George Bush, asked Washington to penalise the EU and particularly countries which did not support the use of GM crops.

“Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits.

“The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices,” said Stapleton, who with Bush co-owned the St Louis-based Texas Rangers baseball team in the 1990s.

In other newly released cables, US diplomats around the world are found to have pushed GM crops as a strategic government and commercial imperative.

Because many Catholic bishops in developing countries have been vehemently opposed to the controversial crops, the US applied particular pressure to the pope’s advisers.

Cables from the US embassy in the Vatican show that the US believes the pope is broadly supportive of the crops after sustained lobbying of senior Holy See advisers, but regrets that he has not yet stated his support. The US state department special adviser on biotechnology as well as government biotech advisers based in Kenya lobbied Vatican insiders to persuade the pope to declare his backing. “… met with [US monsignor] Fr Michael Osborn of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, offering a chance to push the Vatican on biotech issues, and an opportunity for post to analyse the current state of play on biotech in the Vatican generally,” says one cable in 2008.

“Opportunities exist to press the issue with the Vatican, and in turn to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world,” says another.

But in a setback, the US embassy found that its closest ally on GM, Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the powerful Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the man who mostly represents the pope at the United Nations, had withdrawn his support for the US.

“A Martino deputy told us recently that the cardinal had co-operated with embassy Vatican on biotech over the past two years in part to compensate for his vocal disapproval of the Iraq war and its aftermath – to keep relations with the USG [US government] smooth. According to our source, Martino no longer feels the need to take this approach,” says the cable.

In addition, the cables show US diplomats working directly for GM companies such as Monsanto. “In response to recent urgent requests by [Spanish rural affairs ministry] state secretary Josep Puxeu and Monsanto, post requests renewed US government support of Spain’s science-based agricultural biotechnology position through high-level US government intervention.”

It also emerges that Spain and the US have worked closely together to persuade the EU not to strengthen biotechnology laws. In one cable, the embassy in Madrid writes: “If Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow.”

The cables show that not only did the Spanish government ask the US to keep pressure on Brussels but that the US knew in advance how Spain would vote, even before the Spanish biotech commission had reported.

Source: guardian