“Crossing Anonymous is like sticking your penis in a hornets’ nest.”
The Final Boss of the Internet is unpleased.
When Hector Xavier Monsegur reviewed the hacker movie Blackhat for the news site the Daily Dot (published under the byline of Kevin Collier, national security reporter), there were rumblings. Monsegur, better known as Sabu, had been the de facto leader of LulzSec and AntiSec; later he became better-known for selling out his crew members and becoming not merely a cooperative federal witness, but a proactive collaborator who willingly directed, then sold out his crew members. Former crewmate Jeremy Hammond, for instance, has done his best from behind the bars where he’ll be for the next ten years to explain that Monsegur and the FBI created, ordered, and facilitated crimes including those for which Hammond is serving time.
It is no exaggeration to say that Monsegur is the least popular human being in the world of Anonymous.
That was before the publication last Wednesday, March 4, of his latest work for the Daily Dot, this time under his own byline and titled “Contributor.” Finally tied to a commercial entity in an un-equivocal way, Monsegur and the Daily Dot had just given his enemies what’s known in the business as “a hard target.”
The first thing that happened, other than a lot of jaws dropping, was the resurrection of the years-old #FuckSabu hashtag. Topsy analytics record over 300 tweets since the 7th. Anonymous often doesn’t get up a head of steam until the weekend. Once those weekend Anons put their heads together, the result was predictable (in fact, I’d been predicting it since Wednesday).
#OpDestroyDailyDot was born.
We spoke to some of the activists behind the operation to discuss why, when “do not attack the media” is an Anon Prime Directive, they are in fact attacking the media. We learned that sometimes hatred and payback are stronger than first principles.
“This operation came together after period of unheard outcry throughout Anonymous that has been slowly boiling over after it was revealed Sabu had been given a platform on the DailyDot. With the assistance of @Anonycast and @YourAnonCentral the skeleton for what seems to be a snowballing operation has been built. This operation will be driven by what those who wish to partake in choose to drive it with, either twitter, facebook, or even offline if anyone finds it to be an action they wish to participate in,” a spokesperson for the operation told us.
As for what the operation actually consists of, there are several vectors of attack. “We are asking the community to mass unfollow and boycott @DailyDot. If they continue to support DailyDot [we] will unfollow them as well in protest. This is a direct action against DailyDot’s main resource, you the reader. Some may see this as censorship but it is not; it is us taking away Sabu’s megaphone and ridding our community of people who wish to amplify our enemies.” As well, the traditional Pastebin press release (based largely on our interview) lists some prefabricated tweets for supporters’ use, and there is also an email campaign under way, focused on the Daily Dot’s advertisers.
A boycott allows someone to speak, but simply removes the ears into which it would speak, and a boycott is exactly what #OpDDD is all about. “We aren’t attacking the Media, we are shunning it. Big difference,” one of the organizers told us. Not everyone agrees.
The operation so far does not include DDoSing the Daily Dot website: that would be unequivocally censoring the media, and directly in conflict with the Anon alliance with a free press. A free press should, presumably, be able to say things Anonymous does not like. That doesn’t mean Anonymous is not going to make its displeasure felt, however.
The FreeJeremyHammond support network has issued a statement, and it is just as pointed and bitter as you can imagine. The statement takes pains to debunk Monsegur’s “I did it for the kids” justification; he has always maintained that he cooperated so that he could stay and look after his young nieces, rather than being arrested and having them go to foster care. He collaborated. The children were taken away from him anyway.
“What Sabu did was not just a betrayal to Jeremy and the other hackers arrested in the Lulzsec/Antisec raids. Sabu’s betrayal ripped a hole in the fabric of Anonymous itself, with ripples felt in every corner of the infosec community.” That’s a fairly representative sentence from that statement.
Justin King, writing for the Fifth Column, has also taken pains to explain that Monsegur was cooperating with the FBI prior to being faced with criminal charges, and acted as their agent for roughly three years. “The snitch wrote an article reviewing a TV show about (get this): hackers working with cops. In it, this Junior G-man clumsily inserted a paragraph aimed at creating some doubt as to whether or not he really is the guy that rolled over like a trained dog when federal agents showed up.” But tell us how you really feel.
We also spoke to the Daily Dot’s former Anonymous reporter, Dell Cameron, now on the political desk, to get his perspective. Cameron was until a year ago a contributor to the @YourAnonNews twitter account, possibly the premier activist account on Twitter and certainly the primary Anonymous one.
Full disclosure time: I used to work at the Daily Dot, and left almost exactly a year ago. I’ve also reached out to Managing Editor Austin Powell for comment, but he hasn’t gotten back to me by press time except to say he’s tied up. EDITED TO ADD: The Daily Dot has published a statement (bylined Austin Powell) on the kerfuffle.
And this is all about Anonymous’ history with the Daily Dot, it turns out.
“Anonymous does not attack media nor does it censor it; however there are various ways to hold those who build their media empires and careers on the backs of movements, actions, and individuals accountable. #OpDDD / Operation Destroy Daily Dot is a boycott action. Given that Daily Dot was given its credibility, celebrity, and wealth on the back of Anonymous and our operations, we seek to destroy it in the same manner it rose.” The Daily Dot was one of the few publications which has always regularly reported on Anonymous (I was part of that reporting team) and the YourAnonNews account regularly tweeted DailyDot stories while Cameron was a part of the team, sending them out to a six-figure following. But things have changed and the Hive is not feeling the love for journalists who are associated with Monsegur in any way. “The cancer that plagues us consists of individuals within Anon and their social circles who attempt to make a profit or build their careers on the work of others, and attempt to micromanage those doing the work and our resources while not contributing anything of value to our operations aside from pretentious declarations and unwarranted media statements to journalists they are friends with. For too long some have felt they could support those who seek to destroy us while also expecting support from us and calling themselves part of our community.” This statement is aimed not only at Cameron but at Vice journalist Dan Stuckey, who took Sabu as his date to the Vice anniversary party. Stuckey and Cameron work together with RT journalist Andrew Blake on The Sabu Files, a website featuring Sabu and Hammond-related news, leaks, and original material. Stuckey and Cameron are widely rumoured to be working on a screenplay, although both have denied there is any deal in place.
So, yes, it’s personal. It’s way personal.
“While our comrades went to prison, those who profited off Anonymous turned their backs. The Guardian has given their notable source Chelsea Manning a column in their paper. Instead of offering a platform to Jeremy Hammond, one of the most notable comrades of both Anonymous and RedHack, or another source who needed and deserved a voice, the Daily Dot gave a platform to ‘Sabu the Snitch’ the man who sent Jeremy Hammond to federal prison. In our eyes this is a betrayal and unforgivable offense against Anonymous and our comrades who are currently kidnapped by not only the US government but globally. Giving Sabu a platform to speak from which was built on the work of those he sent to prison is treachery that must be punished not only by Anonymous but the communities which our legion has assisted during the past decade.”
Cameron challenges that, putting the blowup down to internal strife within Anonymous. After the review came out, “a debate quickly evolved over whether a news company should, by default, censor the opinions of anyone who has cooperated with law enforcement. One of my editors reached out on Twitter to ask if someone was interested in writing an oped on the topic, and I believe a long-time IRL friend of Hammond said they were. Over the weekend, another account, which claims affiliation with Anonymous, wasn’t pleased about this. It began promoting instead a campaign of censorship, and then produced several memes attacking my research into Hammond’s case.”
There is, of course, a difference between censoring someone and simply not hiring them. Let’s not mince words: the Sabu Reviews are stunt casting, an attempt to get hate clicks, and likely a fairly successful one as far as that goes. While the Daily Dot no longer posts the number of social shares a story gets, there are currently 23 people reading that article as I write this.
Cameron further hints that some of those attacking the Daily Dot do so out of self-interest, in an attempt to suppress what his reporting may say about them. “It’s no surprise there are people upset by what we’ve uncovered. Personal attacks have been the norm since the first story was published. It’s also no secret that I’m working on new articles about Hammond’s case. I’m curious, for instance, about the role of other informants allegedly affiliated with Anonymous, which are discussed in sealed court records we’ve published. In light of that, I’m not shocked by the sudden and concerted efforts of a few to discourage people from reading any future articles.”
He’s up against some long odds and big numbers, numbers he knows as well as anyone. The spokesperson for OpDDD told us they are asking for cooperation not just within Anonymous, but within the general public as well. “We request all those who support Anonymous or have benefited from our actions in the past to get behind this. We ask them to email, call, snail mail and boycott the advertisers, and to shun those who continue to promote and support the Daily Dot. We must no longer turn a blind eye to those who support individuals and organizations who seek to destroy us while also expecting support from us and calling themselves part of our community.”
The email campaign, directed at the Daily Dot’s advertisers, puts those companies on notice that they, too, are included in the boycott. While the Daily Dot is a startup with investment funding, it and virtually all online news outlets rely on advertising revenue to pay the bills.
Anonymous has big goals for this project: nothing less than the closing of the Daily Dot.
“Complete success in a ideal world would be DailyDot shutting down or it’s CEOs publicly apologizing to Anonymous and the people Sabu betrayed and subsequently had arrested. However another aim of this operation is to shun away the opportunistic filth that is infilitrated within our own social circles, including many loud voices in the community that don’t seem to do much but feed off the work of others for their own benefit. This is the beginning of a long campaign to practice community shunning of harmful, unethical, and opportunistic individuals from Anonymous and our surrounding social circles.”
See, I told you it was personal. But then, all politics is.