Operation Payback may have suffered its first casualty today when a 16 year old was arrested by Dutch police. To avenge the ongoing persecution of Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, Operation Payback emerged, seemingly out of the ether, but with roots in a ghostly cyber presence known as ‘Anonymous’.
Payback seems less an operation than a reactive swarm that merges into a hive and through some ad hoc process a ‘hive mind’ forms and a collective action is taken. So far, the actions have been in the form of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks on ‘targets’, Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, VISA and others.
As far as I can tell there is no specific queen bee. The hive appears to be an ‘ad hoc-racy’ of anarchists and it is growing. Earlier a second site had to be setup to allow IRC (Internet Relay Chat) because the hive was more than 10,000 strong.
The rapid growth of Operation Payback, (when I first started watching three days ago the hive was numbered in hundreds), may be partially due to the reaction elsewhere in the world the US handling of Wikileaks. The NY Times reports that US hypocrisy is a big topic in Europe.
For Seumas Milne of The Guardian in London, which has shared the latest WikiLeaks trove with The New York Times, the official American reaction “is tipping over towards derangement.” Most of the leaks are of low-level diplomatic cables, he noted, while concluding: “Not much truck with freedom of information, then, in the land of the free.”
John Naughton, writing in the same British paper, decried the attack on the openness of the Internet and the pressure on companies like Amazon and eBay to evict the WikiLeaks site. “The response has been vicious, coordinated and potentially comprehensive,” he said, and presents a “delicious irony” that “it is now the so-called liberal democracies that are clamoring to shut WikiLeaks down.”
Or this shot from Vladimir Putin
“If it is full democracy, then why have they hidden Mr. Assange in prison? That’s what, democracy?” Mr. Putin asked.
“So, you know, as we say in the village, some people’s cows can moo, but yours should keep quiet. So I would like to shoot the puck back at our American colleagues,” he said.
Time, in a piece entitled ‘Why Wikileaks is Winning its Info War’, says of Assange’s detention in Britain, “…the principal effect of his arrest has been to rally the troops”.
Anonymous claims to be conducting a “peaceful campaign…a digital sit-in is our most effective method to show that all of us deserve Freedom of Speech and a free Internet”. This is not an accurate metaphor, in part, because a traditional sit-in, aside from the ‘digital’ side of it, is that Anonymous is, well, anonymous.
Nor is it peaceful. Rather than chaining themselves to the White House fence or going on a hunger strike they are aggressively engaged in corporate bloodletting, hoping their targets will hemorrhage money until they accede to the demands of the hive. All I can say is, awesome!
Today, Operation Payback received some gentle push back when John Perry Barlow, co-founder of EFF, tweeted “#Anonymous & #Payback, you are a stunning force in the world, but still, you are better used to open than to close.” [see Wikileaks official statement here]
Barlow is right, of course, but at least Operation Payback is actively doing something. Assange sits in jail and the world is salaciously pouring over the Cablegate revelations but what is anyone doing with the information? If Bradley Manning is the source, what are we doing to make his sacrifice worthwhile?
All the analysts, journalists, intelligence officers, diplomats, constitutional lawyers and everyone else disturbed by what has been revealed these last few months… when are we going to act? When are we going to force a prosecution, or fire regulators, or court martial generals? When are we going to act?
We will never know the full impact the Weathermen had on the Vietnam War, or the Black Panthers on civil rights but it might be agreed they played their part in bringing about positive changes. Hopefully, Anonymous will be able to direct its energies into more than mischief but into targeted campaigns that help the rest of use the Wikileaks data for social justice and peace.
Until then, until the rest of us figure out how we will act, we have ‘Operation Payback’