There are so many dangerous and irresponsible aspects to Glenn Greenwald’s latest collaboration with NBC News, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Based on documents stolen by Edward Snowden, Greenwald reports that the British spy agency GCHQ has “waged war” on malicious hackers who engage in what are called “DDoS” (distributed denial-of-service) attacks against various unsuspecting targets, crippling the targeted servers and networks thus blocking access.
The method used by the GCHQ is a clever one. DDoS attacks. In other words, the GCHQ, via its Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) and an operation codenamed “Rolling Thunder” is shutting down hackers by turning their own weapons against them. Ultimately, the British government is doing what it’s supposed to do: stop criminal activity. There’s no other rational way to describe it.
But that didn’t stop Greenwald and NBC News from ennobling hackers by conflating their crime sprees with activism. In fact, in the lede of the story and throughout the article, the portmanteau “hacktivist” is used to describe hackers like Anonymous and LulzSec.
The article goes on to quote Gabriella Coleman, an author and professor at McGill University, who says, “Targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs.”
No. It doesn’t. Whatever political ends these groups might be seeking are negated by the fact that they’re doing something very dangerous and very illegal. Coleman goes on to refer to hacking as “digital civil disobedience.” This easily ranks high on the list of the most ridiculous claims to emerge in this ongoing Snowden saga, right up there with Snowden saying that NSA is “watching everything we do.”
Furthermore, this new revelation isn’t about NSA and GCHQ collecting metadata on average citizens or even conducting surveillance on foreign governments, this is about stopping criminals. And now Greenwald & Company has informed these criminals precisely how they’re being counter-attacked — in effect helping them to continue to hack.
The article even describes how JTRIG prosecuted one hacker “for stealing 8 million identities and information from 200,000 PayPal accounts between Jan. 1, 2010 and Aug. 30, 2011.” Somehow we’re supposed to condemn the government for storing the contents of our phone bills and attaining a court order to look at them, while simultaneously lionizing hackers who invade our privacy and steal our identities not to mention, in many cases, disrupting our livelihoods? That’s rich.
For many months now, we’ve discussed the idea that Greenwald, Snowden and their clique are attempting to blur the line between hackers, journalists and activists. And it’s clear that by exposing Rolling Thunder, Greenwald believes it’s just as illegal as GCHQ’s other activities. It’s unknown, however, whether people are buying Greenwald’s line-blurring, but clearly he and Snowden believe that hackers deserve First Amendment rights and that law enforcement is overreaching by obstructing their means of so-called “speech.” As this Snowden story continues to unfold, it remains to be seen if they’ll be successful, but with the multi-million dollar backing of Pierre Omidyar, they’ll have an awfully well-financed soap box from which to continue this obviously dangerous conflation of criminality, journalism and activism.
But just wait until hackers attack First Look Media. It’s inevitable. I wonder: if the would-be hackers claim to have political goals in mind, will Greenwald will give them a pass?