Glenn Greenwald posted a mercifully short article today at The Intercept which details some methods the British counterpart to the NSA, the GCHQ, employs as a means of disrupting various targets, including extremists and malicious hackers. Greenwald describes a menu of tricks assembled by the GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) including the rigging of online polls, DDoS attacks and so on.
The Wikipedia-style document from the Edward Snowden cache includes the following techniques, each with a codename that sounds like a bad superhero:
• “Disruption of video-based websites hosting extremist content through concerted target discovery and content removal.” (SILVERLORD)
• “Find private photographs of targets on Facebook” (SPRING BISHOP)
• “A tool that will permanently disable a target’s account on their computer” (ANGRY PIRATE)
• “Amplification of a given message, normally video, on popular multimedia websites (Youtube)” (GESTATOR)
• “A suite of tools for monitoring target use of the UK auction site eBay (www.ebay.co.uk)” (ELATE)
• “Ability to spoof any email address and send email under that identity” (CHANGELING)
• “For connecting two target phone together in a call” (IMPERIAL BARGE)
Reading through the document, it’s obvious that GCHQ is targeting malicious hackers and other bad actors — or, at the very least, there’s no evidence that GCHQ is antagonizing regular internet users outside of the internet underworld.
This brings us to the phrase that exposes Greenwald’s angle in publishing this document. He refers to malicious hackers who employ distributed denial of service (DDos) attacks as “young online activists.”
Referring to malicious hackers as “young online activists” is sort of like referring to the Bundy Ranch militia as “happy young Christians.” In what twisted, upside-down universe are hackers, who routinely invade the privacy of internet emails accounts, disrupt websites and cost internet users thousands of dollars to repair the damage, considered “activists?” Greenwald’s universe, obviously.
Back in October, 2012, a group of “young online activists” broke into two of my private, personal email accounts, then exploited the accounts as a skeleton key to break into my web servers and YouTube accounts. They replaced the front page of my blog with a graphic of Charles Manson (see image above) while replacing numerous blog posts with their hacker gibberish, signed with the hashtag “Team Romney.” If someone — anyone — at the time had tried to explain to me that this was merely constitutionally protected free speech, I would likely still be hurling a blue-streak of obscenities in their face today, a year-and-a-half later. These were malicious vandals, thieves and e-burglars who might as well have broken into my house. The sense of insecurity and vulnerability lingers today, and, suffice to say, given what they were able to access, the damage could’ve been considerably worse.
Greenwald, meanwhile, refers to the GCHQ’s counteroffensive as “startling methods of propaganda,” “dark internet arts,” “pre-adolescent,” “invasive,” “wreaking online havoc” and “internet deception.” But the hackers who fired the first shots are “young online activists.” It’s difficult to fully enumerate all the ways in which this euphemism is an utter bastardization of the word “activist.”
At the end of the day, it could very well be that the GCHQ and perhaps NSA are engaged in extreme overkill when it comes to these tactics. That said, the internet is largely a digital Mad Max movie with a cast of thousands of shoulder-padded, leather-clad, post-apocalyptic marauders tenaciously seeking to steal credit card numbers, identities and websites, while deleting emails and entire contents of computers with the click of a mouse.
What’s missing from Greenwald’s articles, especially this one, is the other side of the battle — the endless menu of tactics employed by the so-called “young online activists.” Clearly, the inclusion of such information would undermine Greenwald’s message, painting malicious hackers as victims rather than relentless aggressors.