As the North Korea Versus Sony Versus The Interview story continues into the Christmas week, there’s one particular online clique that’s been conspicuously silent on this issue: Glenn Greenwald and his legion of superfans. If you’re just joining us, you might be asking yourself (or me), “What the hell does Greenwald have to do with any of this?” Well, directly, nothing. However, Greenwald has been arguably the loudest online voice in defense of hackers, and considering how hackers are at the center of this fracas, it seems odd that he hasn’t weighed in. (There’s only been one article in The Intercept on the Sony leak, written by Micah Lee, in which the author defended the right of reporters to publish the leaked information.)
Throughout Greenwald’s reporting on the Edward Snowden story, Greenwald has repeatedly legitimized, downplayed and defended hackers against top secret government operations to disrupt their illegitimate activities, going so far as to refer to them as “activists” and “hacktivists.”
–Back in April, Greenwald partied with iPad hacker “Weev,” who became a neo-Nazi while in prison.
–Greenwald has also defended one-time Anonymous associate Barrett Brown on numerous occasions. Brown has been accused, among other things, of engaging in the malicious hacking of the Little Green Footballs website.
–Several months ago, Greenwald described hackers who engage in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks as “young online activists,” which is not unlike calling burglars “disgruntled house guests.”
They include invasive methods for online surveillance, as well as some of the very techniques that the U.S. and U.K. have harshly prosecuted young online activists for employing, including “distributed denial of service” attacks and “call bombing.”
–In a previous article back in February about the JTRIG unit of the GCHQ, the British counterpart to the National Security Agency, Greenwald seemed outraged that the agency would “wage war” on hackers, using the portmanteau “hacktivists” in the lede to describe these serial criminals.
A secret British spy unit created to mount cyber attacks on Britain’s enemies has waged war on the hacktivists of Anonymous and LulzSec, according to documents taken from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden and obtained by NBC News.
A few days ago, the “hacktivists” at Anonymous who Greenwald thinks should be left alone by the U.S. and U.K., threatened to release still-images of a sex tape allegedly made by rapper Iggy Azalea because she criticized the protests in the wake of the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner police brutality case. While Azalea is absolutely wrong on this (and, honestly, who cares what Iggy Azalea thinks?), there’s something especially unforgivable about threatening to release images from her supposed sex tape. The fact that they might have the sex tape in the first place is super creepy. But you know, they’re activists, so they deserve civil liberties protections from the government like the rest of us because they’re expressing their political beliefs.
Speaking of which, in the February article, Greenwald went on to quote Gabriella Coleman, an author and professor at McGill University, who said, “Targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs.” Well, no, they’re being targeted for illegal activities, and whatever political beliefs they claim to possess are irrelevant as soon as they plot to break into a server, steal files or shut down a website. I mean, hell, Dick Cheney was expressing his political beliefs when he authorized the CIA to use torture. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions. Coleman went on to refer to hacking as “digital civil disobedience.” Uh-huh. I wonder how Coleman and Greenwald would describe the hacking of Sony, or the apparent Anonymous hacking of Azalea.
It remains a matter of debate whether the actions of Edward Snowden were justified or punishable. But the skewing of Snowden’s story into the utterly bizarre territory of defending and legitimizing hackers who very clearly are in the process of breaking the law — from digital burglary, to digital extortion, to digital vandalism — and who very clearly pose a significant threat to individual internet users, businesses and, yes, the country itself, is ludicrous. But for some time now, this appears to be one of Greenwald’s goals — to help to empower hackers in order to disrupt the system and democratize information, even though there are numerous on-the-level methods of accomplishing both.
What’s been made perfectly clear in recent weeks is that the government isn’t doing enough to thwart hacker activities, regardless of whether they’re state sponsored. The damage to Sony is just a small taste of what’s in store. This year alone, hundreds of millions of us were impacted by the late-2013 hacking of Target and, before it, Walgreens, Nordstrom, Michael’s and Neiman Marcus. The truth is, while attacks by Greenwald’s so-called “young online activists” might not inflict the casualties of a terror attack, and while terrorism is statistically rare in western nations, hacker destruction on a different scale could easily dwarf any bombings or hijackings in terms of personal and financial damage. And the more the public is (inexplicably) persuaded to sympathize with “digital civil disobedience” and to oppose government efforts to interdict, then literally no one is safe.