In Alex Gibney’s film Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets there were scenes of a modest house in Reykjavjik where Julian Assange and some selfless Icelandic volunteers were working on making a video of Americans killing Reuters journalists and other civilians in Iraq.
It turns out one of the selfless volunteers was an Icelandic snitch, Sigdur Thordarson, who had got bored with being a hacktivist and wanted to move on to something else.
“Unlike many drawn to WikiLeaks, Thordarson does not seem to have been principally motivated by a passion for the cause of transparency or by the desire to expose government wrongdoing. Instead, he was on the hunt for excitement and got a thrill out of being close to people publishing secret government documents.”
Adolescent capacity for mischief to alleviate boredom can end up destroying whole infrastructures for kicks, while taking a few drugs.
Thordarson got into contact with another hacking organisation called LulzSec which among other achievements had brought down the CIA website and asked them to investigate the Icelandic government’s attitude towards Wikileaks. He then became an FBI informant himself, and as one of the main men in LulzSec had also been recruited by the FBI, the Feds could then verify his credentials and use him as a Wikileaks insider.
Wikileaks and the Anonymous style hacking groups seem to be like far left political groups in that they are always being infiltrated by forces of the state, there’s a blurred line between what you could call productive engagement and sheer vandalism in their activities and they are full of in-fighting.
There does however seem to be very little ideological glue holding the hacktivists together. It’s a kind of Against the Man, Fuck the Headmaster attitude. Quite a few of the hackers graduate to becoming security experts for large companies and governments. On their CVs they list under Achievements:-
- Broke into Bank of England website and covered it with insulting pictures of Mark Carney
- Released rogue algorithm onto Amazon database, so those ordering Harry Potter books received 50 Shades of Sado-masochism and vice-versa
- Hacked Richard Dawkins’s twitter account so he sent out tweets of the Thought for the Day kind, like “At the end of Ramadan, we feel a spiritual closeness to.. ” or “the time of Easter is a reminder of”
and those credentials get you a solid job as a gatekeeper for Big Company Inc or Big State Surveilliana.
In our new digital world the state can often find and even turn the hacking known knowns but there are a mass of known unknowns and unknown unknowns in cyberspace. For an upbeat look at how the rogue Digimeisters like Assange and Snowden are the challenging usurpers of the digital world, have a look at this brilliant essay by Bruce Sterling:-
If you’re NSA, as so many thousands are, you’ve known from the get-go that the planet’s wires and cables are a weapon of mass surveillance. Because that is their inherent purpose! You can’t get all conflicted, and start whining that Internet users are citizens of some place or other! That is not the point at all!
Citizens and rights have nothing to do with elite, covert technologies! The targets of surveillance are oblivious dorks, they’re not even newbies! Even US Senators are decorative objects for the NSA. An American Senator knows as much about PRISM and XKeyScore as a troll-doll on the dashboard knows about internal combustion.
Julian Assange. Yeah, him, the silver-haired devil, the Mycroft Holmes of the Ecuadorian Embassy. Bradley Manning’s not at all NSA material, he’s just a leaky clerk with a thumb-drive. But Julian’s quite a lot closer to the NSA — because he’s a career cypherpunk.
If you’re a typical NSA geek, and you stare in all due horror at Julian, it’s impossible not to recognize him as one of your own breed. He’s got the math fixation, the stilted speech, the thousand-yard-stare, and even the private idiolect that somehow allows NSA guys to make up their own vocabulary whenever addressing Congress (who don’t matter) and haranguing black-hat hacker security conventions (who obviously do).
Sterling makes the point that Assange and Wikileaks had more clout than all the human rights groups put together when it came to rescuing Edmund Snowden:-
the solemn signatories of the recent “International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.”
… Obviously, a planetary host of actively concerned and politically connected people. Among this buzzing horde of eager online activists from a swarm of nations, what did any of them actually do for Snowden? Nothing.
Before Snowden showed up from a red-eye flight from Hawaii, did they have the least idea what was actually going on with the hardware of their beloved Internet? Not a clue. They’ve been living in a pitiful dream world where their imaginary rule of law applies to an electronic frontier — a frontier being, by definition, a place that never had any laws.
He sums up:-
Digital, globalized societies — where capital and information moves, and where labor and human flesh doesn’t move — they behave like this. That is what we are witnessing and experiencing.
Sterling may overstate the uncontrollability of the net. But most of us with a job know these days if the network goes down, we stop producing. That the security of our bank accounts may be jeopardised. That computers trading derivatives on miniscule profits can go awry and destroy the economy. It’s a sense of vulnerability. We’ve most of us wandered into our shanty towns at the edge of Digital City, but we have no idea who the mayor is, who the Council is and who runs the police.