In many ways, the disgusting spectacle of Sabu’s hearing was similar to mine: we were both sentenced in the same courtroom under the same judge, the outcome already predetermined with all parties reading from well-rehearsed scripts. I was condemned to the maximum prison term for having committed “mass mayhem,” while Sabu received the most lenient of all Anonymous-related sentences for embracing “good, not evil”. Hugs and high-fives all around as Judge Preska saluted Sabu for having betrayed his comrades and his ideals, preventing hundreds of cyber attacks, and helping the FBI catch their “most wanted cybercrime target”.
The government hopes the case is closed and that the public will swallow this superficial narrative that even they probably had a hard time reciting in court with a straight face. But unanswered questions remain, and they have made every attempt to prevent the evidence from being seen by the public, because it provides yet another confirmation that the US is involved in widespread hacking and surveillance operations far greater than any of the supposed crimes they lock us up for.
Prosecutors assert that Sabu’s cooperation prevent “over 300 cyber attacks,” but not once during my involvement with Anonymous were any of my attacks stopped despite the FBI’s full knowledge. To be fair, while breaking into a few targets I noticed attempts to lock their systems down, but I had owned and backdoored each target so thoroughly that they were unable to protect themselves (demonstrating the futility of the defenses of so-called security professionals). Other targets the FBI never bothered to notify at all – they sat by and watched them being owned one after another. The US Attorney only explicitly charged me with hacking a dozen or so entities, but they were well aware according to chat logs and evidence recovered from my computer that there were hundreds more that have never been publicly named. I shed no tears for these law enforcement agencies and federally contracted corporations, but I wonder how they feel about the FBI’s inability or unwillingness to protect them.
The FBI was, however, very interested in our techniques and capabilities, particularly the Plesk 0day root vulnerability. When Sabu’s beggings for a copy of the exploit were denied, he scanned the internet and identified lists of vulnerable foreign government websites which he then asked me to hack. The government reframes this blatant espionage plot in their sentencing memorandum saying that Sabu helped protect other governments from cyber attacks. Because evidence was withheld (Sabu’s interviews and statements with the FBI) or under a protective order (chat logs), it is unknown what they ended up doing with these backdoors. What is clear is that the US cyber security agenda is less interested in preventing attacks on our own soil than they are using the skills of rogue hackers to spy on valuable intelligence targets.
By aggressively prosecuting hackers who play by their own rules, they want to deter others from taking up the cause and hope future arrests will yield more aspiring cooperators. We must continue to reject excuses and justifications that make it acceptable to sell out your friends and become a pawn of cyber-imperialism. Before getting involved in hacking and direct action, you should be aware of and fully prepared for the worst case scenario if caught. But fear not, because we have a strong movement of lawyers and supporters who will have your back if you get jammed up. Sabu avoided a prison sentence, but the consequences of his actions will haunt him for the rest of his life. Not even halfway through my time, I would still rather be where I’m at: while they can take away your freedom temporarily, your honor lasts forever.
Most importantly, the government hopes these arrests will have disrupted Anonymous and deterred others from engaging in politically-motivated hacking. But Anonymous is a decentralized, leaderless movement, and reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated. CEOs and cops are still getting dox’d, websites are still being defaced, and stolen databases are still being plastered all over the internet.