Courage our network

Sabu and the Daily Dot: A Response

Fuck Sabu.

I suppose I should expound upon that sentiment, but do I really need to? Recent events would suggest that, yes, I actually do.

For those who may not know why such ire was raised over a review of a television show that was no doubt published as nothing more than clickbait, you must first go back to the Jacob Riis housing projects on New York’s lower East Side in 2011. Hector “Sabu” Monsegur was a notoriously mediocre hacker who had been involved with a number of high-profile intrusions as a member of the Anonymous offshoot Lulzsec. He had also been involved with shadier endeavors, including credit card fraud and identity theft.

On June 7, 2011, his apartment was raided by the FBI and he was given a choice: go to jail and risk his two nieces being placed into foster care, or secretly turn state’s witness and become an informant for the FBI. He chose the latter. Now, for many, this choice may seem understandable. The United States foster care system is rife with abuse, and for two young girls who had already been through so much in their short lives, the decision to do whatever it took to keep them with family seems logical, even compassionate, and has been a point where Sabu garners some sympathy.

But the fact that no one ever seems to bring up is that Sabu chose to put himself in that situation. He knew what he was doing was illegal, and not even being very good at what he did, he knew there was a very good chance he would get arrested thereby putting his two vulnerable young nieces at risk of being lost to the system. He chose to engage in those activities anyway for purely selfish reasons without making plans for what would happen to the girls when the FBI came knocking. He should get no sympathy for making poor decisions, and then wriggling out of them by destroying the lives of others.

Which brings me to the Daily Dot.

When I first saw that the Dot had published yet another piece by Sabu – and on the eve of Jeremy’s arrest, no less (the first was a review of the movie “Blackhat” with reporter Kevin Collier) – I was floored. To say it was an insult would be an understatement. Not just to Jeremy or the other good people whose lives Sabu helped destroy, but to the entire community.

Unless you are part of an activist community, you cannot fathom the amount of work it takes to build a solid foundation of trust between members. It has been shown over and over that even activists who are engaged in legal, peaceful protest are routinely monitored, arrested, and called in front of grand juries for prosecutors’ wild fishing expeditions meant to entrap them and their comrades. One only needs to look to the recent situation at the Circumvention Tech Festival in Valencia, Spain to prove this point. And, with the Obama administration’s war on hackers, including the declaration of the “war on cyberterrorism” and the tougher revisions to the CFAA, the landscape for the infosec community is especially scary and treacherous.

So what does this have to do with Sabu? A lot.

What Sabu did was not just a betrayal to Jeremy and the other hackers arrested in the Lulzsec/Antisec raids. Sabu’s betrayal ripped a hole in the fabric of Anonymous itself, with ripples felt in every corner of the infosec community. Trust that had been painstakingly built over months, and even years, was shattered, and people who had once easily called each other “friend” now felt like strangers or even threats. Projects were abandoned, activism meant to make the world a better place came to a screeching halt, and everyone fought to find their place in this new world where your strongest ally could be the one to deliver you to the very institution you were trying to fight.

In some ways, we are still trying to find our way in this new, post-Sabu world. We are still trying to learn from our past so we don’t repeat our mistakes. And every interview Sabu gives, every article he writes tells the next kid who gets raided that it’s okay to snitch on the people you have come to call “brother,” that there will be no consequences, that your “punishment” will be taking selfies at parties while watching Lil’ Wayne play a live set. It glamourizes Sabu’s actions as a quick road to if not fame, than, at the very least, infamy.

Does this mean I never want to see Sabu’s name in print again? Well, personally, the answer to that would be yes. As someone who has put an incredible amount of time into supporting Jeremy, and as a personal friend of his, seeing Sabu’s name in print will always hurt. It will always be a reminder of the betrayal that not only Jeremy lives with, but that Jeremy’s entire community lives with.

But I also realize that journalists and journalistic outlets cannot and should not be held to the same standards as activist communities. While it is acceptable in certain situations for the press to take a stance on controversial issues, there are still codes of ethics that govern how this is to be done. If the Daily Dot truly is “open to publishing all voices” as their politics editor Andrew Couts claims, then why have they not reached out to Jeremy for an article? Or, for that matter, why have they never reached out to any member of Lulzsec or Antisec for their views on the latest hacker media craze? Self-serving attention seekers like Sabu who have nothing valuable to say get the media megaphone, but hacktivists and prisoners worldwide barely get a chance to whisper.

There are serious questions that need to be answered about the conduct of the FBI during the Lulzsec and Antisec investigations. These are questions only Sabu can answer. I will always support serious journalistic endeavors that attempt to uncover the truth, as I believe that having these answers will ultimately make our communities safer and more secure, which is something we can and should support. And I truly believe, as does Jeremy, that there are ethical ways in which we can at least attempt to obtain these answers that does not contribute to a culture where snitches are celebrated.

The Daily Dot, with this latest article, has shown that it has no interest in taking these ethical concerns seriously. They have become simply another outlet for Sabu to peddle his FBI-approved platform of manipulation and lies. Remember, at his best, Sabu wasn’t a hacker, but a social engineer. It was how he was able to manipulate people into pulling off hacks that he did not have the technical know-how to perform himself. It was how he could pull members back into the group when they said they had had enough and wanted out.

This gives serious concern as to whether the Daily Dot can be trusted to maintain their impartiality. Working with someone who is essentially still a federal mouthpiece to produce a poorly-written fluff piece that will contribute to nothing more than the Daily Dot’s ad revenue calls into question every piece they have ever published questioning the government. It shows they are willing to compromise, and care more about dollar signs than truth.

It frankly doesn’t matter that Sabu supposedly wasn’t paid, or that there is no ongoing contract for him to write for the Dot. The choice to have Sabu write for them was a foolhardy one, and one that has many people justifiably angry. Hopefully, the repercussions for their actions will reach far beyond just the walls of the Daily Dot. People like Sabu, and those who sympathize with them, must become untouchable. They must never find aid or comfort in any community, in any corner, in any space. We must create a culture where collaborating with snitches and glorifying them is not only unacceptable, but unconscionable.

If, as the Daily Dot claims in its own ethics policy, its loyalty lies with its readers, then it will listen to the outcry from those readers who are currently banding together in a massive show of solidarity against those who would seek to undermine and destroy our community. Sabu’s betrayal will not and should not be forgotten, and I challenge those in media to think long and hard about how they choose to engage with him in the future. As was previously stated, serious journalistic endeavors whose end goal will make the community safer will always be welcomed and supported. But we refuse to let Sabu control the narrative with the lie that he was “manipulated” when the facts of the case speak very clearly for themselves.

Fact: Sabu is a traitor. We do not forgive, and we do not forget.

Love & Rage,
Grace North