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2012-03-07

LulzSec Cyber Activists Arrested with Help of Hacking Group’s Former Leader — Is Assange Next?

Guests

Gabriella Coleman, professor at McGill University. She is a leading authority on the anthropology of digital media, hackers and the law. Her forthcoming book is called Coding Freedom: The Aesthetics and the Ethics of Hacking.

Gregg Housh, former Anonymous activist who remains in touch with members.

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New arrests have been made in the crackdown on a loose, large network of politically inspired "hacktivists." On Tuesday, four men in Britain and Ireland were charged with computer crimes; a fifth man was arrested Monday in Chicago. They were part of a group called "LulzSec" affiliated with Anonymous, which has taken credit for a number of cyber-raids against corporations, political parties and governments. In a shocking revelation, the hacktivists may have been turned in by none other than the group’s own leader.

Lulzsec’s chief hacker was a 28-year-old now identified as Hector Xavier Monsegur, better known by his alias "Sabu." Apparently, Monsegur was caught last summer and — according to the FBI — has been working as an informant ever since. He allegedly directed fellow hackers from his public housing project in New York while turning around and feeding federal investigators enough incriminating evidence to build a case against his cyber-comrades.

According to The Guardian, Monsegur may have also provided an FBI-owned computer to facilitate the release of five million emails taken from the private intelligence firm Stratfor and which are now being published by WikiLeaks. This suggests the FBI has insight into the internal discussions between Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and the hacking group Anonymous. Although no motives have been confirmed, some believe this is part of a larger strategy to build a case against Julian Assange. An internal email from Stratfor recently revealed that the U.S. Department of Justice has already obtained a sealed indictment against Assange. We’re joined by Gregg Housh, a former Anonymous cyber-activist who remains in touch with members; and Gabriella Coleman, a leading authority on digital media, hackers and the law. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the government crackdown on a loose, large network of politically inspired "hacktivists." On Tuesday, four men in Britain and Ireland were charged with computer crimes; a fifth man was arrested Monday in Chicago. They were part of a group called "LulzSec," affiliated with Anonymous, which has taken credit for a number of cyber-raids against entities such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the intelligence consultancy Stratfor, and the Irish political party Fine Gael. The group has also waged cyber-attacks against Fox News, the PBS website, Sony Pictures, and the U.S. Senate. Additionally, LulzSec was involved in shutting credit card company websites after they refused to accept donations to WikiLeaks.

Well, in a shocking revelation, the hacktivists may have been turned in by none other than the group’s own leader, LulzSec’s chief hacker, 28-year-old now identified as Hector Xavier Monsegur, better known by his alias Sabu. Apparently, Monsegur was caught last summer and, according to the FBI, has been working as an informant ever since. He allegedly directed fellow hackers from his public housing project in New York while turning around and feeding the feds enough incriminating evidence to build a case against his cyber-comrades. Just last week, Interpol announced the arrests of 25 people suspected of being Anonymous members in Europe. Monsegur reacted to that news on Twitter by urging sympathizers to attack Interpol’s website.

According to The Guardian in Britain, Monsegur may have also provided an FBI-owned computer to facilitate the release of five million emails taken from the private intelligence firm Stratfor and which are now being published by WikiLeaks. This suggests the FBI has insight into the internal discussions between Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and the hacking group Anonymous. Although no motives have been confirmed, some believe this is part of a larger strategy to build a case against Julian Assange. An internal email from Stratfor recently revealed that the Justice Department has already obtained a sealed indictment against Assange.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. We’ll start with our guest in Boston, Massachusetts, Gregg Housh. He’s a former Anonymous activist who remains in touch with members.

Welcome, Greg. Talk about this latest revelation. Who is Sabu? What’s your relationship with him? And what does this all mean?

GREGG HOUSH: Well, Sabu was with Anonymous before he was with LulzSec. They sort of split off after the HBGary hack. And I guess you could call him sort of a de facto leader of Lulz Security. The real first thing that came out of yesterday on, you know, all the IRC chats and everything else was, "Well, the news is coming from Fox News, and supposedly the FBI. It’s probably not credible." But when a lot of other news sources started reporting it, everyone started believing. And then it kind of went into hectic repair mode. "Who knows him? Who talked to him?" All that fun stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised? Were you shocked? And what does this mean for your organizing?

GREGG HOUSH: I was surprised, definitely. I mean, the most surprising thing to me, though, was, you know, something that you just mentioned, the fact that the FBI basically allowed LulzSec/Anonymous to hack Stratfor and to dump all that data to WikiLeaks. They pretty much sacrificed Stratfor in the name of hunting down Julian Assange. And that’s the strangest thing of all of this to me so far.

AMY GOODMAN: And the relationship between LulzSec and Anonymous? Let me go to our second guest, to Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University. We just lost Gregg in Boston at the studio. Gabriella Coleman is a leading authority on the anthropology of digital media, hackers and the law. Her forthcoming book is called Coding Freedom: The Aesthetics and [the] Ethics of Hacking. Can you talk about these organizations, LulzSec as well as Anonymous, and their relationship?

GABRIELLA COLEMAN: Sure. So it’s very interesting, because Anonymous isn’t located in one place, nor is it just one group of people. There’s various networks and nodes, from Latin America to Europe. They often work internationally. What was interesting about LulzSec, which also then became AntiSec, is that they were a small, clandestine group of hackers who worked in a very targeted fashion, while many of the other operations within Anonymous are far more open and participatory. And because of the nature of the activity they were doing, they had to be closed. And this created some tension within the wider Anonymous network. So on the one hand, there was support for the type of work they did; on the other hand, there was critiques of the ways in which they handle themselves and some of the hacks that they engaged in.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of Sabu being the informant, Gabriella, the significance of this, following up on what Gregg said?

GABRIELLA COLEMAN: Well, on the one hand, it’s not completely surprising. There had been rumors of infiltration or informants. At some level, Anonymous is quite easy to infiltrate, because anyone can sort of join and participate. And so, there had been rumors of this sort of activity happening for quite a long time. It also demonstrates, I think, with the case of Sabu, who got caught, supposedly because he one time connected without using a kind of anonymizing software tool—and you have to sort of take many precautions in order to really fully anonymize yourself. There are many tools out there, but they don’t necessarily work 100 percent of the time.

AMY GOODMAN: Now let’s talk about how he got caught this summer. He gets caught, people don’t realize that he was arrested, and it’s then that he was turned?

GABRIELLA COLEMAN: Exactly. So he was arrested. He actually did vanish for a while off of Twitter and other networks, and then he returned. He had quite a bit of trust from a lot of people, and so, in some ways, his transition back was quite seamless.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, we only have a few seconds: no names of prosecutors taking credit for the—on the FBI press release, for the Anonymous/LulzSec arrests. That’s what you tweeted.

GABRIELLA COLEMAN: Right, no names. I got that from Christopher Soghoian. And probably one of the reasons for this is to protect them from Anonymous attacks, as well, who have definitely gone after individuals, police officers, and so on and so forth.

AMY GOODMAN: And what this means for WikiLeaks and for the push to arrest Julian Assange again in the release of Stratfor emails? It looks like there’s a sealed indictment, a secret indictment, against Assange that they discovered.

GABRIELLA COLEMAN: I think we will soon see whether the handover of information, emails from Anonymous to WikiLeaks will strengthen the case against Julian Assange, but that’s definitely a possibility, although we don’t have any firm information about it right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Gabriella Coleman, I want to thank you for being with us, professor at McGill University—

GABRIELLA COLEMAN: You’re welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: —speaking to us from Montreal.

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