Fri, 03 Feb 2012
Anonymous Codes: Disruption, Virality and the Lulz
Panel with Jacob Appelbaum (us), Gabriella Coleman (us), Dana Buchzik (de) and anonymous
Moderated by Tatiana Bazzichelli (it/de)
Chaired by Krystian Woznicki (de/pl)
Speech by Jacob Appelbaum:
Today I'm here to talk about the past, the present and the future. I apologize in advance for the American centric story I'm about to tell, it's an obscure but very important part of American history. It probably sounds familiar to those who lived in East Germany. However, I'm telling it because it relates to our present and how we will shape the future. I highly encourage everyone interested in this topic to read the book "Spying on America: The FBI's Domestic Counterintelligence Program" by James Kirkpatrick Davis; it along with a specific watch listed friend are the inspiration for what I am about to say.
From 1956 to 1971, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (a.k.a. the FBI) ran a series of counter intelligence programs collectively known as Counter Intelligence Program or COINTELPRO. Realistically, the Anarchists of the early 20th century such as Emma Goldman, faced similar measures but under totally different legal and usually, illegal authority. COINTELPRO was different. It was authorized by US President Truman and the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to fight the supposed threat of communism under the cover of total secrecy. So began McCarthyism - a great shame for my country that destroyed countless lives under the banner of patriotic nationalism.
The first COINTELPRO operation was Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and over the years COINTELPRO expanded, like all so-called law enforcement does, until it covered nearly every anti-Vietnam war protester group, the civil rights movement and even a few white power groups. The FBI's actions included blackmail, physical violence, they broke up marriages, recruited telephone switch board operators to wiretap phones, broke into houses to plant listening devices and much more. They even took actions that resulted in deaths of completely innocent people.
But for nearly the entire time that COINTELPRO was happening almost no one in America knew and those targeted were often dismissed as being crazy or worse. The word COINTELPRO was unknown outside of a circle of those tasked with carrying out these missions and those who had authorized them.
In March of 1971 a major non-violent direct action changed the United Sates forever. An illegal action uncovered massively illegal activities. A group by the name of The Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They liberated over one thousand classified documents that detailed the COINTELPRO activities. They were anonymously released to media outlets and those targeted by the FBI in a very strategic manner - they did this through the communications networks of the era - the postal service being the most popular message routing service at the time. At first, no news paper or media outlet would publish the documents. In March of 1972, WIN Magazine broke the story.
Probably the most incredible example of a well known activist targeted was in the 1960s. The FBI attempted to blackmail him into committing suicide just thirty four days before he was to receive his Nobel peace prize. Martin Luther King Jr. refused to give in to their demands; the FBI failed because he refused to be subjugated by fear and by their threats.
Slowly and with very specific long term strategic thinking, The Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI released their cache of documents. Victims learned that they were targeted as well as how they were targeted at no fault of their own. The Citizens' Commission's primary tactical advantage was two-fold - they were armed with the truth as written by the oppressor and they were anonymous. The FBI's power started with identification and without the identities of the The Citizens' Commission, they were powerless to stop the truth from coming to light. The asymmetry offered by anonymity was absolutely the linchpin of their success. Their anonymous publication forced not a show trial or further persecution but rather swift action by those that held the purse strings of the FBI. The FBI had to immediately cease COINTELPRO activities. The leaking of these documents led to the Church committee, which eventually lead to the creation of the America Freedom Of Information Act and even the creation of special FISA courts to oversee future law enforcement activities. Victims where possible were compensated and new laws were put in place to attempt to protect the people from their government.
The Citizens' Commission's tactics were beautiful - anonymous truth telling and holding the hypocrisy of the well documented racism of the so-called law enforcement accountable to the public. Their strategy led to massive changes in the way that so-called law enforcement activities were carried out in the United States.
To this day - no one has learned the identities of the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI. They have remained Anonymous.
There was no show trial as there may be with Julian Assange and as there is now with the alleged leaker Bradly Manning. Anonymity created a specific kind of asymmetric power - the power to speak out about in-jusitice without retribution. I wager there was plenty of fear and concern amongst the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI. Not because of the wrongness of their actions but because of the lengths that the FBI went to crush dissent. They had right to be fearful, they held the evidence that the FBI was willing to be involved with murders and pushing people to suicide.
There is a strong history of resistance and we must re-contextualize the past and the present to draw out a new understanding for the future. If we draw from the experience with the FBI's abuse and the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, we should see that there are important parallels - both in terms of law enforcement and in terms of direct action in response.
When a group takes an action to block access to a building - they do so because they're trying to disrupt flows of power and the control that emanates from that building. The Critical Art Ensemble discussed in their seminal work of the 1990s "Electronic Civil Disobedience" that the flows of power were now electronic. Blocking buildings wasn't enough. After the Battle for Seattle, we've come to realize that the flows of power are both electronic and analog at the same time.
When Anonymous hacks HB Gary and shows ties between corporations and the US Government - where they wish to smear Glenn Greenwald for his wonderful journalistic work, where they wish to watch-list and harass others, such as myself, we can see that Anonymous is performing a similar service to the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI. Because Anonymous doesn't show all of their cards, they create fear in those who abuse their powers. This de-stabilizes power structures that do not derive their power from the consent of the governed.
Anonymous isn't perfect but it serves as a banner that helps to create a point of unity among those who have had enough. Enough surveillance. Enough censorship. Enough lies. Enough war crimes. Enough cynicism. No movement is perfect but a lack of perfection does not invalidate the truth that Anonymous has uncovered or the positive actions that they have taken.
We have a new Pentagon Papers and we have a new Vietnam War protest movement. We have a new COINTELPRO program as demonstrated by the NSA Warrantless Wiretap program of the American People, by Section 215 of the US PATRIOT ACT, and by the brutality of the police against the #Occupy movement. I myself have had to deal with extensive harassment without so much as a single legal charge or arrest. Enough is enough!
Today's Citizens' Commission is Anonymous and other groups aligned in action. Today's FBI is the Military-Industrial complex and its cronies of privatization - it includes the FBI all over again. HB Gary was essentially performing COINTELPRO actions against WikiLeaks and Anonymous. We can see an important parallel with HB Gary - Anonymous hacked them. It was the equivalent of breaking into their building and taking their files for the greater good. When they published the files there was a huge outcry against HB Gary for their obviously illegal activities and their partnerships with government agencies. And so, when we see Analog Denial of Service attacks on buildings by those involved with a sit in, we should know they paved the way for the electronic sit ins against the flows of power - the flow of money controlled by PayPal. When Anonymous performed a denial of service attack on PayPal in protest of them for cutting off Wikileaks, as the PayPal14 are accused to have done, we know that this is in the rich tradition of non-violent resistance in the face of abusive power. There is no permanent damage done, no servers harmed, no LOIC cannon operators pepper sprayed in their eyes. Still there is a lasting impact and it raises the important debate about the finical blockade against WikiLeaks. Why do we allow that? Would we allow a bank to stop service of all Green or Conservatives party members?
We need the Daniel Ellsbergs, the Emma Goldmans, the Julian Assanges, the Rosa Luxemburgs, the Peter Sundes - people willing to publicly take a stand for the greater good. They are powerful and important largely because it is all of us that are behind them. Their courage is contagious and their action is in support and in solidarity with our actions. It is all of us together that stand with moral authority in the face of tyranny, not as a mob but in principled solidarity.
What we need now, more than ever, is another Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI.
It sounds like Germany needs a Citizens' Commission to Investigate the Verfassungsschutz. As I understand things, they are now believed to have been working with the extreme right wing Nazis murderer recently uncovered. Someone must take action against those that enabled the Nazis to murder people. There is a chain of command, a structured power involved. Those people have names and must be held to account. They have records and documents. This is evidence that must come to light. Just as people will soon confront the Nazis marching in Dresden in a few days time, we must confront and change the power structures that enable those same Nazis.
One of my favorite authors of the 20th century, Ulrike Meinhof, once wrote:
"Protest is when I say I don't like this and that. Resistance is when I see to it that things that I don't like no longer occur. Protest is when I say I will no longer go along with it. Resistance is when I see to it that no one else goes along with it anymore either."
Now is the time for non-violent resistance.
History repeats but the outcome is not guaranteed by hope alone, rather it is guaranteed, if anything is, by action. Direct non-violent action and bold truth telling - we must refuse to be silent and we must take a stand against the fascists by whatever name they call themselves, under whatever flag they fly.
So who is that someone who should take action? It is me. It is you. It is all of us. Who are we? We are all Anonymous.
posted at: 22:10 | path: | permanent link to this entry