Anonymous' new motto?
Oh my, what an eventful few days. Last night saw the WikiWar heat up further, as Anonymous' offensive went into full-bore burn-and-pillage mode, taking down PayPal, Mastercard, Visa and a few other sites (Swedish prosecutors and a Swiss bank) just for good measure.
This is essentially the "unleash the hordes" tactic, though, of course, there's no organized leadership on the Wikileaks' "side." Anonymous is not Wikileaks, but an independent network that's decided to act in vengeance for the Govs' attacks.
If this is war, then Anonymous' current path is the equivalent of setting loose raiders in the enemy territory to loot and raze whatever they come across: indiscriminate and far more likely to alienate than accomplish anything meaningful.
But then the very dispersion that makes Anonymous and similar allied networks so hard to crush also makes it hard to do much more than shout "charge!" on any large scale. While more precise tactics like targeting the same companies' offices or internal networks might have both caused more actual damage and wrought less collateral impact, it's not like there's some central command structure to enforce that.
A lot of small businesses, nonprofits and freelancers (myself included) use PayPal, and there was a distinct moment of panic last night when their website (the PayPal.com part, at least) went down. If it had stayed that way, whatever grander point Anonymous was trying to make would have been completely lost in people unable to pay their bills right before the holiday. As it is, the move hasn't exactly generated much sympathy.
However, once unleashed, this sort of thing can't exactly be controlled; even Anonymous' own organizers were promptly ousted when they called for a change in tactics. They are learning, like people in conflict throughout history, that the lust to smash a target has a force of its own.
That Babbage piece compares Anonymous' set-up to Athenian democracy. A better comparison is the aforementioned hordes: a chief doesn't promise enough plunder, out they go.
The hackers aren't exactly remaining completely anonymous either, Dutch police just arrested a 16-year-old for involvement in the Visa/Mastercard attacks and I'd wager he's not the last, as the Govs pick off scattered raiders here and there. That side hasn't been any model of sanity either, with crazy-ass calls to dust off the World War I-era (remember what I compared this to?) Espionage Act or comparing hacktivists to child molesters.
The war mentality's setting in, and I can't imagine anything constructive emerging from that.
Meanwhile, Assange is in prison, albeit with limited Internet access, his bail denied. Wikileaks itself has remained neutral on the attacks while setting up alternative ways to donate money, and if you're looking for a way to directly help them, consider doing so. There's chaos in the organization, which doesn't seem as leaderless as it appeared. Nonetheless, Wikileaks seems to have withstood the initial onslaught, and its rapidly increasing number of mirror sites make it even more resilient to future damage.
At the start, I referred to this as a war. That term carries dangers with it. While there are important stakes here — civil liberties chief among them — its worth noting that no one's dead here. In a world where billions struggle to get water and food, while facing conflict of the "you're going to die" kind, that point cannot be lost.
I use the term "war" because that is increasingly how those directly involved view it, because it encompasses a framework of human conflict that serves to help us better understand what lengths they will go to and to what delusions they may be subject. Right now, it's the best word we have, because what we're witnessing, as Jardine points out in the piece above, is something unprecedented.
So the stalemate continues, with ever more caught in the crossfire. I have a sinking feeling that the Govs can make an arrest for every site Anonymous crashes, 'til the sun goes black, and the whole mess will be not one step closer to resolution.