In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the hacker collective known as “Anonymous” vowed to destroy terrorist websites, a long-standing cyber-war campaign the hackers have dubbed “Operation ISIS,” “Operation Ice ISIS,” or now “Op Charlie Hebdo.”
A new video from Anonymous claims great success in this effort — to the tune of hacking some 800 Twitter accounts, 12 Facebook pages, and 50 email accounts associated with ISIS — and taunts the terror group with warnings of more online misery to come.
Like ISIS, Anonymous has a flair for the dramatic in its YouTube communiques, borrowing music and imagery from The Matrix and the anarchist Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta to declare itself the diverse online champions of democracy. They are also apparently big on the “ISIS isn’t truly Islamic” argument, while claiming that their own ranks include a number of more “authentic” Muslims.
As advertised in the video, its YouTube descriptive text includes a link to a list of the social media accounts Anonymous says it has attacked. CNN Money checked this list and found that some of the listed accounts are still up and running. Last month, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack, Anonymous claimed to have wiped out a French terrorist website called Ansar-Alhaqq.net.
While we might all enjoy the spectacle of ISIS getting thrashed online by vigilantes, we should pause to take some air of the hackers’ ideological pretensions. “Democracy,” which they claim to be champions of, has no place for either anarchists or vigilantes; democracy is not the antithesis of order. Democracy does not flourish in the hands of shadowy organizations who intimidate their political opponents by portraying themselves as a gang of inescapable, invisible enforcers lurking around every corner.
The new cycle of terrorist threats to the security of America and her allies began at the same time self-appointed information vigilantes such as WikiLeaks were assigning themselves the power to decide which individuals, governments, and corporate entities were allowed to keep what secrets. As much of this activity targeted Western interests, an intelligence deficit with totalitarians and terrorists was the result. The tactics Anonymous is turning against ISIS today have been used against less unsympathetic targets in the past, and will be put to such use again in the future.
It should also be kept in mind that hackers are often wrong about the supposedly sinister connections of their targets — casting due process and careful intelligence-gathering to the winds, they tend to hit some innocent targets while taking online potshots at their declared enemies. Also, while ISIS’ savvy use of social media has been helpful to their recruiting efforts, so the demise of their Twitter and Facebook accounts seems like good news, it is also possible that Western intelligence services have been monitoring some of those accounts. As a rule of thumb, spies prefer to let their adversaries keep talking.