Ayesha Kazmi

Anonymous: How techies became ‘terrorists’

In The Political on 20/04/2012 at 22:55

The original version of this article was published at www.cageprisoners.com

Our persistent concern with the threat of terrorism recently brought the public eye to Toulouse, France. On 19th March, a gunman opened fire on the premises of a school killing 4 – including 3 young children – the same gunman, it is believed, having previously killed 3 French Soldiers. Two days later, a standoff ensued between police and the suspected killer, 23-year-old mechanic Mohammed Merah, who the French police and media claimed was an “Islamic extremist” inspired by Al Qaeda having travelled both to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the days after, a standoff between French police and Merah ending with his death, Muslims worldwide braced themselves for a backlash. Twitter buzzed with Muslims tweeting their concerns expecting the worst after another terrorist attack perpetrated by a Muslim – such fears, undoubtedly, existing from a rise in anti-Muslim hate crime and government crackdowns on Muslim communities in the aftermath of attacks where the perpetrator is Muslim. While Sarkozy reminded French citizens to not behave in a discriminatory manner with France’s Muslims, the anticipated crackdown ensued.

Despite being less affected by contemporary terrorism than other European countries, the French government has begun wide scale anti-terrorism raids that have seen 19 suspected Islamic extremists arrested. Additionally, the French government has deported two alleged Muslim extremists as part of an expanding effort intending to “expel from our national territory a certain number of people who have no reason to be here”.

Swiftly, and in the wave of public bewilderment, Sarkozy has proposed a new law to deal with France’s existing terror threat. This law would seek to crackdown and imprison frequent visitors to internet “hate sites” – a proposal France’s Conseil National du Numérique (National Digital Council or CNNum) has expressed deep concerns over.

In a letter to Sarkozy, CNNum has insisted that they be consulted on the development of such a law. Furthermore, CNNum’s statement to Sarkozy conveyed unease over how the proposed legislation sought to track individuals online, likely sparking fears among internet privacy advocates. The letter, as translated by Reporters Without Borders, continues, “[The] use of these sites by certain professions (such as journalists and university academics) and their ability to look at them regularly could raise legitimate difficulties when it comes to enforcing this offence.”

Conflating journalists and academics as possible terrorists is not unheard of. In 2008, Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza were falsely arrested in Nottingham, England, after their university reported their possession of academic documents, which included the public version of ‘Al Qaeda Training Manual’. Sabir, as it turned out, had downloaded the manual from a US government site as part of his postgraduate research on terrorism, in which Yezza was assisting him. The ‘Nottingham Two’, as they are now referred to, were held in solitary confinement for 7 days before being released without charge.

Efforts to regulate the internet, however, such as Sarkozy’s proposed law on “hate sites”, are not novel. In the United States, efforts to secure the internet have been part of the security mantra since the beginning of the War on Terror – which also saw the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As the body safeguarding the US from any and all terror threats in foreign, domestic, and cyber territories, DHS’ National Cyber Security Division works “collaboratively with public, private and international entities to secure cyberspace and America’s cyber assets”, and is armed with a readiness team, or US-CERT, the operational wing of DHS National Cyber Security Division.

Within months after the creation of DHS, a document entitled ‘The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace’ was published and prefaced with a letter from then president George Bush in which he stated:

“[T]hreats in cyberspace have risen dramatically. The policy of the United States is to protect against the debilitating disruption of the operation of information systems for critical infrastructures and, thereby, help to protect the people, economy, and national security of the United States. We must act to reduce our vulnerabilities to these threats before they can be exploited to damage the cyber systems supporting our Nation’s critical infrastructures.”

As national infrastructures have come to rely heavily on the mechanisms of cyberspace, concerns over efficient cyber networks and the possibility of cyber-attacks are validly placed. The document continues, “Our economy and national security are fully dependent upon information technology and the information infrastructure.”

Over the years, the growing concern over cyber security has entrenched itself deeply into the US national security doctrine and in recent years has seen the creation of at least 50 bills attempting to combat the online threat.  Likewise, while the US prepares to intensify its War on Terror efforts on the domestic front, the DHS views its role within the context of an evolving mission. The Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group January 2012 publication comments about DHS’ next steps in the US homeland security mission:

“From the post-World War II, 20th-century evolution of the national security architecture in the United States, focused on countering overseas nation-states with conventional forces, we now face requirements to protect at home. And not only to protect, but to prevent: the new, domestic security architecture is targeted more at securing borders, infrastructure, and cyberspace with defensive measures as it is at pursuing any single adversary with offensive measures.”

In 2003, cyber threats sources were rather ambiguously framed and were understood as unidentifiable state or non-state actors. Today, while the representations of the cyber-security threat remain equally shadowy, ironically, the frameworks within which some of these cyber “terrorists” operate are slightly less ambiguous. Enter Anonymous.

Please read the remainder of this article here.

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