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The Patriotic Hacker and WikiLeaks

The Patriotic Hacker and WikiLeaks

By Binoy Kampmark

Every story requires a counter-story; every book, another. The final story will never be told on any subject. So, with the release of over 250 thousand US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, traffickers of information have adopted various stances on the subject.

WikiLeaks, itself a proclaimed snooper, cyber thief extraordinaire and recipient of classified and confidential material, is a feature of this new borderless world where a battle is being fought on the primacy of information. States value information like blood, as do corporations. These are protected by an assortment of instruments. But these entities have to face a fundamental reality. The world of information is borderless. States desperately seek to control borders and maintain regulations; corporations desperately seek to maintain information in closed channels. In itself, this is not problematic. Both might have legitimate reasons to maintain such confidentiality.

WikiLeaks has thrown down the gauntlet. The prospect for a global battle of activist hackers or ‘hacktivists’ has been ushered in, with Julian Assange’s outfit painted in some circles as an anti-patriotic death star seeking to liquidate all conceivable borders. Assange would have himself been aware before he embarked on this project of the risks of this activity, given his own record as a hactivist. ‘Real hacktivism,’ he reminded readers of CounterPunch (Nov. 25/26, 2006), ‘is at least as old as October 1989 when the US Department of Energy and NASA machines world wide were penetrated by the anti-nuclear WANK worm.’

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This became very clear when it was revealed that WikiLeaks had been the recipient of a denial of service attack, where the relevant server is bombarded with simultaneous communications, thereby halting it. A self titled ‘patriot hacker’ known as The Jester (designated th3j35t3r in the world of Twitter) was said to be the perpetrator of a Xerxes DoS Attack. The attack seems to have hackers swooning in ecstasy – the action does not require a collective of controlled computers using a botnet for one, and it need not require a particularly powerful computer.

This is not the usual hunting ground for The Jester, who prefers to hack pro-jihadist web sites to disrupt recruitment drives in the name of Islamic fundamentalism. He has his own rather self-aggrandizing comic book description: ‘Hacktivist for good. Obstructing the lines of communication for terrorists, sympathizers, fixers, facilitators, oppressive regimes and other general bad guys.’ On this occasion, his expansive patriotism had taken him to other pastures. The release of documents by WikiLeaks had endangered ‘the lives of our troops, “other assets” and foreign relations.’

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, claims Samuel Johnson, and how that refuge is inhabited is what makes the issue of the recent releases of confidential information and subsequent attacks important. WikiLeaks will have to, in time, be careful with what it does with its own power. There is little doubt that Assange, given his emerging celebrity status as a fugitive, will be holding back a few gems. In time, he might well join the game of secrets himself, offering them to the highest bidder. Purported transparency might vanish, and we will return to an equilibrium of secrets and counter-secrets. And there is little doubt that he has earned enemies not merely in the security establishment, but amongst freelance hactivists with a fantasy of patriotic chest thumping, waging a rearguard action from behind a screen. As J. R. Lowell cautions us, truth is forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

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