Before Barrett Brown, before the high-profile arrests, Anonymous was genuinely a sort of shadowy hacktivist collective. With OpFerguson, the group's protest against the brutal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, they've really pared back down to what they should do best: faceless disobedience.
Last night an anonymous Anonymous spokesperson replied to a Cryptosphere interview request via email. (Black Bag checked with the OpFerguson group and the exchange is authentic, they say.) There's several noteworthy things here, but high on that list is a renewed disinterest in grandstanding:
The Cryptosphere: Who came up with the idea for OpFerguson, and when?
OpFerguson: No comment. Who we are does not matter, we are all Anonymous.
How did you come together and communicate? IRC? How many people are on the core team?
IRC is not really used much any more for planning, although we have provided a channel for social purposes. Most Anons who are active have shifted to Jabber with OTR as a means of communication. Secure E-Mail with PGP and "burn notes" are used as well. The core team of Op Ferguson is about a half dozen Anons, with many hundreds and perhaps even thousands of Anons joining in from the global collective.
There are lots of rumours about who's on the team and who isn't.
No comment. We are not in the business of identifying Anons. We are Anonymous. Anonymous does not identify individual Anons, ever.
Nothing. No little sub-units with their own cute brands. Just a monolithic dark wall of anonymity.
A large part of the reason for this—apart from institutional shell shock over the hacktivist collective's previous arrests—is obviously just that the group is using Email Bombing and other extralegal tactics this time around against actual members of law enforcement:
Are the emails still actually down?
The E-Mail Bomb we launched last night filled all their inboxes with thousands of junk messages. These messages are considered "evidence" in a crime (E-Mail Bombing is illegal) so they must all be carefully collected and copied. In addition, real and possibly important E-Mail comes in during the Bomb and those must also be sifted out. The long and short of it is an E-Mail Bomb is a very effective and disruptive tactic that takes awhile to clean up after. That clean up is most likely why the City of Ferguson E-Mail remains offline.
"Black Faxing and E-Mail Bombing have been around for many years," OpFerguson's spokesperson told Black Bag via email. "E-Mail Bombs were deployed heavily in the Arab Spring and in Operation Orlando [...] Nothing particularly unique or new has been deployed so far."
In addition to the traditional DDoS attacks against the city of Ferguson's websites, OpFerguson has also doxed St. Louis county police chief Jon Belmar. Seemingly in anticipation of similar retaliation (and worse) against Michael Brown's actual shooter (from everyone, let's be honest, not just Anonymous), the police said just hours ago that they will be delaying any announcement of his identity indefinitely.
Put this in perspective: if we're doing all this to the chief of police, imagine what we have in store for the shooter. #Ferguson
— TheAnonMessage (@TheAnonMessage) August 12, 2014
Last night, reports of police using tear gas and indiscriminately firing rubber bullets at protesters came in from Julie Bosman of the New York Times. So, events are really going back to the future right now in Missouri, with what's shaping up to be sixties-style race riots compounded by a coordinated hacker assault.
The Ferguson police force is already asking in sad, coded ways for mercy, but they'd better brace themselves for a public outcry that's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
"This is going to be a long Op," OpFerguson's spokesperson wrote us, "so who knows what might happen."