The feds are taking Operation Payback seriously: In response to the Anonymous attacks on Paypal, Mastercard, Amazon, and other corporations that severed ties to Wikileaks in the wake of Cablegate, the FBI has served more than 40 search warrants and subpoenas as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the attacks based in San Jose, Calif. We spoke to one target of the investigation, a 19-year-old woman who lives on the West Coast, anonymously about the FBI raid on her home, her participation in the movement, and the FBI's fundamental cluelessness about the nature of Anonymous.
The woman, who operated Internet Relay Chat (IRC) rooms where efforts to shut down Paypal and other sites were planned under the screen name "No," was raided late last month. Agents served a search warrant, questioned her, and seized two computers, her iPhone, and a router. Far from being a devious "hacker" who used her skills to undermine global corporations, "No" describes herself as a computer illiterate—"everything I know about computers I have learned since November"—who simply helped keep order and crack jokes in IRC channels. She says she never actually participated in DDOS attacks or cracking corporate security. And the FBI agents who raided her house at 6 a.m. displayed disconcerting naivete about what they were investigating: One agent asked her if she had a Guy Fawkes mask, the ad hoc symbol of anonymous that was adopted as a real-world totem by some protesters against Scientology but remains largely a digital badge. It would be weird if she actually had one.
The interview was conducted via e-mail and has been edited into a coherent Q-and-A.
Why did you get involved in Anonymous?
I saw something about them. Some web article. I said, "Wow, wtf are these people?" So I initially joined the IRC to watch them. It seemed like an interesting concept. A large group of angry people with supposedly no control structure tearing shit up online. I wanted to know if they really had no command structure. I wanted to know how it worked. Like a clock, sort of. Watch it. Take it apart. See how it ticks. And I liked what they were doing. I disagree with copyright. I disagree with how companies can shit on our rights and the government stands by and does nothing. I disagree with how a single mother can be sued for millions of dollars over 15 or 20 songs when those same songs are 99 cents on iTunes.
So what did you do? Did you participate in any DDOS attacks?
The phrase I used to use is "I don't lead Anonymous. I don't lead anyone. I just troll with authority." I never hosted a hivemind. I never wrote a piece of DDOS software. I never touched a server. I was a channel operator. Meaning, I had the ability to ban people from the channels I was operator on, kick them from those channels, change the [rules] of the channels. As far as the "did participate in DDOS, etc." question: That is, ironically, the same question the FBI asked me. "Do you have to DDOS or vandalize websites or hack to gain operator status in Anonymous?" My answer was: "No. That would be stupid. What if you are a horrible op and you abuse your privilege?" We give op to the people who we think will do a good job of maintaining the channels.
Why did the FBI target you?
My personal opinion is that, when I was "no," I got away with quite a bit of bullshit on the servers. I had op in quite a few channels. I was allowed to do things that the average user would have been banned for. I was friends with a few of the people that the FBI considers higher up in Anonymous. I helped in some of the setup channels. I think the FBI came to my house that morning thinking that I either was "high up" in Anonymous, or could and would hand them the people they are looking for. None of these things are true. I am just a user the IRCops [or people running IRC servers] find particularly amusing and so they let me get away with the ridiculous amount of running amok that I have a tendency to take part in.
Can you describe the raid?
It was six in the morning. I had just woken up to get ready for work. Obnoxious people in vests banged on my door and pointed guns at me when I was in my fucking pajamas. Later they told my family that I was "arrogant and belligerent." I disagree. I think they expected me to cry. I think they expected me to ask for forgiveness. I think they expected me to panic and give them everything I knew. I think that these are stupid expectations based on the fact that I am 19 and female. I think that they were disappointed with what I gave them.
What were they looking for?
The warrant said they were looking for anything that could store files connected to, or software for, hacking, infiltrating, DDOS attacks, etc. This could be anything from a phone, to a USB stick, to a microSD [Flash card], to a computer, to a backup disk. I think they are still looking for a leader of Anonymous. The sad thing is, there is no leader to give them. If they catch an IRCop, if they seize the servers, someone will just make new servers, build a new IRC network, new IRCops will step forward. No one person or select group of people select the targets. If enough people say "Lets DDOS Paypal," Paypal gets DDOS'd. Not by everyone. There is rarely an op where everyone takes part. Because, who is going to make them DDOS? There is no governing body. If they are looking for the responsible party in the Paypal raids, they should look at Paypal. I did not convince 7,000 people to attack Paypal. Paypal convinced 7,000 people to attack Paypal.
So what did they take from you?
The whole thing was sort of a botch. I had this flier hanging on my fridge. It's a picture of my little sister, and it says "The [insert little sister's name] Liberation Front." I made it as a joke about how strict my mother is. It looks quite like some of the fliers that have been made for Anonymous. They brought it into the living room where they were asking me questions and asked very seriously, "Is this an upcoming operation for Anonymous?" I laughed and almost said, "Yes."
The whole time they are asking me questions in my living room, I can hear the rest of the team in my kitchen looking over my laptop giggling and all excited like little kids. You expect the FBI to be professional. I mean, they have the vest, the gun, the little LED flashlight that leaves spots on your eyes. They all have the over exaggerated adjective "special" in front of their "agent". The whole 9 yards. And then you hear them gasping and cooing over my Mac because they are so excited they think they caught a cyber terrorist. (Who cyber terrorizes from a Mac?) I think, that to them, the raid was a game. The agent in charge of my particular warrant actually asked me if I owned a Guy Fawkes mask. I told him no and then asked him if he was disappointed that he wouldn't have a picture of "a real live Anon's mask" to hang in his office. He actually said yes. He gave me his card before he left. Later on, when he talked to my family, he told them that if I released his info to Anonymous, he would bring "the full force of the FBI" down upon me.
They found my German dictionary in my room and kept it with them when they were asking questions. Rather funny in my opinion. Very "Boondocks Saints". Like I might start insulting them in German and think they couldn't look it up later.
I think the American public sometimes has this general image of the FBI as professional and well informed and omniscient. Up until this point, I sort of held this same belief.
Do you fear you will be indicted?
There is a tiny little part of me that is like, "Oh shit. It's the FBI." But in honesty, there is nothing I can do if they choose to press charges. All I can do is try to not give them more evidence against me and not make it easy for them to reach a conviction.
Or do you just think it was just that they were digging through your stuff to look for bigger fish?
I think they thought they were catching a bigger fish, or that I would lead them to bigger fish. I am not a big fish. I am rather harmless. I have a propensity for teaching other Mac users how to use their Macs. Last I checked, this is not a crime. Although, I think that certain government agencies (including Steve Jobs, who I am convinced is a government agency) would like to make it illegal.
Have you also been called to testify before the grand jury?
No I have not. I was disappointed by this. I think I would have been a fun person to question. Maybe because they didn't want to pay for a German translator?
Why do you think the feds consider some folks "leaders"? Just that they're more active?
I think the Feds need there to be a leader. How do you cut the head off a snake that doesn't have a head? They are looking for the fastest most efficient way to kill Anonymous. If they ever kill Anonymous, it won't be fast and it wont be efficient. They would have to oppress many, many civil rights to do so. As far as taking out those who are more active—I can tell you that we had a boy in the Netherlands who used to help a lot with Anonymous. He got caught. He was 16. Before he got caught, Anonymous had maybe 15 Dutch on the whole IRC. After he got caught a special channel had to be made just for all the Dutch people that were coming in.
How'd they find you?
They found me through the IRC. I did not make myself a particularly hard person to track down, because I did not believe and still do not believe that I am worth prosecuting. I am harmless. The warrant said they were looking for anything that could be used to hack or infiltrate. I do not hack or infiltrate. Everything I know about computers I have learned since November. That is if you can consider a Macintosh a computer.
How has this affected you financially? Emotionally?
Well, I had a surplus when they hit. I have since moved out of my father's house. We disagree on my civil rights. He believes I should give them everything. I believe I should give them nothing. He believes I am not entitled to privacy and a doorknob. I believe he is a drunk who needs to learn how to clean the kitchen. Me and my father no longer speak and he refuses to call me by my name. He calls me either "terrorist" or "enemy of state." I find these amusing. I am even thinking of making t-shirts.