On the weekend, a report appeared in the Financial Times (paywalled, but carelessly copied at Pastebin) on the internet group Anonymous, about which I’ve written a couple of pieces of late. According to the report, senior members of Anonymous face arrest because “they left clues to their real identities on Facebook and in other electronic communications.”

The source of the claim was former US Navy cryptographer Aaron Barr of computer security company HB Gary Federal. Barr claimed to the FT that he had “penetrated” Anonymous – a choice of language guaranteed to induce hysterics at 4chan – and that, in the words of the journalist, “key Anonymous figures” were “fretting”.

It was only near the end of the piece that Barr’s claims began to sound a bit odd. He claimed to have used “LinkedIn, Classmates.com, Facebook and other sites” to infiltrate the group and to have employed such techniques as “comparing the times that members logged on to Facebook and to Internet Relay Chat to make educated guesses as to which electronic identities belonged to the same person.”

Barr had put together a “dossier” on Anonymous, purportedly to provide to the FBI, although this is disputed both by people linked with parent company HB Gary who discussed the matter with Anonymous members online this afternoon and, apparently, by Barr himself. How do we know about the “dossier”? Well, the predictable happened. Barr – who evidently failed to heed the lesson learnt by the Gawker site in December when it sledged Anonymous and got hacked for its trouble – had his company website, email and Twitter account hacked by Anonymous, with a considerable volume of material posted online, including Barr’s dossier. It was the material posted online that had HB Gary’s executives concerned enough to contact Anonymous.

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Oh and by the way, methodological note for MSM journalists: for once you’re actually able to use the word “hacked”, which doesn’t mean participating in a DDOS attack.*

Barr’s “dossier” contains a long list of “People” alleged to be in Anonymous, based on what appears to be his monitoring of the IRC channels used publicly by Anonymous to coordinate its efforts in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries – initially bringing down government websites, but eventually in Egypt working to help people on the ground by coordinating information on useable alternatives when Mubarak shut the internet and mobile phones off, providing anonymisation tools and distributing key Wikileaks cables about Egypt via fax. The group is now undertaking similar work as other Middle Eastern regimes come under pressure.

Among the names is my own. Yup, apparently your trusty (or completely untrustworthy, depending on your taste) Crikey Canberra correspondent is supposedly a member of Anonymous. Doubtless my presence in the #op channels – I was undisguised, called myself, strangely, “Bernard Keane” and used “Crikey” as my nick – was the basis for this. I await that special knock on the door that tells you the AFP would like to borrow your computers for a while.

Presumably most of the other people on Barr’s list have similarly been dubbed members of Anonymous because of, say, something they did on Classmates.com.

It’s all very amusing, with this one tiny caveat. It’s apparent that Federal authorities in the US are entirely clueless about some basics about the operation of the internet and internet-based groups. The grand jury request for information in the current investigations of Anonymous is downright bizarre, including a reference to the “internet activist group 4chan” (yes, snarky, offensive image board as “activist group”), information on the “identification and locations  of person(s) using or controlling or disseminating denial of service software” (um, your first port of call is Google, folks, because that’s the easiest way to find a version of LOIC), and the most remarkable demand of all, “any and all records, documents, and materials that relate to interactions between any computers of those who were raided and those who are untouchable.”

Well, good to know the Grand Jury knows its old TV shows. Or maybe it’s a shout-out to the Brian De Palma film.

But given this level of ignorance, you wonder whether the FBI might indeed have taken seriously a crock like Mr Barr’s, assuming he indeed wanted to provide it.

Still, the episode was good for what is an early and strong candidate for the funniest media release of the year from Anonymous.

*Update: having accused MSM journalists of failing on this score, I  have since been told that in fact the HB Gary Federal episode was cracking, not hacking. #selfrighteousnessfail