“Mr Ferdaus is said to have told an informant: ‘Allah has given us the privilege … He punishes them by our hand. We’re the ones.’ Posing as accomplices, the undercover agents then supplied him with grenades, six machine guns and C-4 explosives.” — BBC, 29 September 2011
“According to the FBI, they arrested Mohamud after he dialed a cellphone that he thought would detonate a huge bomb — six 55-gallon drums, diesel fuel and a large box of screws — in a large white van parked near the tree lighting. But the bomb was a fake built by the FBI …” — LA Times, 28 November 2010
In the past five years, the FBI has developed an outstanding record of thwarting terror attacks the agency itself has created, providing Islamic extremists and young men with mental illness with accomplices, real or fake weapons and logistical support to develop often ridiculous plots, such as flying a model plane into the Capitol in Washington.
In that context, the FBI’s remarkable behaviour in relation to the Lulzsec hacker Hector Monsegur, AKA Sabu, begins to make more sense.
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Monsegur, a key figure in Lulzsec’s hacking spree last year that targeted some of the world’s biggest companies as well as the US government, was arrested in August by the FBI and immediately co-operated with them to help them identify other members of the group. Whether it was a crucial mistake by Monsegur in revealing his IP address or being outed by other hackers is unclear, but the outcome wasn’t — Sabu was now working for the Feds. His help was critical in the arrests of five other Lulzsec suspects this week.
The arrests, and the revelation that Monsegur — apparently out of concern for his children — was working with law enforcement to lure out other hackers, is surely a blow to the upper echelons of Anonymous and will slow the embarrassing series of cracks that have plagued governments and corporations alike, and provided a window into secretive industries that we would never otherwise have seen. Activist Barrett Brown, a high-profile former Anonymous associate (and sometime Crikey writer), was also raided, but says he’d been tipped off to the raid and was able to take action before the FBI arrived.
But there was plenty of suspicion that Monsegur had turned informer last year; indeed, that’s the FBI’s normal method of investigating cyber crime — there’s little cyber sleuthing and plenty of pressuring of those hackers it is able to find to force them to co-operate. There are claims that one in four hackers is an informant.
What is unusual is the extent of the FBI’s complicity in Monsegur’s subsequent activities, all done using an FBI-supplied computer and carefully monitored. Monsegur, as Sabu, continued to use his Twitter account to encourage attacks on authorities — indeed was doing so as late as this week. Sabu assisted in the recording of the famous hacked FBI-Scotland Yard phone hook-up earlier this year, apparently the result of poor security by an Irish police officer (an Irish hacker was one of the five arrested this week).
And then there’s the Stratfor crack late in 2011, which is where it gets interesting. The FBI was not only aware of the crack of the posturing private intelligence firm’s internal system — indeed, may have been aware of it before it happened — but provided server space to store the cracked Stratfor material before it was released. To use an analog comparison, the FBI was happy to provide storage space for stolen goods before they were distributed.
Given the sneering attitude towards official agencies of Stratfor executives revealed in their emails, the FBI might have been only too happy to see Strafor humiliated, but in doing so it actively facilitated the release of the material. That includes, by the way, the credit card details of every Stratfor subscriber, including Australian subscribers such as Malcolm Turnbull. The FBI could have prevented that breach of privacy, but chose not to.
Further, the Stratfor material eventually made its way to WikiLeaks and was released in late February. What part did the FBI play in brokering the handover between Anonymous and WikiLeaks?
The Guardian, whose senior journalists have pursued a smear campaign against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, quickly seized on the link. “If through Sabu or information he had gleaned from other Anons the US could glean any evidence to tie Julian Assange to hacking attacks on US soil, such as Stratfor, the case for extradition would be substantially strengthened,” former WikiLeaks member-turned-critic James Ball wrote.
Recall that one of the smears directed against WikiLeaks in an effort to show it wasn’t a real media outlet was that it engaged in computer hacking to obtain information. As The Guardian is already demonstrating, the FBI’s involvement with the distribution of the Stratfor material is likely to now be used as the basis for further claims that WikiLeaks engages in hacking.
Meantime, there’s still no action been taken against the media outlet that did engage in computer hacking — The Times, which even misled a UK court about how one of its journalists broke into a blogger’s computer in order to find out his identity. Odd how Scotland Yard, which worked closely with the FBI on the arrest of Lulzsec hackers, has failed to move on the Times hacking case.