Anonymous wages war on TrapWire ‘big brother’ surveillance system

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
Font Size:

The hacktivist collective known as Anonymous is waging war against the recently exposed counter-terrorism domestic surveillance system known as TrapWire, deployed as a part of the United States’ ever-growing intelligence apparatus.

The release Thursday of an alleged email between Stratfor vice president of intelligence Fred Burton and a company employee revealed alleged ties between the private intelligence firm and TrapWire.

TrapWire, developed and managed by federal intelligence contractor Abraxas Corporation, is a counter-terrorism domestic surveillance system deployed to monitor and identify suspicious activity around facilities deemed part of critical infrastructure.

Surveillance cameras attached to the TrapWire network are used to identify pre-attack behavior exhibited by criminals and terrorists.

The system is being used by law enforcement and parts of the U.S. intelligence community in Washington D.C., Las Vegas, New York City and Los Angeles.

In one email, obtained by WikiLeaks from Anonymous over Christmas 2011, Burton said political activists were more of a threat than terrorists.

“Regarding SF landmarks of interest — they need something like TrapWire more for threats from activists than from terror threats,” he wrote.

“Both are useful, but the activists are ever present around here.”

Asked for comment, a Stratfor spokesperson referred The Daily Caller to the company’s statement following the initial allegations leveled by Anonymous and WikiLeaks. In that statement, the company denounced the theft of its emails as a “deplorable, unfortunate — and illegal — breach of privacy.”

“Some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic,” said the company. “We will not validate either. Nor will we explain the thinking that went into them. Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them.”

Under the settlement terms of the class action lawsuit later brought by a subscribers, Reuters reported, Stratfor did not admit to “wrongdoing, fault, violation of law or liability of any kind.”

Abraxas Corporation did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.

Whether or not Stratfor is genuinely connected to TrapWire, the revelation of the program’s capabilities and scope is an unusual glimpse into the U.S. government’s growing domestic surveillance apparatus. Anonymous often campaigns against efforts by governments and corporations to censor and suppress political dissent.

The Anonymous-affiliated website RemainAnonymous.org “put forth a call to arms” in a press release Sunday.

“Operation TrapWire is a direct action of the over-arching Anonymous Operation USA,” said the statement. “TrapWire is but one instance of how the government of the USA has turned against it’s own citizens, designating them as suspects and enemies. Now those citizens rise, and take back their country and their freedom. Welcome to the Second American Revolution.”

The activists’ operation, called Anonymous Operation TrapWire — OpTrapWire — is a collaboration between Anonymous, WikiLeaks, Project PM and the People’s Liberation Front, another Anonymous-style hacktivist collective.

Project PM is an information collection effort whose leaders claim “to provide a centralized, actionable data set regarding the intelligence contracting industry, the PR industry’s interface with totalitarian regimes, the mushrooming infosec/’cybersecurity’ industry, and other issues constituting threats to human rights, civic transparency, individual privacy, and the health of democratic institutions.”

Operation participants are working closely to collect and disseminate further information about TrapWire, disrupt surveillance cameras part of the TrapWire network, as well as the program’s social media monitoring capabilities, and destroy TrapWire’s servers.

“Finally, the Peoples Liberation Front and Anonymous will do what we do best,” said the participants’ statement. “We will find, hack — and destroy the servers where the AI [Artificial Intelligence] ‘electronic brain’ of this program is housed.”

Project PM founder Barrett Brown confirmed to TheDC in an email conversation that he is involved with this lastest Anonymous operation.

“Half of the OpTrapWire press release consists of some material I wrote for infographics/digital posters, and we’ve been working directly with three different servers on this (which is a lot; this is shaping up to be one of the largest operations in a while, not just in terms of people involved but in how competent and hard-working many of them are),” Brown wrote.

“Right now, aside from the ongoing attacks on Abraxas assets, there’s a great deal of research and dissemination going on; I’ve been disappointed by the [mainstream media’s] inevitable failure to give this due attention,” he said.

“Beyond just what this system is capable of doing, one has to see it in the context of more widespread and sophisticated technologies that have been put in place over the last several years. … The totality of such things is in some ways beyond what Orwell could have imagined,” he said, “as is the case with persona management and Romas/COIN, for instance.”

Persona management is the use of software to amplify a company’s, organization’s or government’s Web presence by creating and managing fake social media and web accounts. For example, a single person can manage multiple fake online personalities, infiltrate chat rooms and discussion threads, and promote any agenda — corporate, political, or both — that he or she is being paid to promote.

Romas/COIN, exposed when Anonymous hacked federal intelligence contractor HBGary Federal in 2011, was one such U.S. government-sponsored persona management program. This technique can be deployed in psychological and information warfare campaigns.

“Meanwhile, the American citizenry needs to stop neglecting its duties to ensure that future generations don’t grow up in a pseudo-omnipotent state in which individual rights are trampled on covertly as well as overtly,” Brown said.

Follow Josh on Twitter