Marine Corps Base Quantico may soon find itself on the front lines of the world’s newest form of warfare.
Well, “front lines” doesn’t fully describe this latest way to fight. In cyber warfare, attacks flow into computer networks from the intangible world of the globalized Internet.
Nonetheless, London's The Financial Times reports this week that U.S. law enforcement agencies are investigating plans by members of a hacking collective known as Anonymous to disrupt Quantico’s operations in protest over the alleged rough treatment of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, a suspect in the Wikileaks data dump that has sent countries around the world into a tizzy with the disclosure of state secrets big and small.
According to the Financial Times, members of Anonymous—an amorphous group of worldwide hackers -- have been discussing plans on public file-sharing sites to target the Quantico brig over Manning’s treatment.
In recent weeks, Manning’s attorney has accused the Marines of holding the soldier in unjustifiable conditions, including 23 hours’ of solitary confinement a day and forcing him to be naked for long stretches. One friend of Manning’s said the soldier’s mental condition was deteriorating.
The Marines wouldn’t comment on the charges, only saying that these are standard procedures and aren’t punishment.
Citing publicly accessible document-sharing sites, the Financial Times reports that the purpose of any operation would be to “harass staff at MCB Quantico Brig to the point of frustration,” including a “complete communications shutdown” of the facility’s Internet pages and phones.
A Quantico spokesman referred the Financial Times to law enforcement and said they are aware of the threat and take any such threat seriously.
If Quantico is attacked, DOD cyber sleuths will face one of the main challenges of the cyber era: how to figure out where an attack originated.
Barrett Brown, one of the Anonymous members helping with the plans under his real name, told the Financial Times that he was not alarmed by the prospect of being prosecuted.
“My feeling is I’m going down anyway so I may as well do it with gusto,” he said, according to the Financial Times.
A story by the Baltimore City Paper in 2008 sums up the group, which one member calls “the first Internet-based superconsciousness.”
“Anonymous is a group, in the sense that a flock of birds is a group. How do you know they’re a group? Because they’re traveling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely,” one member told the paper.
Members uploaded porn clips to YouTube and made life hard for a teen who runs the No Cussing Club, an anti-profanity Web site. The teen’s home address, phone number and other personal information were leaked online. According to this report, his family received hate mail, obscene phone calls and even bogus pizza and pornography deliveries.
Just last month, the group sent a warning to Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist congregation best known for anti-gay protests at the funerals of military members, often carrying signs that say "God hates the USA" and "Thank god for 9/11."
In the letter, Anonymous warns the church to stop what they're doing and close their Web sites, or face the consequences.
"The time for us to be idle spectators in your inhumane treatment of fellow Man has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action," the letter states, according to this report.
Anonymous also played a role in helping Iranians communicate with the outside world during the 2009 protests. More recently, they helped knock out the Web site for the Egyptian Ministry of Information and former President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
So, blog readers, Anonymous’ activities have ranged from relatively small pranks to playing a part in the Arab world’s grassroots revolutions. What do you think of this group? What do you think of Manning’s reported treatment at Quantico?