DOJ vs. Anonymous: Who’s Tricking Who?

By: Josh Wolford - January 20, 2012

With Anonymous’ #OpMegaUpload in full swing, it’s time to ask ourselves an important question: Who actually has the upper hand in this “battle” – the U.S. Government or Anonymous?

You’re probably aware that the DOJ delivered a blow on Thursday with its takedown of major filesharing site MegaUpload. Just hours later, government websites ranging from the DOJ to the U.S. Copyright Office were taken down as well as sites of SOPA supporting organizations like the MPAA and RIAA. Anonymous quickly claimed credit, and #OpMegaUpload was born.

When Thursday was all said and done, it ended up being the biggest coordinated attack in the history of Anonymous – more than a dozen major websites down and over 5,000 worldwide participants. Many on the interwebs rejoiced.

However since yesterday’s attack, there has been growing backlash toward Anonymous’ actions. When Anonymous went buck wild with their DDoS attacks, did it actually do more harm than good? As wonderful as they feel to some, are revenge attacks on government properties actually counterproductive?

Molly Wood at CNET expresses this sentiment, saying that the U.S. Government purposefully scheduled the MegaUpload takedown to occur right after the successful SOPA Blackout protests, to do away with any credibility engendered by the opposition movement.

I’ll post the entire relevant chunk of her argument because it is rather elegant:

My sources tell me the timing of the Megaupload arrests was no accident. The federal government, they say, was spoiling for a fight after the apparent defeat of SOPA/PIPA and not a little humiliation at the hands of the Web. And what better way to bolster the cause for cyber-crackdown than by pointing to a massive display of cyber-terrorism at the hands of everyone’s favorite Internet boogeyman: Anonymous?

If the SOPA/PIPA protests were the Web’s moment of inspiring, non-violent, hand-holding civil disobedience, #OpMegaUpload feels like the unsettling wave of car-burning hooligans that sweep in and incite the riot portion of the play. The result is always riot gear, tear gas, arrests, injury, and a sea of knee-jerk policies, laws, and reactions that address the destructive actions of a few, and not the good intentions of the many.

I don’t truly know whether Anonymous was cleverly goaded into #OpMegaUpload. But I do know that an attack this big on this many government sites will effectively erase those good Internet vibrations that were rattling around Capitol Hill this week and harden the perspective of legislators and law enforcement who want to believe that the Web community is made up of wild, law-breaking pirates. That, ultimately, may help strengthen the business–and the emotional–case for the pro-SOPA, pro-PIPA lobby. Did the feds just get the last lulz?

Now, I have no reason to doubt her sources or her argument. I actually agree to some extent. The timing of the MegaUpload takedown was too perfect. Will #OpMegaUpload erase some of those “good internet vibrations” and embolden members of Congress and the DOJ to push for harsher laws to crackdown on what they perceive as “cyber-terrorism?” Possibly.

And was that their goal all along? To trick Anonymous into a reaction and then use that reaction to paint them as the enemy? Again, possibly.

But this argument assumes that all of this is news to Anonymous – that they were somehow tricked into all of this. My point is (this might sound a little Inception-ey): What if Anonymous began #OpMegaUpload with the full understanding that it would elicit a tough response from the DOJ and other parts of the U.S. government. A plan within a plan, if you will.

Think about it: when’s the last time that you saw the internet community rally around a cause in such a massive and effective manner? Maybe Anonymous feels that this overflow of outrage capital can be used to fire up the community even more.

“Sure, go ahead and try to come up with harsher internet restrictions right now. Try to make more arrests.” With some many eyes on the cause of internet freedom because of SOPA & PIPA, is Anonymous daring the other side to make a drastic move? Have they seen the internet community pissed off and united in a meaningful way and realized that it’s just the tip of the iceberg – the collective minds of the web have so much more to offer when it comes to protest?

So, a trap set by the federal government or not, maybe Anonymous felt that this was the time for something big.

Or maybe we’re all just over-thinking this.

Josh Wolford

About the Author

Josh WolfordJosh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf

View all posts by Josh Wolford
  • CryoAnon

    The way i see it we can keep continuing this cat & mouse game for the next 10 years but that wont solve anything. What we need is something big.

  • kamil

    Or maybe anonymous knows that what we saw yesterday was small in comparison to what future attacks hold. WE SHOULD EXPECT THIS

  • Craig

    The US government don’t stand a chance when going up head to head against Anonymous the DDoS attacks were only the beginning.

  • Sharon J

    These are really interesting questions and we may never know the answers. On the CBC this morning, a SOPA apologist was saying it was because Americans were unknowingly buying French purses that were actually Chinese knock offs and children’s toys with lead paint. Hilarious.

    I think that what Anonymous did was just a little muscle flexing to show the government that they are not immune from the will of the people. I must admit to feeling somewhat jubilant.

  • Erik Jensen

    Short answer: Yes you are overthinking it.

    Long answer: Maybe some DOJ analyst’s reached the same conclusions as you do. It might be a good idea splitting a historically popular internet movement by provoking anonymous actions like this.

    Personally i believe people like the guys making those descision to be more concern with ‘winning the war’ and whats right than tactical analysis’ on what might make criminals look more wrong.

    Either way it doesn’t really matter. If you’re right this means the authorities can always provoke actions that’ll make any movement look bad. Personally choose to see this as an opportunity rather than an evil masterplan. We can’t afford to loose this war for our freedom no matter how we have to fight it. DOJ’s actions make the movement want revenge. Sopa bills make the movement try out legetimate tactics such as strikes or blackouts. The only way to truly win is to fight with the means our enemies forces us to use and make each method as effective as possible. We cannot really afford to fail.

  • John

    Why dont partys just sit down and talk about the problem and sort it out once and for all or is that just to simple.

  • Curtains Winchester

    It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the truth behind it all. And are Anonymous really bothered over good publicity with the public? I suspect not.

  • Jim

    Not a surprise at all. The take down of Megaupload was a total disgrace!