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Should Branstad fret Anonymous' Iowa Caucus plans?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | NOVEMBER 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Yes

Finally, there's imminent reason to beware the Occupy movement — but it's not the usual suspects the Iowa caucuses should take every security measure against.

Oh, no. It's much more serious than that.

By gaining the support of the seemingly omnipotent hacktivist group Anonymous, local Occupy movements have pretty much done all they need to do.

Because there's Occupy Des Moines, then there's Anonymous.

There's the most affluent subspecies of homeless people, then there's Anonymous.

Occupy Des Moines will make you wonder why they have so much damn time on their hands, holding up signs wearing $300 arctic jackets; Anonymous will incapacitate all of your online operations and very well might shut down the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Following the release of a YouTube video asking Anonymous' followers to "peacefully shut down" the Iowa caucuses, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is calling on Homeland Security and local law enforcement to ensure the caucuses run as-planned.

I wonder how many Des Moines cops know how to put together a PowerPoint presentation, let alone defend themselves in all-out cyberwar.

Remember: These people have successfully attacked web domains of major operations. Major. Think Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, and even Sarah Palin PAC.

In February of last year, Anonymous launched Operation Titstorm (my favorite kind of storm), when it took down the Australian Parliament House website for three days and then attacked further with what organizers described as "a shitstorm of porn email, fax spam (i.e., porn), black faxes (i.e., more porn), and prank phone calls to government offices." They also spiced up the prime minister's website with, you guessed it, porn.

Operation Titstorm was in response to minor Internet censorship on the part of the Australian government (pun intended on the "minor"). Imagine the amount of firepower — cyberpower? — it would be able to muster in response to the long-standing corporate assault on every facet of American life.

Hint: It's probably going to be a little more serious than some titties on a government website.

Branstad clearly has no idea who he's dealing with. Homeland security? Local police? Try computer-science majors and World of Warcraft extraordinaires.

Mr. Governor, I don't know how you should go about securing the caucuses, but you really need to start brainstorming. Actually, don't. You don't even have a computer at your desk.

Find people who know something about technology, and get them working stat. Maybe convert every electoral medium to paper for this cycle. I don't know.

Good luck with that.

P.S. I'm rooting for you, Anonymous. Not you, /b.

— Chris Steinke

No

Anonymous' recent calling for an occupation of the first in the nation Iowa caucuses should not be perceived as a serious security threat.

For years, Anonymous has been a scourge to governments, firms, and others organizations that wish to keep prying eyes out of their digital dealings. To some, that means Anonymous represents something of a Robin Hood, forcing disclosure and bringing the powers that be to accountability. For similarly obvious reasons, however, governments and private interests have cited Anonymous as an anarchic hacker collective whose members engage in borderline cyber-terrorist actions.

Still, while Anonymous has been construed as both hero and foe in the past, these claims should not detract from the fact that what the group is advocating for in its latest video is peaceful protest.

While talk of "shutting down Iowa's caucuses" sounds outright apocalyptic, the prospect seems to stand as more of a hyperbolic statement than that of one containing real conviction. Certainly, any protest is meant to allow demonstrators the right to advocate their position, and in the case of a caucus protest, I see no further agenda.

Indeed, in terms of analyzing this as a potential threat, I find little to be worried about. Seeing as though an organized caucus "occupation" would be a further visible extension of the Occupy movement, it's not unexpected that protesters would seek to "hype" up the media anticipation and coverage. But to think occupiers would risk going so far as starting a violent episode, which would only hurt their own faceless, collective image, is ridiculous.

Unfortunately, responding to peaceful protest by mobilizing forceful authority is rarely a positive or effective method of confronting a dispute. Instead, it often only serves to stoke the fire of discontent further, something that policymakers and authorities should remain well aware of.

The powers in Des Moines should certainly respond insofar as allowing protesters the right to protest while preventing them from disrupting a so-called democratic process. But to become hyper-vigilant at the smallest suggestion of American's utilizing their First Amendment rights is both troubling and dangerous.

— Matt Heinze


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