Members of hacker collective Anonymous are preparing to picket journalist Glenn Greenwald's book tour – where the journo hopes to promote a tome about his reports on leaked files given to him by ex-National Security Agency sysadmin turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The hacktivists want to disrupt the hack's book signings on the basis of rather patchy logic: they claim Greenwald is not doing enough to support the Paypal 14, a group accused of knocking the online payment service offline in December 2010 in reaction to Paypal, Visa and Mastercard's refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks.
PayPal was brought down for four days after miscreants used a simple tool called the Low Orbit Ion Cannon to cripple the site's servers. Thirteen of the suspects accused of participating have since pleaded guilty to carrying out the attacks.
The 14th suspect had their case processed separately and their name withheld. It is unclear how they pleaded to the charges.
The attack on PayPal took place nearly three years before Greenwald wrote his first report on top-secret files provided to him by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Greenwald was one of the first journalists selected by Snowden to publish a huge trove of documents he grabbed from his former government employer; Greenwald was entrusted with the bulk of the files. He is preparing to release a book dramatically titled No Place To Hide about his involvement.
The angry hacktivists' confusing argument reads as follows: "The PayPal 14 were arrested nearly three years ago on the front lines of the digital information war, helping put the hacktivist movement and specifically Anonymous on the map. Now the whistleblower/hacktivist culture they helped launch into the global spotlight is being co-opted by journalists and 'tech bros' all over to advance their careers, most notably journalist Glenn Greenwald's.
"As Greenwald gets a book tour, the PayPal 14 get sentencing hearings. He is traveling the world to promote his book about Snowden's NSA leaks, and the 14 are struggling to raise more than $80,000 in court-ordered restitution for eBay/PayPal, companies ultimately overseen by Greenwald's billionaire backer, [eBay founder] Pierre Omidyar[*]. The brand that popularized Pierre-Greenwald's Snowden leaks is only so 'edgy' and 'cool' because heroes like the PayPal 14 took direct action."
The hacktivists want to raise the $80,000 to cover court costs for the 14 suspects, many of whom have been ordered to pay $5,600 restitution to PayPal-owner eBay. This is in addition to other legal costs, amounting to a "crushing financial burden" to ordinary people, they argue, but "lunch money" to Omidyar.
It's worth noting that Omidyar has spoken out in defence of the PayPal 14 in his personal capacity in an editorial published in the HuffPo, where he wrote that the denial-of-service attacks were a legitimate form of protest, and pleaded for prosecutors to show leniency.
"I can understand that the protesters were upset by PayPal's actions and felt that they were simply participating in an online demonstration of their frustration," he said. "That is their right, and I support freedom of expression, even when it's my own company that is the target." ®
* Omidyar backs a journalistic project called First Look with Greenwald at the helm.