After canceling and resurrecting Operation Cartel (twice), Anonymous now says they're redirecting their efforts towards corruption in the Mexican government. They're calling it, appropriately, Operation Corrupción. Does this news make you feel skeptical about the hactivists, like maybe they've cried wolf one too many times? It makes us feel that way, too.
Anonymous announced Operation Corrupción with a very graphic video and scolding call-to-arms at Anonymous Iberoamerica, the "official blog" for the Spanish-speaking faction of the hacker collective. (Official blog gets scare quotes because Anonymous tends to avoid making anything official — websites, leaders, spokespeople and otherwise.) The threats laid out in the call-to-arms are incredibly vague. It reads (emphasis theirs):
Therefore, we appeal to all the world's Anons, the entire global hacker community, to set aside our differences, and to ruthlessly attack all government agencies in Mexico: their web presence, their email, their servers. To bring to light all the hidden information that demonstrates that Mexico is corrupt.
We officially declare war against corruption in Mexico.
In talking to multiple sources with ties to Anonymous, we found that #OpCorrupción sounds an awful lot like #OpCartel. One Anonymous member using the Twitter handle ESanonymous, told The Atlantic Wire, that the collective plans to release 25,000 "interesting" emails out of a cache of 180,000 stolen during a hack on the Mexican government as part of #OpCorrupción.
As we reported last week, #OpCartel planned to release the same number of emails but angled the attack at the Zetas cartel, rather than the government. Anonymous called off that attack after it said the Zetas released a member of Anonymous it was keeping hostage and warned that for every cartel collaborator publicly identified by Anonymous, the cartel would kill ten civilians, starting with the hostage's family. Anonymous told us last Friday that following the threat they declared a truce with the Zetas and wouldn't be releasing the emails after all.
The details of Operation Cartel, Anonymous's would-be attack on the Zetas drug lords, was sketchy since it started making headlines in early October. Much of the news on Operation Cartel came through the megaphone of Barrett Brown, the fast-talking "face" of Anonymous, who denies ever having any official role in the collective. (We've quoted Brown in our own coverage, though we have been admittedly skeptical about the details of his story.) On Friday afternoon, Adrian Chen at Gawker accused Brown of latching on to Operation Cartel and using the press attention to promote an upcoming book about his experience working with Anonymous, for which he received a six-figure advance from Amazon's publishing wing. Chen writes, "The whole Operation Cartel business was probably bullshit — a lot of sound and fury signifying people's lurid obsession with the boogeymen of Anonymous and the drug cartels."
Brown bristled at the criticism. "It's absolutely egregious what he did," he told The Atlantic Wire. "There's no real reason why this should be something involving the book." Brown points out that #OpCartel was well underway before he got involved last week — indeed, the first video about the operation was posted on October 6 — and adds that he parted ways with the Spanish-speaking branch of Anonymous after #OpCartel ended in order to pursue his own projects. (At the moment, Brown is most focused on bringing down Ron Moore, a district attorney in Asheville, North Carolina; Moore has flatly denied all of Brown's allegations.)
The spat between Brown and Chen aside, we're still not convinced there will ever be a release. Anonymous tends to brag a lot about planned operations, then fall silent when they miss their deadline, as they recently did for their November 5 attack on Facebook. We were able to find one journalist who says he received a handful of leaked emails from Anonymous. "They appear to be discussions about payoffs and bribes and were provided only to demonstrate that they do have emails, so I'm not sure they confirm much," Bloomberg's Michael Riley told us. "I'd describe what I have as a 'small handful.'"
Time will tell whether Anonymous has any luck in revealing details of corruption in the Mexican government. So perhaps all #OpCartel and #OpCorrupcíon will end up amounting to is a feud between a rabble rouser and a blogger. "I can do all kinds of things. I've got all this money," Brown said ominously. "I'm not gonna kill the guy, but I'm gonna make fun of him." Chen says he hasn't heard anything from Brown.