Barrett Brown, the reporter who became a media-friendly spokesperson for the shadowy hacking group Anonymous says that he is quitting the group in the wake of a public feud that has broken out between different hacker factions within the loosely organized collective.
Brown told Threatpost that he and around two dozen Anonymous members are forming a splinter group to focus on efforts to root out what Brown has described as “criminality and corruption” within the U.S. Government, U.S. military, corporations and the media.
Brown, a journalist and author, has been the public face and chief apologist from the anarchic and leaderless group during recent controversies, including the hack of security firm HBGary. He said recent feuds between different Anonymous factions, culminating in the recent takeover of two IRC chat servers used by the group convinced him that the group had lost its way.
“I’m tired of the drama,” Brown told Threatpost in a phone interview May 10. “You’ve got kids fighting for control of an IRC channel. I’m a researcher. I’m into revolutionary stuff. But there are other people for whom its about exerting power,” he said.
Brown told Threatpost he is defecting with what he claims are around two dozen Anonymous members. He said he planned to focus on Project PM – an effort to create an umbrella group that will support other organizations that want to expose pro-government and pro-corporate bias in the media.
The parting of ways between Brown and the allegedly “leaderless” group comes at a perilous time. Recent months have seen defectors from the group publish potentially damaging information that could be used to identify active members. In March, a splinter group calling itself Backtrace Security published a document that claimed to identify or partially identify 80 members of Anonymous’s leadership. The group launched OpSony in April to retaliate against Sony’s legal pursuit of hackers, like George Hotz, who had circumvented security features of PlayStation devices. A massive compromise of Sony’s PlayStation Network followed, which Anonymous has steadfastly denied responsibility for. Then, in May, a feud erupted between high-level members of Anonymous that led to the hostile takeover of two Web domains used by the group to host IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Subsequent to the takeover, an Anonymous administrator known as “Ryan” spilled information online that could, potentially, be used to link participants in Anonymous online chats with individuals in the real world. Anonymous members have since been forced to shift their activities to IRC forums not hosted on Anonops.ru and Anonops.net, both of which were taken over by “Ryan.”
Brown’s relations with Anonymous’s membership was testy at times. Within the last year, he had transitioned from a journalist covering Anonymous’s activities for publications like The Huffington Post to an informal spokesman for the group: giving interviews with the press and writing press releases. His frequent mentions in the press, where he was occasionally identified as Anonymous’s spokesman, drew the ire of other Anonymous members whyo accused him variously of hogging the spotlight and drawing unwanted attention to the group. Brown, himself, disavowed any leadership role in the group, which he maintained was leaderless. However others, notably Aaron Barr of HBGary, have contested the idea that the group lacks a hierarchy and established leadership.
Anonymous observers, who asked to remain anonymous themselves, said there’s reason to believe that Brown is being cut off by core Anonymous members worried about having their identities exposed, or wary of Brown’s focus on government wrongdoing. Sources say that ongoing criminal investigations of Anonymous’s previous actions may soon produce indictments and that more than one longtime member has “gone dark” in recent weeks, especially after the group was mentioned as a possible source of the PlayStation Network breach.