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The days before the Stratfor hack

It's unclear whether or not Monsegur and his FBI handlers knew about the Stratfor hack beforehand, but they were intimately involved in discussions about what to do with the stolen email and credit card data extracted during the hack soon afterwards. This discussion happened over Christmas - at the time the first tranche of leaked emails and credit card details were published and while the Anonymous strategy on what to do was still in flux.

Court documents reveal that Monsegur offered an FBI-supplied server as a repository for data extracted from Stratfor and that this offer was accepted. Hammond allegedly used multiple servers to store the leaked data. Chat transcript in the warrant reveals several discussions about using stolen credit card data to lease web servers to run as .onion domains from which Strafor emails could safely be reviewed. Eight unidentified co-conspirators in the Stratfor hack are listed in these various chat extracts included in Hammond's warrant.

Hacktivists clearly wanted the Strafor email haul to receive the widest possible audience, including providing an opportunity for journalists and others to review them. But chats in the warrant omit any talk of plans to turn over the information to WikiLeaks (an organisation members of Anonymous have gone into online battle to defend) which is designed to manage and publicise material like Stratfor's internal memos.

The extent of communication between WikiLeaks and Anonymous regarding the Stratfor leak remains unclear. Stratfor's own assertion that "some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies", meanwhile, certainly seems much more plausible, especially if Monsegur (under the control of his FBI minders) had any say in deciding what was released.

It's not too extravagant to think that a bigger game might be in play.

The US department of Justice is rumoured to have convened a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks, supposedly investigating the possibility that Assange might be charged under the 1917 Espionage Act.

Lawyers acting for Assange have argued that his extradition from Blighty to Sweden for questioning over alleged sexual assaults will open the door to a US extradition on possible espionage charges related to the leak of confidential US military reports from Iraq and US diplomatic cables. US army private Bradley Manning, a former Iraq-based intelligence analyst, faces court martial as the alleged source of the classified US documents.

If US authorities could obtain evidence to tie Julian Assange to some conspiracy involving the hacking attacks against Stratfor then this could pave the way for separate criminal charges against WikiLeak's founder.

News of Hammond's arrest over the Stratfor hack and Monsegur's betrayal of his former hacktivist chums was jokingly greeted by WikiLeaks. "So, Stratfor emails dumped to @wikileaks under the supervision of the FBI? Clearly constitutionalists who believe in the 1st amendment," Wikileaks said in a Twitter update.

Security consultants at HP argue against an overreaction against this week's bust.

Josh Corman, director of security intelligence at Akamai, notes that one set of high-profile arrests does not spell the end of Anonymous: "Anonymous is more Starfish than Spider. Decentralized organisations are very different than rigid hierarchical ones," he said on Twitter.

Corman has put together a series of informative blogs on Anonymous here.

Rik Ferguson, a security consultant at Trend Micro, concurs: "Anonymous isn't Sabu and Sabu certainly wasn't anonymous." ®

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