Anonymous's chain-smoking collaborator Barrett Brown insists that the previously cancelled Operation Cartel is most definitely a "Go!" And the whole danger of getting people killed? That's old hat for the hacktivists. Often erroneously referred to as the collective's spokesman or former spokesman, Brown says he's been in touch with the Anonymous members leading the operation, who have decided to release a cache of over 60 names of people that have collaborated with the notoriously brutal Zetas cartel in Mexico on November 5. While he brushes off any official role, Brown has been the "public face" of Anonymous since early 2010 and has represented the organization accurately in past exploits, like the Sony Playstation hack earlier this year. (Brown wrote in The Guardian that Anonymous didn't do it and had been framed; spin-off group LulzSec later claimed responsibility.)
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As all things Anonymous tend to do, however, the confusion over the Operation Cartel being cancelled leads us to reserve some skepticism about what's true and what's being misreported based on hearsay and Twitter chatter. "It actually was initially cancelled but the decision was made without the input of everyone involved," Brown told The Atlantic Wire, adding that the story wasn't misreported this time but lacked all the details. "After it was cancelled we got to talking about it, and the video got a whole lot of views. [Members of Anonymous] had a vote amongst themselves and decided to go ahead."
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Brown says the release is mostly made up of Mexicans with ties to the Zetas cartel. There is one United States district attorney on the list, however. "The DA has worked with another organized crime outfit that may or may not be peripheral to the Zetas, but which is probably not connected in any significant way," Brown told us in an email. "That info was provided by a separate informant yesterday and I'm investigating now."
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Compared to many previous, widely reported Anonymous activities, Operation Cartel sounds particular grizzly. After the release, Brown says that the cartels things will "take these things into their own hands … and in some cases will probably kill the people" unmasked by Anonymous. Brown, a fast talker with the slightest hint of a Texas drawl, didn't skip a beat when he told us this. It seems like a diversion from more innocent activities like taking on PayPal for blocking WikiLeaks, the attack for which Anonymous is probably best known, and the prank-like antics of the spin-off hacktivist group LulzSec. But Brown tells us that these kinds of high stakes operations are nothing new for the collective. He also gives Anonymous credit for helping turn a small protest into Tunisia into the wave of revolutions that is the Arab Spring.
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"This is nothing compared to North Africa," Brown said. "A lot of journalists weren't covering us at the time, but Anonymous was very very involved in a lot of the movements in North Africa. We were very much involved in turning the Tunisian revolt into a broader regional thing."
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And if people die because of Operation Cartel, it won't be the first time that Anonymous played a hand in someone's demise.
"This is just inevitable," Brown told us. "A bunch of collaborators, a long time ago, a lot of them were killed in Egypt. We required the names and pictures of a number of Egyptian police collaborators and certainly some of them were killed."
We can't confirm what exactly happened to the Egyptians collaborators or even what the details of Anonymous's activities in North Africa. But Brown has long been close with a core group of Anonymous organizers and says he's correctly predicted the outcomes of their planned operations in the past. To learn more about his tenuous relationship with the group — Brown described himself to The Atlantic Wire as "someone who has worked with Anonymous, the founder of Project PM and a former journalist" — read this profile in D magazine. Brown is also currently shopping a book about his work with Anonymous to publishers in New York. To learn more about how Anonymous really works, however, the best anyone can do is pay close attention.
"There's a small group of people at Anonymous that really know what's happened at Anonymous and really understand where it's going," Brown said. "It's very much like the intelligence community only more amorphous."