Book Saloon: We Are Anonymous

In the opening chapter of Parmy Olson’s gripping new book, We Are Anonymous, the CEO of the now-defunct HBGary Federal assumes the role of an unwitting character in a horror movie, haunted by inchoate dread, but unable to see how awful his demise will be.  Due primarily to his own stupidity and overconfidence, a group of hackers have managed to seize not only all the emails of Aaron Barr’s welfare queen sham company, but also control his Twitter account, Facebook page, his law firm’s emails, and his entire online existence, right down to World of Warcraft.

HBGary Federal, of course, is a product of the corrupt post 9/11 world, in which firms spring up literally overnight to slop at the federal trough, more often than not selling hocus pocus and calling it “security.”  Barr was a poster child for greedy charlatans of dubious talents attempting to fleece the taxpayers; this supposed cyber security “expert” was busily touting his unique ability to guard against hackers using social media to track them down, yet he used the same password for all of his own online accounts.

Having understandable difficulty getting contracts, he decided to make a big splash ahead of an upcoming tech conference by proudly announcing that he had fingered key members of the shadowy group, Anonymous, then famous for hacking, among other things, the Church of Scientology.  At the time, the Federal Government was eager to squash Wikileaks, and thought (correctly) that Anonymous and Wikileaks were linked.  Smelling money, Barr thought (incorrectly) that he knew several of the culprits, well, because he chatted with some people on the internet who ended up on Facebook when they logged off.

Unfortunately for Barr, the article that reported his supposed “coup” was immediately spotted by actual members of Anonymous, and they flew into action.  In a matter of 60 hours, they had posted all of his emails online, revealing that in addition to being a halfwit, he was also out to discredit not just Anonymous, but even journalists like Glenn Greenwald, for the benefit of upstanding, beloved institutions like the US Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America.  Just for fun, they also bombarded his Twitter followers with dozens of profane and racist tweets, released his telephone numbers to eager pranksters, and defaced his Facebook page.

Begging for mercy in an online chat, Barr was told to “die in a fire.”  He didn’t, of course, but thankfully for the American taxpayer, HBGary Federal did.  Flush with this success, a core group of hackers began to form, and cast about for their next targets, even as the FBI and the UK’s Metropolitan Police pursued them relentlessly, as ever focused on the real target, Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

Unforgettable moments from the quite recent past come to life throughout the book; one of its central characters is the hacker called Topiary, most famous for being the disembodied voice taunting the nutty harridan from Westboro Baptist Church, culminating in the collapse of her website in real time on live radio.    Of course, the long arm of the law, dedicated as it is to protecting the powerful at the expense of everyone else, eventually catches up with all of them.  Their targets, from Rupert Murdoch to Aaron Barr, remain at large.  As Oscar Wilde put it, “the good end well, and the bad end badly.  That’s why it’s called fiction.”

But Olson’s book isn’t fiction, and its story isn’t over.  Just ask Julian Assange.


  1. Annice says:

    Can’t wait to read this one!

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, Gayle gets first dibs; I kind of owe her. The ending wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, but that has more to do with my natural pessimism than any of the final incidents.