The Netwar Memoirs #1

By Neal Rauhauser

I grew up in the far northwest corner of Iowa in the 1970s and 1980s, forty miles from the nearest interstate ramp and just ninety miles from Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Older readers will recognize as the location of Little House on the Prairie.

My home state has an excellent public school system and Iowa State University was my final formal education, after which I decamped to the big city two hours west of Omaha, Nebraska.

Today I am in later middle age, white, rural raised, an owner of both small businesses and guns, which boys in rural Iowa start accumulating around age ten.

Despite having a union member father, the Democrats seemed like a squishy mass of special interest groups, while I was and still am a somewhat hawkish student of history and foreign policy. The Republican party at least seemed to represent my interests.

That relationship came undone between the 2002 midterm, in which I voted straight Republican ticket, and 2004, when I voted for John Kerry. There were two triggering events in 2003 that led to this, one personal, and one national. I already knew Afghanistan’s reputation as the Graveyard of Empires, and a book I read on the Soviet experiences there hardened my view that George W. Bush was using the same decision making as had been applied in my divorce.

My surname’s origin is Palatine and not the current German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, but the predecessor Holy Roman Imperial state of Palatine Zweibrücken. My ancestors fled Catholic persecution there, arriving in the Province of South Carolina in 1752. Here we are, with John Locke three centuries in the ground, and we’re not just confused about the separation of church and state, we seem to be actively heading backwards.

“As a hacker living in Omaha, it was inevitable that I would come into contact with Chet Uber. We met in 1997 and I worked with or for him at random intervals for the next seven years.”

As a hacker living in Omaha, it was inevitable that I would come into contact with Chet Uber. We met in 1997 and I worked with or for him at random intervals for the next seven years. He had some serious health trouble and I did not hear from him for a number of years. Then my phone rang about this time in 2009 and it was Chet, sounding healthy and clear, but at a loss as to how to restart his career. I had some spare capacity at my day job, I let him keep the revenue from a consulting gig I found, and Project VIGILANT was born.

My education had been computer science and I self-educated with the help of the world’s largest networking equipment vendor, attaining the Cisco Certified Network and Design Professional ratings in 2000. My focus was was small to medium data/voice/video providers. I had never served in the military, never worked for any intelligence agency, and the closest I’d ever come to law enforcement was passing the background check required to join Infragard, the FBI civilian affiliate program.

Project VIGILANT’s claim to fame was their assistance in the capture of Bradley Manning that Chet Uber and Adrian Lamo rendered in May of 2010. Although initially excited by the intrigue and the new skills PV required, I’d grown wary of what felt like a very uncontrolled environment and distanced myself six months prior to that. Those who know me laugh at the notion that I blanch at anything, so that statement tends to raise some eyebrows.

Project VIGILANT careened off over my horizon in late 2009 and I got busy with a new effort called Progressive Congress News. This Twitter based policy intel service eventually grew to providing daily updates to about a quarter of all Congressional staff and the name was a nod to the organization that provided funding for a part time director, a D.C. Based, off Hill organization named Progressive Congress.

PCN grew during the summer of 2010, concurrent with my being the front man for a group of bloggers that supported forty four Democratic House, Senate, and Gubernatorial campaigns. Our most notable successes were the removal of Bart Stupak in Michigan’s 1st Congressional district during the primary and the defense of Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva’s seat in Arizona’s 7th District.

The primary victory and the budding infrastructure project were enough to make me interesting to the fringe right. I was attacked on September 11th of 2010 via a podcast run by a notable Chicagoland birther Sharon Meroni, during which they launched a conspiracy theory called Twittergate. The substance of it was a comical lack of personal responsibility and they believed that George Soros was paying me to manage a bunch of kids from the shock site Something Awful, who would antagonize right wing Twitter users into racist outbursts so that they could be banned by the service.

Note the reporter on that story, Adrian Chen, the same guy who did the 2015 expose on Internet Research Agency. I’ve long since lost touch with him, but the nexus of hackers and politics is small village. No one is more than one handshake away from anyone else.

This happened when I was in my early forties, well past the point where an adult should have any more than a cursory knowledge of image boards and shock sites. The only one I was familiar with was Encyclopedia Dramatica, and only then because it hosted profiles on a couple of fringe characters involved in Democratic politics.

“The first stirrings of politicization of 4chan can be traced to the raids on Finland based teen oriented virtual social networking site Habbo Hotel in 2006, which allegedly undertaken due to racist behavior on the part of that the admins.”

There are three early sites that are exemplary of what happens when mobs of boys between fifteen and twenty five congregate online. Something Awful (1999) is a forum site known for its taste for shock and gore. 4Chan (2003) is the image board where Anonymous formed. Encyclopedia Dramatica (2004) began as a satirical look at the behavior of people on LiveJournal. It should be noted that founder Sherrod DeGrippo and the original Encyclopedia Dramatica rebranded in early 2011, just as Anonymous was entering it’s enfant terrible stage.

The original Encyclopedia Dramatica site was preserved thanks to the efforts of LulzSec member Ryan Cleary of Wickford, Essex, and final control ended in the hands of Bostonian Brian Zaiger. The site has led a somewhat nomadic existence, having been ejected from several registrars before finally settling into its current arrangement with Serbia.

Of the three I know the most about Encyclopedia Dramatica. I was a regular on their channel on the WTFux IRC server during 2011 and 2012. I scored the very first interview with nachash after EC3 took down Doxbin in late 2014. If you examine Twitter you might find evidence of some interactions between IRC server operator @FuxNet and I, even though he periodically wipes his account.

The first stirrings of politicization of 4chan can be traced to the raids on Finland based teen oriented virtual social networking site Habbo Hotel in 2006, which allegedly undertaken due to racist behavior on the part of that the admins. Overt politicization and the Anonymous brand were clearly visible during Project Chanology in 2008 and they reached their zenith during Arab Spring (2011), Occupy Wall Street (2011/2012), and the follow on ignominy of LulzSec, which later proved to be an FBI operation.

“Seven and a half years have elapsed since the day my misadventure began. Today is the sixth anniversary of Andrew Breitbart’s death.”

That is as linear as I can make the backstory leading up to the beginning of my conflict with the Breitbart organization. Network conflicts, by their very nature, require an ensemble cast and multiple interwoven story lines. Every episode has a climax, but even season finale battles leave a few survivors off screen to recruit and indoctrinate the next generation of combatants.

This may have started as a sort of curious autobiographical account, but there’s an appendix to the story. I began quietly working with the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium in 2014 and the first acknowledged field test of the Netwar System, a small unit C4ISR suite, happened against ISIS in 2015. Adversary Resistant Computing and Networking are obligatory components of force protection in that environment. I’ve been writing on those topics in detail for the last three years.

2018 has seen a lot of chatter about machine learning, only it’s excessively dignified by calling it Artificial Intelligence. There are repetitive, high volume tasks amenable to neural network training, but the day after they are applied the surviving opponents will congregate and invent something new. There is no substitute for humans who understand the culture of the operating environment and there never will be. A C4ISR system built by and for those with tiny budgets will have the same effect that the AK-47 and RPG-7 have had on kinetic conflicts.

Seven and a half years have elapsed since the day my misadventure began. Today is the sixth anniversary of Andrew Breitbart’s death. I read all 4,250 pages of Stephen King’s Dark Tower in serial fashion the summer before the conflict started. Taking up this task again today evokes the line that is both first and last in the series:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

 

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