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A former US military intelligence expert and Iraq war veteran has 'outed' himself as a one-time member of the notorious hacking collective Anonymous, revealing how he got involved and why he's turning his back on the masked movement.
Mike Jones, who claims to be 'an original member' of the group, has openly discussed with US-based news organisation KPRC2 how his eventual support for the collective quickly spiralled into disillusionment.
When asked why he initially aligned himself with Anonymous, Jones said the first reason was injustice. "After 9-11 there was a swing of taking people's civil liberties," he said in an interview.
"There was a knockdown of people's rights and there was a fight for gaining that back. We kind of got together, put our heads together and labelled ourselves, basically, freedom fighters. [The hacks] were aimed at people and organisations that we felt were on the wrong side of the law to begin with. We were looking for new ways, new ways of thinking."
However, Jones is not the traditional 'hacker' or 'cybercriminal' stereotype. Instead, he is a family man and Iraq war veteran. According to KPRC, who verified his military background, Jones enlisted in the Navy during the first war in Iraq and then re-joined after the terrorist atrocities committed in New York on 11 September. "I went into military intelligence after 9-11," Jones explained. "There was definitely an intelligence gap, and that's where I wanted to be."
While maintaining his escapades with Anonymous only started after he left the service, Jones stressed he was less concerned with malicious hacking and more involved with exposing computer weaknesses. "Looking at systems for vulnerabilities is something that helps all of us," he asserted. "The way I look at it is, either I can test it or the Chinese can. Would you rather me test it or someone from China or North Korea test it?"
From freedom fighter to cyber-terrorist
However, eventually things changed. For the military man, it was a law enforcement clampdown on hackers alongside a distillation of what the group stood for. "They [the US government] held us to almost a terrorist level. Matter of fact they called it cyber-terrorism," he said.
"I think that made a lot of us feel like less than citizens. When I look at my kids, jail is not somewhere I want to be." He added: "The idea is disappearing. Guys are buying Anonymous masks at Party City, they're running through the streets and starting fires with the Anonymous mask on, that's not who we are. The idea was a pure idea and it was not physical or life-threatening."
Yet it's not uncommon for members of Anonymous to splinter off for ideological reasons. The group has many forks – from LulzSec to the New World Hackers – and each has its own beliefs, capabilities and membership size. But don't let the word membership fool you – this is not a traditional organisation. For better or worse, anyone can be a member of Anonymous simply by claiming they are - which remains its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
For Jones, the future revolves around less hacking and more with legitimate work in the private sector. "At this point it's not a coming out, it's a walking away," he said. "I'm walking away from Anonymous."