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Q&A with Syrian Electronic Army: Assad loyalists or independent hacktivists?

Is the Syrian Electronic Army a bunch of regime lackeys or concerned secularists? In an interview with GlobalPost, members of the Syrian Electronic Army say they have their own agenda.
Sea 03 22 2013Enlarge
A screenshot of the Syrian Electronic Army's website. (Screengrab/Screengrab)

The Syrian Electronic Army has seized control of Twitter accounts belonging to the Onion, the Guardian, the Associated Press, NBC News, NPR and the BBC, bringing their often unpopular perspective of Syria’s civil war to millions of readers worldwide.

But who are the individuals that make up the Syrian Electronic Army? Are they simply regime lackeys tasked with embarrassing the western press or independent hackers with an agenda of their own? 

GlobalPost: Would you mind giving me as much information about yourself as you can – online handles, etc? Also, would you mind tweeting or posting “Interview with GP” or something to that effect from an account associated with you or the SEA to confirm your identity? If you could, please send me a quick email. Feel free to delete once I get a screenshot.

Screenshot 

Rebel hackers claim that the SEA is giving the locations of activists and fighters to the Syrian Military who then find them and kill them. Is that true?

Syrian Electronic Army Representative: We don't have the man power or resources to find the location of any terrorist to aid the military, nor do we have the necessary connections for that matter. These rumors are generated constantly to undermine and demonise the Syrian Electronic Army, but they've proven ineffectual.

I reported recently that the SEA was winning the cyberwar for Syria. Are you facing any resistance at all online from rebel hackers? What are their capabilities?

The only resistance we are facing are DDoSing attempts by some misguided factions of Anonymous. Generally, the tide has turned and most of the public is aware of the truth behind the war in Syria. As such, the government infiltrators inside Anonymous are finding fewer and fewer recruits to carry out these pointless attacks. Our website and social media presence has only faced dangers from the US regime, pushing Facebook and Twitter to shut them down constantly and our domain provider to shut our website down. When this happens, we simply create another account or domain. If anything, these US regime-led attacks proves their conspiracy against us.

How did you hack AP, Guardian, Onion, Twitter accounts? Spear phishing? Could you use similar tactics to gain access to critical systems like SCADA or ICS?

We cannot reveal all of our techniques, but the targets know a little bit about what was used. We refer to their articles and claims as our answer. As for SCADA and ICS systems, we are not interested, this is too dangerous in any case and could potentially provoke a war or harm innocent people.

Fear over the coming “cyberwar” is rampant. Are those fears justified?

It depends on the targets. We don't wish to water down the risk of cyberwar, but a lot of what you hear in the media is extremely sensationalized. Even the most famous cyberwar incident with the extremely elaborate Stuxnet worm was greatly overstated in terms of any damage or delay it had. As long as critical systems (such as SCADA etc.) are isolated from the open internet or unsecure internal networks and attention is paid to vectors like USB keys and spies, a system can be deemed impenetrable. Especially if it avoids off the shelf solutions and silly setups with outdated software.

Has the SEA been in any conflict with hackers employed by the US, European or others online? If so, what happened and who won?

We have been attacked, but not through hacking but deception. Very recently an unknown group hacked a fictional SCADA system they called "haifa critical infrastructure" and claimed it was the work of the SEA. The Arabic they used in their alleged attack is very suspicious and not written by a native speaker, but it looks like it has been translated from Hebrew, which apparently was alongside the "hack". We suspect some israeli hackers are attempting to frame us, but we assure them their efforts will be in vain and they will always lose against the Syrian Electronic Army.

Should the US intervene in Syria, is the SEA able to retaliate against American critical infrastructure? SCADA Systems? Financial markets?

We cannot stop any members of the group from attacking such things, but they we will not allow it to be done under the banner of our group. We are hacktivists and even in this situation we will continue to try and inform people of the truth in our own way.

Is the SEA planning any retaliation against Israel following airstrikes inside Syria?

We cannot comment about this particular issue at this time, or any other attack planned in the future as it will alert the target.

What has the SEA gained access to that has not been publicized?

Stick around and you will see, a lot of what we have accessed cannot be shown to the public yet as it contains sensitive information that could help Syria in this vicious war.

The SEA has already proven an ability to manipulate financial markets. Would you use similar tools as a deterrent or retaliation should the US or any others decide to intervene in Syria?

Financial markets are generally impossible to predict even with foreknowledge of an attack and any kind of "prank" will have a temporal effect. We did reveal that the US is not in as solid a position as it makes itself out to be. The financial system is a wreck with very little liquidity and high frequency traders taking most day traders to the cleaners. We rely on our valiant Syrian Arab Army to respond to such acts of folly by the US regime, while we focus on delivering the truth of the war on Syria. We should add, given Obama's abysmal performance and rock bottom approval ratings over the last few years, we were expecting the Dow Jones to go up not down.

SEA has stated that it hacks in defense of Syria. What is the SEA protecting Syria from?

The proxy war on Syria is two-fold: a media and a proxy war, usually the former paving the way to the latter. The SEA is engaging in the media war, defending Syria against disinformation championed by very large media outlets. Spreading the truth also saves lives as it denies the terrorists funded, armed and commanded by the west, from committing horrific massacres and attributing it to our valiant army. The more Americans (who contrary to common stereotypes are the most open-minded people) and other western people know the truth about this vicious war on Syria, the sooner it can end in a peaceful resolution and our people's victory.

Should President al-Assad decide to leave power, what would the future hold for Syria?

There is only one scenario possible (and this is what people must understand): the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafi and Wahhabi fractions taking over, implementing Shari'a law and turning Syria into a Islamic country. They are demolishing everything that symbolizes secular Syria and its strengths, by inciting sectarian violence, destroying places of worships and infrastructure, from historical bridges to hospitals, schools and universities. If Assad leaves, the future of Syria will not only be grim but non-existent. One has to keep in mind that the sectarian violence comes from abroad. True, there is some receptibility to such sectarianism amongst the population but the majority of the Syrians are non-sectarian and the majority of them do support the President in defending the nation against the Western and Gulf created, sponsored and fuelled proxy war.

Assad leaving will not only affect Syria or the Middle-East but the whole world, too because balancing global powers will shift depending on if Syria wins or loses.

Has the SEA gained access to any primary source information regarding the use of chemical weapons on either side of the conflict?

We have penetrated government websites of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, but none of the documents we have published (http://leaks.sea.sy/) has so far revealed this sort of plot. We doubt such a conspiracy will be openly talked about over conventional networks.

Hezbollah, a group the US has designated as terrorist organizations, fields their own hackers as well. Is there any cooperation between Hezbollah and the SEA?

The Syrian Electronic Army values its integrity above all and so while many of us admire the effort by the resistance, we have no means to vouch for any group or any members claiming to belong to them. Thus there is no cooperation between us and there won't be in the future due to this issue.

Has there been any cooperation between the SEA and any other hacker organizations targeting the West like the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters? Could there be?

As we said, we do not collaborate with other groups, but we would not collaborate with Hamas-linked groups for having links to a widely recognized terrorist organisation that is killing Syrian and Palestinian people. Until Qassam decouples itself from Hamas, the Syrian people cannot support it in spirit. As for collaborating with anti-western groups, this was never our aim. If anything, we see the western people as an integral component of a global struggle that Syria is fighting alone for now. This will change in the future as the vultures head home after their failures in our land. Westerners deserve to know what the NATO-aligned governments have done to our nation and our people, because one day, they could be the next target.

James Foley, a journalist and GlobalPost correspondent, is believed to be detained by the Syrian Air Force Intelligence service and has been since November. What is the SEA’s position on the capture and detention of journalists?

There is no way to know who has captured James Foley, but we will say that he entered the nation illegally and having no respect for our laws, we cannot feel sympathy for him. Furthermore, there is much concern shown for western journalists and this concern was not shown for reporters like Maya Naser who was assassinated during a live broadcast in Damascus. Despite being mentioned in a speech at the UN headquarters, we find that the western media avoids mentioning him at all. This double-standard is unacceptable to us at the Syrian Electronic Army.

Why hack the Onion? It’s already a fake news agency.

The onion is more satire than fake, most readers are aware of that fact and so are we. This does not detract from the fact that the basis of their 'humor' was rooted in the narrative promoted by most major corporate media. After a member read the article "The Onion website joins the U.S. Anti-Syria Club" by Shamus Cooke that details how The Onion can be even more effective war-time propaganda than even "serious" and seemingly credible media, we were convinced to make our move. The irresponsible promotion of chemical weapons claims and attribution of all the mayhem in Syria on the one side attempting to keep order is very much an assumption of their focus on Syria. This is why the majority of informed people do not find such articles funny. We decided to fix that part too, even if some humorless writers at the washington times didn't like it.

Follow Up: After going through your answers, I get the impressions that your prime objective is that you stop what you deem to be terrorists attempting to seize power over your home country. You even expressed a condemnation for Hamas, an organization that is, for the most part, quite popular in the Arab world and in some parts of the Muslim world as a whole.

Would it be accurate to say that the SEA is more concerned with stopping an Islamist takeover in Syria than defending the al-Assad regime? Or is the SEA a staunch supporter of President al-Assad and his government?

We don't support any single person, we support Syria as a nation. If the zio-Islamist take over, it means the end of Syria forever.

So you're correct in saying we are not pro-Assad, we are pro-Syria. Syria is currently fighting a war and the removal of a head of state during a war usually means an automatic defeat. It's a misconception that those fighting the terrorists are necessarily pro-Assad. Syrians will settle our internal political issues alone, after we win this bloody war. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-grid/interview-syrian-electronic-army

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