The "hacktivist" movement Anonymous appears to have won a victory over a ruthless Mexican drug cartel, with word late Thursday that the Anonymous member kidnapped by Los Zetas had been released. However, unofficial Anonymous spokesman Barrett Brown says he may yet share an alleged 25,000 Mexican government emails containing the names of Zetas members and associates.
"The Anon who had been kidnapped last month by the Zetas has been released, although it appears that the Zetas concerned did not know that the individual was the Anon whose release had been demanded by those who instigated #OpCartel. As such, no bargain has been fulfilled," wrote Brown in a message posted on the Pastebin website yesterday evening.
Friday morning, Brown changed his tune after he apparently received more information.
"As many have heard, the individual who was kidnapped was indeed identified by Zetas, which changes things. More later," he tweeted. "I will not be releasing Zeta names from those e-mails, but will be going after other cartels with help from informants," adding in another tweet that the emails "are going to [the German newsmagazine] Der Spiegel."
Yet Anonymous Iberoamerica, a Spanish-language Anonymous blog, predicted dire consequences if any cartel-related names were revealed — and consequently abandoned the fight.
"[The freed Anonymous member] has sent us a message," a posting early this morning read. "If Anonymous unveils any name related to the cartel, the family of the kidnapped Anonymous member will suffer the consequences. For each cartel name revealed, 10 people will be put to death."
"The Anonymous collective has decided by consensus that the information which we have will not be disclosed for now, as we understand that we cannot ignore threats that involve innocent civilians who have nothing to do with our actions."
Earlier on Pastebin, Brown took full responsibility for the consequences of his own actions.
"Meanwhile, those who have been in possession of the emails have promised to provide them to me alone, which is to say that everything that proceeds from now on is my own work, and not that of Anonymous," Brown, an American citizen residing in Dallas, said. "Any reprisals against anyone other than myself, then, will have no effect."
"I will be proceeding carefully and with the assistance of several parties who are equipped to assess the contents of these e-mails and particularly those portions dealing with Zeta collaborators. I'll announce the next step in a few days," Brown said.
The effort to unmask the Zetas, one of the most feared and ruthless of Mexico's drug cartels, had split the Anonymous movement in the Americas, with many members arguing in Internet chat rooms that the risk of horrible death was too great to proceed. A budding domestic effort among Mexican Internet users to expose the cartels was crushed this summer when the mutilated bodies of two bloggers were found hanging from a highway overpass, and a third was found decapitated in a park.
On Pastebin, Brown acknowledged the risk to his own life, but argued he had no choice.
"The idea that I should refrain from assisting in the naming of probable criminals operating in a foreign country without a working judicial system lest I be murdered is a cowardly sentiment," he said. "No individual living in the free world should refrain from working to fight injustice simply because there is a possibility of retaliation."
Scot Terban, a security specialist based in Connecticut who blogs as "Krypt3ia," wrote an open message to Brown that he would meet a pointless, violent end.
"Any data you have will serve no purpose. The cartel owns the government there," Tarben posted. "You will not be a hero or a martyr. You will have been just stupid."
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