Is the US Indirectly Supporting Cyber Vigilantism? A Look at The Jester…

Called a  “Patriotic Hacker”… “Cyber Vigilante” … “Cyber Patriot” … which only begs the question:

Who Is The Jester?

He has allegedly taken down more than 170 Jihadi websites since 2010.

He has over 66,000 Twitter followers.

He hacked Wikileaks.

He even hacked Anonymous.

Five months ago he agreed to take part in a rare interview with NBC 5 in an encrypted chat room.  The Jester told the NBC 5 investigators that he started hacking after realizing that there was a growing threat from Jihadis online using the internet to recruit, radicalize and even train homegrowners.  He told Homeland Security Today:

[I]nstead of endlessly talking about what we might do, or what we could do, I decided as a private citizen to get up and just do it . . . and, I also like to smite the bad guys. I guess that’s why I continue to do what I do.

What makes him unique, is that unlike hacktivist groups like Anonymous which are worldwide, and group-driven by various ideologies and rules, this lone wolf focuses on US enemies and views his work as patriotic.  According to US Army cyber-operations specialist T. J. O’Connor, the Jester has argued that the omnipotence and growth of the Internet has granted terrorists a safe haven, and stated his intentions to prevent such action.

O’Connor wrote a detailed paper on the Jester back in December 30, 2011.  Titled: “The Jester Dynamic: A Lesson in Asymmetric Unmanaged Cyber Warfare,” he “examine[d] the significant impact [this] lone-wolf patriot hacker has had over the course of the last two years, and what important lessons we can learn from him on how to wage a successful fight in this domain.”  O’Connor wrote that in the Jester’s first two years of hacking, he successfully attacked over 200 targets.  O’Connor also wrote that the Jester’s desire to deny Internet sanctuary to jihadists appears to stem from his military service.

So who exactly is this Jester? Ashlee Vance, reporting in The New York Times back on Dec. 3, 2010, quoted a Pentagon source as saying The Jester is “a former defense operative with knowledge of Special Forces activities” who “was a onetime military contractor who had worked on projects for Special Operations Command.” According to CNN Money, the Jester claims to currently hold a desk job in the cybersecurity and intelligence field.

How does the government view the work of the Jester? If one views actions more seriously than words, it is important to note that despite the fact that the Jester’s hacking is illegal under US laws, no criminal charges have been pursued against him.  The Jester told Homeland Security Today that he knew people inside the government.  In fact, according to Homeland Security Today, his Twitter followers include shadow operators in the US intelligence and counterterrorism communities.

More than a few told Homeland Security Today on background that The Jester has, at the very least, their tacit approval. From the shadows, he’s quietly applauded.

Is it true? Is the government acting under willful blindness of the illegal acts of this cyber Jester? Should they be? Is this alleged tacit approval a call for other lone wolfs to follow in his footsteps?





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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. She is the 2018-9 Editor in Chief of the Syracuse Law Review, as well as a member of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography


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