Project Chanology - Activities - Internet Activities

Internet Activities

Project Chanology began its campaign by organizing and delivering a series of denial-of-service attacks against Scientology websites and flooding Scientology centers with prank calls and black faxes. The group was successful in taking down local and global Scientology websites intermittently from January 18, 2008 until at least January 25, 2008. Anonymous had early success rendering major Scientology websites inaccessible and leaking documents allegedly stolen from Scientology computers. This resulted in a large amount of coverage on social bookmarking websites.

The denial-of-service attacks on Scientology.org flooded the site with 220 megabits of traffic, a mid-range attack. Speaking with SCMagazineUS.com, a security strategist for Top Layer Networks, Ken Pappas said that he thought that botnets were involved in the Anonymous operation: "There are circles out there where you could take ownership of the bot machines that are already owned and launch a simultaneous attack against like the church from 50,000 PCs, all at the same time".

In response to the attacks, on January 21, 2008 the Scientology.org site was moved to Prolexic Technologies, a company specializing in safeguarding web sites from denial-of-service attacks. Attacks against the site increased, and CNET News reported that "a major assault" took place at 6 p.m. EST on January 24, 2008. Anonymous escalated the attack on Scientology on January 25, 2008 and on January 25, 2008, the Church of Scientology's official website remained inaccessible.

On January 21, 2008, Anonymous announced its goals and intentions via a video posted to YouTube entitled "Message to Scientology", and a press release declaring "War on Scientology", against both the Church of Scientology and the Religious Technology Center. In the press release, the group stated that the attacks against the Church of Scientology would continue in order to protect freedom of speech and to end what they characterized as the financial exploitation of church members.

The Tom Cruise video is referred to specifically at the start of the Anonymous YouTube video posting, and is characterized as a "propaganda video". The video utilizes a synthesized voice and shows floating cloud images using a time lapse method as the speaker addresses the leaders of Scientology directly: "We shall proceed to expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form..." The video goes on to state: "We recognize you as serious opponents, and do not expect our campaign to be completed in a short time frame. However, you will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic. Your choice of methods, your hypocrisy, and the general artlessness of your organization have sounded its death knell. You have nowhere to hide because we are everywhere... We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us." By January 25, 2008, only four days after its release, the video had been viewed 800,000 times, and by February 8, 2008 had been viewed over 2 million times. Author Warren Ellis called the video "creepy in and of itself" and a "manifesto, declaration of war, sharp political film".

In a different video posted to YouTube, Anonymous addresses news organizations covering the conflict and criticizes media reporting of the incident. In the video, Anonymous criticizes the media specifically for not mentioning objections by the group to certain controversial aspects of the history of the Church of Scientology, and cited past incidents including the death of Lisa McPherson: "We find it interesting that you did not mention the other objections in your news reporting. The stifling and punishment of dissent within the totalitarian organization of Scientology. The numerous, alleged human rights violations. Such as the treatment and events that led to the deaths of victims of the cult such as Lisa McPherson." Lisa McPherson was a Scientologist who died in 1995 under controversial circumstances. Initially, the Church of Scientology was held responsible and faced felony charges in her death. The charges were later dropped and a civil suit brought by McPherson's family was settled in 2004. This second video was removed on January 25, 2008, YouTube citing a "terms of use violation". Organizers of the February 10, 2008, Project Chanology protests against the Church of Scientology told the St. Petersburg Times the event was timed to coincide with the birthday of Lisa McPherson.

In addition to DDoS attacks against Church of Scientology websites, Anonymous also organized a campaign on one of their websites to "begin bumping Digg", referring to an attempt to drive up Scientology-related links on the website Digg.com. On January 25, 2008, eight of the top ten stories on Digg.com were about either Scientology-related controversies or Anonymous and attempts to expose Scientology. Digg CEO Jay Adelson told PC World that Anonymous had not manipulated the site's algorithm system to prevent artificial poll results, stating: "They must have done a very good job of bringing in a diverse set of interests ... It just happened to hit a nerve that the Digg community was interested in." Adelson said two other instances which similarly have dominated the Digg main page in the past were the Virginia Tech Massacre in the aftermath of the incident and the "7/7" London bombings in 2005. Adelson commented on the popularity of Scientology theme within the Digg community: "In the history of Digg, there's no question that the topic of Scientology has been of great interest to the community ... I can't explain why."

On January 29, 2008, Jason Lee Miller of WebProNews reported that a Google bomb technique had been used to make the Scientology.org main website the first result in a Google search for "dangerous cult". Miller wrote that Anonymous was behind the Google bomb, and that they had also tried to bump Scientology up as the first result in Google searches for "brainwashing cult", and to make the Xenu.net website first result in searches for "scientology". Rob Garner of MediaPost Publications wrote: "The Church of Scientology continues to be the target of a group called Anonymous, which is using Google bombs and YouTube as its tools of choice."

In a February 4, 2008, article, Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw told the Los Angeles Times that Church of Scientology's websites "have been and are online." Danny McPherson, chief research officer at Arbor Networks, claimed 500 denial-of-service attacks had been observed on the Scientology site in the week prior to February 4, some of which were strong enough to bring the website down. Calling Anonymous a "motley crew of internet troublemakers", Wired blogger Ryan Singel said that, while attempting to bypass the Prolexic servers protecting the Church of Scientology website, users of a misconfigured DDoS tool inadvertently and briefly had targeted the Etty Hillesum Lyceum, a Dutch secondary school in Deventer. Another hacking group associated with the project, calling themselves the "g00ns", mistakenly targeted a 59-year-old man from Stockton, California. They posted his home telephone number, address and his wife's Social Security number online for other people to target. They believed that he was behind counter-attacks against Project Chanology-related websites by the Regime, a counter-hack group who crashed one of the Project Chanology planning websites. The group allegedly attempted to gain personal information on people involved in Project Chanology to turn that information over to the Church of Scientology. After discovering they had wrongly targeted the couple, one of the members of the g00ns group called and apologized.

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