Matthew Keys, the former social media editor for Reuters, who was accused in March for helping Anonymous hack the Los Angeles Times, hosted a live conversation with someone who claimed to be a leader of the Syrian Electronic Army, the mysterious pro-Assad hacker collective known for high-profile attacks on Twitter, The Guardian and New York Times.
The hacker, identified as “The3Pr0,” answered questions from Keys as well as members of the audience. If the hacker is actually a member of the SEA, the conversation with Keys would be the first live interview with any member with the SEA.
Th3Pr0 said all of SEA’s targets were guilty of biased coverage against Syria, and that the group of hackers harbors a deep mistrust of media.
“No one should trust anything they read unless they can verify it from someone they trust,” Th3Pr0 said, adding the SEA is more favorable toward independent journalists, citing Robert Risk and Seymour Hersh as examples.
Keys brought up the subject of the identities of SEA hackers and a story in VICE that claimed to reveal the names and pictures of the hackers. Th3Pr0 denied the accuracy of VICE’s story, calling it “nothing but junk,” and said that the SEA doesn’t really care if their identities are made public, but fears that the members “would be beheaded by the U.S.-backed Al Qaeda death squads.”
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“In a country where journalists are targeted by Western-funded terrorists, what makes you think that hacktivists will be spared their criminal hands and minds?” Th3Pr0 said.
Th3Pr0 also talked a bit about the structure of SEA, stating that there are eight core members.
“In the end, we just want to stop this vicious fourth-generation war on our country,” Th3Pr0 said. “We will try to go on as long as we are creative a positive effect, even if the media war ends, the war in Syria will take a lot longer to come to a halt.”
An audience member identified as “Nym” asked if the SEA only combats what it sees as propaganda, or if the group has positive messages to contribute as well. Th3Pr0 responded by citing its claim that Saudi Arabia was the real source behind the Boston Marathon bombings, though Keys rejected the response as more of a conspiracy theory than fact.
Th3Pr0 also denied rumors that the SEA was affiliated in any way with a government. There had been rumors that either the Syrian, Russian or Iranian government supplied the SEA with funding, equipment or training, but Th3Pr0 insisted that the hackers are simply students.
The conversation ended with a message from Th3Pr0:
“We would like to send a message that Syria is a sovereign state that deserves respect, Syria is for Syrians, and that the U.S. government or any other foreign government or person has no right to dictate to us what kind of leadership or political ideology we should choose.”
Of course, there is no way to prove that Th3Pr0 is actually a member of the SEA, though the official SEA Twitter account endorsed the interview. Th3Pr0 offered to post a screen capture of his desktop to show that it matches an image posted by the SEA Twitter account, but this image never materialized.