UPDATE: an hour ago someone called The Jester commented on this post saying it was very interesting and that I should write professionally (click here to see it). My initial reaction was that this was a pretty sweet burn from a troll: the username linked back to The Jester’s blog and had the email address “Yourkiddingright@fsdfs9742.com“; I invited him to talk on Twitter anyway. Then this happened:
Someone had sent The Jester my post and he’d read it and liked it. We exchanged DMs for about an hour. I asked him a handful of questions, then we said “stay frosty” to each other and headed off. As a result, I’ve made a quick (clearly flagged) update to the body of the piece regarding Tyrkoil and longer notes down below.
It was really nice to talk to The Jester. His reaction to the allegations I’ve compiled here was “folks do like to speculate a bit [...] The muddier the waters, the better for me eh?” which I find a pretty all-purpose “just as planned” puppetmaster reaction.
Thanks to The Jester for taking time out of his day to chat to me.
Everyone’s tough on the internet. That’s bound to happen when everyone’s anonymous (and when anyone’s Anonymous), but the amount of posturing and dick-waggling that goes on between hackers is even worse than you’d expect. One man has attracted enough rage to fuel several fruitless crusades against him by hackers who hate his agenda, what he claims to stand for and his public, crowed-from-the-rooftops success. He’s now in his third, unchecked year of hacktivism. That man’s name is th3j35t3r, which from here will be typed as “The Jester” because I am not thirteen years old.
Here’s the elevator pitch. The Jester is frequently and unironically described as “a lone wolf patriot hacker”. Every time he’s described as this, Tom Clancy moans in his sleep. The Jester spends his days, in the words of his Twitter bio, “Obstructing lines of communication for terrorists, sympathizers, facilitators” and probably working a day job. He’s ex-military, previously involved with supporting special forces in and around Afghanistan with “a rather famous unit” and claims to have served twice as an “airborne frontline combat trooper”. He is the most literal interpretation of the phrase ‘keyboard warrior’.
The Jester announces his attacks against websites (those belonging to “terrorists, sympathizers or facilitators” remember) by tweeting their now-offline URL and blaring “TANGO DOWN!” (‘Tango’ meaning target or terrorist) to his 43 000 followers; he’s kept this showboating up over hundreds of attacks, never letting a tango slip by. He maintains a blog that solicits bitcoin donations, both personal but preferentially to his favourite charity, the Wounded Warrior Project, and where he posts stuff like the webcam apology he fed to a man who wrongly accused him of being a paedophile.
Just so it hits home how pathetic that confession is: in a 2011 YouTube vlog John Tiessen alleged that the Jester had been kicked out of the military for possession of child pornography. He did this to gain celebrity within Anonymous, who hate The Jester, and because he’d just seen the film Hackers 2: Takedown where this is a key plot point (no, really, here’s the link to the video again). The accusation was a complete fabrication and pretty poorly received, much like Hackers 2: Takedown (6.0 on IMDb), but that didn’t matter. In retaliation The Jester outed Tiessen as a convicted sex offender, doxed Tiessen’s wife (releasing her name, phone number and where she works) and, after what Tiessen described as a “quick chat,” forced Tiessen to make this pathetic video.
The Jester comprehensively destroyed Tiessen, an old man who made the flimsiest allegations possible against him. This is the same Jester uses programs he wrote from scratch to take down Jihadist anti-America websites, describing one program as “violent internet smackdown” and then naming his other program “Saladin”: his bombast is as American as apple pie and drone strikes.
He’s also, just maybe, not what he says he is. The Jester’s workload is massive: it spans PR, site maintenance, actual operations and analysis of intelligence. That’s a lot of work for a lone wolf, even if that lone wolf is a patriot hacker and even without considering the hacking itself.
Mainly The Jester works through Denial of Service attacks. This’ll be quick, don’t worry: what a Denial of Service (DoS) attack is, in the simplest terms, is clogging up a website or server by sending requests again and again. It’s equivalent to refreshing a webpage constantly, forever and ever, so many times and with so many people that the page gets slowed down or simply stops functioning. Remember how the Click Frenzy site immediately died? A DoS attack accomplishes exactly that even to a site that isn’t built to fail, leaving servers collapsed beneath the weight of a million requests at once. The White House has been petitioned to view some forms of DoS attacks as a form of Occupy protest because they take the sites offline but leave everything else intact: “instead of a group of people standing outside a building to occupy the area, they are having their computer occupy a website to slow (or deny) service of that particular website for a short time.” Of course, it doesn’t take someone hours, possibly days, to make their way through an Occupy protest, and an Occupy protest can’t picket government-protected sites completely anonymously without fear of retribution. Really it’s more like an Occupy protest where everyone rushes into the building, holds the doors shut from the inside and escapes scot-free.
The petition is going to be singularly unsuccessful.
The Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks used by Anonymous et al. have many computers participating. The Jester’s Denial of Service (DoS) attacks only require The Jester, “very low bandwidth and a single low-spec Linux machine” because he uses internet superweapons like XerXeS (the generator of the “violent internet smackdown”) and its big brother Saladin. Here the issues become even greater: XerXeS is alleged to be just a reskin of an existing DoS tool with the infinitely better name SlowLoris (ohhh), in which case The Jester’s coding abilities extend to making a pretty face for an already capable piece of software and integrating a Twitter client into it.
Saladin, on the other hand, takes credit for a lot of TANGO DOWNS that actually take the site offline permanently, erasing it from the internet. Is it an advanced piece of cyberweaponry that can literally wipe any trace of an offensive website from the world wide web? Well, maybe, but mostly what seems to happen is a domain that fits The Jester’s List Of Things He Hates expires without renewal or gets taken offline for violating its host’s Terms of Service, then Saladin claims responsibility (excellent write-up on Pastebin here listing all applicable sites, as well as a shorter analysis of nine sites here).
The Pirate Bay was taken offline when Swedish police raided their Internet Service Provider and in the time between that den of iniquity going offline and that information coming out, The Jester had claimed credit. When the raid was revealed he deleted the tweet and claimed he was trolling. When much of Gaza’s internet connectivity was lost due to electricity issues, The Jester claimed credit for taking Gaza-based sites offline.
There’s genuinely impressive stuff to supplement this weird bullshit, of course, like the time The Jester hacked into Libyan newspapers during the country’s violent uprising. By injecting .jpgs into the websites of The Tripoli Post Online and the Malta Independent Online The Jester made it appear that the papers had published stories with such demoralizing headlines as “Army Abandoning Posts Across Country As Rebels Advance Further And Further”, potentially causing actual desertion among loyalist forces. In its sneakiness, The Jester’s Libyan hacking is similar to how he fucked up Anonymous’ legion of enthusiastic but unskilled hackers. The Jester re-distributed the favoured DDoS tool of Anonymous claiming he had augmented it for maximum havoc-causing, then revealed that all he’d done was compromise the anonymity of the tool itself. This is far more nuanced than the simple brute-force denial of a news service and potentially far more effective in demoralizing ground combatants; it’s in this more psychological warfare that The Jester becomes really interesting.
The Jester’s image is fascinating. He’s a larger-than-life computer-literate Captain America, one of the few thoroughly right-wing presences on the almost entirely left-wing and cryptoanarchist hacktivist scene. He supports gun ownership (see the above tweet), opposes Wikileaks and Anonymous, is entirely pro-State and fucking loves Heath Ledger’s Joker despite endorsing the exact opposite of that villain’s anarchist endgoal. His Twitter header and his laptop’s background both feature the same brooding shot of the grease-painted Batman villain. The Jester is self-aggrandizing and transparently legacy-building. Recently he tried to sell his laptop online (billing it as a piece of internet history), blamed trolls for the auction’s failure, then days later tweeted at the International Spy Museum offering to send an unidentified object to Washington D.C. for exhibition. You don’t have to be John Tiessen to figure out the connection here, and thank god for that because being John Tiessen seems awful.
The Jester’s dripping in gritty bravado and machismo; he’s a Robert Ludlum hero come to life, a Jack Bauer with no time to spare except when it comes to Twitter and telling kids to stay in school.
He’s an incredibly divisive figure, derided as a script kiddie who takes credit for things he never did (even his backdooring of Anonymous’ toolkit has been claimed to be the work of another hacker at The Jester’s request or to simply have been an inbuilt flaw) but as a pro-state figure he’s valuable and perhaps even necessary for the United States. He is, in every way possible, the anti-Julian Assange.
This is only a short summation of The Jester’s history: diametrically opposite summations can be found in this eyelash-flutteringly breathless thesis on his work by Sergeant TJ O’Connor and on this typically hate-filled Encyclopaedia Dramatica page (for the uninitiated, do not click ED at work). Better than either of these though is this piece by hacker Tyrkoil, who claims to be a former associate and friend of The Jester. Tyrkoil is disappointed: The Jester has turned from a hacker into a “reporter”, an aggregator of news without so many TANGO DOWNs and little to no illegal activity, just reposts of his past glories, and in his post he obliquely references why. There are a lot of theories, and the wording here is opaque enough to leave it all up to guesswork, but (oh, fine) th3j35t3r has been compromised, his illegal activities curtailed, and his net presence reduced from Captain America to J. Jonah Jameson, an outspoken pro-state anomaly ringing across the internet’s echo chamber of crypto-anarchist hacktivism.
[UPDATE: The Jester talked about Tyrkoil in his DMs with me. When I asked if he and Tyrkoil had any more contact after the fallout, noting that they had similar writing styles and had worked together in the past, The Jester replied "We didn't work together, I work alone sir". Tyrkoil was one of a group of his IRC channel operators (so someone who managed The Jester's dedicated chatroom, kicking and banning malicious users, making sure it was functional, a complicated and fairly dedicated job) who got frustrated when he "wasn't available for their every whim and upped and left channel, theyformed [sic] what isnow [sic] known as ReaperSec and spend their days trying to discredit me”.]
The Jester is the perfect all-American hacker, too, all stars and stripes and ones and zeros. A former military serviceman continuing the fight against Jihadi terrorists online is a narrative that’s too good to be true and, according to some, it is exactly that, but judged simply on his achievements The Jester’s made fascinating inroads in bringing a unique voice to the hacktivist presence.
Where Anonymous is pro-Palestine, The Jester is pro-Israel. When The Jester DDoS’d Wikileaks, Anonymous dox’d him for it as part of “Operation Payback”. They got the wrong guy entirely during that dox but, as The Jester would agree, it’s the thought that counts. It’s rare to see a pro-state hacktivist, especially one who’s made such incredible advances within social media, garnered such an impressive following and done it all without drawing truly damaging fire from his opponents. He’s valuable to the United States as an antidote to the anti-hero hacker archetype that captivated the internet during the mass media’s first brushes with Anonymous, the archetype that has only recently, in the wake of well-publicized convictions, started to lose some of its lustre.
Check out http://jesterscourt.mil.nf/ for official posts by the man himself. Be careful, of course, and don’t be running anything you don’t want him looking at, but admire the fact that he’s doing something entirely different. Even if Saladin is a psychological ploy to demoralize rather than destroy, even if that’s what large swathes of his persona are (and genuinely, no-one knows for sure) The Jester is a fascinating internet presence to be around and he’s worth your time, if only to balance out the relentlessly one-sided rhetoric of the hacktivist left.
Update: The Jester contacting me mainly made me think about how pervasive his marketing is. That’s what the man is, a triumph of marketing that is completely opposite to the triumph of Anonymous. Both have the same threatening, tough-guy lingo, both project omnipresence, hell, to get down to a full-on textual reading both project public images through smiling white face masks. They’re Yin and Yang.
The most interesting intangible with The Jester is the question of how much is PR and how much is actual action. In our discussion he said “it’s really only the ReaperSec crew and mad asherah [@AsherahResearch on Twitter, maintainer of a fairly vehement stream of hate against The Jester] who talk shit on me, I try to ignore most of it” but just looking at his timeline shows vast amounts of trolling and counter-trolling between him and Asherah in between him outing people critical of the late Chris Kyle, most lethal sniper in US history.
The Jester contacting me, and contacting me with such a gentle touch and with compliments, was nice. He was genuinely cool to talk to. This part, though, definitely felt like a defined public relations play:
So that’s why I’m taking such pains to be as objective as possible about the guy. He’s a master of the cult of personality, having built a marketable personality for a perspective that’s rare in his sphere, maintaining it through bombast and sharebait like the Redditesque tweet below. His softly-softly approach to my criticism was interesting, and I think more than anything he’s happy to be written about: any publicity is good publicity, and like he says it all muddies the waters if you want to find the true person behind the hacker.
Whether he’s having actual impact on the battlefield he champions is another story. At least in his recently publicized ops, it’s hard to see how taking down potentially Jihadist sites for small amounts of time each can have any large effect. He seems to have turned his attention to home more of late, and that’s where he’ll have his greatest effect: as a bastion of pro-military, pro-state hacktivism that centers its crosshairs on elements he terms dangerous within the United States. Right now, those seem to be members of the Occupy movement and trolls targeting the United States military and police force.
The Jester is an articulate, cyber-literate presence that the moderate right can rally around. He replies to kids, helps them with projects and tells them to stay in school. He takes down the Westboro Baptist Church, he takes down trolls mocking the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting and he’s “anti-terrorist”, a fairly unimpeachable platform if taken at face value and with complete faith. He’s everything the right didn’t realise it needed on the internet: superhero, superweapon and a self-conscious source of “cool”.