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The Curious Origins of Political Hacktivism


Real hacktivism is at least as old as October 1989 when the US Deptartment of Energy and NASA machines world wide were penetrated by the anti-nuclear WANK worm. The worm was the second ever to be unleashed, but its provenance was a curious contrast to its forebear. For you see, worm #1 had been traced to the son of National Security Agency chief cryptographer Robert Morris.

That WANK had a bold political intent was immediate. WANK penetrated machines had their login screens altered to:


\__ ____________ _____ ________ ____ ____ __
\ \ \ /\ / / / /\ \ | \ \ | | | | / / /
\ \ \ / \ / / / /__\ \ | |\ \ | | | |/ / /
\ \ \/ /\ \/ / / ______ \ | | \ \| | | |\ \ /
\_\ /__\ /____/ /______\ \____| |__\ | |____| |_\ \_/
\ /
\ Your System Has Been Officically WANKed /

You talk of times of peace for all, and then prepare for war.

In our book Underground, Suelette Dreyfus and I trace the source of the worm to Melbourne, Australia. At the time there was considerable cold war fueled anti-nuclear sentiment in the country. Australia had (and still has) a number of US spy, early warning and nuclear submarine communications bases, most of which were first and second strike soviet targets. Australia would not otherwise be a nuclear target, a fact charismatic Soviet foreign minister and Gorbachev confidant Edvard Shevardnadze frequently drew to the attention of the Australian people before finding himself a loved and reviled President of Georgia.

Additionally in 1984, New Zealand, a country with which Australians feel a special affinity, had under Labour pri-minister David Lange, made NZ a nuclear free territory, precluding the admission of nuclear armed or powered warships into NZ ports. The US in response rescinded its defence treaty obligations to NZ, cut intelligence ties (or at least pretended to, see Nicky Hager’s excellent book “Secret Power” for futher details) and instigated a number of trade sanctions against the country.

But New Zealand’s nuclear woes were not to end there. At 11:59 pm on the night of July 10 1985 the Greenpeace flag-ship “Rainbow Warrior”, docked in Auckland harbour preparing to sail in three days time to Mururoa Atoll to demonstrate against French nuclear tests, was bombed by amphibious DGSE (French Secret Service) agents, killing Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira. Within days, two DGSE agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur were arrested, following an investigation by Australian journalist Chris Masters, plead guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced by the NZ high court to 10 years. The other DGSE agents escaped via a French Nuclear sub off the NZ coast. The French, a significant NZ trade partner, immediately instigated trade sanctions against the country. In June 1986, a political deal was struck; France would lift sanctions, pay a few million in blood money, and the two agents would be transferred to Hao Atoll, a French military base in the pacific, where they would supposably serve out the remainder of their sentences. However, by May 1988 both had been smuggled back to France.

Examination of the worm source code show specific instructions to avoid infecting machines New Zealand.

Policy always has unpredicted consequences, but it should be remembered that some are blessings!

JULIAN ASSANGE is president of a NGO and Australia’s most infamous former computer hacker. He was convicted of attacks on the US intelligence and publishing a magazine which inspired crimes against the Commonwealth. He is the co-author of Underground and can be reached at



Julian Assange is the founder of Wikileaks. His most recent book is The Wikileaks Files (Verso).

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