By Commander X
I first found out Glenn Greenwald was doing a speaking engagement in Montreal from the Twitter account of Gabriella Coleman. I immediately did two things. First, I messaged an Anon who lives in Quebec – and told them to prepare to come down for the event. The next thing I did was to write an E-Mail to Glenn offering to make myself available to him while he was in Montreal. To my huge surprise, I received an answer back almost immediately. Glenn not only wanted to meet with me in private, but was apparently quite anxious to do so. After bouncing a few messages with Glenn’s “secretary” we settled on a meeting in the lobby of Glenn’s hotel the evening before his speaking event, scheduled for October 23, 2014 at McGill University. At that point, I honestly thought it would just be an interesting evening – maybe some drinks after. Little did I know Glenn Greenwald’s visit would precipitate quite a little three day adventure for us Anons here in Canada.
On the afternoon prior to the speaking event, the Anon from Quebec City arrived at the coffee house we were meeting at. This person was very excited to not only meet Glenn Greenwald, but later Gabriella Coleman. “Biella” as she is affectionately known within Anonymous was hosting Glenn’s talk and she had agreed to meet with us both prior to the event at her office on McGill University campus. Surprisingly, there was no real “cloak & dagger” type preparations for the meeting with Glenn. Our plan was to show up in the lobby of his hotel and have the front desk call him.
When we arrived in the lobby of the hotel however, I began to sweat – and it wasn’t because of the heat. As it really began to sink in exactly who I was about to meet with, (not to mention who was doing the meeting) – I noticed what seemed like an inordinate number of individuals around us wearing suits and ties. Granted, it was a high-end business hotel – but there still seemed like a lot suits were about. How many of them were foreign intelligence agents? CIA? What seemed like a straight forward meeting with yet another journalist was now starting to feel a bit more…dangerous. It got really weird when the desk lady called Glenn and suddenly turned to me and asked “who’s calling?”. Me and the other Anon briefly looked at each other and then I turned back, coughed once and said “tell him it’s X”. I’ll give the girl credit for being a pro, she only hesitated about a half a second before complying.
The other Anon and myself then found a comfortable looking area in the sprawling lobby out of the way (and as far away from the “suits” as we could get), and settled in to await one of the most famous journalists in modern times. A few minutes later Glenn Greenwald bounded down the steps and looked us over. I stood up and straightened out the “Guy Fawkes” hoodie I was wearing and smiled at him. He strode right up to me and shook my hand with a firm grasp and said “X, I presume?”. I introduced my companion and then we all settled in to our corner of the lobby.
Over the course of the next couple of hours I had one of the most fascinating and stimulating conversations I have ever had with a journalist. Normally when I am meeting a journalist, even one as esteemed as say the editor of Rolling Stone – I am still the most famous person in the equation. But to sit there in that lobby talking information activism with the journalist who published the Snowden leaks, the single most trusted and hated journalist in the western world – was an incredibly unique experience.
There were some secrets shared. But much of what we discussed was about information activism, and the various factions within this movement and how those factions relate to each other. So for example, I filled Glenn in on the details of the great “Paywall Battle” between Anonymous and WikiLeaks that erupted in 2012. We discussed the relationship and differences between hacktivists and whistleblowers. And we discussed my own self-imposed political exile in Canada and it’s implications, for myself and for the movement. We talked a lot about Anonymous and it’s critical role in the information activism, past Ops and future possibilities.
One thing I want to portray about Glenn Greenwald is his personality did not conform to what I had been led to expect. He was not in any way aloof or high on himself. Despite being clearly exhausted he bounded across the lobby, shook my hand with great enthusiasm – and was lively, curious – and engaged throughout our wide ranging conversation. He was genuinely pleasant, down to earth – and wanting to know anything we could tell him about Anonymous. We spent a lot of time discussing the sacrifice of not only the whistleblowers like Snowden, but the hackers like Jeremy Hammond and journalists like Barrett Brown. Glenn was particularly curious (and genuinely concerned) about how I was holding up under the rigors of nearly 3 years in exile and hiding.
The next evening my companion and I made our way onto McGill University and began the almost comical adventure of trying to locate the tiny and disorganized office of one Gabriella Coleman – the famous anthropologist who studies hackers. We were going to the meeting ostensibly to score signed copies of her new book “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy”, but we were both hopeful of spending some quality time with Biella – who is so beloved within Anonymous. After many wrong turns, we finally stumbled upon Coleman’s “office”. Apparently holding the “Wolfe Chair” at McGill does not entitle one to an office with a bathroom. Biella’s office was small, cramped, dis-organized (but not un-tidy) and yes, right in plain sight as we walked in there was a Guy Fawkes mask resting lazily on a shelf.
Gabriella Coleman’s research assistant Matt was there. And just prior to our arrival Biella had received a rather disturbing phone call from the Campus Security Office. Apparently a viable death threat against Glenn Greenwald had been made, and the security for that night’s event was being tightened. Glenn was not even going to be allowed to walk the short distance across the quad to the lecture hall, but was to be driven instead. However, with the weirdness and the book signing thing out of the way – we settled in to enjoy a delightful meeting with Gabriella Coleman. We touched on everything from Anonymous Operation Ferguson to how pissed off Barrett Brown was about some of the stuff in Biella’s new book. Coleman and her research assistant were particularly curious about a controversy called “gamer-gate” and our thoughts on it.
Finally the time arrived for my companion and I to make our way to the venue for that nights event. We scored some excellent seats up front near the VIP section and waited for Biella to take the stage and introduce the star of the evening, Glenn Greenwald. I won’t waste time trying to summarize Glenn’s talk that night because you really should simply watch it for yourself below…
Glenn Greenwald’s presentation was consummate, being directly applicable in every way to the Canadian audience in attendance. He was able to use his time on stage to brilliantly lead his audience through the Snowden and other leaks, their highlights – and why these disclosures are important to Canadians. When he was finished he took many questions from eager students in the audience.
After the event, my Anon companion and myself were due to meet Gabriella Coleman and some other friends for drinks. But we had an hour or so to kill so we headed to a local sandwich shop to grab a bite to eat. Despite the fact that we were only inside for about 30 minutes, someone broke into my friends car and stole his laptop and both signed copies of “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy”. Were we the victims of some cagey intelligence people following Glenn and trying to see if we passed him anything? Or was it just an incredible coincidence and really bad luck? We’ll never know I guess.
Anonymous and the information activist community are a tight-knit group, like family really. Later that night as we all gathered at a couple of different watering holes to celebrate Glenn’s visit – there was much consternation at the theft of my friends laptop (the signed books were happily replaced the next day by Biella, who joked on Twitter she hoped the thieves would at least read it!). By the end of the evening a secret collection had raised more than enough to replace the computer stolen from my friends car. And just to add a touch of Black Hat to the evening, on the way home late that night we made a brief stop to pick up a package at a friends house. His doorbell didn’t work, and we only had Skype on mobile so we needed WiFi to call upstairs to get his attention. Undeterred, I went back to the car and grabbed my laptop – sat down on the sidewalk in front of my buddies house – and calmly hacked his WiFi password so we could call him.
All in a nights work, really.
Copyright © 2014 by Christopher Doyon. All Rights Reserved.