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CNN Gives Positive Look Into Fringe Group of Hackers and Thieves

The group "Anonymous" claims to be an arm of the Occupy movement and has made headlines for stealing credit card numbers and publishing personal information of police officers. A report by CNN's Amber Lyon might have made audiences think twice about their dubious reputation with her sneak-peek of an upcoming CNN Presents story "Anonymous" that airs Saturday night at 8 p.m.

Explaining the cause behind Anonymous and noting how they call themselves the "Air Force" of the Occupy movement is more like free publicity for the group than a critical investigation. Though CNN mentioned members' arrests at the hands of the FBI, Lyon also pointed out how "the majority of them are just average Joe Americans."

The segment began with intense footage of Occupy protesters in a standoff with police officers and voice-over commentary explaining how Anonymous sees the world. "It's a dark and disturbing vision. A world where riot police attack with impunity," Lyon narrated. "Where democracy is corrupted by greed and dissent is crushed," she added.

So is the audience supposed to feel sympathy for hackers and thieves? Lyon made sure to get their side of the story as to why they are engaging in illegal activity.

[Video below. Click here for audio.]





After reporting that they published personal information of police officers, she played a soundbite from one of the members, "Troy," who declared that "Hopefully he'll think twice before he pulls out his baton against somebody who's holding a sign, saying we just want peace."

After Lyon noted that the FBI has made more than a dozen arrests of group members, a brief clip from an Anonymous broadcast blared that "We are living in a police state".

"But there's no indication that has cramped Anonymous' style," Lyon said of the arrests, reporting that the group hacked into a security research firm on Christmas Day, crashed the website, and stole credit card information from its clients in order to donate $1 million to charity.

Amazingly, Lyon still cast the group members as ordinary Americans, carrying out their daily business and...wanting to start a revolution?

"But also, throughout this investigation, we met Anons who are auto mechanics, we met Anons who are doctors, teachers, lawyers, just trying to help build and create a revolution here in the U.S., Brooke," she reported.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on January 12 at 3:19 p.m. EST, is as follows:

BROOKE BALDWIN: If you maybe saw that Natalie Portman movie "V for Vendetta," you'll recognize this. This is the mask worn a character in the film, the Guy Fawkes mask. If you haven't seen the movie, you still recognize the mask? That's probably because the mask has been picked up and popularized by a group called "Anonymous." And it's turned up at a lot of the Occupy demonstrations. This group, if known at all, is definitely known for stealing credit card numbers and hacking into, say, police or military files. Well now "Anonymous" is going public, but staying still behind the mask. CNN's Amber Lyon takes us inside this secretive group.

(Video Clip)

(Explosions)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, back up, back up, back up.

AMBER LYON, CNN reporter (voice-over): It's a dark and disturbing vision, a world where riot police attack with impunity.

(Screams)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Medic! Medic!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened? What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got (Expletive) shot!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back. Get back.

LYON (voice-over): Where democracy is corrupted by greed, and dissent is crushed.

CROWD: (Chanting) Let him go! Let him go!

LYON: That's how Anonymous sees America. And they say that's why they're fighting back.

ANONYMOUS: We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget.

LYON (voice-over): Troy – not his real name – is one of them. We met him at the Occupy Wall Street camp at Zuccotti Park.

"TROY": There's no specific person that talks for us. It's more like a hive, you know, an idea is brought up and whoever agrees with it, if the overwhelming majority of people agree with it, then we go with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are anonymous.

LYON (voice-over): Anonymous likens itself to the "Air Force" of the Occupy movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone, everywhere will be occupying their towns, their capitals and other public spaces.

LYON (voice-over): When they see evidence of what they believe is police misbehavior, Anonymous strikes back, releasing personal information about specific officers.

"TROY": Hopefully he'll think twice before he pulls out his baton against somebody who's holding a sign, saying we just want peace.

LYON: And how are they getting the telephone numbers and personal information of these officers or bankers?

"TROY": I'd rather not say.

LYON (voice-over): The Department of Homeland Security has put out several alerts to law enforcement and corporate security, focused mainly on the group's hacking activities. And the FBI has made more than a dozen arrests.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are living in a police state with –

LYON (voice-over): But there's no indication that has cramped Anonymous' style.

ANONYMOUS: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all on Planet Earth.

LYON (voice-over): On Christmas Day, members crashed the website of a security research company, hacking its client list, along with their credit card numbers, in order to steal $1 million for donations to charity.

ANONYMOUS: We are Anonymous. Expect us.

(End Video Clip)

BALDWIN: I'm going to bring in Amber Lyon, she joins me live from Los Angeles. And I mean Amber, you were able to get up close and talk to some of these members of the group. Is it clear at all what they want? Or is it just – is the point not to have an agenda, kind of like the Occupy movement?

LYON: Well they don't really have an agenda necessarily, as a collective. But some of the individual Anons we spoke to, Brooke, say their main goal here with the Occupy movement is to keep people talking about it, to keep it relevant. Also to protect the human rights of the protesters you saw in that video, that they've been releasing information – personal information for police officers they believe have violated those rights. And if you look at the more extreme side to Anonymous, Brooke, some of those Anons are calling for a full-out revolution here in the United States, similar to the ones you're seeing over in the Middle East and North Africa.

BALDWIN: I'm just curious, exactly, who these people are, because I know they're probably a lot of Americans. They think these Anons, as they call themselves, they're these young hacker teens, maybe working out of their parents' basements. But that's not the case, is it?

LYON: It's a slight misconception. Although there are young hacker teens in Anonymous, the majority of them are just average Joe Americans. A lot of them do not have skills as hackers. They're hitting the streets now doing live streaming video of protests. Also, keeping an eye on police officers. But also, throughout this investigation, we met Anons who are auto mechanics, we met Anons who are doctors, teachers, lawyers, just trying to help build and create a revolution here in the U.S., Brooke.


- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center