Operation Cupcake, an exercise in hacktivism and lulz, was pulled off by British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), who hacked al-Qaeda’s first English-language e-zine Inspire Magazine and replaced instructions on how to construct a bomb with images of cupcakes and cupcake recipes courtesy of Ellen DeGeneres:
The article, titled “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” originally contained a 67-page PDF of bomb-building instructions. After GCHQ was done with it, it was mostly garbled code… and cupcakes. GCHQ is reportedly “increasingly using cybertools as part of [their] work” (Dodds) but wouldn’t specify how Inspire was hacked. The department, which has been boosting its resources, has also been incorporating agents into military units on the battlefield, facilitating military maneuvers and government knowledge with real-time intelligence.
Replacing bomb recipes with baked goods—as opposed to counter-ideologies or recipes for defunct bombs—reflects increasingly visible changes in the landscape of conventional social protest. Traditional activism and art for social change have drawn on “lulzy” tactics, as in the operations of the Yes Men, Situationists, Dadaists, the Motherfuckers, or the Yippies. Still, it seems that the transition of online ethics to offline ones (or vice-versa) is impacting the very notion of the protest movement, adding legitimacy to vandalism/defacement, distributed denial-of-service attacks, and spectacular theatrics. Where the Yippies promoted a pig as president, Anonymous quite literally touched the social boundaries of their world by rubbing pubic hair on Church of Scientology facilities and materials. Defacement of online spaces is dismissed by mainstream media as useless, ineffective, or an exercise in “How Not to Protest X, Y, or Z.” However, the attention garnered by such tactics—in addition to the swiftness with which they, Trickster-like, disrupt our sense of (online or offline) security and the true power of those in charge—reveal the instability of the nomizing social constructs within which we live, and challenge us to question them or change ourselves.
In short, perhaps this is the true aim, and maybe I should be going into mythography. But more on that later.
This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.