Article from the bestselling novel, My Battle with Terrorism.
En route to the City of Anaheim via a bus from Downtown Los Angeles, I noticed a passenger complaining to an older woman he was lost. He said there was a major blackout that took over West Hollywood that evening. He read on Twitter people were notified by authorities to find family nearby, “they said it could last a few days.” The outage was apparently caused by a system attack through cyberspace, and the authorities weren’t sure how long it would take to recover.
From wherever you may be reading this article, look around the vicinity and find the time. Imagine that clock — a watch, smartphone, cable box, grandfather — has suddenly stopped. What I would like to do with you, the reader, is pretend we both ran into the same man on that bus today, and knew a global cyber-war for Greater Los Angeles had finally begun.
There was hearsay on electrical outages throughout the day, but no official warning; most suspected it was just another random black-out, bickering in their heads for tomorrow’s plans, still waiting in the dark for the time to show itself again.
Look outside. You spot a flickering light moving closer to the neighborhood. It’s a PSA to follow for the next few days: “Please remain indoors as often as you can, we will update everyone as more information comes through. Avoid all electronics until further notice.”
Presumably its the police, but how certain can you be? What if it’s just a drone in the hands of a computer hacker? Perhaps he or she is the same entity turning the electricity on and off throughout the day? The same one terrorizing your thoughts through various mediums — television broadcasts, websites, a mayor’s Twitter account etc.
The only sight you see is a shadow of war: battling machinations are quietly set in place, as a world of paranoia spawns from the dearth of our digital-dependent lifestyles.
As time goes on, things get more serious. It’s no longer just about tomorrow, but next week, maybe even next month. It’s no longer about plans, but groceries and livelihood. Where will it all come from now that everything we need is offline? The blackout has increasingly become a widening scene of endless waiting and mistrust. No one in charge wants to say it’s martial law, but it sure does feel like it. The police — wherever you may find them throughout these offline days — only seem to be a hush-like presence.
Eventually you learn the entire metropolitan area has become a government-sponsored crowd control operation. Diets start to become regiments, as a steady supply of information is only accessible via the centralized system of walking in the afternoon from your house to the police department.
Your life has entered an age of sharp static; you’ve been unplugged from the modern world, and summoned to the pit of a new kind of nuclear fallout. Cyber-space in your area has been nuked, and you’re now the unknowing pawn in a global game of online warriors. No one was asked or drafted to participate, but it is illegal for you to escape; you’re quarantined within the new parameters of an electronic ground zero.
Like the other 20 million inhabitants of the L.A megalopolis, you’re a human bit to a series of battles to plug everyone back into the grid. The choices you make could be part of a victory, or a defeat. It’s all based on what bits of info you choose to believe, and not to.
Cyber-war is a hot war online, but a cold war offline. The network of computer programmers writing codes are using your mind to move their battle plans forward, without you knowing it. One side wants to manipulate your behavior toward the right path, the other wants you to die in the dark of an offline abyss. These battles are not designed to kill anyone, but for everyone to eventually kill themselves.
Who will be the fooled member of this pitch-black society that joins an underground resistance so they can disarm a military drone they have been told is dropping a bomb soon? Who will take control of it and crash it into anything or anyone they have deemed an enemy? Who will convince them it was because the drone was wired to kill anyone automatically?
All the lights are still out: the entire grid of Greater Los Angeles has been destroyed by a malware program. The skies are filled with endless fleets of blinking drones. Federal, state and local governments have been trying to inform this attacked public of an evacuation plan.
You’re still alone in the blackout, unsure who or what to believe is real. All you know is that the name of this game is to make sure you lose your mind.
The future of war will be in the hands of those who operate the most skillfully in cyber-space. In it’s relatively young history, plans for a completely offline metropolitan area are common contingency hypothethicals designed by governments around the world as preparation for a distant future. This scenario of an offline Los Angeles is modeled after cyber-attacks already conducted on a smaller scale in the past 10 to 15 years.
In “The Law of Cyber-Attack,” a study conducted by the California Law Review, an urban area quickly sinking into a blackout is not as far-fetched as it may presently seem. In fact, it is only the large-scale adaption of computer hacking methods conducted on computer systems within the past decade.
From Russia’s massive Denial of Service Attack during it’s 2008 military invasion of the nation of Georgia — which lead to a black-out for its 10 million citizens — to Israel’s infiltration of Syria’s Air Defenses; major forms of cyber war have been conducted at a highly practical level of destruction. The one thing that has been missing is the power to proliferate an attack on a scale that encompasses consumer electronic devices and computer systems that manage our daily lives.
Enter Stuxnet: a malware program being reversed engineered by hackers since its launch in 2011.
“The emergence of Stuxnet last year heralded a new era for cyber-attacks. Although the damage it caused was apparently limited to the Iranian nuclear program at which it was aimed, the vulnerabilities it revealed were immense. By the time it was discovered, Stuxnet had wormed its way into computer networks around the world, including, by some estimates, nearly half of those running electric utilities.”
Written in early 2012, the study claims Stuxnet, a malware program developed by U.S. Cyber Command, had unleashed a new world of possibilities for computer hackers to gain the global system of the internet. It made the act of war an operation easily performed by anyone well-versed in the art of writing and reverse engineering computer code.
Cyber-war and cyber-crime: the line is now blurred between these two words, and so are the ill-intentions of a coder. Is he or she a criminal mastermind? Or a battle-hardened warrior? Our thoughts are his or her proxy zone for warfare conducted in cyberspace, so how do we define an attacker who sets out to decode the writings of Stuxnet, the atom bomb of cyber-space?
Is the man who planned out an attack on Greater L.A, who has detailed documents and ideas on record as his, “Digital Pearl Harbor,” is he a cyber-criminal? A cyber-terrorist? Both?
Whatever he is, he’s also a teenager; a local of Orange County, who prefers to go by his 4Chan username, DuMplegAnger@ty69er. He shared with me what he believes is not only an inevitable future, but a vision shared by computer hackers around the world.
I told him he seemed more like a troll, someone who seemed to be doing things for the sake of getting attention for doing those things, and I couldn’t write a serious report on someone like him. However, I asked if we could do a face-to-face interview, in hopes I can get something substantial beyond a few email rants. He declined the offer at first; I had some time to research his background.
On his Facebook, he brought up his belief that computer hackers like him are slowly ushering society into the post-atomic age. The power of nuclear weapons, he wrote, will in a matter of years become insignificant. “Hacking is going to become the most powerful weapon of the 21st Century, not atom bombs,” he wrote in one post.
In one rant, he says that man-made arms by the end of the next decade — be it in assault rifle or a missile — will no longer command strength or respect for a nation, only coding will. Computer programmers, he believes quite passionately, will lead the wars of the future.
His real name is Marcus Gallop (no relation to the polling firm, as far as he knows), and he has made it his mission in life to usher in the era where “Cyber warlords call all the shots.”
He also considers what he does as a form of payback for his current situation; he is under house arrest. The Federal government, according to Gallop, is also keeping close eyes on him. “How is is not FARE for Muslims to want to destroy America?” he wrote in a text message to me, “we do it all the time to them. America hacks and spies on its own friends like, fucking Nazi Germany…just fucking Google that Snowden shit!”
When asked to clarify what he meant by fair, he responded via another rant: “…the government hacks its own citizens every fucking second. I think it’s sad people don’t realize what a scumbag of a computer hacker our government is. If people want to go on living blind like that, it’s not my fucking problem…it’s karma that America deserves for all its evil.”
Gallop is a 19-year-old Caucasian male, born and raised in Fullerton, California. His father is a lobbyist for the OCTA, one of the metro area’s bus systems, and travels between apartments in Fullerton and Washington D.C. His mother is a real estate agent. They own a three-bedroom apartment in the Downtown district, where he is currently under house arrest. According to the police, he is being held in his parent’s home for, “conspiring in the use of malware software to cause harm and destruction.”
My interview with Gallop was a unique opportunity to step into a sequestered prison cell. I had been invited to his home for a conversation about why he is in trouble with the law. At the time, I was working for the Anaheim Gazette on a series encompassing homegrown terrorism. My articles mainly focused on the uptick in terror alerts around the Disneyland Resort those few years.
In one of those reports, titled, “Skynet — A Cyber-war for the Magic Kingdom,” I had uncovered from an insider source at Disney’s Imagineering department that their employee intranet system had been breached by a Stuxnet-like virus. It apparently caused no damages, but had an inexplicable routine of showing up on computer monitors of certain rides as a blinking message, “welcome to skynet.” No matter how often Disney managed to remove the message, it would appear again throughout any number of rides.
It was through this beat I stumbled upon Gallop. He had read a few of my articles, and reached out to my editors to elaborate on what he believed was a copy-cat of a program he developed when he was 16.
Gallop was tucked faraway in a townhouse complex by the quiet train tracks along Downtown Fullerton. To reach his apartment, I had to take an overpass built along the train station, as it connects residents to the rest of the neighborhood.
When I arrived, he was eager to prove to me the Disneyland virus was all modeled after his own work. The skynet message apparently was Gallop’s idea, but he claimed being unaware it was irremovable. “That makes no sense to me,” he said as we sat on an L-shaped living room couch, “ it was just a spider bot I gave to some psst off employee. He either gave it to someone else to make it better, or Disney has shitty data specialists.”
Gallop claimed he did not believe his work was a cyber-crime, since it was a copycat and not his own work, and caused no form of disruption, nor lead to any destruction or violence. He only wanted to, “slowly lead people into the chaos of truth.”
He believed my previous reporting was proof of a self-radicalized Muslim computer hacker, one that he claims to know personally but refuses to disclose any personal details on. “He’s in it for Jihad…he’s waiting at the forefront of a new era in the fight to destroy our hack government. He’s the true leader of the Islamic State, he’s the one that will bring justice to their precious infidels.”
In a blog titled, “Why the Feds Want me Dead,” Gallop briefly mentioned my articles had validated the existence of a Jihadist network that framed him for the computer hacking of Disneyland’s computer systems.
Gallop took out his phone and shared with me a few text messages from the aforementioned self-radicalized men he had been in communication with. They had no names attached their messages, only random strings of numbers. “They are obviously pretty fucked up, but I was just going to shut Disney down…they were the ones that talked about killing people with it. I had no plans to kill anyone at fucking Disneyland.”
Another contextual note: in the, “Cyber-war for the Magic Kingdom,” article aforementioned, I had profiled a Disneyland engineer who claimed the Stuxnet-like virus they detected in their system had the potential to disrupt the safety protocols running their rides, and could cause things like violent crashes, seat restraints being unlocked, and various other forms of major operational destruction.
Although Gallop denied violence was his aim with the virus, he told me his mantra as a hacker was that all hackers should hold the life-long mission of shutting down every electronic system in the world, and let our own humanity eat itself up in the economic disasters that would follow. Islamic extremism, he believes, is the beginning manifestation of that mission. “I think I’m pretty straightforward here,” he said, “I just want to turn off the lights, let bitter Muslims bomb everything, and watch America go ape shit. Even if it’s just L.A, the fact that it’s happening will make it the biggest news for years.”
Yet Gallop wasn’t sure to what kind of damage a Stuxnet-like virus could ever cause at a resort like Disneyland, he only held speculative ideas. “I doubt anyone would actually die…maybe some if they panicked and jumped out of a ride…or a stampede maybe…people are fucking stupid, that’s all I know.”
He showed me a picture of a screensaver he had hoped would pop up when a Disneyland employee tried to access the company’s intranet system. It was a cartoon of Osama Bin Laden holding the decapitated head of Luke Skywalker, with a chat bubble that read, “fuck you for buying Star Wars.”
A kill switch would unload the malware data onto every ride from that point on. “People wouldn’t even have noticed what was going on, unless someone jumped out of a ride or something in panic.”
Beyond his bizarre grasp of a moral compass, Gallop seemed hellbent on defending his ideas for malware destruction of Disney’s computer systems as a scheme that was unique to him, and stolen by a group of plagiarizers, who he feels were the online Jihadist he was in communication with. “I was just going to send a message,” Gallop told me, “they were the ones that wanted people to die at Disneyland, if anything people would be thanking me right now, because the Jihadist were supposed to be tricked into the whole thing, that was the whole point of doing it anyway.”
A Friend in Jihad
The malware code that was implanted in Disneyland was the pigment of a map that Gallop had drawn during his most intense episodes with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Major Depressive Disorder. He is heavily medicated, but as a form of defiance to the system he feels entrapped by, he secretly went almost three weeks without his prescription. His soul, he said, became a vast hole populated with endless dark thoughts, “they helped me understand myself, they’ve helped manifest me into my current identity, my current status in this world as a cyber-terrorist.”
Gallop, according to experts on counter-terrorism, is everything a violent extremist group is looking for, without the need to undergo the operational costs of ingraining commitment and ideology. He prides himself on his ambiguous idea that he is manipulating Jihadism for his own maniacal gain, but the experts believe young men like him are the truly vulnerable.
The 2015 terrorist attacks in San Bernardino has been a major case in point. Enrique Marquez, a Latino man and Walmart Security Guard, had bragged after the attack that he had helped the two self-radicalized Jihadist get access to the ammunition they used on the 14 men and women who were killed.
From the Los Angeles Times, December 2015:
“Mr. Marquez’s role is particularly concerning, because counter-terrorism officials believe that he represents a strand of impressionable people at life’s margins with no obvious connection or sympathies with terror groups, who can be goaded or enticed toward violence.”
I brought up the notion that he is indeed a terrorist, but Gallop liked to refer to himself throughout our interview as only a “hard-core troll.” He claimed to once have been a member of the online anarchist group, “Hackers Anoymous,” and also a coder for the infamous dark corner website, 4Chan.
Like many internet trolls, who seek attention for the sake of more attention, Gallop says everything and anything he can to maximize the amount of attention he can possibly get. This profile on him was merely — in his mind — another marketable stepping stone.
He seemed to have no genuine interest in the words or subject matter he delved into, as words themselves were merely means to be constantly present in an online world that, to him, “doesn’t give a shit about spreading truth anymore.” Words are just there to shock someone back into reality, he told me, be it a foul or derogatory expression.
On his blog, he is extremely racist, misogynistic, and hateful on almost all subject matters — abortion rights, gay rights, civil rights etc — simply because, he told me, it is a means to thrive on the feedback loop of political shock protocols. “We must impregnate all nations with the truth of their fragile co-existence,” he says in one particular blog, “…the gays won’t see it coming.”
Ironically, Gallop said he has an apathy toward politics, has no party affiliation, and identifies as a White Supremacist on the internet, but does not actually believe in any sort of racial superiority.
He called himself a, “Humanist Hacker,” who hacks for the sake of hacking humanity. “My main goal is anarchy,” he said, “Jihadism is the closest thing to what I believe will be the future of the 21st Century. Once people can no longer believe in the lies that keep them feeling safe, you know the standing armies, the noble police officers, they’ll just eat each other up. I think the true nature of humanity needs to be unmasked. Disney just represents the lie that we are happy people. If the food supply suddenly ran out, if the water suddenly ran dry, if it were every man for himself, no one would waste time pretending to be nice.”
Through my profile of Gallop for the Anaheim Gazette, I tried to transcribe Gallop’s deeper character through a mixture of a face-to-face interview, and discussions we had over email of some of his published and unpublished blogs. Collectively, they embody the same thing: a seemingly very naive, unstable, and almost nonsensical ideology.
Within the context of my larger investigative series on the terror threats toward Disneyland at the time, it was hard to see the difference between Islamic radicalism and his own bizarre writings on humanity, and the future of cyber-war. On one particular blog he was drafting at the time, he shared his thoughts on Disneyland as a symbol of America’s numbness to the dark world around it. One could picture a member of ISIS writing it on the organization’s Twitter feed.
“I want to combat the lies of modern-day America. Everything is supposedly okay so long as Crackers are satisfied. Disney is our lie that we’re all safe and satisfied, but no one in this world actually is.”
Why did I give a troll like Marcus Gallop the platform of a respectable magazine like the Anaheim Gazette? If unraveling a mind could reap some value — some real-time data that can be garnered before it generates into real-world consequences — shouldn’t the public we journalists serve be delivered this insight?
The following is a dialogue I recorded during my interview with Gallop. It pertains to a blog post he was writing at the time; it illuminates on the hope that all trolls have something genuine in their beliefs.
DANIEL: So in this blog you say, “Jihadist will take over one day,” but then say victims of Jihadist are Muslims themselves. Aren’t you making the point Islamic culture shouldn’t be blamed for terrorism?
MARCUS: Not trying to be smart, just saying war is war. Most people dying from Jihadism are the sectarians or whatever in those countries.
DANIEL: You mean the whole Shiite-Sunni schism?
MARCUS: I guess. They’re already dealing with real war, no food or resources, things like that, that’s why they eat each other up.
DANIEL: Humanity is defined by a need for resources…is that your point here?
MARCUS: All I’m saying is war is just an arm wrestle for resources. All the propaganda is just a prop that everyone gets stuck on…you know, like the impulse for war is pre-installed in our DNA, not just in the motivations.
DANIEL: So the choice for war is already made before the props are there, and the Middle East…I guess…is abundant?
MARCUS: We always talk about the Muslims there like they’re at the same standard of living with us, like oh shit, they celebrated 9/11, they must’ve been watching Good Morning America and went to Taco Bell after to congratulate themselves.
DANIEL: What do you mean by “celebrated 9/11”?
MARCUS: I’m just trying to use 9/11 as an example of how people lose their shits and start wars against poorer countries.
DANIEL: I’m still not getting what’s the point of a guilt trip like that if you’re saying it doesn’t matter.
MARCUS: The face is always in people’s head, the actual danger doesn’t exist.
DANIEL: Faces as in stereotypes?
MARCUS: Faces show up pretending to be the main activity, not the anomalies.
DANIEL: …anomalies as in people, but aren’t they just unstable minds like yourself?
MARCUS: Correct. We [the United States] rule the world because we rule the narrative…the government manipulates information we all believe. My job is to break out of that system, and let everyone suffer the consequences of my decision.
Unstable minds, Gallop believes, are bugs in the global system journalists like myself use as props to distract society from the real evil of American Globalization. Soon, he claims, our bubble will be popped by people like him. His endgame is the destruction of the modern world in a real-time basis of shutting down the Digital Age.
The psychological war that began with 9/11, the so-called War on Terror, will enter a new age of mind games, as computer hackers like him will join Jihadist around the world. His ideologies — as vague and baseless as they seem — share a common thread to real results: made-for-TV type disasters should be the mission of “hardcore” cyber-warriors like himself.
Gallop’s Ground Zero
Gallop was three years-old the morning of September 11th, 2001. Since I was nine, our ages (to me) reflect a major difference in patriotic sensitivities older generations are inclined to feel in remembering that day. Thus, I felt the need to question his dubious, virtually dehumanized obsession with the tragedy. I asked him what the terrorist attacks meant to him.
“What I don’t get about 9/11 is why it turned us into paranoids over Muslims,” he told me, “if it were a Buddhist terrorist group, would it be such a big deal in the history books? I don’t think so…I think we were looking for an excuse to hate something we already didn’t want around.”
As a teenager, he began contemplating the idea of recreating the historical impact of the 9/11 attacks in cyberspace. For Gallop, it was a means to incite nations into war, but this time through a free-for-all battle zone of the World Wide Web. Instead of the Manhattan skyline being the impact’s icon, it would be images of the Los Angeles sprawl imploding into complete darkness.
For the attack to occur in the City of Angels, it had to be directed at a definitive icon of the whole metro area, he thought, so he focused on the weaknesses of three targets for their supposed, “name recognition, political vulnerability, and socioeconomic significance.” He decided on three places: LAX, Downtown L.A, and the Disneyland Resort.
“I didn’t want to do the globalist hacker thing,” he told me as the night went on. He felt the “typical” protocol for computer hackers working for North Korea, or Iran would be too expected. Gallop wanted to do something truly extraordinary, and twisted our zeitgeist’s global is local mantra into a deranged battle plan.
Rather than wreck havoc on the internet, he would focus his talents with computers on gaining access to a private intranet system — computer networks built in-house by businesses for any user with registration-protected access to them. After some online research at his high school’s computer lab, he decided his most vulnerable and lucrative target was Disneyland.
His plan was the austere setup of a child born in a post 9/11 world, where terrorist attacks are just run-of-the-mill news items; a televised form of hard-core attention-seeking. His goal was to cut off the bustling Disneyland Resort from the greater area’s electrical grid. His vision was for it to come crashing down by its sudden economic plight, make sure its systems were permanently disabled, and painstakingly rebuilt, with “little to no lives lost.”
Gallop initially wanted to shut down Disneyland as an anti-capitalist message, but Anarchist and Communist online communities, he claimed, would never work with him on such a risky plan.
He sought out the the global, online community of self-radicalized Muslims, wherever he could sense they may be. He saw any Muslim as a potential applicator. Together they would achieve his personal aim with the tenacity computer hackers pride themselves on; perpetual failure is inevitable, but success: always eventual.
“Once everyone saw my L.A. 9/11,” he told me, “they would have to own up to the same bullshit that happened after the real one…that everyone is one attack away from going ape shit and scapegoating people into war.”
When I asked what he mean by ape shit, Gallop said his terrorist attack would be compared to 9/11 on the news, “people will want war again with Muslims, the military and Wall Street will be no different than the Jihadist and Imams.”
Freedom Isn’t Free
Marcus Gallop’s dream of a digital 9/11, or a digital Pearl Harbor (it all seems so interchangeable to him), is a promise made by a global community of diluted attention-seekers, who are competing to design and develop the global catastrophe that will define the rest of the century. They meet at various corners of the dark internet, discuss the endless possibilities of recreating Stuxnet, and identify, recognize and network with each other through a mantra of hardcore trolling.
As I interviewed Gallop, it occurred to me out-of-the-blue why he kept referencing Pearl Harbor and September 11th interchangeably. He was alluding to a famous quote by Donald Rumsfeld, in which the Defense Secretary stated in a declassified Pentagon briefing a year before the 9/11 attacks that, “people need something to be awakened to, like a new Pearl Harbor.”
Rumsfeld’s words have been twisted to extremes by a new generation that has grown up watching conspiracy theory videos like “Loose Change,” released onto the web sometime around 2005. His Pearl Harbor quote was used as ominous proof that the Bush Administration had planned the 9/11 attacks to justify military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Gallop explained to me that he no longer believed such a conspiracy theory, because, “it has a lot of plot holes in it.” He also no longer wished to carry out his plans of cyber-war on Disney, nor did he feel responsible for any plagiarizers of his scheme, as it was to be an attack made anonymously.
He told me his own dark ambitions were mere manic episodes of depression, and the rational side of him always tried to stop him from carrying out his obsessive plans of cyber-terror at Disneyland. This is why, according to him, he surrendered to law enforcement about a year ago. His guilt manifested into deeply suicidal plans. He would at one moment feel the “Disney Corpse,” deserved to be made an example of, to feeling ashamed for even using the phrase.
Once I wrapped up the interview, Gallop guided me out of his apartment complex. Downtown Fullerton was suddenly amidst a breezy early morning. He stopped at the train tracks, where I would take the cage-like overpass to the Transit station. He told me not to worry; “I’m allowed to go this far.”
Before I crossed, I asked him if he missed freedom. He gave me a look like I’d asked if it were still midnight, “there’s no such thing as being free.”