They would seem an unlikely terrorist affiliate. But “Lizard Squad,” which may count teenage Canadian foster child Devin Bharath as a suspect (and not the “Devin Steadman” alias behind which his secondary aliases such as chF and chFthemango might hide), has launched a series of denial-of-service attacks against the Vatican and several online gaming sites, most recently shutting down the Sony Playstation Network (PSN).
These initially benign attacks culminated in Lizard Squad’s tweeting a false bomb threat, resulting in the diversion of an American Airlines flight carrying Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley. Lizard Squad’s tweets soon took a jihadist leaning when it claimed that it took its actions in support of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
These attacks present a quandary faced by nations confronting the modern battlefield: ideologies, rather than nationalities, dictate affiliations. ISIS includes many foreign jihadists among its thousands of fighters, including Americans, and the Pentagon has acknowledged that the threat brought by ISIS surpasses that of Al-Qaeda.
Interpol recognizes that “[c]yberterrorism and increased air travel are the two greatest threats to global security.” If Bharath is behind these attacks, the coordinated investigation will likely involve U.S. and Canadian law enforcement efforts, bearing similarity to the arrest of a Canadian resident suspected in a series of “Swatting” incidents earlier this year. According to an FBI press release, the sixteen year old in that case faced sixty charges, including creating fear by making bomb threats. Because Lizard Squad’s case involves an unlawful exercise of control over a U.S.-registered aircraft, extradition may be possible under Article 3, subsection 2 of Canada’s Extradition Treaty with the U.S.
If extradition were successful, Lizard Squad’s acts, coupled with its stated allegiance to ISIS, could likely subject its members to potentially indefinite detention similar to Guantánamo Bay. The Authorization to Use Military Force has justified the military’s detention of detainees upon determination by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) that they are enemy combatants, and the D.C. Circuit laid out a three-part test in Parhat v. Gates that determines whether the CSRT may class individuals as “combatants.”
The United States recognizes ISIS as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” If a Tribunal determines Lizard Squad members are “enemy combatants,” the United States could attempt to meet the Parhat test and detain that Lizard Squad member indefinitely. Proof that Lizard Squad was “part of or supporting” the terrorist organization and that Lizard Squad was “associated” with the terrorist organization are evident from Lizard Squad’s Twitter feed; ISIS’ engagement in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners is likewise evident throughout Iraq. Lizard Squad members may term their acts harmless and their purported affiliations to be a “trolling” prank, but the U.S. Attorney’s office is likely to oppose given its recent indictment of Chinese Military Unit 61398 members for cyber-espionage. If cyber-attacks are sufficient to subject foreign nationals perpetrating them to classification as “enemy combatants” under the Parhat test, Lizard Squad might face a similar fate.
Where should courts draw the line defining “enemy combatants,” and should they apply to DDoS attacks or false bomb threats?
“Basic Anti Dox” (Comment posted December 18, 2013, 5:12 AM) (“In my case, I used the alias “Devin Steadman” (as my first name, Devin, is confirmed due to my mom raging on mic). When I was in an argument with Sequel & Erebus, they pwned . . . poor ol’ Devin Steadman. This worked hugely in my favour as many people still attempt to link Devin Steadman to me today.”)
chFthemango Twitter feed (the user has hidden many of his previous tweets after being “discovered”).
Alyssa Newcomb, Lizard Squad: Who Is the Group Claiming Responsibility for High Profile Hacks? ABC News (August 26, 2014, 1:38 PM).
Owen S. Good, PlayStation Network is down; hackers claim they did it (Update), Polygon News (last updated August 24, 2014, 11:04 AM).
Owen S. Good, Hacker threat diverts flight carrying Sony Online president, Polygon News (last updated Aug 24, 2014, 3:13 PM).
Lizard Squad Twitter Feed (August 24, 2014, 8:03 AM) (“Today we planted the ISIS flag on @Sony’s servers #ISIS #jihad”), Last seen August 27, 2014, 7:01 pm.
Lizard Squad Twitter Feed (August 24, 2014, 7:52 AM) (“[a PSN player] don’t [sic] get to play videogames until bombing of the ISIL stops. #ISIL #PSN #ISIS”), Last seen August 27, 2014, 7:01 pm.
INTERPOL head warns of security gaps to European police chiefs and Ministers, Interpol Press Release (July 1, 2011).
Laura Eimiller, Canadian Law Enforcement Officers Arrest Canadian Resident Suspected in Series of ‘Swatting’ Incidents Throughout North America, FBI Press Release (May 9, 2014).
Brian Krebs, Teen Arrested for 30+ Swattings, Bomb Threats, Krebs on Security (May 14, 2014).
Treaty on Extradition Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America, U.S.-Can., Dec. 3, 1971, 27 U.S.T. 1983.
Paola Bettelli, Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo Bay Continues Despite the Promise of Boumediene v. Bush, Pace International Law Review Blog (May 7th, 2014).
Syria Iraq: The Islamic State militant group, BBC News (August 2, 2014, 10:12 AM).
Greg Miller, Islamic State working to establish cells outside Middle East, U.S. says, The Washington Post (August 14, 2014).
Missy Ryan, Islamic State threat ‘beyond anything we’ve seen’: Pentagon, Reuters (August 21, 2014, 5:47 PM).
Authorization To Use Military Force (AUMF), Pub.L. 107-40, § 2(a), 115 Stat. 224 (2001).
Parhat v. Gates, 532 F.3d 834, 843 (D.C. Cir. 2008). (“[First,] the [individual or group] was part of or supporting “forces”; [Second,] those forces were associated with [the terrorist organization]; and [Third,] those forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”)
Foreign Terrorist Organizations, U.S. Department of State (last viewed August 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm).