The Other McCain

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‘Persona Management’ for Wackjobs: Rauhauser’s Methods of Deception

Posted on | June 20, 2012 | 58 Comments

“I’ve been all over Patterico for the last several weeks, as he looks to be a pretty good candidate for the planner/operator behind Weinergate, but the other players have been getting attention, too.”
Neal Rauhauser (aka, “Stranded Wind”), July 27, 2011

FROM AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION
Brett Kimberlin became a “client” of Neal Rauhauser in 2011. Rauhauser has described his specialty as “solving problems in the social media work space for political campaigns and causes,” and Kimberlin had distinct “problems in the social media work space,” namely how to stop bloggers from writing about Kimberlin’s criminal past.

Kimberlin had sued Seth Allen, threatened to sue Patrick “Patterico” Frey and, I am told, engaged in various forms of harassment against Mandy “Liberty Chick” Nagy, whose October 2010 article about Kimberlin was unimpeachably factual.

Clearly unable to “win” his fight against truth by suing for libel, and evidently fearful that widespread exposure of his vicious criminal history would hinder fundraising for his two non-profits (Justice Through Music Project and Velvet Revolution), Kimberlin seems to have seen a need for someone with Neal Rauhauser’s skills.

Exactly when Kimberlin put Rauhauser on his payroll, we don’t know. Amid his obsessive Daily Kos blogging about the WeinerGate scandal — which Rauhauser portrayed as a hoax perpetrated by Andrew Breitbart and other shadowy right-wing conspirators — Rauhauser declared (under his alias “Stranded Wind”) on July 4, 2011, “someone forwarded me the complaint [made by Kimberlin] regarding Frey running a cyberstalking campaign in conjunction with South Easton, Massachusetts resident Seth L. Allen.”

Rauhauser announced plans to move to Washington, D.C., area on July 7, 2011. Rauhauser represented himself as an agent of Kimberlin’s Velvet Revolution in a September 2011 e-mail to organizers of “Occupy Boston.” And as previously explained: “In a comment posted at a progressive blog in October 2011, Rauhauser described being contacted by a ‘very big dog from the Anonymous pen’ who agreed to assist Velvet Revolution in an apparent plan to attack enemies of Rauhauser and Kimberlin.” Rauhauser accompanied Kimberlin to the May 29 hearing in Maryland at which Aaron Walker was arrested.

What has Rauhauser been doing online for the past year? What services does he perform for Kimberlin or whatever other clients are paying him? The archive of material Rauhauser attempted to “scrub” from the Internet offers important clues, including one Scribd.com document from earlier this year entitled, “Persona Management Methods: Secure & Portable Persona Management Version 3.0.” The full document is nearly 2,000 words; the following excerpts are about 1,000 words. I urge readers to examine this very carefully:

The internet is becoming increasingly dangerous for everyone, and in particular there are targeted attacks aimed at activists and organizers. If you are running a specific persona for any reason, say interacting with a specific social media community, it’s probably best that you compartmentalize it from your other activities by encapsulating it in a purpose built virtual machine. . . .
We keep a copy of TAILS, a hardened, read-only version of Linux in which all applications are configured to use TOR, for truly radioactive environments. Coupling a TOR only virtualized OS with a host OS running a VPN is proof against a variety of ills in the world today, and the subject of another write up of ours entitled Double Secret Internet.
The whole idea is to encapsulate an online persona in a safe environment. The VM is the container for the personality, but what if your laptop is stolen, or if you’re arrested and questioned? We run http://truecrypt.comsoftware to make encrypted file containers. Our first test involved creating a 4 gig space, binding it to drive W:, and installing Windows in a VM there. The persona in the VM is now perfectly safe if the machine is lost or stolen, so long as a strong password is used. . . .
The most basic means of IP address concealment is to install The Onion Router (TOR) and the bundle of tools that come with it. . . .
We tested Hotspot Shield in our initial build and it seems to work fine, but it requires that you recall you need to start it, and only protects browser traffic. . . . If everyone who uses this settles on the same service that means banning a handful of IP addresses functionally shuts everyone out. We probably need to figure out how to provide our own endpoints using a rotating set of VPS in other countries, but that’s a job for the infrastructure people. . . .
This cannot be stressed strongly enough: we have only protected against the following threats. Disclosure due to loss/theft/seizure of host computer
Disclosure due to spearfish or other compromise of browser
Disclosure of IP address due to log examination or subterfuge
Monitoring of traffic by your ISP or a compromised machine on your network
You might face a loss or theft, you could run into a technically advanced opponent, but it is almost certain that if you try to approach a venue where you are already known by an existing name or pseudonym that you will get “made” in short order.
You have habits that include:
The time(s) of day you are active
The language you speak
The situational knowledge you have when interacting with a certain group
The software you prefer to use
Quirks of spelling, punctuation, and other subtle hints as to identity
Whatever objective you have in approaching the venue
The following are some failure modes we’ve personally experienced over the years:
Used a pet phrase from a persona in a venue we frequented — instant outing
Used bit.ly link shortened from a known account via Twitter — instant outing
Disclosed specific software preferred during conversation, not a full outing but it brought scrutiny that made the effort fail eventually
Use of phone number that had a single obscure Google hit — instant outing.
We often feel we’re being clever in constructing a persona but we generally fail miserably due to time constraints. We’re always goal oriented when in character and that is an instant tell to those with situational awareness. If you don’t have time to “be” someone else and remain in character your results will be limited. . . .
Web Brain – powerful mind map facilities, no sense of timeline, team functions permit easy sharing. Contents are discoverable if you use the web sync, stick to BrainZips in encrypted containers for safety. . . .
Maltego –Open source intelligence collection platform, heavy on data visualization, mostly for Twitter-centric things. . . .
Sentinel Visualizer — industrial strength social network analysis/data visualization with temporal and geospatial analysis. . . .
The whole concept of persona management was getting a lot of attention during 2009 when I was still active with Project Vigilant. There were a bunch of half baked solutions going around, really expensive things that I felt would only serve to train smart opponents as they watched their less swift peers fall for the subterfuge. Fast forward to 2012 and now the internet is so toxic I’ve corralled my actual social media presence in a couple of VMs to stick a wrench in the constant profiling and intrusion attempts, and those VMs live on a machine that doesn’t touch anything important.
There is a lot of drag as I move stuff back and forth, certainly, but I’m not keen on uninvited visitors. More and more Twitter and Facebook serve only as channels for introduction and venues for public theater. Anything of consequence has vanished into OTR encrypted chat, or SILC servers, and new contacts have to run the gauntlet of my quizzing those who introduce them, then getting them on the phone so there is a voice and a callable number to go with. A sloppy social network only betrays maybe 25% of what is important to an intruder lacking subpoena power. . . .
Commit to trying to run a persona for a while if for no other reason than to understand what will and won’t work; your situational awareness will be dramatically enhanced. Stick to it until it becomes second nature and you can simply disappear when needed, or protect your friends from unwanted attention with a fog of disinformation. You have the natural rights of free speech, free association, and free assembly. There are many private entities, from the lone obsessive stalker to the largest corporate entity that will interfere in all three of these fundamental human rights. You commit a courageous, moral act when you do these things we suggest, leaving those who do not respect you pounding their keyboards and crying with frustration.

Clearly this suggests that Rauhauser is employing at least one deceptive false “persona” for secretive purposes which anyone with common sense would suspect might be criminal in nature. The mystery of what exactly Rauhauser has been doing online that would require such elaborate protections for his “persona” should not, however, lead to unsubstantiated speculation. But you rather doubt Neal was merely haunting Web forums as a blog troll, eh?

In last night’s post (“Neal Rauhauser: Internet Super-Spy!“), I focused on Rauhauser’s fascination with Maltego software, which creates maps of online connections. One of the commenters (who is on Twitter as Erik Robert Nelson) offered this insight:

Software like Maltego can be helpful when used by people with half a brain. But for those who already have a tendency toward thoughts of paranoid conspiracy, it can reinforce mental disorders. The internet is full of connections from one person to the next–but most of those connections are ephemeral. A truly paranoid person can inflate those simple connections far beyond their true value. Maltego only shows connections, it doesn’t impose any meaning on them. Giving a paranoid person Maltego is like giving a manic person amphetamines.

This demonstrates a problem not just with Rauhauser, but with the Internet in general: It tends to bring out the worst in bad people. Narcissists, bullies, liars, manipulators, perverts, thieves — all manner of anti-social personalities manifest their worst qualities online. We have seen more than one example of what happens when we try to ignore or dismiss as trivial “blog wars” the Internet manifestations of severe sociopathic tendencies. But why bring Charles Johnson into this, huh?

“Wherever you go, there you are” — this is one of the great truths of life. I’ve known people who got married, wrecked their own marriages, blamed the break-up on their ex-spouse, then re-married and wrecked that second marriage by the same methods they’d wrecked the first. You see a similar tendency in people who skip from job to job, from business failure to business failure, always offering some excuse that involves blaming other people for their problems.

Such people fail to recognize that they are the source of their own problems. They refuse to learn from their mistakes and persist in their habitual ways while attempting to find some new environment where, they vainly imagine, the habits and tendencies that have produced failure so often before will suddenly produce success.

Alas, they can’t run away from the source of their problems because wherever you go, there you are.

Benjamin Franklin once observed, “Experience keeps a hard school, but a fool will learn in no other.” Having learned a few hard lessons from experience myself, I’m always amazed — and immensely frustrated — when I encounter people like Neal Rauhauser, who stubbornly refuse to accept responsibility for their own failures.

Neal Rauhauser is a sadly familiar type in political New Media nowadays: The dilletante fame-junkie with little or no previous experience in politics or journalism who saw, in the rise of the political blogosphere, a chance finally to Be Somebody.

How’s that workin’ out for ya, Neal?

Resisting the temptation to write a 5,000-word essay on the widespread phenomenon of which Neal Rauhauser is but one sad and extreme example, I’ll instead invite the reader to peruse Rauhauser’s “Stranded Wind” archives at Daily Kos.

What the astute reader will discern is Rauhauser’s repeated efforts to impress others with his assertions of expertise. It appears that his 2010 TwitterGate debacle was a misguided attempt by Rauhauser to make himself a hero to the Progressive online community by waging a Twitter war against the Tea Party. Sir Neal planned to ride out and slay the Tea Party dragon, but instead got his virtual ass handed to him by Patrick Read, Greg Howard, Zapem and others.

Unable to accept responsibility for his failures, Rauhauser scapegoated his enemies and has spent the past 18 months trying to redeem himself by slaying some other dragon: Patrick Frey, James O’Keefe, Aaron Walker, Ace of Spades — any target will do, just as long as Rauhauser can claim “victory” and strut before his admirers as a dragon-slaying White Knight.

Once again, however, Rauhauser has committed a tactical blunder that anyone with infantry training will recognize: He’s marched into an L-shaped ambush, hit the trip-wire that exploded the Claymore mines, and now finds himself pinned down in the kill-zone by heavy fire from forces he did not expect to encounter.

Neal’s paranoia is, in some sense, justified: For the past year or so, those whom he has targeted have been watching his online activity very closely. All the things he tried to “scrub” from the Internet? Screen-capped, cached and securely stored offline.

One of the intended victims of Rauhauser’s smears told me the other day: “I had to get a new computer just to hold all the stuff I’ve got on Neal. External hard drives, CD-ROMs — I’ve got sh*tloads of it, so much I can’t even keep track of it all.”

That stuff will keep coming out, day after day, and there is nothing Rauhauser can do to stop it. His imagined “persona management” expertise deceived no one, except perhaps himself, as he succumbed to the delusion that he could wage his vicious personal war against bloggers without his deceptive manipulations being exposed.

To repeat the question: How’s that workin’ out for ya, Neal?

Robert Stacy McCain, Whereabouts Unknown

 

 

 

UPDATE: Linked by That Mr. G Guy, The Camp of the Saints, Daley Gator and Pattericothanks! — and welcome, Instapundit readers! Now a Memeorandum thread.

 

THE KIMBERLIN FILES:

 


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