Inside LulzSec

Saturday, 25 June 2011

It was a tight-knit and enigmatic group finding its feet in the febrile world of hacker collectives, where exposing and embarrassing your targets is just as important as protecting your own identity.

But leaked logs from LulzSec's private chatroom – seen, and published today, by the Guardian – provide for the first time a unique, fly-on-the-wall insight into a team of audacious young hackers whose inner workings have until now remained opaque.

LulzSec is not, despite its braggadocio, a large – or even coherent – organisation. The logs reveal how one hacker known as "Sabu", believed to be a 30-year-old security consultant, effectively controls the group of between six and eight people, keeping the others in line and warning them not to discuss what they have done with others; another, "Kayla", provides a large botnet – networks of infected computers controlled remotely – to bring down targeted websites with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks; while a third, "Topiary", manages the public image, including the LulzSec Twitter feed.

They turn out to be obsessed with their coverage in the media, especially in physical newspapers, sharing pictures of coverage they have received in the Wall Street Journal and other papers. They also engineered a misinformation campaign to make people think they are a US-government sponsored team.

They also express their enmity towards a rival called The Jester – an ex-US military hacker who usually attacks jihadist sites, but has become embroiled in a dispute with Anonymous, WikiLeaks and LulzSec over the leaked diplomatic cables and, more recently, LulzSec's attacks on US government websites, including those of the CIA and the US Senate.

In a further sign that the spotlight is beginning to engulf LulzSec, a lone-wolf hacker managed to temporarily cripple the group's website on Friday morning. Originally thought to be the work of The Jester, an activist, known as Oneiroi, later claimed responsibility for the attack but did not provide an explanation.

The group's ambitions went too far for some of its members: when the group hit an FBI-affiliated site on 3 June, two lost their nerve and quit, fearing reprisals from the US government. After revealing that the two, "recursion" and "devrandom" have quit, saying they were "not up for the heat", Sabu tells the remaining members: "You realise we smacked the FBI today. This means everyone in here must remain extremely secure."

Another member, "storm", then asks worriedly: "Sabu, did you wipe the PBS bd [board] logs?", referring to an attack by LulzSec on PBS on 29 May, when they planted a fake story that the dead rapper Tupac Shakur was alive. If traces remained there of the hackers' identities, that could lead the FBI to them.

"Yes," Sabu says. "All PBS logs are clean." Storm replies: "Then I'm game for some more." Sabu says: "We're good. We got a good team here."

Documenting a crucial five-day period in the group's early development from 31 May to 4 June, the logs – whose authenticity has been separately confirmed through comments made online by LulzSec's members – are believed to have been posted online by a former affiliate named "m_nerva". They contain detailed conversations between the group, who have in recent weeks perpetrated a series of audacious attacks on a range of high-profile targets, including Sony, the CIA, the US Senate, and the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

LulzSec threatened m_nerva on Tuesday in a tweet saying "Remember this tweet, m_nerva, for I know you'll read it: your cold jail cell will be haunted with our endless laughter. Game over, child." As an explanation, they said: "They leaked logs, we owned them [took over their computer], one of them literally started crying for mercy". The leaked logs are the ones seen by the Guardian.

The conversations confirm that LulzSec has links with – but is distinct from – the notorious hacker group Anonymous. Sabu, a knowledgeable hacker, emerges as a commanding figure who issues orders to the small, tight-knit team with striking authority.

Despite directing the LulzSec operation, Sabu does not appear to engage in the group's public activity, and warns others to be careful who and how they talk outside their private chatroom. "The people on [popular hacker site] 2600 are not your friends," Sabu warns them on 2 June. "95% are there to social engineer [trick] you, to analyse how you talk. I am just reminding you. Don't go off and befriend any of them."

But the difficulty of keeping their exploits and identities secret proves difficult: Kayla is accused of giving some stolen Amazon voucher codes to someone outside the group, which could lead back to one of their hacks. "If he's talking publicly, Kayla will talk to him," Sabu comments, bluntly.

Topiary, who manages the public image of LulzSec – which centres around its popular Twitter feed, with almost 260,000 followers – also acted previously as a spokesman for Anonymous, once going head-to-head in a live video with Shirley Phelps-Roper of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, during which he hacked into the church's website mid-interview.

His creative use of language and sharp sense of humour earns praise from his fellow hackers in the chat logs, who tell him he should "write a fucking book". On one occasion, after a successful DDoS attack brings down a targeted web server, Topiary responds in characteristic fashion to the hacker responsible, Storm: "You're like our resident sniper sitting in the crow's nest with a goddamn deck-shattering electricity blast," he writes. "Enemy ships being riddled with holes."

But while LulzSec has a jovial exterior, and proclaims that its purpose is to hack "for the lulz" (internet slang for laughs and giggles), Sabu is unremittingly serious. Domineering and at times almost parental, he frequently reminds the other hackers of the dangers of being tracked by the authorities, who the logs reveal are often hot on their heels.

During one exchange, a hacker named Neuron starts an IAmA (Q and A) session for LulzSec on the website Reddit for "funzies" and to engage with the public. This immediately raises the ire of Sabu, who puts an angry and abrupt halt to it.

"You guys started an IAmA on reddit?" Sabu asks in disbelief. "I will go to your homes and kill you. If you really started an IAmA bro, you really don't understand what we are about here. I thought all this stuff was common knowledge ... no more public apperances [sic] without us organizing it."

He adds: "If you are not familiar with these hostile environments, don't partake in it."

The logs also reveal that the group began a campaign of disinformation around LulzSec. Their goal was to convince – and confuse – internet users into believing a conspiracy theory: that LulzSec is in fact a crack team of CIA agents working to expose the insecurities of the web, headed by Adrian Lamo, the hacker who reported the alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning to the authorities.

"You guys are claiming that LulzSec is a CIA op ... that Anonymous is working to uncover LulzSec ... that Adrian Lamo is at the head of it all ... and people actually BELIEVE this shit?" writes joepie91, another member. "You just tell some bullshit story and people fill in the rest for you."

"I know, it's brilliant," replies Topiary. The attempts did pay off, with some bloggers passing comments such as: "I hypothesize that this is a government 'red team' or 'red cell' operation, aimed at building support for government intervention into internet security from both the public and private sectors."

The group monitors news reports closely, and appears to enjoy – even thrive – on the publicity its actions bring. But the logs show that the members are frustrated by the efforts of a self-professed "patriot-hacker" known as the Jester (or th3j35t3r), whose name is pejoratively referenced throughout.

The Jester is purportedly an ex-US military hacker, and was responsible for high-profile attacks on WikiLeaks prior to the release of US diplomatic cables in November. In recent weeks he has made LulzSec his principal target, describing them as "common bullies". Topiary in turn dismisses The Jester as a "pompous elitism-fuelling blogger" – but the group is always worried that The Jester or his associates are trying to track them down.

The Jester claims LulzSec are motivated by money and points to allegations that the group tried to extort money from Unveillance, a data security company. Similar accusations against LulzSec by two other groups, "Web Ninjas" and "TeaMp0isoN_". Web Ninjas say they want to see LulzSec "behind bars" for committing "insane acts ... in the name of publicity or financial gain or anti-govt agenda".

The logs do not reveal any discussion of extortion between the LulzSec inner circle; nor do they indicate any underlying political motivations for the attacks. But amid the often tense atmosphere depicted in the logs the hackers do occasionally find time to talk politics.

"One of these days we will have tanks on our homes," writes trollpoll, shortly after it emerged the US government was reclassifying hacking as a possible act of war. "Yea, no shit," responds Storm.

"Corporations should realize the internet isn't theirs," adds joepie91. "And I don't mean the physical tubes, but the actual internet ... the community, idea, concept."

"Yes, the utopia is to create a new internet," says trollpoll. "Corporation free."

On Monday 20 June, Sabu's worst fears may have been confirmed when a 19-year-old named Ryan Cleary was arrested in Wickford, Essex and later charged with a cyber attack in connection with a joint Scotland Yard and FBI probe in to a hacking group believed to be LulzSec.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson described the arrest as "very significant", though LulzSec itself was quick to claim Cleary was not a member of the group and had only allowed it to host "legitimate chatrooms" on his server.

"Clearly the UK police are so desperate to catch us that they've gone and arrested someone who is, at best, mildly associated with us," the group tweeted.

An individual named "Ryan" is occasionally referenced by the hackers in the logs, though he himself does not feature and appears to have only a loose association with the group.

Scotland Yard confirmed on Thursday that it was continuing to work with "a range of agencies" as part of an "ongoing investigation into network intrusions and distributed denial of service attacks against a number of international business and intelligence agencies by what is believed to be the same hacking group".

In response to the leaked logs, LulzSec posted a statement on the website pastebin, claiming users named joepie91, Neuron, Storm and trollpoll were "not involved with LulzSec" and rather "just hang out with us".

They added: "Those logs are primarily from a channel called #pure-elite, which is /not/ the LulzSec core chatting channel. #pure-elite is where we gather potential backup/subcrew research and development battle fleet members – ie, we were using that channel only to recruit talent for side-operations."

The group has vowed to continue its actions undeterred. But they now face a determined pincer movement from the FBI, UK police, and other hackers – including The Jester, who has been relentless in his pursuit of them for more than a fortnight. If its members' real identities are revealed, LulzSec may vanish as quickly as it rose to prominence.

This article originally appeared at:

Read the full chat logs here:

Follow up coverage: New York Times, ZDNet, The Age, Yahoo, Maximum PC, Salon, Thinq, the Register, Washington Post, BGR.

The Mass Eviction of Dale Farm

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Around 30 miles east of central London, one of the largest evictions in recent British history is looming. More than 90 families at Dale Farm, Europe's biggest gypsy site, expect to be served with a 28-day enforcement notice any day now, after the Home Office earlier this month awarded a £4.65m special grant to Essex Police to assist with an eviction that could cost as much as £17.5m.

The history of Dale Farm is long and has been fraught with tension over the last decade. One section of the farm has been occupied legally by Gypsies since the 1960s, but in 2002 conflict arose when a number of Irish Traveller families moved on to a patch of land next the legal site.

Though they had purchased the land, they were refused planning permission by Basildon Council on the grounds that it was on the green belt. The council has since been embroiled in a battle to remove around 52 properties from the section of the farm without planning permission.

According to the travellers, although the land is classed as green belt, it was a concreted scrapyard before they moved on to it. They say they each pay on average £950 in council tax per year, and allege that the refusal to grant them planning permission, far from being anything to do with the green belt, is driven by an undercurrent of prejudice from local politicians.

"What we've always objected to is that they're treating us as a block of people -- travellers -- to be evicted en masse as an ethnic group," says 72-year-old Grattan Puxon, secretary of the Dale Farm Residents Association. "That's why we call it ethnic cleansing."

Puxon, who helped found the Gypsy Council in 1966, says the residents association recently sent Basildon Council detailed reports on the welfare and medical status of each person who would be affected by the eviction. Their hope was that exceptions would be made for those who were elderly, unwell or with young children.

"We sent them the medical reports of 300 people, including a bedridden old man on the point of death; another 80-year-old man; a woman with triplets; a young mother who recently had a miscarriage; and numerous very small children," he says. "The committee was given 40 minutes to consider all these reports -- about eight seconds per report. Having done that they said they couldn't find any exceptions."

In 2008, a High Court judgment ruled that the eviction would be legal, though expressed concern that the site would be disproportionately "cleared" with little concern for children and those in ill-health.

Two years later, in 2010, a letter was sent directly to the UK government from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It urged the government and its institutions to "consider suspending any planned eviction until an adequate solution is achieved".

Concern has also been raised about the bailiffs hired by Basildon Council to carry out the eviction. Constant & Co, who describe themselves as a "one-stop shop" for the clearance of traveller sites, were criticised by a High Court judge for "unacceptable" conduct after one previous Gypsy eviction in 2004, and were present during a separate incident the same year when a caravan was set on fire. Calls to Constant & Co for a comment went unheeded. However a spokesperson for Basildon Council said the council had used the company in the past and that there had been "no issues".

There will be "no burning of any items on site during the operation," according to the council, who will pay Constant & Co an estimated figure of over £2m for their services, with a further £6m set aside for other costs. At the same time, last year the council announced they were looking to make £505,000 cuts to services and were also braced for up to 100 job losses. On top of the council's £8m, an additional £9.5m has been made available for policing costs, almost half of which has been raised by central government.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said ministers agreed to fund policing the eviction only after advice from Essex Police was "carefully considered" by government ministers. While addressing human rights concerns, Basildon Council said they had already given an undertaking to the High Court providing for the health, education and care needs of the families affected, and staunchly refuted any claims of racial prejudice.

"The proposed site clearance at Dale Farm is driven by the need to uphold planning law and nothing more, a decision upheld by the courts," said the council's Conservative leader, Councillor Tony Ball. "To suggest otherwise is simply wrong, irresponsible and shows a lack of understanding for the situation."

For the 90 or so families at Dale Farm, the weeks ahead will be crucial.

They are currently seeking a judicial review of the eviction, and the moment they are served with their 28-day enforcement notice will form what they call Camp Constant -- a "non-violent defence" that will include a human shield around the area to be evicted. If the judicial review fails, not only will a serious confrontation with bailiffs and police be inevitable, but the future for many families at Dale Farm will be rendered uncertain.

"Even although alternative land has been identified, until planning permission is granted they will have nowhere lawful to move to," said Keith Lomax, the solicitor acting on behalf of Dale Farm.

"There are residents who have such significant personal circumstances -- including serious medical problems -- that it is manifestly unreasonable and disproportionate in human rights terms to put them out onto the road."

This article appeared originally at:

Behind the Security Lines at the Counter-Terror Exhibition

Friday, 17 June 2011

Of the men in suits queuing to gain access to the Olympia Conference Centre in London recently, some were from the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Ministry of Defence, others government intelligence agents from America, Japan, India and Pakistan.

Security guards lined the walls looking anxious. Inside the hall was the largest counter terrorism exhibition in the world, with some of the latest tools used by governments in the so-called war on terror on display. “Four men in a white transit van have just gathered by the bridge at the south of the car park,” came a call over one guard’s radio. “Surveillance is required.”

In the exhibition hall beyond the lines of security, 400 companies showcased their products to government officials and decision makers in the multi-billion pound terrorism industry, which has boomed since the Twin Towers attacks in 2001.

Many exhibitors had been criticised for supplying arms and surveillance technology to repressive dictatorships in the Middle East and North Africa. Outside the hall demonstrators held signs that said “Stop evil trade” and one man was dressed as a Guantánamo Bay inmate with shackles round his wrists.

Only those affiliated with the government or defence industry could gain entry to the exhibition. Members of the public and much of the media were excluded.

After rigorous screening I had managed to gain a pass as an “industry journalist”. During the two-day exhibition I expected at any time to be tapped on the shoulder and ushered out the back door. But it never happened.

Next to a cafeteria in the exhibition hall selling falafel wraps and tuna melt paninis, there was excitement about a suicide bomber detector, flying CCTV cameras and x-ray scanners capable of seeing through walls. Just inside the main entrance, a man dressed in a full bomb disposal outfit was demonstrating how to disarm an improvised explosive device.

Standing by a large contraption named Counter Bomber at one stall, former US Marine JJ Bare explained how the device could detect suicidal terrorists with explosives strapped to their bodies.

“If you’re a human being with clothes on and you have a suicide vest or any sort of vest that explodes or potentially explodes, your radar return is distinctly different,” he said. “We exploit that to determine whether you’re a threat or not.”

Bare said Counter Bomber was being used in Afghanistan and Iraq by American troops and had so far “exceeded all thresholds” in terms of its success. He said there had been much interest from the Ministry of Defence in purchasing the device, which could be used outside airports to detect potential suicide bombers trying to board aeroplanes.

“It’s very timely,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate fact of life that people are willing to blow themselves up to kill other people. If I could have picked a different trade to be in, then I would probably do it. But this is a need.”

At another stall, Canadian developer Oculus was showcasing surveillance software to track movements and relationships between people through the monitoring of mobile phone calls, emails, text messages, financial transactions and social networks. The software, Geotime, is used by the US military and has been purchased by the Metropolitan Police as well as Northumbria University.

“Once I know where you’re at in time, where you’ve come from and how long you were there, I can work out usually what you’re doing,” said Curtis Garton, Oculus product management director. “We can collect data from all sorts of different sources. Your cellphone collects positional data; it could be emails that you’ve sent, instant messages, whatever it is. We show all those different types of data in one place.”

Other exhibitors sold hidden camera devices and CCTV capable of recognising the faces of known suspects or criminals.

Critics say such technology can be used against innocent people and is another example of a “surveillance state”, but others argue it is necessary to protect against the threat of terrorism.

One company, Ultrafine Technology, showcased a covert surveillance device that it claimed could see through walls.

“Sometimes it’s vital to know what’s happening on the other side of a wall,” said Ultrafine’s managing director, John Patterson, in a presentation to potential buyers. “The solution is to drill through and insert tiny cameras and microphones.”

Conferences and workshops at the exhibition focused on preparations for the London Olympics in 2012. Susan Hemming, head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s counter terrorism division, warned of the potential dangers.

“The biggest challenge the UK faces currently is managing the risk in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics,” she said. “We could see the targeting of athletes or spectators from countries that we don’t traditionally deal with.

“The authorities are never going to be 100 per cent successful every time, either in preventing an incident or prosecuting the perpetrators."

She added: “London is arguably the most multicultural and diverse city, with the highest overriding general threat level from an Olympic games in recent times.”

Although there were warnings about the need for increased vigilance in preparation for the Olympics, some exhibitors were concerned about a lack of investment from the government.

Michael McNulty, marketing director of UAVSI, which manufactures remote controlled CCTV devices attached to mini airplanes and helicopters, said hesitance to invest in his technology led him to believe the authorities were more concerned about flying in celebrities than monitoring the capital during the games.

Jenny Mottram, who works with a company specialising in nuclear decontamination, said the government was more interested in contracting out decontamination services than investing in it directly.

“With all the cuts at the moment it has been quite difficult across the industry,” she said. “With the Olympics they really need to think about the potential threat of chemical or nuclear attack.”

Surveillance showcase

The Counter Terror Exhibition (CTE) is an annual event attended by leading experts from government, military, security services, law enforcement and academia.

Showcasing the latest in surveillance technologies, the event’s organisers say it brings “focus and clarity” to the complex task of “protecting people and assets from the threat presented by international terrorism”.

But critics disagree. Protest group Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) claims the CTE is an example of an “encroaching surveillance society”, and earlier this year called for a protest outside the event, saying it hoped to “expose the exploitation of fear for profit”.

Kaye Stearman, a spokesperson for CAAT, said: “There is a definite link between so-called counter-terror and more conventional arms fairs. As military budgets are cut – at least in western countries – both military and governments will be looking to cheaper civilian-type technologies, including electronic and surveillance equipment and services.”

This special report appeared originally in issue no.879 of Big Issue in the North.

Some Kind of Revolution

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

On the evening of May 15, a small group of Spanish protesters demonstrated in capital city Madrid against high unemployment and austerity measures across the country. Marching towards the city’s main square, Puerta del Sol, a number of the protesters were involved in a conflict with police officers who tried to prevent them from entering. 24 were arrested and taken to Madrid’s largest police station, where they were interrogated by members of a specialist police información unit and held for 48 hours.

While the activists were in custody, their friends continued to protest at Puerta del Sol, refusing to leave. They felt the arrests had been unjustified, and claimed the police had used heavy-handed tactics that sparked the initial conflict. They posted videos on the internet of the police allegedly 'ambushing' protesters from behind, and used social networks to encourage others to join them in the square.

Before long, the numbers were snowballing at an astonishing rate. Taking inspiration from the uprisings across the Arab world, within a matter of days tens of thousands were in Puerta del Sol. But the demonstration was no longer just about the arrest of the protesters – it was about unemployment, political corruption, the Spanish government’s multi-million Euro bailout of banks at the height of the economic crisis.

Dubbed 15-M by the Spanish media (named after May 15, the first day of the protests), the activists built makeshift tents with tarpaulin and wood, divided themselves up into various working committees, and started drafting proposals for change.

Now thirteen days since the conflict with police that sparked the demonstrations, Puerta del Sol continues to be occupied by thousands of protesters, some of whom say they will stay indefinitely. Below is a detailed account of the structure, organisation, ethos and goals of the camp, featuring insight from some of those behind the movement…

Inside the Camp

The camp at Puerta del Sol functions like a micro-society. Food and water is provided for free, donated by sympathetic local businesses; there are fully functioning kitchens; toilets; a media and communications tent; a children’s nursery; and even a library.

It is divided up into six key working committees, each tasked with a specific area: politics, economics, education and culture, social policy and migration, environment, and health. Every committee has a ballot box outside, into which people are encouraged to deposit suggestions for change. Every suggestion is looked at and discussed, with conclusions taken forward to a meeting with heads of each respective committee. After more long and gruelling discussion, the conclusions are then eventually brought before a general assembly – during which the entire camp (or anyone else for that matter) is able to vote on each commission’s suggested proposals.

There is no distinct leader or figurehead; all decisions are made by consensus, meaning every single person has to be in agreement. If one person does not agree, the group will simply keep discussing until they form a compromise and are able to move forward. The meetings often take hours, with the activists working through the night, debating, discussing and pouring over the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of suggestions they receive daily through the ballot boxes.

“The leadership is our assembly, where the decisions are taken by consensus,” said one of the activists, Juan, 22. “Many people think that this doesn’t work – the reality is we are where we are because of this consensus.”


A key element to the success and growth of the camp seems to have stemmed from its rigorous organisation and serious ethos. The media-savvy organisers are keen to discourage alcohol consumption in the square, because they feel it could be used to negatively portray them as irresponsible young people, just looking for a good time and an excuse to get drunk and party.

In order to counter any negative perceptions, they keep the square meticulously clean and actively encourage pacifism and non-violence. Volunteers sweep the area almost constantly and remarkably most people adhere to the no-alcohol rule – at least until well after dark.

While most of the key activists in the square are young – between around 20-35 – there are also many older people spending time at the camp. Its rigorous organisation and serious ethos seems to have won the demonstrators the respect of many older members of the Madrid community.

One 66-year-old man, Manuel Ferreira, described how the scene reminded him of Paris in 1968 – though he said it was “more peaceful” due to less conflict with the authorities. Ferreira also said he believed the Madrid protests were of greater historical significance, something he attributed to the way internet technology today can propagate movements and make them global within such a short space of time. “I think I am living a new world order,” he said. “I am sure it will spread.”


The peaceful nature of the camp must to some degree be attributed to the police’s response, for they stay behind barriers to one side of the square. So long as Puerta del Sol is full of families, children and older people, the activists believe the authorities will be likely to stay away. Only a few days after the protests began, the police tried to block off the square – but this only encouraged more demonstrators to come out into the streets. As such, the authorities appear to have realised that their presence within the camp only antagonises protesters, and so have been forced to simply let them get on with it.

“They saw that they could not control this with police,” said Beatriz Pérez, a 29-year-old spokesperson for the movement. “So I think they took the opposite strategy: to let the movement be pacifistic, because we are a pacifistic, non-violent movement. They cannot move us out, so the police have no duty here.”

Political leanings

One of the most striking things about the camp at Puerta del Sol, aside from the size and scale of it, is the diverse array of political perspectives represented. There are people within the camp who would class themselves as radicals – anarchists, socialists and anti-capitalists – but the movement itself appears to be much broader. At its core, it is pro-democracy, united by a collective disdain for the current state of things. It is not driven by a desire to demolish the current political and economic system; rather, it aspires only to change and reform it. “We are not against the system,” said Juan. “We want to change the system – so that the people can be better represented.”

(N.B. There is no doubt that many within the movement want to see a shift away from the capitalist economic model, but that is something they do not want to talk about at this stage. They feel that they have to take one step at a time – and, for now, they simply want their voices to be heard.)

Goals and demands

The movement’s central demands are fairly modest. They want to have a referendum on electoral reform, and call for the dissolution of the Spanish parliament’s second chamber, which they believe is a waste of time and money. They also want to see an end to a policy of ‘salaries for life’ for Spanish politicians, and demand greater media freedom. The media in Spain, they say, is too heavily influenced by the political and religious right, with ownership of the most powerful broadcasters and newspapers concentrated in the hands of a few. The movement also believes that there is a major problem with corrupt politicians, and have produced a list of those they claim should be investigated for taking money in return for favours (in some cases, allegedly, from large Spanish corporations).

A key aim is simply to make the current system more representative. They feel that neither of Spain’s two main political parties – the Socialist Party or the Partido Popular (People's Party) – can offer that substantive change that is required. This feeling was summed up last Sunday, May 22, on the eve of local elections across the country – as people at the camp simply did not care about the outcome.

“In the end, no matter the colour of the party, they all end up doing exactly the same thing,” said Raul Bartolome, 38. “If you listen to politics here, all the time they are just yelling at each other about doing nothing at all and, in the end, they just keep on doing whatever they want to – no matter what you vote them in for.”

But in spite of the bleak cynicism about the current political system, people at the camp are intensely optimistic about the future. They believe that their model of organisation could spread across Spain and beyond, and the prospect of it happening does not look like a mere pipe dream. At the time of writing, in more than 60 Spanish cities there were similar protests taking place, with few of them showing signs that they were about to lose any steam.

Many of the demonstrators think this is the start of something that could even be global. When speaking to them you can sense their hope and see it in their eyes; there is an energy around the camp that almost defies description. They feel that they are part of some kind of epochal shift from something old to something new – and none of them is willing to let the prospect of change slip from their grasp. “We want to do the same thing in every neighbourhood in Madrid and across Spain,” said Bartolome. “I really think we’re living some kind of revolution.”

Prospects and staying power

For the organisers at Puerta del Sol, occupation of the square represents only the first step in what they foresee as a long and probably gruelling political battle. Given the degree to which the movement in Spain has taken off over the course of the last two weeks, it theoretically carries enough weight to transform Spanish politics. The crucial factor is whether the protesters will be able to maintain the momentum that has carried them this far. By forging formal organisational links with other groups across the country they will carry substantial clout, and the more unified they are the more likely they will be to force the Spanish political establishment to make concessions.

But in the coming days they will face their biggest challenge to date as pressure mounts to evict protesters in squares across the country – particularly in Madrid, the heart and soul of the movement. Yesterday Spanish newspapers reported that regional authorities were demanding the central government take action against the occupation, while in Barcelona police used brutal violence in a botched attempt to evict protesters from the city’s main square, Plaça Catalunya.

The Spanish government is also faced with a serious problem, in that it is dealing with no ordinary demonstration or protest. What is taking place within Spain at present is part of a wider narrative that police repression will simply not be able quell. A historic social and political shift appears to be taking place as an entire generation of young people attempt to take control of their own collective destiny – both in Europe and across the Arab world. And while there much to contrast between, for instance, the context of the uprisings in Egypt and what is happening in Spain, the fundamentals are the same. It is about a craving for greater democracy, for choice and, in essence, for a better, more equal and egalitarian society.

At this stage it is almost impossible to predict what the fate of the 15-M movement will be. But among demonstrators at Puerta del Sol there is little doubt who will prevail. “They do not represent us!” they cry in unison. “The people united will never be defeated!"

This article originally appeared at: