Alexander Pugh

Clear Skies (2012)

Who knows what the future holds? –

The footage of Harry Truman being hauled out of his mother’s house by police officers in Lewisham, South London has already gone viral. He is one of a dozen British youngsters arrested this month as part of Operation Bastion, a worldwide US-led crackdown on the notorious online group OpoSec, the individuals responsible for the creation of the controversial synthetic drug Chronix. Speaking from outside the 16 year olds house the Mayor of London, Steve Hilton, media savvy and keen to be seen at the forefront of these exciting developments, spoke of a victory “for our young people and the lives these drugs promise to destroy.”

In a recent report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD], synthetic or ‘smart’ drugs were categorised into three distinct phases. Niche party drugs, popular in clubs and bars, taken by a predominantly young minority make up phase I. Often referred to as designer drugs, think ‘meow meow’, ‘mexxy’, ‘dropps’ and the accompanying media scares in the early years of the decade. “Simpler times” muses Augur, head of the National Crime Agency [NCA], the law enforcement agency tasked with rounding up British members of OpoSec.

The second phase is comprised of cosmetic and cognitive substances, ranging from memory and mood enhancement (a hit with the perennially young Lost Generation) and skin and organ augmentation (popular with the aging Baby Boomers.) These substances have moved “out of Britain’s clubs and basements” and have enjoyed a broader appeal. According to “The Future of Smart Drugs” Britain is on the cusp of phase 3; “riskier” substances employed for more “abstract use”. Substances that have been reported to induce, amongst other things, “unbridled ambition” (Amber), shared hallucinations (Foley) and perhaps most striking of all, “limited, short-term premonitions” (Chronix).

The manner in which these drugs are manufactured is as novel as the effects they are reported to produce. For phase II drugs onwards the use of custom-made rapid prototypers [RP], via a decentralised network of bedroom drug labs across the world has driven their development. In a synthesis of technologies forums host reams of basic chemical equations or ‘blocks’, as well as higher-end breakthroughs that allow enthusiasts to build on the available literature and post the fruits of their labour online. These self-styled cyber alchemists submit videos of people under the influence of the drugs to video sharing and social networking sites, the competition between rival enthusiasts leading to an arms race of sorts. The prize; ever more unusual effects.

Bud Carlton writing for the Daily Mail claims the cyber alchemists “are an evolution of the various strands of ‘soft terrorism’.” He sees the rise of these bizarre substances as a natural extension of the uniquely online phenomenon of trolling and the various subcultures that surround it. And much of Middle England agrees with him. This curious facet of the internet, afforded through anonymity, has provided fertile ground for various acts of questionable cyber-crime throughout this decade. Splintered groups like OpoSec (and GrandSec and AntiSec before it, amongst countless others) have a direct lineage to notorious outfits such as Anonymous, the hacktivist culture and the now defunct 4chan.

Coveted as “(r)evolutionary pioneers exploring the true final frontier”, in the words of one Chinese hacker, the cyber alchemists bear witness to the online world’s continuing dominion over the real world. In a typical statement, in which OpoSec claimed responsibility for Chronix, OpoSec spoke of “boundless opportunities” for humanity: “That the collective consciousness of the internet in concert can produce a substance like Chronix that can truly expand the consciousness of man is revolutionary in itself.”

Harry Truman’s FaceID characterises him as the Joker from the 2008 film The Dark Knight. Many of the young people tinkering away on these designer drugs aspire to the contrived anarchy that this controversial character embodies. But ironically their efforts have often engendered a more authoritarian approach from governments. In Britain the moral panic over these weird substances has put paid to any form of liberalisation of the drug laws, a movement that had been gaining ground in recent years. The Coalitions’ controversial legislation that allows for a more “straightforward” policing of the internet is a direct counter to the actions of groups like OpoSec. In turn, Augur, always conscious of the media, refers to groups such as OpoSec as “cells”, evoking bad memories of home-grown terrorism. It would be wise for the bedroom cyber alchemists to consider the consequences of their actions; both for themselves and the wider world.

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