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o the deepest and most
deviant recesses of software releases and expensive
peripherals.... The mark of the hacker beast. I have
it too. The whole "electronic community," whatever
the hell that is, has it. Gail Thackeray has it. Gail
Thackeray is a hacker cop. My immediate reaction
is a strong rush of indignant pity: *why doesn't
somebody buy this woman her Amiga?!* It's not
like she's asking for a Cray X-MP supercomputer
mainframe; an Amiga's a sweet little cookie-box
thing. We're losing zillions in organized fraud;
prosecuting and defending a single hacker case in
court can cost a hundred grand easy. How come
nobody can come up with four lousy grand so this
woman can do her job? For a hundred grand we
could buy every computer cop in America an Amiga.
There aren't that many of 'em.
Computers. The lust, the hunger, for
computers. The loyalty they inspire, the intense
sense of possessiveness. The culture they have
bred. I myself am sitting in downtown Phoenix,
Arizona because it suddenly occurred to me that the
police might -- just *might* -- come and take away
my computer. The prospect of this, the mere
*implied threat,* was unbearable. It literally
changed my life. It was changing the lives of many
others. Eventually it would change everybody's life.
Gail Thackeray was one of the top computer-
crime people in America. And I was just some
novelist, and yet I had a better computer than hers.
*Practically everybody I knew* had a better
computer than Gail Thackeray and her feeble
laptop 286. It was like sending the sheriff in to clean
up Dodge City and arming her with a slingshot cut
from an old rubber tire.
But then again, you don't need a howitzer to
enforce the law. You can do a lot just with a badge.
With a badge alone, you can basically wreak havoc,
take a terrible vengeance on wrongdoers. Ninety
percent of "computer crime investigation" is just
"crime investigation:" names, places, dossiers,
modus operandi, search warrants, victims,
What will computer crime look like in ten
years? Will it get better? Did "Sundevil" send 'em
reeling back in confusion?
It'll be like it is now, only worse, she tells me
with perfect conviction. Still there in the
background, ticking along, changing with the times:
the criminal underworld. It'll be like drugs are. Like
our problems with alcohol. All the cops and laws in
the world never solved our problems with alcohol. If
there's something people want, a certain percentage
of them are just going to take it. Fifteen percent of
the populace will never steal. Fifteen percent will
steal most anything not nailed down. The battle is
for the hearts and minds of the remaining seventy
And criminals catch on fast. If there's not "too
steep a learning curve" -- if it doesn't require a
baffling amount of expertise and practice -- then
criminals are often some of the first through the gate
of a new technology. Especially if it helps them to
hide. They have tons of cash, criminals. The new
communications tech -- like pagers, cellular phones,
faxes, Federal Express -- were pioneered by rich
corporate people, and by criminals. In the early
years of pagers and beepers, dope dealers were so
enthralled this technology that owing a beeper was
practically prima facie evidence of cocaine dealing.
CB radio exploded when the speed limit hit 55 and
breaking the highway law became a national
pastime. Dope dealers send cash by Federal
Express, despite, or perhaps *because of,* the
warnings in FedEx offices that tell you never to try
this. Fed Ex uses X-rays and dogs on their mail, to
stop drug shipments. That doesn't work very well.
Drug dealers went wild over cellular phones.
There are simple methods of faking ID on cellular
phones, making the location of the call mobile, free
of charge, and effectively untraceable. Now
victimized cellular companies routinely bring in vast
toll-lists of calls to Colombia and Pakistan.
Judge Greene's fragmentation of the phone
company is driving law enforcement nuts. Four
thousand telecommunications companies. Fraud
skyrocketing. Every temptation in the world
available with a phone and a credit card number.
Criminals untraceable. A galaxy of "new neat rotten
things to do."
If there were one thing Thackeray would like to
have, it would be an effective legal end-run through
this new fragmentation minefield.
It would be a new form of electronic search
warrant, an "electronic letter of marque" to be issued
by a judge. It would create a new category of
"electronic emergency." Like a wiretap, its use
would be rare, but it would cut across state lines and
force swift cooperation from all concerned. Cellular,
phone, laser, computer network, PBXes, AT&T, Baby
Bells, long-distance entrepreneurs, packet radio.
Some document, some mighty court-order, that
could slice through four thousand separate forms of
corporate red-tape, and get her at once to the source
of calls, the source of email threats and viruses, the
sources of bomb threats, kidnapping threats. "From
now on," she says, "the Lindberg baby will always
Something that would make the Net sit still, if
only for a moment. Something that would get her up
to speed. Seven league boots. That's what she really
needs. "Those guys move in nanoseconds and I'm
on the Pony Express."
And then, too, there's the coming international
angle. Electronic crime has never been easy to
localize, to tie to a physical jurisdiction. And phone-
phreaks and hackers loathe boundaries, they jump
them whenever they can. The English. The Dutch.
And the Germans, especially the ubiquitous Chaos
Computer Club. The Australians. They've all
learned phone-phreaking from America. It's a
growth mischief industry. The multinational
networks are global, but governments and the police
simply aren't. Neither are the laws. Or the legal
frameworks for citizen protection.
One language is global, though -- English.
Phone phreaks speak English; it's their native
tongue even if they're Germans. English may have
started in England but now it's the Net language; it
might as well be called "CNNese."
Asians just aren't much into phone phreaking.
They're the world masters at organized software
piracy. The French aren't into phone-phreaking
either. The French are into computerized industrial
In the old days of the MIT righteous
hackerdom, crashing systems didn't hurt anybody.
Not all that much, anyway. Not permanently. Now
the players are more venal. Now the consequences
are worse. Hacking will begin killing people soon.
Already there are methods of stacking calls onto 911
systems, annoying the police, and possibly causing
the death of some poor soul calling in with a genuine
emergency. Hackers in Amtrak computers, or air-
traffic control computers, will kill somebody
someday. Maybe a lot of people. Gail Thackeray
And the viruses are getting nastier. The "Scud"
virus is the latest one out. It wipes hard-disks.
According to Thackeray, the idea that phone-
phreaks are ъobin Hoods is a fraud. They don't
deserve this repute. Basically, they pick on the
weak. AT&T now protects itself with the fearsome
ANI (Automatic Number Identification) trace
capability. When AT&T wised up and tightened
security generally, the phreaks drifted into the Baby
Bells. The Baby Bells lashed out in 1989 and 1990, so
the phreaks switched to smaller long-distance
entrepreneurs. Today, they are moving into locally
owned PBXes and voice-mail systems, which are full
of security holes, dreadfully easy to hack. These
victims aren't the moneybags Sheriff of Nottingham
or Bad King John, but small groups of innocent
people who find it hard to protect themselves, and
who really suffer from these depredations. Phone
phreaks pick on the weak. They do it for power. If it
were legal, they wouldn't do it. They don't want
service, or knowledge, they want the thrill of power-
tripping. There's plenty of knowledge or service
around, if you're willing to pay. Phone phreaks don't
pay, they steal. It's because it is illegal that it feels
like power, that it gratifies their vanity.
I leave Gail Thackeray with a handshake at the
door of her office building -- a vast International-
Style office building downtown. The Sheriff's office is
renting part of it. I get the vague impression that
quite a lot of the building is empty -- real estate
In a Phoenix sports apparel store, in a downtown
mall, I meet the "Sun Devil" himself. He is the
cartoon mascot of Arizona State University, whose
football stadium, "Sundevil," is near the local Secret
Service HQ -- hence the name Operation Sundevil.
The Sun Devil himself is named "Sparky." Sparky
the Sun Devil is maroon and bright yellow, the
school colors. Sparky brandishes a three-tined
yellow pitchfork. He has a small mustache, pointed
ears, a barbed tail, and is dashing forward jabbing
the air with the pitchfork, with an expression of
Phoenix was the home of Operation Sundevil.
The Legion of Doom ran a hacker bulletin board
called "The Phoenix Project." An Australian hacker
named "Phoenix" once burrowed through the
Internet to attack Cliff Stoll, then bragged and
boasted about it to *The New York Times.* This net
of coincidence is both odd and meaningless.
The headquarters of the Arizona Attorney
General, Gail Thackeray's former workplace, is on
1275 Washington Avenue. Many of the downtown
streets in Phoenix are named after prominent
American presidents: Washington, Jefferson,
After dark, all the employees go home to their
suburbs. Washington, Jefferson and Madison --
what would be the Phoenix inner city, if there were
an inner city in this sprawling automobile-bred town
-- become the haunts of transients and derelicts.
The homeless. The sidewalks along Washington are
lined with orange trees. ъipe fallen fruit lies
scattered like croquet balls on the sidewalks and
gutters. No one seems to be eating them. I try a
fresh one. It tastes unbearably bitter.
The Attorney General's office, built in 1981
during the Babbitt administration, is a long low two-
story building of white cement and wall-sized sheets
of curtain-glass. Behind each glass wall is a lawyer's
office, quite open and visible to anyone strolling by.
Across the street is a dour government building
labelled simply ECONOMIC SECUъITY, something
that has not been in great supply in the American
The offices are about twelve feet square. They
feature tall wooden cases full of red-spined
lawbooks; Wang computer monitors; telephones;
Post-it notes galore. Also framed law diplomas and a
general excess of bad Western landscape art. Ansel
Adams photos are a big favorite, perhaps to
compensate for the dismal specter of the parking-
lot, two acres of striped black asphalt, which features
gravel landscaping and some sickly-looking barrel
It has grown dark. Gail Thackeray has told me
that the people who work late here, are afraid of
muggings in the parking lot. It seems cruelly ironic
that a woman tracing electronic racketeers across
the interstate labyrinth of Cyberspace should fear
an assault by a homeless derelict in the parking lot
of her own workplace.
Perhaps this is less than coincidence. Perhaps
these two seemingly disparate worlds are somehow
generating one another. The poor and
disenfranchised take to the streets, while the rich
and computer-equipped, safe in their bedrooms,
chatter over their modems. Quite often the derelicts
kick the glass out and break in to the lawyers' offices,
if they see something they need or want badly
I cross the parking lot to the street behind the
Attorney General's office. A pair of young tramps
are bedding down on flattened sheets of cardboard,
under an alcove stretching over the sidewalk. One
tramp wears a glitter-covered T-shirt reading
"CALIFOъNIA" in Coca-Cola cursive. His nose and
cheeks look chafed and swollen; they glisten with
what seems to be Vaseline. The other tramp has a
ragged long-sleeved shirt and lank brown hair
parted in the middle. They both wear blue jeans
coated in grime. They are both drunk.
"You guys crash here a lot?" I ask them.
They look at me warily. I am wearing black
jeans, a black pinstriped suit jacket and a black silk
tie. I have odd shoes and a funny haircut.
"It's our first time here," says the red-nosed
tramp unconvincingly. There is a lot of cardboard
stacked here. More than any two people could use.
"We usually stay at the Vinnie's down the
street," says the brown-haired tramp, puffing a
Marlboro with a meditative air, as he sprawls with his
head on a blue nylon backpack. "The Saint
"You know who works in that building over
there?" I ask, pointing.
The brown-haired tramp shrugs. "Some kind of
attorneys, it says."
` We urge one another to take it easy. I give
them five bucks.
A block down the street I meet a vigorous
workman who is wheeling along some kind of
industrial trolley; it has what appears to be a tank of
propane on it.
We make eye contact. We nod politely. I walk
past him. "Hey! Excuse me sir!" he says.
"Yes?" I say, stopping and turning.
"Have you seen," the guy says rapidly, "a black
guy, about 6'7", scars on both his cheeks like this --"
he gestures -- "wears a black baseball cap on
backwards, wandering around here anyplace?"
"Sounds like I don't much *want* to meet him," I
"He took my wallet," says my new acquaintance.
"Took it this morning. Y'know, some people would
be *scared* of a guy like that. But I'm not scared.
I'm from Chicago. I'm gonna hunt him down. We
do things like that in Chicago."
"I went to the cops and now he's got an APB out
on his ass," he says with satisfaction. "You run into
him, you let me know."
"Okay," I say. "What is your name, sir?"
"And how can I reach you?"
"Oh," Stanley says, in the same rapid voice, "you
don't have to reach, uh, me. You can just call the
cops. Go straight to the cops." He reaches into a
pocket and pulls out a greasy piece of pasteboard.
"See, here's my report on him."
I look. The "report," the size of an index card, is
labelled PъO-ACT: Phoenix ъesidents Opposing
Active Crime Threat.... or is it Organized Against
Crime Threat? In the darkening street it's hard to
read. Some kind of vigilante group? Neighborhood
watch? I feel very puzzled.
"Are you a police officer, sir?"
He smiles, seems very pleased by the question.
"No," he says.
` "But you are a 'Phoenix ъesident?'"
"Would you believe a homeless person,"
"ъeally? But what's with the..." For the first
time I take a close look at Stanley's trolley. It's a
rubber-wheeled thing of industrial metal, but the
device I had mistaken for a tank of propane is in fact
a water-cooler. Stanley also has an Army duffel-bag,
stuffed tight as a sausage with clothing or perhaps a
tent, and, at the base of his trolley, a cardboard box
and a battered leather briefcase.
"I see," I say, quite at a loss. For the first time I
notice that Stanley has a wallet. He has not lost his
wallet at all. It is in his back pocket and chained to
his belt. It's not a new wallet. It seems to have seen
a lot of wear.
"Well, you know how it is, brother," says Stanley.
Now that I know that he is homeless -- *a possible
threat* -- my entire perception of him has changed
in an instant. His speech, which once seemed just
bright and enthusiastic, now seems to have a
dangerous tang of mania. "I have to do this!" he
assures me. "Track this guy down... It's a thing I do...
you know... to keep myself together!" He smiles,
nods, lifts his trolley by its decaying rubber
"Gotta work together, y'know, " Stanley booms,
his face alight with cheerfulness, "the police can't do
The gentlemen I met in my stroll in downtown
Phoenix are the only computer illiterates in this
book. To regard them as irrelevant, however, would
be a grave mistake.
As computerization spreads across society, the
populace at large is subjected to wave after wave of
future shock. But, as a necessary converse, the
"computer community" itself is subjected to wave
after wave of incoming computer illiterates. How
will those currently enjoying America's digital
bounty regard, and treat, all this teeming refuse
yearning to breathe free? Will the electronic
frontier be another Land of Opportunity -- or an
armed and monitored enclave, where the
disenfranchised snuggle on their cardboard at the
locked doors of our houses of justice?
Some people just don't get along with
computers. They can't read. They can't type. They
just don't have it in their heads to master arcane
instructions in wirebound manuals. Somewhere,
the process of computerization of the populace will
reach a limit. Some people -- quite decent people
maybe, who might have thrived in any other
situation -- will be left irretrievably outside the
bounds. What's to be done with these people, in
the bright new shiny electroworld? How will they be
regarded, by the mouse-whizzing masters of
cyberspace? With contempt? Indifference? Fear?
In retrospect, it astonishes me to realize how
quickly poor Stanley became a perceived threat.
Surprise and fear are closely allied feelings. And the
world of computing is full of surprises.
I met one character in the streets of Phoenix
whose role in those book is supremely and directly
relevant. That personage was Stanley's giant
thieving scarred phantom. This phantasm is
everywhere in this book. He is the specter haunting
Sometimes he's a maniac vandal ready to
smash the phone system for no sane reason at all.
Sometimes he's a fascist fed, coldly programming
his mighty mainframes to destroy our Bill of ъights.
Sometimes he's a telco bureaucrat, covertly
conspiring to register all modems in the service of
an Orwellian surveillance regime. Mostly, though,
this fearsome phantom is a "hacker." He's strange,
he doesn't belong, he's not authorized, he doesn't
smell right, he's not keeping his proper place, he's
not one of us. The focus of fear is the hacker, for
much the same reasons that Stanley's fancied
assailant is black.
Stanley's demon can't go away, because he
doesn't exist. Despite singleminded and
tremendous effort, he can't be arrested, sued, jailed,
or fired. The only constructive way to do *anything*
about him is to learn more about Stanley himself.
This learning process may be repellent, it may be
ugly, it may involve grave elements of paranoiac
confusion, but it's necessary. Knowing Stanley
requires something more than class-crossing
condescension. It requires more than steely legal
objectivity. It requires human compassion and
To know Stanley is to know his demon. If you
know the other guy's demon, then maybe you'll
come to know some of your own. You'll be able to
separate reality from illusion. And then you won't
do your cause, and yourself, more harm than good.
Like poor damned Stanley from Chicago did.
The Federal Computer Inves