Another incident during that summer of 1990 we shouldn't forget were
the various newspaper accounts written by reporter Joe Abernathy.
Although Mr. Abernathy in his earlier articles got a lot of
details wrong, by this point (summer, 1990) he was doing better at
reporting facts, not hearsay and rumors. Abernathy talked in this
article about the government sponsored witch hunt that went on
for couple of yeas in 1989-1990.
ANOTHER ARTICLE BY JOE ABERNATHY ABOUT THE INTERNET IS LOCATED IN THE
MAIN DIRECTORY OF TELECOM ARCHIVES UNDER THE TITLE
Date: Wed, 5 Sep 90 19:29:47 CDT
From: edtjda@MAGIC712.CHRON.COM(Joe Abernathy)
Subject: Text of chron-sundevil article
War on computer crime waged with search, seizure
By JOE ABERNATHY
The government's first assault on computer crime, unveiled with
fanfare six months ago, has generated few criminal cases and is
drawing allegations that federal agents are using heavy-handed
Although only four people have been charged, searches and
seizures have been conducted in at least 44 homes or businesses
in the crackdown, called Operation Sun Devil.
One prosecutor attributed the delay in filing cases to the
vast amount of information that must be sorted. Authorities would
not say, however, when or if additional charges might be re-
Sun Devil, so named because it began in Arizona and targeted
an evil that investigators deemed biblical in stature, is held
forth as a sophisticated defense of the nation's computer in-
frastructure. Computer-related abuses will cost the nation's
business community $500 million this year, according to some esti
Operation Sun Devil and several related investigations made
public in March have been under way for more than two years. Hun-
dreds of agents from the Secret Service, U.S. attorney's office,
the Bell companies, and assorted law enforcement agencies are
But the operation is coming under fire for what critics
describe as unjustified searches and seizures of property and
electronic information protected by the Constitution.
Among examples they cite:
* An Austin publishing house is clinging to life after
Secret Service agents confiscated equipment and manuscripts,
leaving behind an unsigned search warrant.
* A Missouri college student faces an extra year in school
and $100,000 in legal fees after defending himself from charges
that he stole a proprietary document from the telephone company
by publishing it in a newsletter.
* The wife and children of a Baltimore corporate computer
consultant were detained for six hours while he was interrogated
in a locked bedroom and his business equipment was confiscated.
With no way to support itself, the family has sunk into pover-
At a press conference in March, authorities presented Sun De-
vil as a full-scale response to a serious criminal threat.
"The United States Secret Service, in cooperation with the Un-
ited States attorney's office and the attorney general for the
state of Arizona, established an operation utilizing sophisticat-
ed investigative techniques," a press release said, adding that
40 computers and 23,000 data disks had been seized in the initial
"The conceivable criminal violations of this operation have
serious implications for the health and welfare of all individu-
als, corporations, and United States government agencies relying
on computers and telephones to communicate," it continued.
Six months later, most officials are silent about Sun Devil.
But at least one principal denies excesses in the operation.
"I am not a mad dog prosecutor, " said Gail
Thackeray, assistant attorney general for the state of Arizona
and the intellectual parent of Operation Sun Devil.
"(Agents) are acting in good faith, and I don't think that can be
said of the hacker community.
"Over the last couple of years, a lot of us in different places
-- state, federal and local -- have been getting hit with a
dramatic increase in complaints from computer hacker victims. So
in response to that the Secret Service started the Sun Devil in-
vestigation trying to find a more effective way to deal with some
Thackeray said the Secret Service, an agency of the U.S.
Treasury Department, assumed jurisdiction because computer
crime often involves financial fraud. Most of the losses are at-
tributed to stolen long distance service.
"It's not unusual for hackers to reach six figures (of abuse)
in one month'' at a single business location, she said. "This
whole mess is getting completely out of hand.''
But computer experts critical of Sun Devil contend the opera-
tion also is out of hand. They have rallied behind the banner of
the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which contends that computer
networks represent a fundamentally new realm of self-expression
into which constitutional protection must be extended.
Some visitors to this realm deem it cyberspace, using termi-
nology borrowed from a science fiction genre set in a gritty fu-
ture in which computer and telephone lines become extensions of
one's intellect and even physical being.
Hackers, as those who enter others' computers without authori-
zation are known, are referred to as cyberpunks by some computer
It may have been this connection that drew the Secret Service
to the Austin offices of Steve Jackson Games, which early this
spring was about to publish something called "GURPS Cyber-
It is a rule book for a role-playing adventure along the lines
of Dungeons & Dragons, played with dice and not computers.
The cover page, however, credits the Legion of Doom, a self-
professed underground hackers group, for assistance in providing
realism. The game's author admits discoursing with the Le-
This link ensnared the company in the nationwide sweep con-
ducted March 1, when 27 search warrants were executed in 14 ci-
ties. A number of cases targeted members of the Legion.
The Secret Service seized all copies of the Cyberpunk
manuscript, along with the computers on which it was being stored
prior to publication.
"One of the Secret Service agents told Steve Jackson that they
thought the book was a handbook for computer crime,'' said
Sharon Beckman of the Boston firm Silverglate & Good, Jackson's
attorney. "It looks like what (this) was, in effect, was a prior
restraint on protected speech, speech protected by the First
Jackson's company, which had revenues of $1.4 million in
1989, was nearly dealt a death blow by the raid. Cyberpunk was to
be its main spring release, but it would have to be rewritten
from scratch. Jackson was not allowed access to the reams of in-
formation stored on the confiscated equipment.
"We had to lay off eight people, and we had to cut way back on
the number of products we were producing," said Jackson, who
put the cost of the raid at $125,000. That doesn't include lost
revenues, "or the value to the company of the eight (of 17) em-
ployees we had to lay off, because I don't know where to start to
put a value on that."
Beckman described her client as an ordinary businessman who
uses a computer in his business. "He's not a computer hacker. He's
not even a particularly sophisticated computer user," she said.
"It was terrifying,'' Jackson recalled." I was in the hands of
a lot of keen, earnest, sincere people who had no idea what they
were doing and who had federal law enforcement powers.
"It's frightening that they can do this to innocent people."
No charges have been filed.
Some of the equipment has been returned, but some was damaged
beyond repair. Jackson said agents recently acknowledged that
some equipment indeed is gone forever.
The Secret Service, Arizona U.S. attorney's office and Justice
Department all refused to discuss any specifics of Jackson's
case, or any activities associated with Operation Sun Devil.
"We're a very efficient organization, and we follow the guide-
lines set forth by the law," said Michael Cleary, assistant to
the special agent in charge of the Secret Service in Chicago,
which has jurisdiction in the case. "If we have a signed, sworn
affidavit, and a search warrant, we execute that warrant."
Cleary wouldn't say why the search warrant used against Steve
Jackson was not signed. A request by Jackson's attorney for more
information went unanswered.
Beckman said a raid conducted without a signed warrant would
violate Fourth Amendment protection against unwarranted search
Mike Hurst, a Steve Jackson Games editor who lost his job to
the raid on the company, offered bitter advice: "The Secret Ser-
vice ought to make some attempt to find out if there's actually a
case involved before they begin searches and confiscations of
In one incident, the government did file a case, only to aban-
don it when it fell apart in court. The defendant, Craig Neidorf,
is going back to college at the University of Missouri this
fall, but his reputation is stained, he's having to repeat his
senior year, and he's $100,000 in debt.
An intrusion into the computers of Bell South by a Legion
member in 1988 set off much of the activity in Operation Sun De-
vil, including the case against Neidorf.
While in Bell South's computer, Legion member Robert Riggs
found and copied a document describing administrative aspects of
the emergency 911 system.
Riggs and associates Franklin E. Darden Jr. and E. Grant, all
three of whom are from Georgia, recently pleaded guilty to
federal conspiracy charges and await sentencing. Darden and
Riggs face up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Grant
faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Neidorf, publisher of Phrack, a newsletter for hackers, was
accused of theft for republishing the 911 document stolen by
Riggs. Prosecutors stopped the trial after the document was
shown to be freely available.
His case received widespread coverage because it raised is-
sues of free speech. Phrack was published electronically via
computer networks instead of on paper, and thus did not immedi-
ately receive the First Amendment protection that virtually
would have been assured a paper document, according to Sheldon
Zenner, Neidorf's attorney.
"Going through this last seven months is not something I would
wish on my worst enemy," said Neidorf, 20, who faced 31 years in
prison. "It devastated my parents. My grandparents, they didn't
take it well. They're in their 80s.
"I kind of broke down myself at one point. I don't like to talk
about it exactly."
Leonard Rose, a computer consultant in Baltimore, let the
Legion forward network mail through his computer, an everyday ar-
rangement on the sprawling Internet research and education net-
work. But because the name of his computer appeared in the
group's electronic address, he was portrayed by the government as
the mastermind of the group.
"I've lost everything because of it," he said. Business con-
tracts worth $100,000 a year, $70,000 worth of computer equipment
used in his business, his top secret clearance, his wife's dream
home, their credit rating, cars, are gone. The Roses now live
with their two young children in an apartment furnished with two
mattresses and a TV.
"I used to look at people in the street and I couldn't under-
stand how they could get there," Rose said. "I couldn't under-
stand how you could sink that low, but now I understand. I under-
stand a lot more now."
He was never charged as part of the Legion of Doom investiga-
tion, but during that probe he was found to have received an il-
licit copy of a computer program that must be licensed from
"What Len Rose is accused of turns software piracy into a felo-
ny," said John Perry Barlow, a co-founder of the Frontier Foun-
dation. "If the government is prepared to go out and turn every-
body who has engaged in software piracy into a felon, it'll make
the war on drugs look like a minor undertaking."
Detractors say that the investigative techniques used in
Operation Sun Devil are at best rude, at worst illegal. Authori-
ties respond that they are adjusting to a new world.
Most concerns center on bulletin board systems, a frequent
point of access into the nation's computer network byways. Locals
call the BBS, which then moves private electronic mail and pub-
lic messages into the public networks, which as a whole are re-
ferred to as Internet or simply the matrix.
"The government is seizing electronic mail like crazy, in the
sense that it's seizing BBS's and all their contents," Barlow
said. "It's the equivalent of seizing post offices and all their
The privacy of electronic mail is protected under the Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, which is also the law setting forth
most of the conditions under which computer hacking can be con-
sidered a crime.
"We've seized lots of BBS's," acknowledged Thackeray of the
Arizona attorney general's office, although search warrants
were obtained only for the owner of each computer, not for each
person with electronic mail stored on that computer.
Benjamin Wright, a Dallas attorney who writes and lectures
frequently on electronic data interchange, said that surveillance
of electronic mail poses serious questions even when conducted
properly under the supervision of a court.
"A huge amount of information could build up, so there could be
a great mass of information laying at the government's feet," he
said. "To tap into all the phone lines of a corporation would be a
lot of work, but if there's this database building up of a large
part of a company's business, then there's a reason for being a
little bit concerned.
"This applies to private people as much as it applies to cor-
Authorities see the BBS seizures as preventive medicine.
"The only thing I have ever found that has an effect on these
kids is to take their computer away," Thackeray said. "It final-
ly sinks in, 'I'm really not going to get this back.' "
But Barlow criticizes that approach. "Essentially what they
have done is to fine (the suspect), without conviction, for the
entire value of his property," he said. "They're not making
arrests. This is turning the whole search and seizure into the
The preceding appeared Sunday, 9/2/90, on the front page
of the Houston Chronicle.
Please send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
ANOTHER ARTICLE ON THE INTERNET BY JOE ABERNATHY IS LOCATED IN THE
MAIN TELECOM-ARCHIVES DIRECTORY UNDER THE TITLE 'ABERNATHY.INTERNET.STORY'
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I wonder what the past fifteen years
has done for Craig, Len Rose and those other guys. And also of
interest to me would be what the past fifteen years has done to the
several individuals who were responsible for this misguided attack on
computer 'hackers'. PAT]