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Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by Suelette Dreyfus and Julian Assange, 1997

ISBN 1-86330-595-5

Contents

  1. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 1
  2. The Corner Pub 45
  3. The American Connection 84
  4. The Fugitive 120
  5. The Holy Grail 159
  6. Page One, the New York Times 212
  7. Judgment Day 244
  8. The International Subversives 285
  9. Operation Weather 323
  10. Anthrax--the Outsider 364
  11. The Prisoner’s Dilemma 400
  • Afterword 427 Glossary and Abbreviations 455 Notes 460
  • Bibliography

Julian Assange Introduction

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth" -- Oscar Wilde

"What is essential is invisible to the eye" -- Antoine De Saint-Exupery

"But, how do you *know* it happened like that?" -- Reader

Due of the seamless nature of ‘Underground’ this is a reasonable question to ask, although hints can be found at the back of the book in the Bibliography and Endnotes. The simple answer to this question is that we conducted over a hundred interviews and collected around 40,000 pages of primary documentation; telephone intercepts, data intercepts, log-files, witness statements, confessions, judgements. Telephone dialog and on-line discussions are drawn directly from the latter. Every significant hacking incident mentioned in this book has reams of primary documentation behind it. System X included.

The non-simple answer goes more like this:

In chapter 4, Par, one of the principle subjects of this book, is being watched by the Secret Service. He’s on the run. He’s a wanted fugitive. He’s hiding out with another hacker, Nibbler in a motel chalet, Black Mountain, North Carolina. The Secret Service move in. The incident is vital in explaining Par’s life on the run and the nature of his interaction with the Secret Service. Yet, just before the final edits of this book were to go the publisher, all the pages relating to the Block Mountain incident were about to be pulled. Why?

Suelette had flown to Tuscon Az where she spent three days interviewing Par. I had spent dozens of hours interviewing Par on the phone and on-line. Par gave both of us extraordinary access to his life. While Par displayed a high degree of paranoia about why events had unfolded in the manner they had, he was consistent, detailed and believable as to the events themselves. He showed very little blurring of these two realities, but we needed to show none at all.

During Par’s time on the run, the international computer underground was a small and strongly connected place. We had already co-incidentally interviewed half a dozen hackers he had communicated with at various times during his zig-zag flight across America. Suelette also spoke at length to his lead lawyer Richard Rosen, who, after getting the all-clear from Par, was kind enough to send us a copy of the legal brief. We had logs of messages Par had written on underground BBS’s. We had data intercepts of other hackers in conversation with Par. We had obtained various Secret Service documents and propriety security reports relating to Par’s activities. I had extensively interviewed his Swiss girlfriend Theorem (who had also been involved with Electron and Pengo), and yes, she did have a melting French accent.

Altogether we had an enormous amount of material on Par’s activities, all of which was consistent with what Par had said during his interviews, but none of it, including Rosen’s file, contained any reference to Black Mountain, NC. Rosen, Theorem and others had heard about a SS raid on the run, yet when the story was traced back, it always led to one source. To Par.

Was Par having us on? Par had said that he had made a telephone call to Theorem in Switzerland from a phone booth outside the motel a day or two before the Secret Service raid. During a storm. Not just any storm. Hurricane Hugo. But archival news reports on Hugo discussed it hitting South Carolina, not North Carolina. And not Black Mountain. Theorem remembered Par calling once during a storm. But not Hugo. And she didn’t remember it in relation to the Black Mountain raid.

Par had destroyed most of his legal documents, in circumstances that become clear in the book, but of the hundreds of pages of documentary material we had obtained from other sources there was wasn’t a single mention of Black Mountain. The Black Mountain Motel didn’t seem to exist. Par said Nibbler had moved and couldn’t be located. Dozens of calls by Suelette to the Secret Service told us what we didn’t want to hear. The agents we thought most likely to have been involved in the the hypothetical Black Mountain incident had either left the Secret Service or were otherwise unreachable. The Secret Service had no idea who would have been involved, because while Par was still listed in the Secret Service central database, his profile, contained four significant annotations:

  1. Another agency had ‘‘borrowed’’ parts Par’s file
  2. There were medical ‘‘issues’’ surrounding Par
  3. SS documents covering the time of Black Mountain incident had been destroyed for various reasons that become clear the book.
  4. The remaining SS documents had been moved into ‘‘deep-storage’’ and would take two weeks to retrieve.

With only one week before our publisher’s ‘‘use it or lose it’’ dead-line, the chances of obtaining secondary confirmation of the Black Mountain events did not look promising.

While we waited for leads on the long trail of ex, transferred and seconded SS agents who might have been involved in the Black Mountain raid, I turned to resolving the two inconsistencies in Par’s story; Hurricane Hugo and the strange invisibility of the Black Mountain Motel.

Hurricane Hugo had wreathed a path of destruction, but like most most hurricanes heading directly into a continental land-mass it had started out big and ended up small. News reports followed this pattern, with a large amount of material on its initial impact, but little or nothing about subsequent events. Finally I obtained detailed time by velocity weather maps from the National Reconnaissance Office, which showed the remaining Hugo epicentre ripping through Charlotte NC (pop. 400k) before spending itself on the Carolinas. Database searches turned up a report by Natalie, D. & Ball, W, EIS Coordinator, North Carolina Emergency Management, ‘How North Carolina Managed Hurricane Hugo’ -- which was used to flesh out the scenes in Chapter 4 describing Par’s escape to New York via the Charlotte Airport.

Old Fashioned gum-shoe leg-work, calling every motel in Black Mountain and the surrounding area, revealed that the Black mountain Motel had changed name, ownership and.. all its staff. Par’s story was holding, but in some ways I wished it hadn’t. We were back to square one in terms of gaining independent secondary confirmation.

Who else could have been involved? There must have been a paper-trail outside of Washington. Perhaps the SS representation in Charlotte had something? No. Perhaps there were records of the warrants in the Charlotte courts? No. Perhaps NC state police attended the SS raid in support? Maybe, but finding warm bodies who had been directly involved proved proved futile. If it was a SS case, they had no indexable records that they were willing to provide. What about the local coppers? An SS raid on a fugitive computer hacker holed up at one of the local motels was not the sort of event that would be likely to have passed unnoticed at the Black Mountain county police office, indexable records or not.

Neither however, were international telephone calls from strangely accented foreign-nationals wanting to know about them. Perhaps the Reds were no-longer under the beds, but in Black Mountain, this could be explained away by the fact they were now hanging out in phone booths. I waited for a new shift at the Black Mountain county police office, hoping against hope, that the officer I had spoken to wouldn’t contaminate his replacement. Shamed, I resorted to using that most special of US militia infiltration devices. An American accent and a woman’s touch. Suelette weaved her magic. The Black Mountain raid had taken place. The county police had supported it. We had our confirmation.

While this anecdote is a strong account, it’s also representative one. Every chapter in underground was formed from many stories like it. They’re unseen, because a book must not be true merely in details. It must be true in feeling.

True to the visible and the invisible. A difficult combination.

Julian Assange - January 2001 - proff@iq.org

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