Mathews didn't announce himself as being a Telenet guy. He just
slipped quietly onto Altos looking like any other hacker. He might
engage a hacker in conversation, but he let the hacker do most of the
talking. He was there to listen.
On that fateful day, Par happened to be in one of his magnanimous
moods. Par had never had much money growing up, but he was always very
generous with what he did have. He talked for a little while with the
unknown hacker on Altos, and then gave him one of the debit cards
taken from his visits to the CitiSaudi computer. Why not? On Altos, it
was a bit like handing out your business card. `The
Parmaster--Parameters Par Excellence'.
Par had got his full name--The Parmaster--in his earliest hacking
days. Back then, he belonged to a group of teenagers involved in
breaking the copy protections on software programs for Apple IIes,
particularly games. Par had a special gift for working out the copy
protection parameters, which was a first step in bypassing the
manufacturers' protection schemes. The ringleader of the group began
calling him `the master of parameters'--The Parmaster--Par, for short.
As he moved into serious hacking and developed his expertise in X.25
networks, he kept the name because it fitted nicely in his new
environment. `Par?' was a common command on an X.25 pad, the modem
gateway to an X.25 network.
`I've got lots more where that come from,' Par told the stranger on
Altos. `I've got like 4000 cards from a Citibank system.'
Not long after that, Steve Mathews was monitoring Altos again, when
Par showed up handing out cards to people once more.
`I've got an inside contact,' Par confided. `He's gonna make up a
whole mess of new, plastic cards with all these valid numbers from the
Citibank machine. Only the really big accounts, though. Nothing with a
balance under $25000.'
Was Par just making idle conversation, talking big on Altos? Or would
he really have gone through with committing such a major fraud?
Citibank, Telenet and the US Secret Service would never know, because
their security guys began closing the net around Par before he had a
chance to take his idea any further.
Mathews contacted Larry Wallace, fraud investigator with Citibank in
San Mateo, California. Wallace checked out the cards. They were valid
all right. They belonged to the Saudi-American Bank in Saudi Arabia
and were held on a Citibank database in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Wallace determined that, with its affiliation to the Middle Eastern
bank, Citibank had a custodial responsibility for the accounts. That
meant he could open a major investigation.
On 7 November, Wallace brought in the US Secret Service. Four days
later, Wallace and Special Agent Thomas Holman got their first major
lead when they interviewed Gerry Lyons of Pacific Bell's security
office in San Francisco.
Yes, Lyons told the investigators, she had some information they might
find valuable. She knew all about hackers and phreakers. In fact, the
San Jose Police had just busted two guys trying to phreak at a pay
phone. The phreakers seemed to know something about a Citibank system.
When the agents showed up at the San Jose Police Department for their
appointment with Sergeant Dave Flory, they received another pleasant
surprise. The sergeant had a book filled with hackers' names and
numbers seized during the arrest of the two pay-phone phreakers. He
also happened to be in possession of a tape recording of the phreakers
talking to Par from a prison phone.
The cheeky phreakers had used the prison pay phone to call up a
telephone bridge located at the University of Virginia. Par, the
Australian hackers and other assorted American phreakers and hackers
visited the bridge frequently. At any one moment, there might be eight
to ten people from the underground sitting on the bridge. The
phreakers found Par hanging out there, as usual, and they warned him.
His name and number were inside the book seized by police when they
Par didn't seem worried at all.
`Hey, don't worry. It's cool,' he reassured them. `I have just
disconnected my phone number today--with no forwarding details.'
Which wasn't quite true. His room-mate, Scott, had indeed disconnected
the phone which was in his name because he had been getting prank
calls. However, Scott opened a new telephone account at the same
address with the same name on the same day--all of which made the job
of tracking down the mysterious hacker named Par much easier for the
law enforcement agencies.
In the meantime, Larry Wallace had been ringing around his contacts in
the security business and had come up with another lead. Wanda Gamble,
supervisor for the Southeastern Region of MCI Investigations, in
Atlanta, had a wealth of information on the hacker who called himself
Par. She was well connected when it came to hackers, having acquired a
collection of reliable informants during her investigations of
hacker-related incidents. She gave the Citibank investigator two
mailbox numbers for Par. She also handed them what she believed was
his home phone number.
The number checked out and on 25 November, the day after Thanksgiving,
the Secret Service raided Par's house. The raid was terrifying. At
least four law enforcement officers burst through the door with guns
drawn and pointed. One of them had a shotgun. As is often the case in
the US, investigators from private, commercial organisations--in this
case Citibank and Pacific Bell--also took part in the raid.
The agents tore the place apart looking for evidence. They dragged
down the food from the kitchen cupboards. They emptied the box of
cornflakes into the sink looking for hidden computer disks. They
looked everywhere, even finding a ceiling cavity at the back of a
closet which no-one even knew existed.
They confiscated Par's Apple IIe, printer and modem. But, just to be
sure, they also took the Yellow Pages, along with the telephone and
the new Nintendo game paddles Scott had just bought. They scooped up
the very large number of papers which had been piled under the coffee
table, including the spiral notebook with Scott's airline bookings
from his job as a travel agent. They even took the garbage.
It wasn't long before they found the red shoebox full of disks peeping
out from under the fish tank next to Par's computer.
They found lots of evidence. What they didn't find was Par.
Instead, they found Scott and Ed, two friends of Par. They were pretty
shaken up by the raid. Not knowing Par's real identity, the Secret
Service agents accused Scott of being Par. The phone was in his name,
and Special Agent Holman had even conducted some surveillance more
than a week before the raid, running the plates on Scott's 1965 black
Ford Mustang parked in front of the house. The Secret Service was sure
it had its man, and Scott had a hell of a time convincing them
Both Scott and Ed swore up and down that they weren't hackers or
phreakers, and they certainly weren't Par. But they knew who Par was,
and they told the agents his real name. After considerable pressure
from the Secret Service, Scott and Ed agreed to make statements down
at the police station.
In Chicago, more than 2700 kilometres away from the crisis unfolding
in northern California, Par and his mother watched his aunt walk down
the aisle in her white gown.
Par telephoned home once, to Scott, to say `hi' from the Midwest. The
call came after the raid.
`So,' a relaxed Par asked his room-mate, `How are things going at
`Fine,' Scott replied. `Nothing much happening here.'
expression of horror. He realised he stood out in the San Jose bus
terminal like a peacock among the pigeons ...
Blissfully ignorant of the raid which had occurred three days before,
Par and his mother had flown into San Jose airport. They had gone to
the bus terminal to pick up a Greyhound home to the Monterey area.
While waiting for the bus, Par called his friend Tammi to say he was
back in California.
Any casual bystander waiting to use the pay phones at that moment
would have seen a remarkable transformation in the brown-haired boy at
the row of phones. The smiling face suddenly dropped in a spasm of
shock. His skin turned ash white as the blood fled south. His deep-set
chocolate brown eyes, with their long, graceful lashes curving upward
and their soft, shy expression, seemed impossibly large.
For at that moment Tammi told Par that his house had been raided by
the Secret Service. That Scott and Ed had been pretty upset about
having guns shoved in their faces, and had made statements about him
to the police. That they thought their phone was tapped. That the
Secret Service guys were still hunting for Par, they knew his real
name, and she thought there was an all points bulletin out for him.
Scott had told the Secret Service about Par's red bag, the one with
all his hacking notes that he always carried around. The one with the
print-out of all the Citibank credit card numbers.
And so it was that Par came to gaze down at his bag with a look of
alarm. He realised instantly that the Secret Service would be looking
for that red bag. If they didn't know what he looked like, they would
simply watch for the bag.
That bag was not something Par could hide easily. The Citibank
print-out was the size of a phone book. He also had dozens of disks
loaded with the cards and other sensitive hacking information.
Par had used the cards to make a few free calls, but he hadn't been
charging up any jet skis. He fought temptation valiantly, and in the
end he had won, but others might not have been so victorious in the
same battle. Par figured that some less scrupulous hackers had
probably been charging up a storm. He was right. Someone had, for
example, tried to send a $367 bouquet of flowers to a woman in El Paso
using one of the stolen cards. The carder had unwittingly chosen a
debit card belonging to a senior Saudi bank executive who happened to
be in his office at the time the flower order was placed. Citibank
investigator Larry Wallace added notes on that incident to his growing
Par figured that Citibank would probably try to pin every single
seventeen-year-old hacker have in denying those sorts of allegations?
Zero. Par made a snap decision. He sidled up to a trash bin in a dark
corner. Scanning the scene warily, Par casually reached into the red
bag, pulled out the thick wad of Citibank card print-outs and stuffed
it into the bin. He fluffed a few stray pieces of garbage over the
He worried about the computer disks with all his other valuable
he couldn't bring himself to throw it all away. The 10 megabyte
trophy. More than 4000 cards. 130000 different transactions. In the
end, he decided to hold on to the disks, regardless of the risk. At
least, without the print-out, he could crumple the bag up a bit and
make it a little less conspicuous. As Par slowly moved away from the
bin, he glanced back to check how nondescript the burial site appeared
from a distance. It looked like a pile of garbage. Trash worth
millions of dollars, headed for the dump.
As he boarded the bus to Salinas with his mother, Par's mind was
instantly flooded with images of a homeless person fishing the
print-out from the bin and asking someone about it. He tried to push
the idea from his head.
During the bus ride, Par attempted to figure out what he was going to
do. He didn't tell his mother anything. She couldn't even begin to
comprehend his world of computers and networks, let alone his current
predicament. Further, Par and his mother had suffered from a somewhat
strained relationship since he ran away from home not long after his
seventeenth birthday. He had been kicked out of school for
non-attendance, but had found a job tutoring students in computers at
the local college. Before the trip to Chicago, he had seen her just
once in six months. No, he couldn't turn to her for help.
The bus rolled toward the Salinas station. En route, it travelled down
the street where Par lived. He saw a jogger, a thin black man wearing
a walkman. What the hell is a jogger doing here, Par thought. No-one
jogged in the semi-industrial neighbourhood. Par's house was about the
only residence amid all the light-industrial buildings. As soon as the
jogger was out of sight of the house, he suddenly broke away from his
path, turned off to one side and hit the ground. As he lay on his
stomach on some grass, facing the house, he seemed to begin talking
into the walkman.
Sitting watching this on the bus, Par flipped out. They were out to
get him, no doubt about it. When the bus finally arrived at the depot
and his mother began sorting out their luggage, Par tucked the red bag
under his arm and disappeared. He found a pay phone and called Scott
to find out the status of things. Scott handed the phone to Chris,
another friend who lived in the house. Chris had been away at his
parents' home during the Thanksgiving raid.
`Hold tight and lay low,' Chris told Par.
`I'm on my way over to pick you up and take you to a lawyer's office
where you can get some sort of protection.'
A specialist in criminal law, Richard Rosen was born in New York but
raised in his later childhood in California. He had a personality
which reflected the steely stubbornness of a New Yorker, tempered with
the laid-back friendliness of the west coast. Rosen also harboured a
strong anti-authoritarian streak. He represented the local chapter of
Hell's Angels in the middle-class County of Monterey. He also caused a
splash representing the growing midwifery movement, which promoted
home-births. The doctors of California didn't like him much as a
Par's return. They told him about the terrifying ordeal of the Secret
Service raid, and how they were interrogated for an hour and a half
before being pressured to give statements. Scott, in particular, felt
that he had been forced to give a statement against Par under duress.
While Par talked to Chris on the phone, he noticed a man standing at
the end of the row of pay phones. This man was also wearing a walkman.
He didn't look Par in the eye. Instead, he faced the wall, glancing
furtively off to the side toward where Par was standing. Who was that
guy? Fear welled up inside Par and all sorts of doubts flooded his
mind. Who could he trust?
Scott hadn't told him about the raid. Were his room-mates in cahoots
the Secret Service? Were they just buying time so they could turn him
in? There was no-one else Par could turn to. His mother wouldn't
understand. Besides, she had problems of her own. And he didn't have a
father. As far as Par was concerned, his father was as good as dead.
He had never met the man, but he heard he was a prison officer in
Florida. Not a likely candidate for helping Par in this situation. He
was close to his grandparents--they had bought his computer for him as
a present--but they lived in a tiny Mid-Western town and they simply
wouldn't understand either.
Par didn't know what to do, but he didn't seem to have many options at
the moment, so he told Chris he would wait at the station for him.
Then he ducked around a corner and tried to hide.
A few minutes later, Chris pulled into the depot. Par dove into the
Toyota Landcruiser and Chris tore out of the station toward Rosen's
office. They noticed a white car race out of the bus station after
warned him about the raid because everyone in the house believed the
phone line was tapped. Telling Par while he was in Chicago might have
meant another visit from the Secret Service. All they had been able to
do was line up Rosen to help him.
Par checked the rear-view mirror. The white car was still following
them. Chris made a hard turn at the next intersection and accelerated
down the California speedway. The white car tore around the corner in
pursuit. No matter what Chris did, he couldn't shake the tail. Par sat
in the seat next to Chris, quietly freaking out.
Just 24 hours before, he had been safe and sound in Chicago. How did
he end up back here in California being chased by a mysterious driver
in a white car?
Chris tried his best to break free, swerving and racing. The white car
wouldn't budge. But Chris and Par had one advantage over the white
car; they were in a four-wheel drive. In a split-second decision,
Chris jerked the steering wheel to one side. The Landcruiser veered
off the road onto a lettuce field. Par gripped the inside of the door
as the 4WD bounced through the dirt over the neat crop rows. Near-ripe
heads of lettuce went flying out from under the tires. Half-shredded
lettuce leaves filled the air. A cloud of dirt enveloped the car. The
vehicle skidded and jerked, but finally made its way to a highway at
the far end of the field. Chris hit the highway running, swerving into
the lane at high speed.
When Par looked back, the white car had disappeared. Chris kept his
foot on the accelerator and Par barely breathed until the Landcruiser
pulled up in front of Richard Rosen's building.
Par leaped out, the red bag still clutched tightly under his arm, and
high-tailed it into the lawyer's office. The receptionist looked a bit
shocked when he said his name. Someone must have filled her in on the
Rosen quickly ushered him into his office. Introductions were brief
and Par cut to the story of the chase. Rosen listened intently,
occasionally asking a well-pointed question, and then took control of
The first thing they needed to do was call off the Secret Service
chase, Rosen said, so Par didn't have to spend any more time ducking
around corners and hiding in bus depots. He called the Secret
Service's San Francisco office and asked Special Agent Thomas J.
Holman to kill the Secret Service pursuit in exchange for an agreement
that Par would turn himself in to be formally charged.
Holman insisted that they had to talk to Par.
No, Rosen said. There would be no interviews for Par by law
enforcement agents until a deal had been worked out.
But the Secret Service needed to talk to Par, Holman insisted. They
could only discuss all the other matters after the Secret Service had
had a chance to talk with Par.
Rosen politely warned Holman not to attempt to contact his client. You
have something to say to Par, you go through me, he said. Holman did
not like that at all. When the Secret Service wanted to talk to
someone, they were used to getting their way. He pushed Rosen, but the
answer was still no. No no no and no again. Holman had made a mistake.
He had assumed that everyone wanted to do business with the United
States Secret Service.
When he finally realised Rosen wouldn't budge, Holman gave up. Rosen
then negotiated with the federal prosecutor, US Attorney Joe Burton,
who was effectively Holman's boss in the case, to call off the pursuit
in exchange for Par handing himself in to be formally charged.
Then Par gave Rosen his red bag, for safekeeping.
At about the same time, Citibank investigator Wallace and Detective
Porter of the Salinas Police interviewed Par's mother as she returned
home from the bus depot. She said that her son had moved out of her
home some six months before, leaving her with a $2000 phone bill she
couldn't pay. They asked if they could search her home. Privately, she
worried about what would happen if she refused. Would they tell the
office where she worked as a clerk? Could they get her fired? A simple
woman who had little experience dealing with law enforcement agents,
Par's mother agreed. The investigators took Par's disks and papers.
Par turned himself in to the Salinas Police in the early afternoon of
12 December. The police photographed and fingerprinted him before
handing him a citation--a small yellow slip headed `502 (c) (1) PC'.
It looked like a traffic ticket, but the two charges Par faced were
felonies, and each carried a maximum term of three years for a minor.
Count 1, for hacking into Citicorp Credit Services, also carried a
fine of up to $10000. Count 2, for `defrauding a telephone service',
had no fine: the charges were for a continuing course of conduct,
meaning that they applied to the same activity over an extended period
Dealing with a minor in the federal court system was a big hassle, so
the prosecutor decided to ask the state authorities to prosecute the
case. Par was ordered to appear in Monterey County Juvenile Court on
10 July 1989.
Over the next few months, Par worked closely with Rosen. Though Rosen
was a very adept lawyer, the situation looked pretty depressing.
Citibank claimed it had spent $30000 on securing its systems and Par
believed that the corporation might be looking for up to $3 million in
total damages. While they couldn't prove Par had made any money from
the cards himself, the prosecution would argue that his generous
distribution of them had led to serious financial losses. And that was
just the financial institutions.
Much more worrying was what might come out about Par's visits to TRW's
computers. The Secret Service had seized at least one disk with TRW
material on it.
TRW was a large, diverse company, with assets of $2.1 billion and
sales of almost $7 billion in 1989, nearly half of which came from the
US government. It employed more than 73000 people, many of who worked
with the company's credit ratings business. TRW's vast databases held
private details of millions of people--addresses, phone numbers,