That, however, was just one of the company's many businesses. TRW also
did defence work--very secret defence work. Its Space and Defense
division, based in Redondo Beach, California, was widely believed to
be a major beneficiary of the Reagan Government's Star Wars budget.
More than 10 per cent of the company's employees worked in this
division, designing spacecraft systems, communications systems,
satellites and other, unspecified, space `instruments'.
The siezed disk had some mail from the company's TRWMAIL systems. It
wasn't particularly sensitive, mostly just company propaganda sent to
employees, but the Secret Service might think that where there was
smoke, there was bound to be fire. TRW did the kind of work that makes
governments very nervous when it comes to unauthorised access. And Par
had visited certain TRW machines; he knew that company had a missiles
research section, and even a space weapons section.
With so many people out to get him--Citibank, the Secret Service, the
local police, even his own mother had helped the other side--it was
only a matter of time before they unearthed the really secret things
he had seen while hacking. Par began to wonder if was such a good idea
for him to stay around for the trial.
In early 1989, when Theorem stepped off the plane which carried her
from Switzerland to San Francisco, she was pleased that she had
managed to keep a promise to herself. It wasn't always an easy
promise. There were times of intimacy, of perfect connection, between
the two voices on opposite sides of the globe, when it seemed so
Meanwhile, Par braced himself. Theorem had described herself in such
disparaging terms. He had even heard from others on Altos that she was
homely. But that description had ultimately come from her anyway, so
it didn't really count.
Finally, as he watched the stream of passengers snake out to the
waiting area, he told himself it didn't matter anyway. After all, he
had fallen in love with her--her being, her essence--not her image as
it appeared in flesh. And he had told her so. She had said the same
back to him.
Suddenly she was there, in front of him. Par had to look up slightly
to reach her eyes, since she was a little more than an inch taller.
She was quite pretty, with straight, brown shoulder-length hair and
brown eyes. He was just thinking how much more attractive she was than
he had expected, when it happened.
Par almost lost his balance. It was a devastating smile, big and
toothy, warm and genuine. Her whole face lit up with a fire of
animation. That smile sealed it.
She had kept her promise to herself. There was no clear image of Par
in her mind before meeting him in person. After meeting a few people
from Altos at a party in Munich the year before, she had tried not to
create images of people based on their on-line personalities. That way
she would never suffer disappointment.
Par and Theorem picked up her bags and got into Brian's car. Brian, a
friend who offered to play airport taxi because Par didn't have a car,
thought Theorem was pretty cool. A six-foot-tall French-speaking Swiss
woman. It was definitely cool. They drove back to Par's house. Then
Brian came in for a chat.
Brian asked Theorem all sorts of questions. He was really curious,
because he had never met anyone from Europe before. Par kept trying to
encourage his friend to leave but Brian wanted to know all about life
in Switzerland. What was the weather like? Did people ski all the
Did most Swiss speak English? What other languages did she know? A lot
of people skied in California. It was so cool talking to someone from
halfway around the world.
Par did the silent chin-nudge toward the door and, at last, Brian got
the hint. Par ushered his friend out of the house. Brian was only
there for about ten minutes, but it felt like a year. When Par and
Theorem were alone, they talked a bit, then Par suggested they go for
Halfway down the block, Par tentatively reached for her hand and took
bit more, then Par stopped. He turned to face her. He paused, and then
told her something he had told her before over the telephone,
something they both knew already.
Theorem kissed him. It startled Par. He was completely unprepared.
Then Theorem said the same words back to him.
When they returned to the house, things progressed from there. They
spent two and a half weeks in each other's arms--and they were
glorious, sun-drenched weeks. The relationship proved to be far, far
better in person than it had ever been on-line or on the telephone.
Theorem had captivated Par, and Par, in turn, created a state of bliss
Par showed her around his little world in northern California. They
visited a few tourist sites, but mostly they just spent a lot of time
at home. They talked, day and night, about everything.
Then it was time for Theorem to leave, to return to her job and her
life in Switzerland. Her departure was hard--driving to the airport,
seeing her board the plane--it was heart-wrenching. Theorem looked
very upset. Par just managed to hold it together until the plane took
court case. As she flew away, the dark reality of the case descended
The fish liked to watch.
Par sat at the borrowed computer all night in the dark, with only the
dull glow of his monitor lighting the room, and the fish would all
swim over to the side of their tank and peer out at him. When things
were quiet on-line, Par's attention wandered to the eel and the lion
fish. Maybe they were attracted to the phosphorescence of the computer
screen. Whatever the reason, they certainly liked to hover there. It
Par took a few more drags of his joint, watched the fish some more,
drank his Coke and then turned his attention back to his computer.
That night, Par saw something he shouldn't have. Not the usual hacker
stuff. Not the inside of a university. Not even the inside of an
international bank containing private financial information about
Middle Eastern sheiks.
What he saw was information about some sort of killer spy
satellite--those are the words Par used to describe it to other
hackers. He said the satellite was capable of shooting down other
satellites caught spying, and he saw it inside a machine connected to
TRW's Space and Defense division network. He stumbled upon it much the
same way Force had accidentally found the CitiSaudi machine--through
scanning. Par didn't say much else about it because the discovery
scared the hell out of him.
Suddenly, he felt like the man who knew too much. He'd been in and out
of so many military systems, seen so much sensitive material, that he
had become a little blasé about the whole thing. The information was
cool to read but, God knows, he never intended to actually do anything
with it. It was just a prize, a glittering trophy testifying to his
prowess as a hacker. But this discovery shook him up, slapped him in
the face, made him realise he was exposed.
What would the Secret Service do to him when they found out? Hand him
another little traffic ticket titled `502C'? No way. Let him tell the
jury at his trial everything he knew? Let the newspapers print it? Not
a snowball's chance in hell.
This was the era of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, of space defence
initiatives, of huge defence budgets and very paranoid military
commanders who viewed the world as one giant battlefield with the evil
empire of the Soviet Union.
Would the US government just lock him up and throw away the key? Would
it want to risk him talking to other prisoners--hardened criminals who
knew how to make a dollar from that sort of information? Definitely
It was not a pretty thought. But to the seventeen-year-old hacker it
was a very plausible one. Par considered what he could do and came up
with what seemed to be the only solution.
There's one gun, probably more
and the others are pointing at our backdoor
-- from `Knife's Edge', on Bird Noises by Midnight Oil
When Par failed to show up for his hearing on 10 July 1989 in the
Monterey County Juvenile Court in Salinas, he officially became a
fugitive. He had, in fact, already been on the run for some weeks. But
no-one knew. Not even his lawyer.
Richard Rosen had an idea something was wrong when Par didn't show up
for a meeting some ten days before the hearing, but he kept hoping his
client would come good. Rosen had negotiated a deal for Par:
reparations plus fifteen days or less in juvenile prison in exchange
for Par's full cooperation with the Secret Service.
Par had appeared deeply troubled over the matter for weeks. He didn't
seem to mind telling the Feds how he had broken into various
computers, but that's not what they were really looking for. They
wanted him to rat. And to rat on everyone. They knew Par was a kingpin
and, as such, he knew all the important players in the underground.
The perfect stooge. But Par couldn't bring himself to narc. Even if he
did spill his guts, there was still the question of what the
authorities would do to him in prison. The question of elimination
loomed large in his mind.
So, one morning, Par simply disappeared. He had planned it carefully,
packed his bags discreetly and made arrangements with a trusted friend
outside the circle which included his room-mates. The friend drove
around to pick Par up when the
room-mates were out. They never had an inkling that the now
eighteen-year-old Par was about to vanish for a very long time.
First, Par headed to San Diego. Then LA. Then he made his way to New
Jersey. After that, he disappeared from the radar screen completely.
Life on the run was hard. For the first few months, Par carried around
two prized possessions; an inexpensive laptop computer and photos of
Theorem taken during her visit. They were his lifeline to a different
world and he clutched them in his bag as he moved from one city to
another, often staying with his friends from the computer underground.
The loose-knit network of hackers worked a bit like the
nineteenth-century American `underground railroad' used by escaped
slaves to flee from the South to the safety of the northern states.
Except that, for Par, there was never a safe haven.
Par crisscrossed the continent, always on the move. A week in one
place. A few nights in another. Sometimes there were breaks in the
electronic underground railroad, spaces between the place where one
line ended and another began. Those breaks were the hardest. They
meant sleeping out in the open, sometimes in the cold, going without
food and being without anyone to talk to.
He continued hacking, with new-found frenzy, because he was
invincible. What were the law enforcement agencies going to do? Come
and arrest him? He was already a fugitive and he figured things
couldn't get much worse. He felt as though he would be on the run
forever, and as if he had already been on the run for a lifetime,
though it was only a few months.
When he was staying with people from the computer underground, Par was
careful. But when he was alone in a dingy motel room, or with people
completely outside that world, he hacked without fear. Blatant,
in-your-face feats. Things he knew the Secret Service would see. Even
his illicit voice mailbox had words for his pursuers:
Yeah, this is Par. And to all those faggots from the Secret Service
who keep calling and hanging up, well, lots of luck. 'Cause, I mean,
you're so fucking stupid, it's not even funny.
I mean, if you had to send my shit to Apple Computers [for analysis],
you must be so stupid, it's pitiful. You also thought I had
blue-boxing equipment [for phreaking]. I'm just laughing trying to
think what you thought was a blue box. You are so lame.
Oh well. And anyone else who needs to leave me a message, go ahead.
And everyone take it easy and leave me some shit. Alright. Later.
Despite the bravado, paranoia took hold of Par as it never had before.
If he saw a cop across the street, his breath would quicken and he
would turn and walk in the opposite direction. If the cop was heading
toward him, Par crossed the street and turned down the nearest alley.
Police of any type made him very nervous.
By the autumn of 1989, Par had made his way to a small town in North
Carolina. He found a place to stop and rest with a friend who used the
handle The Nibbler and whose family owned a motel. A couple of weeks
in one place, in one bed, was paradise. It was also free, which meant
he didn't have to borrow money from Theorem, who helped him out while
he was on the run.
Par slept in whatever room happened to be available that night, but he
spent most of his time in one of the motel chalets Nibbler used in the
off-season as a computer room. They spent days hacking from Nibbler's
computer. The fugitive had been forced to sell off his inexpensive
laptop before arriving in North Carolina.
After a few weeks at the motel, however, he couldn't shake the feeling
that he was being watched. There were too many strangers coming and
going. He wondered if the hotel guests waiting in their cars were
spying on him, and he soon began jumping at shadows. Perhaps, he
thought, the Secret Service had found him after all.
Par thought about how he could investigate the matter in more depth.
One of The Atlanta Three hackers, The Prophet, called Nibbler
occasionally to exchange hacking information, particularly security
bugs in Unix systems. During one of their talks, Prophet told Par
about a new security flaw he'd been experimenting with on a network
that belonged to the phone company.
The Atlanta Three, a Georgia-based wing of The Legion of Doom, spent a
good deal of time weaving their way through BellSouth, the phone
company covering the south-eastern US. They knew about phone switching
stations the way Par knew about Tymnet. The Secret Service had raided
the hackers in July 1989 but had not arrested them yet, so in
September The Prophet continued to maintain an interest in his
Par thought the flaw in BellSouth's network sounded very cool and
began playing around in the company's systems. Dial up the company's
computer network, poke around, look at things. The usual stuff.
It occurred to Par that he could check out the phone company's records
of the motel to see if there was anything unusual going on. He typed
in the motel's main phone number and the system fed back the motel's
address, name and some detailed technical information, such as the
exact cable and pair attached to the phone number. Then he looked up
the phone line of the computer chalet. Things looked odd on that line.
The line which he and Nibbler used for most of their hacking showed a
special status: `maintenance unit on line'.
What maintenance unit? Nibbler hadn't mentioned any problems with any
of the motel's lines, but Par checked with him. No problems with the
Par felt nervous. In addition to messing around with the phone
company's networks, he had been hacking into a Russian computer
network from the computer chalet. The Soviet network was a shiny new
toy. It had only been connected to the rest of the world's global
packet-switched network for about a month, which made it particularly
attractive virgin territory.
Nibbler called in a friend to check the motel's phones. The friend, a
former telephone company technician turned freelancer, came over to
look at the equipment. He told Nibbler and Par that something weird
was happening in the motel's phone system. The line voltages were way
Par realised instantly what was going on. The system was being
tapped, which meant only one thing. Someone--the phone company, the
local police, the FBI or the Secret Service--was onto him.
Nibbler and Par quickly packed up all Nibbler's computer gear, along
with Par's hacking notes, and moved to another motel across town. They
had to shut down all their hacking activities and cover their tracks.
Par had left programs running which sniffed people's passwords and
login names on a continual basis as they logged in, then dumped all
the information into a file on the hacked machine. He checked that
file every day or so. If he didn't shut the programs down, the log
file would grow until it was so big the system administrator would
become curious and have a look. When he discovered that his system had
been hacked he would close the security holes. Par would have problems
getting back into that system.
After they finished tidying up the hacked systems, they gathered up
all Par's notes and Nibbler's computer equipment once again and
stashed them in a rented storage space. Then they drove back to the
telephone company had taken an interest in the motel's phone system.
Par had done a lot of poking and prodding of the telecommunications
companies' computer systems from the motel phone, but he had done it
anonymously. Perhaps BellSouth felt a little curious and just wanted
to sniff about for more information. If that was the case, the law
enforcement agencies probably didn't know that Par, the fugitive, was
hiding in the motel.
The atmosphere was becoming oppressive in the motel. Par became even
more watchful of the people coming and going. He glanced out the front
window a little more often, and he listened a little more carefully to
the footsteps coming and going. How many of the guests were really
just tourists? Par went through the guest list and found a man
registered as being from New Jersey. He was from one of the AT&T
corporations left after the break-up of Bell Systems. Why on earth
would an AT&T guy be staying in a tiny hick town in North Carolina?
Maybe a few Secret Service agents had snuck into the motel and were
watching the chalet.
Par needed to bring the paranoia under control. He needed some fresh
air, so he went out for a walk. The weather was bad and the wind blew
hard, whipping up small tornadoes of autumn leaves. Soon it began
raining and Par sought cover in the pay phone across the street.
Despite having been on the run for a few months, Par still called
Theorem almost every day, mostly by phreaking calls through bulk
telecommunications companies. He dialled her number and they talked
for a bit. He told her about how the voltage was way off on the
motel's PABX and how the phone might be tapped. She asked how he was
holding up. Then they spoke softly about when they might see each
Outside the phone box, the storm worsened. The rain hammered the roof
from one side and then another as the wind jammed it in at strange
angles. The darkened street was deserted. Tree branches creaked under
the strain of the wind. Rivulets rushed down the leeward side of the
booth and formed a wall of water outside the glass. Then a trash bin
toppled over and its contents flew onto the road.
Trying to ignore to the havoc around him, Par curled the phone handset
into a small protected space, cupped between his hand, his chest and a
corner of the phone booth. He reminded Theorem of their time together
in California, of two and a half weeks, and they laughed gently over
A tree branch groaned and then broke under the force of the wind. When
it crashed on the pavement near the phone booth, Theorem asked Par
what the noise was.
`There's a hurricane coming,' he told her. `Hurricane Hugo. It was
supposed to hit tonight. I guess it's arrived.'
Theorem sounded horrified and insisted Par go back to the safety of
the motel immediately.
When Par opened the booth door, he was deluged by water. He dashed
across the road, fighting the wind of the hurricane, staggered into his
motel room and jumped into bed to warm up. He fell asleep listening to
the storm, and he dreamed of Theorem.
Hurricane Hugo lasted more than three days, but they felt like the
safest three days Par had spent in weeks. It was a good bet that the
Secret Service wouldn't be conducting any raids during a hurricane.
South Carolina took the brunt of Hugo but North Carolina also suffered
massive damage. It was one of the worst hurricanes to hit the area in
decades. Winds near its centre reached more than 240 kilometres per
hour, causing 60 deaths and $7 billion in damages as it made its way
up the coast from the West Indies to the Carolinas.
When Par stepped outside his motel room one afternoon a few days after
the storm, the air was fresh and clean. He walked to the railing
outside his second-storey perch and found himself looking down on a
hive of activity in the car park. There were cars. There was a van.
There was a collection of spectators.
And there was the Secret Service.
At least eight agents wearing blue jackets with the Secret Service
emblem on the back.
Par froze. He stopped breathing. Everything began to move in slow
motion. A few of the agents formed a circle around one of the guys
from the motel, a maintenance worker named John, who looked vaguely
like Par. They seemed to be hauling John over the coals, searching his
wallet for identification and quizzing him. Then they escorted him to
the van, presumably to run his prints.
Par's mind began moving again. He tried to think clearly. What was the
best way out? He had to get back into his room. It would give him some
cover while he figured out what to do next. The photos of Theorem