the hackers' intrusion, `the entire NASA computer system was
disconnected from any external communications with the rest of the
world' for about 24 hours on 22 February 1990.
In short, Electron thought, there didn't seem to be much chance of
winning at the committal hearing. Nom seemed to feel the same way. He
faced two counts, both `knowingly concerned' with Phoenix obtaining
unauthorised access. One was for NASA Langley, the other for
CSIRO--the Zardoz file. Nom didn't fight his committal either,
although Legal Aid's refusal
to fund a lawyer for the procedure no doubt weighed in his
On 6 March 1991, Magistrate Robert Langton committed Electron and Nom
to stand trial in the Victorian County Court.
Phoenix, however, didn't agree with his fellow hackers' point of view.
With financial help from his family, he had decided to fight his
committal. He wasn't going to hand this case to the prosecution on a
silver platter, and they would have to fight him every step of the
way, dragging him forward from proceeding to proceeding. His
barrister, Felicity Hampel, argued the court should throw out 47 of
the 48 charges against her client on jurisdictional grounds. All but
one charge--breaking into the CSIRO machine in order to steal
Zardoz--related to hacking activities outside Australia. How could an
Australian court claim jurisdiction over a hacked computer in Texas?
Privately, Phoenix worried more about being extradited to the US than
dealing with the Australian courts, but publicly he was going into the
committal with all guns blazing. It was a test case in many ways; not
only the first major hacking case in Australia but also the first time
a hacker had fought Australian committal proceedings for computer
duplicate charge, but the backdown was a pyrrhic victory for Phoenix.
After a two-day committal hearing, Magistrate John Wilkinson decided
Hampel's jurisdictional argument didn't hold water and on 14 August
1991 he committed Phoenix to stand trial in the County Court.
By the day of Electron's committal, in March, Electron's father had
begun his final decline. The bowel cancer created a roller-coaster of
good and bad days, but soon there were only bad days, and they were
getting worse. On the last day of March, the doctors told him that it
was finally time to make the trip to hospital. He stubbornly refused
to go, fighting their advice, questioning their authority. They
quietly urged him again. He protested. Finally, they insisted.
Electron and his sister stayed with their father for hours that day,
and the following one. Their father had other visitors to keep his
spirits up, including his brother who fervently beseeched him to
accept Jesus Christ as his personal saviour before he died. That way,
he wouldn't burn in hell. Electron looked at his uncle, disbelieving.
He couldn't believe his father was having to put up with such crap on
his deathbed. Still, Electron chose to be discreet. Apart from an
occasional rolling of the eyes, he kept his peace at his father's
Perhaps, however, the fervent words did some good, for as Electron's
father spoke about the funeral arrangements, he made a strange slip of
the tongue. He said `wedding' instead of funeral, then paused,
realising his mistake. Glancing slowly down at the intricate braided
silver wedding band still on his finger, he smiled frailly and said,
`I suppose, in a way, it will be like a wedding'.
Electron and his sister went to hospital every day for four days, to
sit by their father's bed.
At 6 a.m. on the fifth day, the telephone rang. It was the family
friend their father had asked to watch over them. Their father's life
signs were very, very weak, fluttering on the edge of death.
When Electron and his sister arrived at the hospital, the nurse's face
said everything. They were too late. Their father had died ten minutes
before they arrived. Electron broke down and wept. He hugged his
sister, who, for a brief moment, seemed almost reachable. Driving them
back to the house, the family friend stopped and bought them an
`You'll need this when everyone starts calling in,' she told them.
`You might not want to talk to anyone for a while.'
In the months after his bust in 1990 Electron began smoking marijuana
regularly. At first, as with many other university students, it was a
social thing. Some friends dropped by, they happened to have a few
joints, and so everybody went out for a night on the town. When he was
in serious hacking mode, he never smoked. A clear head was much too
important. Besides, the high he got from hacking was a hundred times
better than anything dope could ever do for him.
When Phoenix appeared on the front page of the New York Times,
Electron gave up hacking. And even if he had been tempted to return to
it, he didn't have anything to hack with after the police took his
only computer. Electron found himself casting around for something to
distract him from his father's deteriorating condition and the void
left by giving up hacking. His accounting studies didn't quite fit the
bill. They had always seemed empty, but never more so than now.
Smoking pot filled the void. So did tripping. Filled it very nicely.
Besides, he told himself, it's harder to get caught smoking dope in
your friends' houses than hacking in your own. The habit grew
gradually. Soon, he was smoking dope at home. New friends began coming
around, and they seemed to have drugs with them all the time--not just
occasionally, and not just for fun.
Electron and his sister had been left the family home and enough money
to give them a modest income. Electron began spending this money on
his new-found hobby. A couple of Electron's new friends moved into the
house for a few months. His sister didn't like them dealing drugs out
of the place, but Electron didn't care what was happening around him.
He just sat in his room, listening to his stereo, smoking dope,
dropping acid and watching the walls.
The headphones blocked out everyone in the house, and, more
importantly, what was going on inside Electron's own head. Billy
Bragg. Faith No More. Cosmic Psychos. Celibate Rifles. Jane's
Addiction. The Sex Pistols. The Ramones. Music gave Electron a
pinpoint, a figurative dot of light on his forehead where he could
focus his mind. Blot out the increasingly strange thoughts creeping
through his consciousness.
His father was alive. He was sure of it. He knew it, like he knew the
sun would rise tomorrow. Yet he had seen his father lying, dead, in
the hospital bed. It didn't make sense.
So he took another hit from the bong, floated in slow motion to his
bed, lay down, carefully slid the earphones over his head, closed his
eyes and tried to concentrate on what the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were
saying instead. When that wasn't enough, he ventured down the hallway,
down to his new friends--the friends with the acid tabs. Then, eight
more hours without having to worry about the strange thoughts.
Soon people began acting strangely too. They would tell Electron
things, but he had trouble understanding them. Pulling a milk carton
from the fridge and sniffing it, Electron's sister might say, `Milk's
gone off'. But Electron wasn't sure what she meant. He would look at
her warily. Maybe she was trying to tell him something else, about
spiders. Milking spiders for venom.
When thoughts like these wafted through Electron's mind, they
disturbed him, lingering like a sour smell. So he floated back to the
safety of his room and listened to songs by Henry Rollins.
After several months in this cloudy state of limbo, Electron awoke one
day to find the Crisis Assessment Team--a mobile psychiatric team--in
his bedroom. They asked him questions, then they tried to feed him
little blue tablets. Electron didn't want to take the tablets. Were
little blue pills placebos? He was sure they were. Or maybe they were
something more sinister.
Finally, the CAT workers convinced Electron to take the Stelazine
tablet. But when they left, terrifying things began to happen.
Electron's eyes rolled uncontrollably to the back of his head. His
head twisted to the left. His mouth dropped open, very wide. Try as he
might, he couldn't shut it, any more than he could turn his head
straight. Electron saw himself in the mirror and he panicked. He
looked like a character out of a horror
psychoanalyse Electron, which was less than helpful. They discussed
him as if he wasn't even present. He felt like a ghost and, agitated
and confused, he began telling his friends that he was going to kill
himself. Someone called the CAT team again. This time they refused to
leave unless he would guarantee not to attempt suicide.
Electron refused. So they had him committed.
Inside the locked psychiatric ward of Plenty Hospital (now known as
NEMPS), Electron believed that, although he had gone crazy, he wasn't
really in a hospital psychiatric ward. The place was just supposed to
look like one. His father had set it
lies. They said one thing, but always meant another.
He had proof. Electron read a list of patients' names on the wall and
found one called Tanas. That name had a special meaning. It was an
anagram for the word `Santa'. But Santa Claus was a myth, so the name
Tanas appearing on the hospital list proved to him that he shouldn't
listen to anything anyone told him.
Electron ate his meals mostly in silence, trying to ignore the
voluntary and involuntary patients who shared the dining hall. One
lunchtime, a stranger sat down at Electron's table and started talking
to him. Electron found it excruciatingly painful talking to other
people, and he kept wishing the stranger would go away.
The stranger talked about how good the drugs were in
`Mm,' Electron said. `I used to do a lot of drugs.'
`How much is a lot?'
`I spent $28000 on dope alone in about four months.'
`Wow,' the stranger said, impressed. `Of course, you don't have to pay
for drugs. You can always get them for free. I do.'
`You do?' Electron asked, somewhat perplexed.
`Sure! All the time,' the stranger said grandly. `No problem. Just
and then began yelling at the top of his lungs. He waved his arms
around frantically and shouted abuse at the other patients.
Two nurses came running from the observation room. One of them tried
to calm the stranger down while the other quickly measured out various
pills and grabbed a cup of water. The stranger swallowed the pills,
chased them with a swig of water and sat down quietly. The nurses
retreated, glancing back over their shoulders.
`See?' The stranger said. `Well, I'd better be on my way, before the
pills kick in. See ya.'
Electron watched, amazed, as the stranger picked up his bag, walked
through the dining-hall door, and straight out the front door of the
After a month, the psychiatrists reluctantly allowed Electron to leave
the hospital in order to stay with his maternal grandmother in
Queensland. He was required to see a psychiatrist regularly. He spent
his first few days in Queensland believing he was Jesus Christ. But he
didn't hold onto that one for long. After two weeks of patiently
waiting and checking for signs of the imminent apocalypse, consistent
with the second coming, he decided he was really the reincarnation of
In late February 1992, after three months of psychiatric care up
a bag full of medication. Prozac, major tranquillisers, Lithium. The
daily routine went smoothly for a while. Six Prozac--two in the
morning, two at midday and two at night. Another anti-depressant to be
taken at night. Also at night, the anti-side effect tablets to combat
the involuntary eye-rolling, jaw-dropping and neck-twisting associated
with the anti-depressants.
All of it was designed to help him deal with what had by
now become a long list of diagnoses. Cannabis psychosis.
Schizophrenia. Manic depression. Unipolar effective disorder.
Schizophrenaform. Amphetamine psychosis. Major effective disorder.
Atypical psychosis. And his own personal favourite--facticious
disorder, or faking it to get into hospital. But the medication wasn't
helping much. Electron still felt wretched, and returning to a host of
problems in Melbourne made things worse.
Because of his illness, Electron had been largely out of the loop of
legal proceedings. Sunny Queensland provided a welcome escape. Now he
was back in Victoria facing a tedious university course in accounting,
an ongoing battle with mental illness, federal charges which could see
him locked up for ten years, and publicity surrounding the first major
hacking case in Australia. It was going to be a hard winter.
To make matters worse, Electron's medication interfered with his
ability to study properly. The anti-side effect pills relaxed the
muscles in his eyes, preventing them from focusing. The writing on the
blackboard at the front of the lecture hall was nothing but a hazy
blur. Taking notes was also a problem. The medication made his hands
tremble, so he couldn't write properly. By the end of a lecture,
Electron's notes were as unreadable as the blackboard. Frustrated,
Electron stopped taking his medicine, started smoking dope again and
soon felt a little better. When the dope wasn't enough, he turned to
magic mushrooms and hallucinogenic cactus.
The hacking case was dragging on and on. On 6 December 1991, just
after he left psych hospital but before he flew to Queensland, the
office of the DPP had formally filed an indictment containing fifteen
charges against Electron, and three against Nom, in the Victorian
Electron didn't talk to Phoenix much any more, but the DPP lawyers
hadn't forgotten about him--far from it. They had much bigger plans
for Phoenix, perhaps because he was fighting every step of the way.
Phoenix was uncooperative with police in the interview on the day of
the raid, frequently refusing to answer their questions. When they
asked to fingerprint him, he refused and argued with them about it.
This behaviour did not endear him to either the police or the DPP.
On 5 May 1992, the DPP filed a final indictment with 40 charges
against Phoenix in the County Court. The charges, in conjunction with
those against Electron and Nom, formed part of a joint indictment
totalling 58 counts.
Electron worried about being sent to prison. Around the world, hackers
were under siege--Par, Pengo, LOD and Erik Bloodaxe, MOD, The Realm
hackers, Pad and Gandalf and, most recently, the International
Subversives. Somebody seemed to be trying to make a point.
Furthermore, Electron's charges had changed considerably--for the
worse--from the original ones documented in April 1990.
The DPP's final indictment bore little resemblance to the original
charge sheet handed to the young hacker when he left the police
station the day he was raided. The final indictment read like a
veritable Who's Who of prestigious institutions around the world.
Lawrence Livermore Labs, California. Two different computers at the US
Naval Research Laboratories, Washington DC. Rutgers University, New
Jersey. Tampere University of Technology, Finland. The University of
Illinios. Three different computers at the University of Melbourne.
Helsinki University of Technology, Finland. The University of New
York. NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. CSIRO, Carlton,
The charges which worried Electron most related to the
US Naval Research Labs, CSIRO, Lawrence Livermore Labs
and NASA. The last three weren't full hacking charges. The
DPP alleged Electron had been `knowingly concerned' with Phoenix's
access of these sites.
Electron looked at the thirteen-page joint indictment and didn't know
whether to laugh or cry. He had been a lot more than `knowingly
concerned' with accessing those sites. In many cases, he had given
Phoenix access to those computers in the first place. But Electron
tried to tread quietly, carefully, through most systems, while Phoenix
had noisily stomped around with all the grace of a buffalo--and left
just as many footprints. Electron hardly wanted to face full charges
for those or any other sites. He had broken into thousands of sites on
the X.25 network, but he hadn't been charged with any of them. He
couldn't help feeling a little like the gangster Al Capone being done
for tax evasion.
The proceedings were attracting considerable media attention. Electron
suspected the AFP or the DPP were alerting the media to upcoming court
appearances, perhaps in part to prove to the Americans that `something
was being done'.
This case had American pressure written all over it. Electron's
barrister, Boris Kayser, said he suspected that `the
Americans'--American institutions, companies or government
agencies--were indirectly funding some of the prosecution's case by
offering to pay for US witnesses to attend the trial. The Americans
wanted to see the Australian hackers go down, and they were throwing
all their best resources at the case to make sure it happened.
There was one other thing--in some ways the most disturbing matter of
all. In the course of the legal to-ing and fro-ing, Electron was told
that it was the US Secret Service back in 1988 which had triggered the
AFP investigation into The Realm hackers--an investigation which had
led to Electron's bust and current legal problems. The Secret Service
was after the hackers who broke into Citibank.
As it happened, Electron had never touched Citibank. Credit cards
couldn't interest him less. He found banks boring and, the way he
looked at it, their computers were full of mundane numbers belonging
to the world of accounting. He had already suffered through enough of
those tedious types of numbers in his university course. Unless he
wanted to steal from banks--something he would not do--there was no
point in breaking into their computers.
But the US Secret Service was very interested in banks--and in
Phoenix. For they didn't just believe that Phoenix had been inside
Citibank's computers. They believed he had masterminded the Citibank
told, Phoenix had gone around bragging about it in the underground. He
hadn't just told people he had hacked into Citibank computers, he
reportedly boasted that he had stolen some $50000 from the bank.
Going through his legal brief, Electron had discovered something which
seemed to confirm what he was being told. The warrant for the
telephone tap on both of Phoenix's home phones mentioned a potential
`serious loss to Citibank' as a justification for the warrant.
Strangely, the typed words had been crossed out in the handwritten
scrawl of the judge who approved the warrant. But they were still
legible. No wonder the US Secret Service began chasing the case,
Electron thought. Banks get upset when they think people have found a
way to rip them off anonymously.
Electron knew that Phoenix hadn't stolen any money from Citibank.
Rather, he had been circulating fantastic stories about himself to
puff up his image in the underground, and in the process had managed
to get them all busted.
In September 1992, Phoenix rang Electron suggesting they get together
to discuss the case. Electron wondered why. Maybe he suspected
something, sensing that the links binding them were weak, and becoming
weaker by the month. That Electron's mental illness had changed his
perception of the world. That his increasingly remote attitude to
Phoenix suggested an underlying anger about the continual bragging.
Whatever the reason, Phoenix's gnawing worry must have been confirmed
when Electron put off meeting with him.
Electron didn't want to meet with Phoenix because he didn't like him,
and because he thought Phoenix was largely responsible for getting the
Australian hackers into their current predicament.
With these thoughts fermenting in his mind, Electron listened with
interest a few months later when his solicitor, John McLoughlin,
proposed an idea. In legal circles, it was nothing new. But it was new
to Electron. He resolved to take up McLoughlin's advice.
Electron decided to testify as a Crown witness against Phoenix.
Your dream world is just about to end
-- from `Dreamworld', on Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil
In another corner of the globe, the British hackers Pad and Gandalf
learned with horror that the Australian authorities had busted the
three Realm hackers. Electron had simply disappeared one day. A short
time later, Phoenix was gone too. Then the reports started rolling in
from newspapers and from other Australian hackers on a German board
similar to Altos, called Lutzifer.
Something else worried Pad. In one of his hacking forays, he had
discovered a file, apparently written by Eugene Spafford, which said
he was concerned that some British hackers--read Pad and
Gandalf--would create a new worm, based on the RTM worm, and release
it into the Internet. The unnamed British hackers would then be able
to cause maximum havoc on thousands of Internet sites.
It was true that Gandalf and Pad had captured copies of various worm
source codes. They fished around inside SPAN until they surfaced with
a copy of the Father Christmas worm. And, after finally successfully
hacking Russell Brand's machine at LLNL, they deftly lifted a complete