Suelette dreyfus julian assange

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Less than two weeks after Pad and Gandalf were sentenced, Electron was

back in the Victorian County Court to discover his own fate.

As he stood in the dock on 3 June 1993 he felt numb, as emotionally

removed from the scene as Meursault in Camus' L'etranger. He believed

he was handling the stress pretty well until he experienced tunnel

vision while watching the judge read his penalty. He perused the room

but saw neither Phoenix nor Nom.

When Judge Anthony Smith summarised the charges, he seemed to have a

special interest in count number 13--the Zardoz charge. A few minutes

into reading the sentence, the judge said, `In my view, a custodial

sentence is appropriate for each of the offences constituted by the

12th, 13th and 14th counts'. They were the `knowingly concerned'

charges, with Phoenix, involving NASA, LLNL and CSIRO. Electron looked

around the courtroom. People turned back to stare at him. Their eyes

said, `You are going to prison'.

`I formed the view that a custodial sentence is appropriate in respect

of each of these offences because of the seriousness of them,' Judge

Smith noted, `and having regard to the need to demonstrate that the

community will not tolerate this type of offence.

`Our society today is ... increasingly ... dependent upon the use of

computer technology. Conduct of the kind in which you engaged poses a

threat to the usefulness of that technology ... It is incumbent upon

the courts ... to see to it that the sentences they impose reflect the

gravity of this kind of criminality.

`On each of Counts 12, 13 and 14, you are convicted and you are

sentenced to a term of imprisonment of six months ... each ... to be


The judge paused, then continued, `And ... I direct, by order, that

you be released forthwith upon your giving security by recognisance

... in the sum of $500 ... You will not be required to serve the terms

of imprisonment imposed, provided you are of good behaviour for the

ensuing six months.' He then ordered Electron to complete 300 hours of

community service, and to submit to psychiatric assessment and


Electron breathed a sigh of relief.

When outlining the mitigating circumstances which led to suspension of

the jail sentence, Judge Smith described Electron as being addicted to

using his computer `in much the same way as an alcoholic becomes

addicted to the bottle'. Boris Kayser had used the analogy in the

sentencing hearing, perhaps for the

benefit of the media, but the judge had obviously been swayed by his


When court adjourned, Electron left the dock and shook hands with his

lawyers. After three years, he was almost free of his court problems.

There was only one possible reason he might need to return to court.

If Phoenix fought out his case in a full criminal trial, the DPP would

put Electron on the stand to testify against him. It would be an ugly


The inmates of HM Prison Kirkham, on the north-west coast of England,

near Preston, had heard all about Pad and Gandalf by the time they

arrived. They greeted the hackers by name. They'd seen the reports on

telly, especially about how Gandalf had hacked NASA--complete with

footage of the space shuttle taking off. Some TV reporter's idea of

subtle irony--`Two hackers were sent down today' as the space shuttle

went up.

Kirkham was far better than Brixton, where the hackers had spent the

first days of their sentence while awaiting transfer. Brixton was what

Pad always envisioned prison would look like, with floors of barred

cells facing onto an open centre and prisoners only allowed out of

their cells for scheduled events such as time in the yard. It was a

place where hard-core criminals lived. Fortunately, Pad and Gandalf

had been placed in the same cell while they waited to be assigned to

their final destination.

After ten days inside Brixton Pad and Gandalf were led from their

cell, handcuffed and put in a coach heading toward the windy west


During the drive, Pad kept looking down at his hand, locked in shiny

steel to Gandalf's hand, then he looked back up again at his fellow

hacker. Clearing his throat and turning away from Gandalf's difficult

grin--his friend now on the edge of laughing himself--Pad struggled.

He tried to hold down the muscles of his face, to pull them back from


A minimum security prison holding up to 632 prisoners, Kirkham looked

vaguely like a World War II RAF base with a large collection of

free-standing buildings around the grounds. There were no real walls,

just a small wire fence which Pad soon learned prisoners routinely

jumped when the place started to get to them.

For a prison, Kirkham was pretty good. There was a duck pond, a

bowling green, a sort of mini-cinema which showed films in the early

evenings, eight pay phones, a football field, a cricket pavilion and,

best of all, lots of fields. Prisoners could have visits on weekday

afternoons between 1.10 and 3.40, or on the weekend.

Luck smiled on the two hackers. They were assigned to the same billet

and, since none of the other prisoners objected, they became

room-mates. Since they were sentenced in May, they would serve their

time during summer. If they were `of good behaviour' and didn't get

into trouble with other prisoners, they would be out in three months.

Like any prison, Kirkham had its share of prisoners who didn't get

along with each other. Mostly, prisoners wanted to know what you were

in for and, more particularly, if you had been convicted of a sex

crime. They didn't like sex crime offenders and Pad heard about a pack

of Kirkham prisoners who dragged one of their own, screaming, to a

tree, where they tried to hang him for being a suspected rapist. In

fact, the prisoner hadn't been convicted of anything like rape. He had

simply refused to pay his poll tax.

Fortunately for Pad and Gandalf, everyone else in Kirkham knew why

they were there. At the end of their first week they returned to their

room one afternoon to find a sign painted above their door. It said,


The other minimum security prisoners understood hacking--and they had

all sorts of ideas about how you could make money from it. Most of the

prisoners in Kirkham were in for petty theft, credit card fraud, and

other small-time crimes. There was also a phreaker, who arrived the

same day as Pad and Gandalf. He landed eight months in prison--two

more than the 8lgm hackers--and Pad wondered what kind of message that

sent the underground.

Despite their best efforts, the 8lgm twosome didn't fit quite the

prison mould. In the evenings, other prisoners spent their free time

shooting pool or taking drugs. In the bedroom down the hall, Gandalf

lounged on his bed studying a book on VMS internals. Pad read a

computer magazine and listened to some indie music--often his `Babes

in Toyland' tape. In a parody of prison movies, the two hackers marked

off their days inside the prison with cross-hatched lines on their

bedroom wall--four marks, then a diagonal line through them. They

wrote other things on the walls too.

The long, light-filled days of summer flowed one into the other, as

Pad and Gandalf fell into the rhythm of the prison. The morning

check-in at 8.30 to make sure none of the prisoners had gone

walkabout. The dash across the bowling green for a breakfast of beans,

bacon, eggs, toast and sausage. The walk to the greenhouses where the

two hackers had been assigned for work detail.

The work wasn't hard. A little digging in the pots. Weeding around the

baby lettuce heads, watering the green peppers and transplanting

tomato seedlings. When the greenhouses became too warm by late

morning, Pad and Gandalf wandered outside for a bit of air. They often

talked about girls, cracking crude, boyish jokes about women and

occasionally discussing their girlfriends more seriously. As the heat

settled in, they sat down, lounging against the side of the


After lunch, followed by more time in the greenhouse, Pad and Gandalf

sometimes went off for walks in the fields surrounding the prison.

First the football field, then the paddocks dotted with cows beyond


Pad was a likeable fellow, largely because of his easygoing style and

relaxed sense of humour. But liking him wasn't the same as knowing

him, and the humour often deflected deeper probing into his

personality. But Gandalf knew him, understood him. Everything was so

easy with Gandalf. During the long, sunny walks, the conversation

flowed as easily as the light breeze through the grass.

As they wandered in the fields, Pad often wore his denim jacket. Most

of the clothes on offer from the prison clothing office were drab

blue, but Pad had lucked onto this wonderful, cool denim jacket which

he took to wearing all the time.

Walking for hours on end along the perimeters of the prison grounds,

Pad saw how easy it would be to escape, but in the end there didn't

seem to be much point. They way he saw it, the police would just catch

you and put you back in again. Then you'd have to serve extra time.

Once a week, Pad's parents came to visit him, but the few precious

hours of visiting time were more for his parents' benefit than his

own. He reassured them that he was OK, and when they looked him in the

face and saw it was true, they stopped worrying quite so much. They

brought him news from home, including the fact that his computer

equipment had been returned by one of the police who had been in the

original raid.

The officer asked Pad's mother how the hacker was doing in prison.

`Very well indeed,' she told him. `Prison's not nearly so bad as he

thought.' The officer's face crumpled into a disappointed frown. He

seemed to be looking for news that Pad was suffering nothing but


At the end of almost three months, with faces well tanned from walking

in the meadows, Pad and Gandalf walked free.
[ ]

To the casual witness sitting nearby in the courtroom, the tension

between Phoenix's mother and father was almost palpable. They were not

sitting near each other but that didn't mitigate the silent hostility

which rose through the air like steam. Phoenix's divorced parents

provided a stark contrast to Nom's adopted parents, an older, suburban

couple who were very much married.

On Wednesday, 25 August 1993 Phoenix and Nom pleaded guilty to fifteen

and two charges respectively. The combined weight of the prosecution's

evidence, the risk and cost of running a full trial and the need to

get on with their lives had pushed them over the edge. Electron didn't

need to come to court to give evidence.

At the plea hearing, which ran over to the next day, Phoenix's lawyer,

Dyson Hore-Lacy, spent considerable time sketching the messy divorce

of his client's parents for the benefit of the judge. Suggesting

Phoenix retreated into his computer during the bitter separation and

divorce was the best chance of getting him off a prison term. Most of

all, the defence presented Phoenix as a young man who had strayed off

the correct path in life but was now back on track--holding down a job

and having a life.

The DPP had gone in hard against Phoenix. They seemed to want a jail

term badly and they doggedly presented Phoenix as an arrogant

braggart. The court heard a tape-recording of Phoenix ringing up

security guru Edward DeHart of the Computer Emergency Response Team at

Carnegie Mellon University to brag about a security exploit. Phoenix

told DeHart to get onto his computer and then proceeded to walk him

step by step through the `passwd -f' security bug. Ironically, it was

Electron who had discovered that security hole and taught it to

Phoenix--a fact Phoenix didn't seem to want to mention to DeHart.

The head of the AFP's Southern Region Computer Crimes Unit, Detective

Sergeant Ken Day was in court that day. There was no way he was going

to miss this. The same witness noting the tension between Phoenix's

parents might also have perceived an undercurrent of hostility between

Day and Phoenix--an undercurrent which did not seem to exist between

Day and either of the other Realm hackers.

Day, a short, careful man who gave off an air of bottled intensity,

seemed to have an acute dislike for Phoenix. By all observations the

feeling was mutual. A cool-headed professional, Day would never say

anything in public to express the dislike--that was not his style. His

dislike was only indicated by a slight tightness in the muscles of an

otherwise unreadable face.

On 6 October 1993, Phoenix and Nom stood side by side in the dock for

sentencing. Wearing a stern expression, Judge Smith began by detailing

both the hackers' charges and the origin of The Realm. But after the

summary, the judge saved his harshest rebuke for Phoenix.

`There is nothing ... to admire about your conduct and every reason

why it should be roundly condemned. You pointed out [weaknesses] to

some of the system administrators ... [but] this was more a display of

arrogance and a demonstration of what you thought was your superiority

rather than an act of altruism on your part.

`You ... bragged about what you had done or were going to do ... Your

conduct revealed ... arrogance on your part, open defiance, and an

intention to the beat the system. [You] did cause havoc for a time

within the various targeted systems.'

Although the judge appeared firm in his views while passing sentence,

behind the scenes he had agonised greatly over his decision. He had

attempted to balance what he saw as the need for deterrence, the

creation of a precedence for sentencing hacking cases in Australia,

and the individual aspects of this case. Finally, after sifting

through the arguments again and again, he had reached a decision.

`I have no doubt that some sections of our community would regard

anything than a custodial sentence as less than appropriate. I share

that view. But after much reflection ... I have concluded that an

immediate term of imprisonment is unnecessary.'

Relief rolled across the faces of the hackers' friends and relatives

as the judge ordered Phoenix to complete 500 hours of community

service work over two years and assigned him a $1000 twelve-month good

behaviour bond. He gave Nom 200 hours, and a $500, six-month bond for

good behaviour.

As Phoenix was leaving the courtroom, a tall, skinny young man, loped

down the aisle towards him.

`Congratulations,' the stranger said, his long hair dangling in

delicate curls around his shoulders.

`Thanks,' Phoenix answered, combing his memory for the boyish face

which couldn't be any older than his own. `Do I know you?'

`Sort of,' the stranger answered. `I'm Mendax. I'm about to go through

what you did, but worse.'


Chapter 8 -- The International Subversives


All around

an eerie sound

-- from `Maralinga', on 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 by Midnight Oil

Prime Suspect rang Mendax, offering an adventure. He had discovered a

strange system called NMELH1 (pronounced N-Melly-H-1) and it was time

to go exploring. He read off the dial-up numbers, found in a list of

modem phone numbers on another hacked system.

Mendax looked at the scrap of paper in his hand, thinking about the

name of the computer system.

The `N' stood for Northern Telecom, a Canadian company with annual

sales of $8 billion. NorTel, as the company was known, sold thousands

of highly sophisticated switches and other telephone exchange

equipment to some of the world's largest phone companies. The `Melly'

undoubtedly referred to the fact that the system was in Melbourne. As

for the `H-1', well, that was anyone's guess, but Mendax figured it

probably stood for `host-1'--meaning computer site number one.

Prime Suspect had stirred Mendax's interest. Mendax had spent hours

experimenting with commands inside the computers which controlled

telephone exchanges. In the end, those forays were all just

guesswork--trial and error learning, at considerable risk of

discovery. Unlike making a mistake inside a single computer,

mis-guessing a command inside a telephone exchange in downtown Sydney

or Melbourne could take down a whole prefix--10000 or more phone

lines--and cause instant havoc.

This was exactly what the International Subversives didn't want to do.

The three IS hackers--Mendax, Prime Suspect and Trax--had seen what

happened to the visible members of the computer underground in England

and in Australia. The IS hackers had three very good reasons to keep

their activities quiet.

Phoenix. Nom. And Electron.

But, Mendax thought, what if you could learn about how to manipulate a

million-dollar telephone exchange by reading

the manufacturer's technical documentation? How high was

the chance that those documents, which weren't available to the

public, were stored inside NorTel's computer network?

Better still, what if he could find NorTel's original source code--the

software designed to control specific telephone switches, such as the

DMS-100 model. That code might be sitting on a computer hooked into

the worldwide NorTel network. A hacker with access could insert his

own backdoor--a hidden security flaw--before the company sent out

software to its customers.

With a good technical understanding of how NorTel's equipment worked,

combined with a backdoor installed in every piece of software shipped

with a particular product, you could have control over every new

NorTel DMS telephone switch installed from Boston to Bahrain. What

power! Mendax thought, what if you you could turn off 10000 phones in

Rio de Janeiro, or give 5000 New Yorkers free calls one afternoon, or

listen into private telephone conversations in Brisbane. The

telecommunications world would be your oyster.

Like their predecessors, the three IS hackers had started out in the

Melbourne BBS scene. Mendax met Trax on Electric Dreams in about 1988,

and Prime Suspect on Megaworks, where he used the handle Control

Reset, not long after that. When he set up his own BBS at his home in

Tecoma, a hilly suburb so far out of Melbourne that it was practically

in forest, he invited both hackers to visit `A Cute Paranoia' whenever

they could get through on the single phone line.

Visiting on Mendax's BBS suited both hackers, for it was more private

than other BBSes. Eventually they exchanged home telephone numbers,

but only to talk modem-to-modem. For months, they would ring each

other up and type on their computer screens to each other--never

having heard the sound of the other person's voice. Finally, late in

1990, the nineteen-year-old Mendax called up the 24-year-old Trax for

a voice chat. In early 1991, Mendax and Prime Suspect, aged seventeen,

also began speaking in voice on the phone.

Trax seemed slightly eccentric, and possibly suffered from some sort

of anxiety disorder. He refused to travel to the city, and he once

made reference to seeing a psychiatrist. But Mendax usually found the

most interesting people were a little unusual, and Trax was both.

Mendax and Trax discovered they had a few things in common. Both came

from poor but educated families, and both lived in the outer suburbs.

However, they had very different childhoods.

Trax's parents migrated to Australia from Europe. Both his father, a

retired computer technician, and his mother spoke with a German

accent. Trax's father was very much the head of the household, and

Trax was his only son.

By contrast, by the time he was fifteen Mendax had lived in a dozen

different places including Perth, Magnetic Island, Brisbane,

Townsville, Sydney, the Adelaide Hills, and a string of coastal towns

in northern New South Wales and Western Australia. In fifteen years he

had enrolled in at least as many different schools.

His mother had left her Queensland home at age seventeen, after saving

enough money from selling her paintings to buy a motorcycle, a tent

and a road map of Australia. Waving goodbye to her stunned parents,

both academics, she rode off into the sunset. Some 2000 kilometres

later, she arrived in Sydney and joined the thriving counter-culture

community. She worked as an artist and fell in love with a rebellious

young man she met at an anti-Vietnam demonstration.

Within a year of Mendax's birth, his mother's relationship with his

father had ended. When Mendax was two, she married a fellow artist.

What followed was many turbulent years, moving from town to town as

his parents explored the '70s left-wing, bohemian subculture. As a

boy, he was surrounded by artists. His stepfather staged and directed

plays and his mother did make-up, costume and set design.

One night in Adelaide, when Mendax was about four, his mother and a

friend were returning from a meeting of anti-nuclear protesters. The

friend claimed to have scientific evidence that the British had

conducted high-yield, above-ground nuclear tests at Maralinga, a

desert area in north-west South Australia.

A 1984 Royal Commission subsequently revealed that between 1953 and

1963 the British government had tested nuclear bombs at the site,

forcing more than 5000 Aborigines from their native lands. In December

1993, after years of stalling, the British government agreed to pay

[sterling]20 million toward cleaning up the more than 200 square

kilometres of contaminated lands. Back in 1968, however, the Menzies

government had signed away Britain's responsibility to clean up the

site. In the 1970s, the Australian government was still in denial

about exactly what had happened at Maralinga.

As Mendax's mother and her friend drove through an Adelaide suburb

carrying early evidence of the Maralinga tragedy, they noticed they

were being followed by an unmarked car. They tried to lose the tail,

without success. The friend, nervous, said he had to get the data to

an Adelaide journalist before the police could stop him. Mendax's

Directory: ~suelette -> underground

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