that linked him to his handle, so he admitted to it.
Day had some other surprising questions up his sleeve.
`So, Mendax, what do you know about that white powder in the bedroom?'
Mendax couldn't recall any white powder in the bedroom. He didn't do
drugs, so why would there be any white powder anywhere? He watched two
police officers bringing two large red toolboxes in the house--they
looked like drug testing kits. Jesus, Mendax thought. I'm being set
The cops led the hacker into the bedroom and pointed to two neat lines
Mendax smiled, relieved. `It's not what you think,' he said. The white
powder was glow-in-the-dark glue he had used to paint stars on the
ceiling of his child's bedroom.
Two of the cops started smiling at each other. Mendax could see
exactly what was going through their minds: It's not every cocaine or
speed user that can come up with a story like that.
One grinned at the other and exclaimed gleefully, `TASTE TEST!'
`That's not a good idea,' Mendax said, but his protests only made
things worse. The cops shooed him into another room and returned to
inspect the powder by themselves.
What Mendax really wanted was to get word through to Prime Suspect.
The cops had probably busted all three IS hackers at the same time,
but maybe not. While the police investigated the glue on their own,
Mendax managed to sneak a telephone call to his estranged wife and
asked her to call Prime Suspect and warn him. He and his wife might
have had their differences, but he figured she would make the call
`Yeah, there's a party going on over here too.'
Mendax went back in to the kitchen where an officer was tagging the
growing number of possessions seized by the police. One of the female
officers was struggling to move his printer to the pile. She smiled
sweetly at Mendax and asked if he would move it for her. He obliged.
The police finally left Mendax's house at about 3 a.m. They had spent
three and half hours and seized 63 bundles of his personal belongings,
but they had not charged him with a single crime.
When the last of the unmarked police cars had driven away, Mendax
stepped out into the silent suburban street. He looked around. After
making sure that no-one was watching him, he walked to a nearby phone
booth and rang Trax.
`The AFP raided my house tonight.' he warned his friend. `They just
Trax sounded odd, awkward. `Oh. Ah. I see.'
`Ah. No ... no, nothing's wrong. Just um ... tired. So, um ... so the
feds could ... ah, be here any minute ...' Trax's voice trailed off.
But something was very wrong. The AFP were already at Trax's house,
and they had been there for 10 hours.
The IS hackers waited almost three years to be charged. The threat of
criminal charges hung over their heads like personalised Swords of
Damocles. They couldn't apply for a job, make a friend at TAFE or plan
for the future without worrying about what would happen as a result of
the AFP raids of 29 October 1991.
Finally, in July 1994, each hacker received formal charges--in the
mail. During the intervening years, all three hackers went through
monumental changes in their lives.
Devastated by the break-down of his marriage and unhinged by the AFP
raid, Mendax sank into a deep depression and consuming anger. By the
middle of November 1991, he was admitted to hospital.
He hated hospital, its institutional regimens and game-playing
shrinks. Eventually, he told the doctors he wanted out. He might be
crazy, but hospital was definitely making him crazier. He left there
and stayed at his mother's house. The next year was the worst of his
Once a young person leaves home--particularly the home of a
return. Short visits might work, but permanent residency often fails.
Mendax lived for a few days at home, then went walkabout. He slept in
the open air, on the banks of rivers and creeks, in grassy
meadows--all on the country fringes of Melbourne's furthest suburbs.
Sometimes he travelled closer to the city, overnighting in places like
the Merri Creek reserve.
Mostly, he haunted Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges National
Park. Because of the park's higher elevation, the temperature dropped
well below the rest of Melbourne in winter. In summer, the mosquitoes
were unbearable and Mendax sometimes woke to find his face swollen and
bloated from their bites.
For six months after the AFP raid, Mendax didn't touch a computer.
Slowly, he started rebuilding his life from the ground up. By the time
the AFP's blue slips--carrying 29 charges--arrived in July 1994, he
was settled in a new house with his child. Throughout his period of
transition, he talked to Prime Suspect and Trax on the phone
regularly--as friends and fellow rebels, not fellow hackers. Prime
Suspect had been going through his own set of problems.
While he hacked, Prime Suspect didn't do many drugs. A little weed,
not much else. There was no time for drugs, girls, sports or anything
else. After the raid, he gave up hacking and began smoking more dope.
In April 1992, he tried ecstasy for the first time--and spent the next
nine months trying to find the same high. He didn't consider himself
addicted to drugs, but the drugs had certainly replaced his addiction
to hacking and his life fell into a rhythm.
Snort some speed or pop an ecstasy tablet on Saturday night. Go to a
rave. Dance all night, sometimes for six hours straight. Get home
mid-morning and spend Sunday coming down from the drugs. Get high on
dope a few times during the week, to dull the edges of desire for the
more expensive drugs. When Saturday rolled around, do it all over
again. Week in, week out. Month after month.
Dancing to techno-music released him. Dancing to it on drugs cleared
his mind completely, made him feel possessed by the music. Techno was
musical nihilism; no message, and not much medium either. Fast,
repetitive, computer-synthesised beats, completely stripped of vocals
or any other evidence of humanity. He liked to go to techno-night at
The Lounge, a city club, where people danced by themselves, or in
small, loose groups of four or five. Everyone watched the video screen
which provided an endless stream of ever-changing, colourful
computer-generated geometric shapes pulsing to the beat.
Prime Suspect never told his mother he was going to a rave. He just
said he was going to a friend's for the night. In between the drugs,
he attended his computer science courses at TAFE and worked at the
local supermarket so he could afford his weekly $60 ecstasy tablet,
$20 rave entry fee and regular baggy of marijuana.
Over time, the drugs became less and less fun. Then, one Sunday, he
came down off some speed hard. A big crash. The worst he had ever
experienced. Depression set in, and then paranoia. He knew the police
were still watching him. They had followed him before.
At his police interviews, he learned that an AFP officer had followed
him to an AC/DC concert less than two weeks before he had been busted.
The officer told him the AFP wanted to know what sort of friends Prime
Suspect associated with--and the officer had been treated to the spectre
of seven other arm-waving, head-thumping, screaming teenagers just like
Prime Suspect himself.
Now Prime Suspect believed that the AFP had started following him
again. They were going to raid him again, even though he had given up
hacking completely. It didn't make sense. He knew the premonition was
illogical, but he couldn't shake it.
Something bad--very, very bad--was going to happen any day. Overcome
with a great sense of impending doom, he lapsed into a sort of
hysterical depression. Feeling unable to prevent the advent of the
dark, terrible event which would tear apart his life yet again, he
reached out to a friend who had experienced his own personal problems.
The friend guided him to a psychologist at the Austin Hospital. Prime
Suspect decided that there had to be a better way to deal with his
problems than wasting himself every weekend. He began counselling.
The counselling made him deal with all sorts of unresolved business.
His father's death. His relationship with his mother. How he had
evolved into an introvert, and why he was never comfortable talking to
people. Why he hacked. How he became addicted to hacking. Why he took
At the end, the 21-year-old Prime Suspect emerged drug-free and,
though still shaky, on the road to recovery. The worst he had to wait
for were the charges from the AFP.
Trax's recovery from his psychological instabilities wasn't as
definitive. From 1985, Trax had suffered from panic attacks, but he
didn't want to seek professional help--he just ran away from the
problem. The situation only became worse after he was involved in a
serious car accident. He became afraid to leave the house at night. He
couldn't drive. Whenever he was in a car, he had to fight an
overwhelming desire to fling the door open and throw himself out on to
the road. In 1989, his local GP referred Trax to a psychiatrist, who
tried to treat the phreaker's growing anxiety attacks with hypnosis
and relaxation techniques.
Trax's illness degenerated into full-fledged agoraphobia, a fear of
open spaces. When he rang the police in late October 1991--just days
before the AFP raid--his condition had deteriorated to the point where
he could not comfortably leave his own house.
Initially he rang the state police to report a death threat made
against him by another phreaker. Somewhere in the conversation, he
began to talk about his own phreaking and hacking. He hadn't intended
to turn himself in but, well, the more he talked, the more he had to
say. So many things had been weighing on his mind. He knew that Prime
Suspect had probably been traced from NorTel as a result of Mendax's
own near miss in that system. And Prime Suspect and Mendax had been so
active, breaking into so many systems, it was almost as if they wanted
to be caught.
Then there was Prime Suspect's plan to write a destructive worm, which
would wipe systems en route. It wasn't really a plan per se, more just
an idea he had toyed with on the phone. Nonetheless, it had scared
Trax. He began to think all three IS hackers were getting in too deep
and he wanted out.
He tried to stop phreaking, even going so far as to ask Telecom to
change his telephone number to a new exchange which he knew would not
allow him to make untraceable calls. Trax reasoned that if he knew he
could be traced, he would stop phreaking and hacking.
For a period, he did stop. But the addiction was too strong, and
before long he was back at it again, regardless of the risk. He ran a
hidden cable from his sister's telephone line, which was on the old
exchange. His inability to stop made him feel weak and guilty, and
even more anxious about the risks. Perhaps the death threat threw him
over the edge. He couldn't really understand why he had turned himself
in to the police. It had just sort of happened.
The Victoria Police notified the AFP. The AFP detectives must have
been slapping their heads in frustration. Here was Australia's next
big hacker case after The Realm, and they had expected to make a clean
bust. They had names, addresses, phone numbers. They had jumped
through legal hoops to get a telephone tap. The tap was up and
running, catching every target computer, every plot, every word the
hackers said to each other. Then one of their targets goes and turns
himself in to the police. And not even to the right police--he goes to
the Victoria Police. In one fell swoop, the hacker was going to take
down the entire twelve-month Operation Weather investigation.
The AFP had to move quickly. If Trax tipped off the other two IS
hackers that he had called the police, they might destroy their notes,
computer files--all the evidence the AFP had hoped to seize in raids.
When the AFP swooped in on the three hackers, Mendax and Prime Suspect
had refused to be interviewed on the night. Trax, however, had spent
several hours talking to the police at his house.
He told the other IS hackers that the police had threatened to take
him down to AFP headquarters--despite the fact that they knew leaving
his house caused him anxiety. Faced with that prospect, made so
terrifying by his psychiatric illness, he had talked.
Prime Suspect and Mendax didn't know how much Trax had told the
police, but they didn't believe he would dob them in completely. Apart
from anything else, he hadn't been privy to much of his colleagues'
hacking. They hadn't tried to exclude Trax, but he was not as
sophisticated a hacker and therefore didn't share in many of their
In fact, one thing Trax did tell the police was just how sophisticated
the other two IS hackers had become just prior to the bust. Prime
Suspect and Mendax were, he said, `hackers on a major scale, on a huge
scale--something never achieved before', and the AFP had sat up and
After the raids, Trax told Mendax that the AFP had tried to recruit
him as an informant. Trax said that they had even offered him a new
computer system, but he had been non-committal. And it seemed the AFP
was still keeping tabs on the IS hackers, Trax also told Mendax. The
AFP officers had heard Mendax had gone into hospital and they were
worried. There seemed to be a disturbing pattern evolving.
On the subject of the IS raids, Trax told Mendax that the AFP felt it
didn't have any choice. Their attitude was: you were doing so much, we
had to bust you. You were inside so many systems, it was getting out
In any case, by December 1991 Mendax had agreed to a police interview,
based on legal advice. Ken Day interviewed Mendax, and the hacker was
open with Day about what he had done. He refused, however, to
implicate either Trax or Prime Suspect. In February 1992, Prime
Suspect followed suit, with two interviews. He was also careful about
what he said regarding his fellow hackers. Mendax was interviewed a
second time, in February 1992, as was Trax in August.
After the raid, Trax's psychiatric condition remained unstable. He
changed doctors and began receiving home visits from a hospital
psychiatric service. Eventually, a doctor prescribed medication.
The three hackers continued to talk on the phone, and see each other
occasionally. One or the other might drop out of communication for a
period, but would soon return to the fold. They helped each other and
they maintained their deep anti-establishment sentiments.
After the charges arrived in the mail, they called each other to
compare notes. Mendax thought out loud on the phone to Prime Suspect,
`I guess I should get a lawyer'.
`Yeah. I got one. He's lining up a barrister too.'
`They any good?' Mendax asked.
`Dunno. I guess so. The solicitor works at Legal Aid, an in-house guy.
I've only met them a few times.'
`Oh,' Mendax paused. `What are their names?'
`John McLoughlin and Boris Kayser. They did Electron's case.'
Trax and Prime Suspect decided to plead guilty. Once they saw the
overwhelming evidence--data taps, telephone voice taps, data seized
during the raids, nearly a dozen statements by witnesses from the
organisations they had hacked, the 300-page Telecom report--they
figured they would be better off pleading. The legal brief ran to more
than 7000 pages. At least they would get some kudos with the judge for
cooperating in the police interviews and pleading early in the
process, thus saving the court time and money.
Mendax, however, wanted to fight the charges. He knew about Pad and
Gandalf's case and the message from that seemed to be pretty clear:
Plead and you go to prison, fight and you might get off free.
The DPP shuffled the charges around so much between mid-1994 and 1995
that all the original charges against Trax, issued on 20 July 1994,
were dropped in favour of six new charges filed on Valentines Day,
1995. At that time, new charges--largely for hacking a Telecom
computer--were also laid against Mendax and Prime Suspect.
By May 1995, the three hackers faced 63 charges in all: 31 for Mendax,
26 for Prime Suspect and six for Trax. In addition, NorTel claimed the
damages attributed to the hacker incident totalled about $160000--and
the company was seeking compensation from the responsible parties. The
Australian National University claimed another $4200 in damages.
Most of the charges related to obtaining illegal access to commercial
or other information, and inserting and deleting data in numerous
computers. The deleting of data was not malicious--it generally
related to cleaning up evidence of the hackers' activities. However,
all three hackers were also charged with some form of `incitement'. By
writing articles for the IS magazine, the prosecution claimed the
hackers had been involved in disseminating information which would
encourage others to hack and phreak.
On 4 May 1995 Mendax sat in the office of his solicitor, Paul
Galbally, discussing the committal hearing scheduled for the next day.
Galbally was a young, well-respected member of Melbourne's most
prestigious law family. His family tree read like a Who's Who of the
law. Frank Galbally, his father, was one of Australia's most famous
criminal barristers. His uncle, Jack Galbally, was a well-known
lawyer, a minister in the State Labor government of John Cain Sr and,
later, the Leader of the Opposition in the Victorian parliament. His
maternal grandfather, Sir Norman O'Bryan, was a Supreme Court judge,
as was his maternal uncle of the same name. The Galballys weren't so
much a family of lawyers as a legal dynasty.
Rather than rest on his family's laurels, Paul Galbally worked out of
a cramped, 1970s time-warped, windowless office in a William Street
basement, where he was surrounded by defence briefs--the only briefs
he accepted. He liked the idea of keeping people out of prison better
than the idea of putting them in it. Working closely with a defendant,
he inevitably found redeeming qualities which the prosecution would
never see. Traces of humanity, no matter how small, made his choice
His choices in life reflected the Galbally image as champions of the
underdog, and the family shared a background with the working class.
Catholic. Irish. Collingwood football enthusiasts. And, of course, a
very large family. Paul was one of eight children, and his father had
also come from a large family.
The 34-year-old criminal law specialist didn't know anything about
computer crime when Mendax first appeared in his office, but the
hacker's case seemed both interesting and worthy. The unemployed,
long-haired youth had explained he could only offer whatever fees the
Victorian Legal Aid Commission was willing to pay--a sentence Galbally
heard often in his practice. He agreed.
Galbally & O'Bryan had a very good reputation as a criminal law firm.
Criminals, however, tended not to have a great deal of money. The
large commercial firms might dabble in some criminal work, but they
cushioned any resulting financial inconvenience with other, more
profitable legal work. Pushing paper for Western Mining Corporation
paid for glass-enclosed corner offices on the fiftieth floor.
Defending armed robbers and drug addicts didn't.
The 4 May meeting between Galbally and Mendax was only scheduled to
take an hour or so. Although Mendax was contesting the committal
hearing along with Prime Suspect on the following day, it was Prime
Suspect's barrister, Boris Kayser, who was going to be running the
show. Prime Suspect told Mendax he had managed to get full Legal Aid
for the committal, something Galbally and Mendax had not been able to
procure. Thus Mendax would not have his own barrister at the
Mendax didn't mind. Both hackers knew they would be committed to
trial. Their immediate objective was to discredit the prosecution's
damage claims--particularly NorTel's.
As Mendax and Galbally talked, the mood in the office was upbeat.
Mendax was feeling optimistic. Then the phone rang. It was Geoff
Chettle, the barrister representing the DPP. While Chettle talked,
Mendax watched a dark cloud pass across his solicitor's face. When he
finally put the phone down, Galbally looked at Mendax with his serious,
crisis management expression.
`What's wrong? What's the matter?' Mendax asked.
Galbally sighed before he spoke.
`Prime Suspect has turned Crown witness against you.'
There was a mistake. Mendax was sure of it. The whole thing was just
one big mistake. Maybe Chettle and the DPP had misunderstood something
Prime Suspect had said to them. Maybe Prime Suspect's lawyers had
messed up. Whatever. There was definitely a mistake.
At Galbally's office, Mendax had refused to believe Prime Suspect had
really turned. Not until he saw a signed statement. That night he told
a friend, `Well, we'll see. Maybe Chettle is just playing it up.'
Chettle, however, was not just playing it up.
There it was--a witness statement--in front of him. Signed by Prime
Mendax stood outside the courtroom at Melbourne Magistrates Court trying
to reconcile two realities. In the first, there was one of Mendax's four
or five closest friends. A friend with whom he had shared his deepest
hacking secrets. A friend he had been hanging out with only last week.
In the other reality, a six-page statement signed by Prime Suspect and
Ken Day at AFP Headquarters at 1.20 p.m. the day before. To compound
matters, Mendax began wondering if Prime Suspect may have been
speaking to the AFP for as long as six months.
The two realities were spinning through his head, dancing around each
When Galbally arrived at the court, Mendax took him to one side to go