Part 3.2: Law and Order
Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier by Bruce Sterling

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The Federal Computer Investigations Committee (FCIC) is the most important and influential organization in the realm of American computer crime. Since the police of other countries have largely taken their computer crime cues from American methods, the FCIC might well be called the most important computer crime group in the world.

It is also, by federal standards, an organization of great unorthodoxy. State and local investigators mix with federal agents. Lawyers, financial auditors and computer-security programmers trade notes with street cops. Industry vendors and telco security people show up to explain their gadgetry and plead for protection and justice. Private investigators, think-tank experts and industry pundits throw in their two cents' worth. The FCIC is the antithesis of a formal bureaucracy. Members of the FCIC are obscurely proud of this fact; they recognize their group as aberrant, but are entirely convinced that this, for them, outright weird behavior is nevertheless absolutely necessary to get their jobs done.

FCIC regulars - from the Secret Service, the FBI, the IRS, the Department of Labor, the offices of federal attorneys, state police, the Air Force, from military intelligence - often attend meetings, held hither and thither across the country, at their own expense. The FCIC doesn't get grants. It doesn't charge membership fees. It doesn't have a boss. It has no headquarters - just a mail drop in Washington DC, at the Fraud Division of the Secret Service. It doesn't have a budget. It doesn't have schedules. It meets three times a year - sort of. Sometimes it issues publications, but the FCIC has no regular publisher, no treasurer, not even a secretary. There are no minutes of FCIC meetings. Non-federal people are considered "non-voting members," but there's not much in the way of elections. There are no badges, lapel pins or certificates of membership. Everyone is on a firstname basis. There are about forty of them. Nobody knows how many, exactly. People come, people go - sometimes people "go" formally but still hang around anyway. Nobody has ever exactly figured out what "membership" of this "Committee" actually entails.

Strange as this may seem to some, to anyone familiar with the social world of computing, the "organization" of the FCIC is very recognizable.

For years now, economists and management theorists have speculated that the tidal wave of the information revolution would destroy rigid, pyramidal bureaucracies, where everything is topdown and centrally controlled. Highly trained "employees" would take on much greater autonomy, being self-starting, and self-motivating, moving from place to place, task to task, with great speed and fluidity. "Ad-hocracy" would rule, with groups of people spontaneously knitting together across organizational lines, tackling the problem at hand, applying intense computer-aided expertise to it, and then vanishing whence they came.

This is more or less what has actually happened in the world of federal computer investigation. With the conspicuous exception of the phone companies, which are after all over a hundred years old, practically every organization that plays any important role in this book functions just like the FCIC. The Chicago Task Force, the Arizona Racketeering Unit, the Legion of Doom, the Phrack crowd, the Electronic Frontier Foundation - they all look and act like "tiger teams" or "user's groups." They are all electronic ad-hocracies leaping up spontaneously to attempt to meet a need.

Some are police. Some are, by strict definition, criminals. Some are political interest-groups. But every single group has that same quality of apparent spontaneity - "Hey, gang! My uncle's got a barn - let's put on a show!"

Every one of these groups is embarrassed by this "amateurism," and, for the sake of their public image in a world of non-computer people, they all attempt to look as stern and formal and impressive as possible. These electronic frontier-dwellers resemble groups of nineteenth-century pioneers hankering after the respectability of statehood. There are however, two crucial differences in the historical experience of these "pioneers" of the nineteeth and twenty-first centuries.

First, powerful information technology does play into the hands of small, fluid, loosely organized groups. There have always been "pioneers," "hobbyists," "amateurs," "dilettantes," "volunteers," "movements," "users' groups" and "blue-ribbon panels of experts" around. But a group of this kind - when technically equipped to ship huge amounts of specialized information, at lightning speed, to its members, to government, and to the press - is simply a different kind of animal. It's like the difference between an eel and an electric eel.

The second crucial change is that American society is currently in a state approaching permanent technological revolution. In the world of computers particularly, it is practically impossible to ever stop being a "pioneer," unless you either drop dead or deliberately jump off the bus. The scene has never slowed down enough to become well-institutionalized. And after twenty, thirty, forty years the "computer revolution" continues to spread, to permeate new corners of society. Anything that really works is already obsolete.

If you spend your entire working life as a "pioneer," the word "pioneer" begins to lose its meaning. Your way of life looks less and less like an introduction to "something else" more stable and organized, and more and more like just the way things are. A "permanent revolution" is really a contradiction in terms. If "turmoil" lasts long enough, it simply becomes a new kind of society - still the same game of history, but new players, new rules. Apply this to the world of late twentieth-century law enforcement, and the implications are novel and puzzling indeed. Any bureaucratic rulebook you write about computer crime will be flawed when you write it, and almost an antique by the time it sees print. The fluidity and fast reactions of the FCIC give them a great advantage in this regard, which explains their success. Even with the best will in the world (which it does not, in fact, possess) it is impossible for an organization the size of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to get up to speed on the theory and practice of computer crime. If they tried to train all their agents to do this, it would be suicidal, as they would never be able to do anything else.

The FBI does try to train its agents in the basics of electronic crime, at their base in Quantico, Virginia. And the Secret Service, along with many other law enforcement groups, runs quite successful and well-attended training courses on wire fraud, business crime, and computer intrusion at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC, pronounced "fletsy") in Glynco, Georgia. But the best efforts of these bureaucracies does not remove the absolute need for a "cutting-edge mess" like the FCIC.

For you see - the members of FCIC are the trainers of the rest of law enforcement. Practically and literally speaking, they are the Glynco computer crime faculty by another name. If the FCIC went over a cliff on a bus, the U.S. law enforcement community would be rendered deaf dumb and blind in the world of computer crime, and would swiftly feel a desperate need to reinvent them. And this is no time to go starting from scratch.

On June 11, 1991, I once again arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, for the latest meeting of the Federal Computer Investigations Committee. This was more or less the twentieth meeting of this stellar group. The count was uncertain, since nobody could figure out whether to include the meetings of "the Colluquy," which is what the FCIC was called in the mid-1980s before it had even managed to obtain the dignity of its own acronym.

Since my last visit to Arizona, in May, the local AzScam bribery scandal had resolved itself in a general muddle of humiliation. The Phoenix chief of police, whose agents had videotaped nine state legislators up to no good, had resigned his office in a tussle with the Phoenix city council over the propriety of his undercover operations.

The Phoenix Chief could now join Gail Thackeray and eleven of her closest associates in the shared experience of politically motivated unemployment. As of June, resignations were still continuing at the Arizona Attorney General's office, which could be interpreted as either a New Broom Sweeping Clean or a Night of the Long Knives Part II, depending on your point of view.

The meeting of FCIC was held at the Scottsdale Hilton Resort. Scottsdale is a wealthy suburb of Phoenix, known as "Scottsdull" to scoffing local trendies, but well-equipped with posh shoppingmalls and manicured lawns, while conspicuously undersupplied with homeless derelicts. The Scottsdale Hilton Resort was a sprawling hotel in postmodern crypto-Southwestern style. It featured a "mission bell tower" plated in turquoise tile and vaguely resembling a Saudi minaret.

Inside it was all barbarically striped Santa Fe Style decor. There was a health spa downstairs and a large oddly-shaped pool in the patio. A poolside umbrella-stand offered Ben and Jerry's politically correct Peace Pops.

I registered as a member of FCIC, attaining a handy discount rate, then went in search of the Feds. Sure enough, at the back of the hotel grounds came the unmistakable sound of Gail Thackeray holding forth.

Since I had also attended the Computers Freedom and Privacy conference (about which more later), this was the second time I had seen Thackeray in a group of her law enforcement colleagues. Once again I was struck by how simply pleased they seemed to see her. It was natural that she'd get some attention, as Gail was one of two women in a group of some thirty men; but there was a lot more to it than that.

Gail Thackeray personifies the social glue of the FCIC. They could give a damn about her losing her job with the Attorney General. They were sorry about it, of course, but hell, they'd all lost jobs. If they were the kind of guys who liked steady boring jobs, they would never have gotten into computer work in the first place.

I wandered into her circle and was immediately introduced to five strangers. The conditions of my visit at FCIC were reviewed. I would not quote anyone directly. I would not tie opinions expressed to the agencies of the attendees. I would not (a purely hypothetical example) report the conversation of a guy from the Secret Service talking quite civilly to a guy from the FBI, as these two agencies never talk to each other, and the IRS (also present, also hypothetical) never talks to anybody.

Worse yet, I was forbidden to attend the first conference. And I didn't. I have no idea what the FCIC was up to behind closed doors that afternoon. I rather suspect that they were engaging in a frank and thorough confession of their errors, goof-ups and blunders, as this has been a feature of every FCIC meeting since their legendary Memphis beer bust of 1986. Perhaps the single greatest attraction of FCIC is that it is a place where you can go, let your hair down, and completely level with people who actually comprehend what you are talking about. Not only do they understand you, but they really pay attention, they are grateful for your insights, and they forgive you, which in nine cases out of ten is something even your boss can't do, because as soon as you start talking "ROM," "BBS," or "T-1 trunk," his eyes glaze over. I had nothing much to do that afternoon. The FCIC were beavering away in their conference room. Doors were firmly closed, windows too dark to peer through. I wondered what a real hacker, a computer intruder, would do at a meeting like this.

The answer came at once. He would "trash" the place. Not reduce the place to trash in some orgy of vandalism; that's not the use of the term in the hacker milieu. No, he would quietly empty the trash baskets and silently raid any valuable data indiscreetly thrown away.

Journalists have been known to do this. (Journalists hunting information have been known to do almost every single unethical thing that hackers have ever done. They also throw in a few awful techniques all their own.) The legality of `trashing' is somewhat dubious but it is not in fact flagrantly illegal. It was, however, absurd to contemplate trashing the FCIC. These people knew all about trashing. I wouldn't last fifteen seconds.

The idea sounded interesting, though. I'd been hearing a lot about the practice lately. On the spur of the moment, I decided I would try trashing the office across the hall from the FCIC, an area which had nothing to do with the investigators.

The office was tiny; six chairs, a table... Nevertheless, it was open, so I dug around in its plastic trash can.

To my utter astonishment, I came up with the torn scraps of a SPRINT long-distance phone bill. More digging produced a bank statement and the scraps of a hand-written letter, along with gum, cigarette ashes, candy wrappers and a day-old-issue of USA TODAY.

The trash went back in its receptacle while the scraps of data went into my travel bag. I detoured through the hotel souvenir shop for some Scotch tape and went up to my room.

Coincidence or not, it was quite true. Some poor soul had, in fact, thrown a SPRINT bill into the hotel's trash. Date May 1991, total amount due: $252.36. Not a business phone, either, but a residential bill, in the name of someone called Evelyn (not her real name). Evelyn's records showed a ## PAST DUE BILL ##! Here was her nine-digit account ID. Here was a stern computer-printed warning:


I examined my watch. Still plenty of time left for the FCIC to carry on. I sorted out the scraps of Evelyn's SPRINT bill and re-assembled them with fresh Scotch tape. Here was her ten-digit FONCARD number. Didn't seem to have the ID number necessary to cause real fraud trouble.

I did, however, have Evelyn's home phone number. And the phone numbers for a whole crowd of Evelyn's long-distance friends and acquaintances. In San Diego, Folsom, Redondo, Las Vegas, La Jolla, Topeka, and Northampton Massachusetts. Even somebody in Australia!

I examined other documents. Here was a bank statement. It was Evelyn's IRA account down at a bank in San Mateo California (total balance $1877.20). Here was a charge-card bill for $382.64. She was paying it off bit by bit.

Driven by motives that were completely unethical and prurient, I now examined the handwritten notes. They had been torn fairly thoroughly, so much so that it took me almost an entire five minutes to reassemble them.

They were drafts of a love letter. They had been written on the lined stationery of Evelyn's employer, a biomedical company. Probably written at work when she should have been doing something else.

"Dear Bob," (not his real name) "I guess in everyone's life there comes a time when hard decisions have to be made, and this is a difficult one for me - very upsetting. Since you haven't called me, and I don't understand why, I can only surmise it's because you don't want to. I thought I would have heard from you Friday. I did have a few unusual problems with my phone and possibly you tried, I hope so.

"Robert, you asked me to `let go'..."

The first note ended. Unusual problems with her phone? I looked swiftly at the next note. "Bob, not hearing from you for the whole weekend has left me very perplexed..."

Next draft. "Dear Bob, there is so much I don't understand right now, and I wish I did. I wish I could talk to you, but for some unknown reason you have elected not to call - this is so difficult for me to understand..."

She tried again.

"Bob, Since I have always held you in such high esteem, I had every hope that we could remain good friends, but now one essential ingredient is missing - respect. Your ability to discard people when their purpose is served is appalling to me. The kindest thing you could do for me now is to leave me alone. You are no longer welcome in my heart or home..."

Try again.

"Bob, I wrote a very factual note to you to say how much respect I had lost for you, by the way you treat people, me in particular, so uncaring and cold. The kindest thing you can do for me is to leave me alone entirely, as you are no longer welcome in my heart or home. I would appreciate it if you could retire your debt to me as soon as possible - I wish no link to you in any way. Sincerely, Evelyn."

Good heavens, I thought, the bastard actually owes her money! I turned to the next page.

"Bob: very simple. GOODBYE! No more mind games - no more fascination - no more coldness - no more respect for you! It's over - Finis. Evie"

There were two versions of the final brushoff letter, but they read about the same. Maybe she hadn't sent it. The final item in my illicit and shameful booty was an envelope addressed to "Bob" at his home address, but it had no stamp on it and it hadn't been mailed.

Maybe she'd just been blowing off steam because her rascal boyfriend had neglected to call her one weekend. Big deal. Maybe they'd kissed and made up, maybe she and Bob were down at Pop's Chocolate Shop now, sharing a malted. Sure.

Easy to find out. All I had to do was call Evelyn up. With a half-clever story and enough brass-plated gall I could probably trick the truth out of her. Phone-phreaks and hackers deceive people over the phone all the time. It's called "social engineering." Social engineering is a very common practice in the underground, and almost magically effective. Human beings are almost always the weakest link in computer security. The simplest way to learn Things You Are Not Meant To Know is simply to call up and exploit the knowledgeable people. With social engineering, you use the bits of specialized knowledge you already have as a key, to manipulate people into believing that you are legitimate. You can then coax, flatter, or frighten them into revealing almost anything you want to know. Deceiving people (especially over the phone) is easy and fun. Exploiting their gullibility is very gratifying; it makes you feel very superior to them. If I'd been a malicious hacker on a trashing raid, I would now have Evelyn very much in my power. Given all this inside data, it wouldn't take much effort at all to invent a convincing lie. If I were ruthless enough, and jaded enough, and clever enough, this momentary indiscretion of hers - maybe committed in tears, who knows - could cause her a whole world of confusion and grief.

I didn't even have to have a malicious motive. Maybe I'd be "on her side," and call up Bob instead, and anonymously threaten to break both his kneecaps if he didn't take Evelyn out for a steak dinner pronto. It was still profoundly none of my business. To have gotten this knowledge at all was a sordid act and to use it would be to inflict a sordid injury.

To do all these awful things would require exactly zero high-tech expertise. All it would take was the willingness to do it and a certain amount of bent imagination. I went back downstairs. The hard-working FCIC, who had labored forty-five minutes over their schedule, were through for the day, and adjourned to the hotel bar. We all had a beer.

I had a chat with a guy about "Isis," or rather IACIS, the International Association of Computer Investigation Specialists. They're into "computer forensics," the techniques of picking computer systems apart without destroying vital evidence. IACIS, currently run out of Oregon, is comprised of investigators in the U.S., Canada, Taiwan and Ireland. "Taiwan and Ireland?" I said. Are Taiwan and Ireland really in the forefront of this stuff? Well not exactly, my informant admitted. They just happen to have been the first ones to have caught on by word of mouth. Still, the international angle counts, because this is obviously an international problem. Phone-lines go everywhere.

There was a Mountie here from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He seemed to be having quite a good time. Nobody had flung this Canadian out because he might pose a foreign security risk. These are cyberspace cops. They still worry a lot about "jurisdictions," but mere geography is the least of their troubles. NASA had failed to show. NASA suffers a lot from computer intrusions, in particular from Australian raiders and a well-trumpeted Chaos Computer Club case, and in 1990 there was a brief press flurry when it was revealed that one of NASA's Houston branch-exchanges had been systematically ripped off by a gang of phone-phreaks. But the NASA guys had had their funding cut. They were stripping everything.

Air Force OSI, its Office of Special Investigations, is the only federal entity dedicated full-time to computer security. They'd been expected to show up in force, but some of them had cancelled - a Pentagon budget pinch.

As the empties piled up, the guys began joshing around and telling war-stories. "These are cops," Thackeray said tolerantly. "If they're not talking shop they talk about women and beer."

I heard the story about the guy who, asked for "a copy" of a computer disk, photocopied the label on it. He put the floppy disk onto the glass plate of a photocopier. The blast of static when the copier worked completely erased all the real information on the disk.

Some other poor souls threw a whole bag of confiscated diskettes into the squad-car trunk next to the police radio. The powerful radio signal blasted them, too. We heard a bit about Dave Geneson, the first computer prosecutor, a mainframe-runner in Dade County, turned lawyer. Dave Geneson was one guy who had hit the ground running, a signal virtue in making the transition to computer crime. It was generally agreed that it was easier to learn the world of computers first, then police or prosecutorial work. You could take certain computer people and train 'em to successful police work - but of course they had to have the cop mentality. They had to have street smarts. Patience. Persistence. And discretion. You've got to make sure they're not hotshots, show-offs, "cowboys."

Most of the folks in the bar had backgrounds in military intelligence, or drugs, or homicide. It was rudely opined that "military intelligence" was a contradiction in terms, while even the grisly world of homicide was considered cleaner than drug enforcement. One guy had been 'way undercover doing dope-work in Europe for four years straight. "I'm almost recovered now," he said deadpan, with the acid black humor that is pure cop. "Hey, now I can say fucker without putting mother in front of it."

"In the cop world," another guy said earnestly, "everything is good and bad, black and white. In the computer world everything is gray."

One guy - a founder of the FCIC, who'd been with the group since it was just the Colluquy - described his own introduction to the field. He'd been a Washington DC homicide guy called in on a "hacker" case. From the word "hacker," he naturally assumed he was on the trail of a knife-wielding marauder, and went to the computer center expecting blood and a body. When he finally figured out what was happening there (after loudly demanding, in vain, that the programmers "speak English"), he called headquarters and told them he was clueless about computers. They told him nobody else knew diddly either, and to get the hell back to work.

So, he said, he had proceeded by comparisons. By analogy. By metaphor. "Somebody broke in to your computer, huh?" Breaking and entering; I can understand that. How'd he get in? "Over the phonelines." Harassing phone-calls, I can understand that! What we need here is a tap and a trace!

It worked. It was better than nothing. And it worked a lot faster when he got hold of another cop who'd done something similar. And then the two of them got another, and another, and pretty soon the Colluquy was a happening thing. It helped a lot that everybody seemed to know Carlton Fitzpatrick, the data-processing trainer in Glynco.

The ice broke big-time in Memphis in '86. The Colluquy had attracted a bunch of new guys - Secret Service, FBI, military, other feds, heavy guys. Nobody wanted to tell anybody anything. They suspected that if word got back to the home office they'd all be fired. They passed an uncomfortably guarded afternoon.

The formalities got them nowhere. But after the formal session was over, the organizers brought in a case of beer. As soon as the participants knocked it off with the bureaucratic ranks and turf-fighting, everything changed. "I bared my soul," one veteran reminisced proudly. By nightfall they were building pyramids of empty beer-cans and doing everything but composing a team fight song.

FCIC were not the only computer crime people around. There was DATTA (District Attorneys' Technology Theft Association), though they mostly specialized in chip theft, intellectual property, and black-market cases. There was HTCIA (High Tech Computer Investigators Association), also out in Silicon Valley, a year older than FCIC and featuring brilliant people like Donald Ingraham. There was LEETAC (Law Enforcement Electronic Technology Assistance Committee) in Florida, and computer crime units in Illinois and Maryland and Texas and Ohio and Colorado and Pennsylvania. But these were local groups. FCIC were the first to really network nationally and on a federal level.

FCIC people live on the phone lines. Not on bulletin board systems - they know very well what boards are, and they know that boards aren't secure. Everyone in the FCIC has a voice-phone bill like you wouldn't believe. FCIC people have been tight with the telco people for a long time. Telephone cyberspace is their native habitat.

FCIC has three basic sub-tribes: the trainers, the security people, and the investigators. That's why it's called an "Investigations Committee" with no mention of the term "computer crime" - the dreaded "C-word." FCIC, officially, is "an association of agencies rather than individuals;" unofficially, this field is small enough that the influence of individuals and individual expertise is paramount. Attendance is by invitation only, and most everyone in FCIC considers himself a prophet without honor in his own house.

Again and again I heard this, with different terms but identical sentiments. "I'd been sitting in the wilderness talking to myself." "I was totally isolated." "I was desperate." "FCIC is the best thing there is about computer crime in America." "FCIC is what really works." "This is where you hear real people telling you what's really happening out there, not just lawyers picking nits." "We taught each other everything we knew."

The sincerity of these statements convinces me that this is true. FCIC is the real thing and it is invaluable. It's also very sharply at odds with the rest of the traditions and power structure in American law enforcement. There probably hasn't been anything around as loose and go-getting as the FCIC since the start of the U.S. Secret Service in the 1860s. FCIC people are living like twenty-first century people in a twentieth-century environment, and while there's a great deal to be said for that, there's also a great deal to be said against it, and those against it happen to control the budgets. I listened to two FCIC guys from Jersey compare life histories. One of them had been a biker in a fairly heavy-duty gang in the 1960s. "Oh, did you know so-and-so?" said the other guy from Jersey. "Big guy, heavyset?"

"Yeah, I knew him."

"Yeah, he was one of ours. He was our plant in the gang."

"Really? Wow! Yeah, I knew him. Helluva guy."

Thackeray reminisced at length about being tear-gassed blind in the November 1969 antiwar protests in Washington Circle, covering them for her college paper. "Oh yeah, I was there," said another cop. "Glad to hear that tear gas hit somethin'. Haw haw haw." He'd been so blind himself, he confessed, that later that day he'd arrested a small tree.

FCIC are an odd group, sifted out by coincidence and necessity, and turned into a new kind of cop. There are a lot of specialized cops in the world - your bunco guys, your drug guys, your tax guys, but the only group that matches FCIC for sheer isolation are probably the child-pornography people. Because they both deal with conspirators who are desperate to exchange forbidden data and also desperate to hide; and because nobody else in law enforcement even wants to hear about it.

FCIC people tend to change jobs a lot. They tend not to get the equipment and training they want and need. And they tend to get sued quite often.

As the night wore on and a band set up in the bar, the talk grew darker. Nothing ever gets done in government, someone opined, until there's a disaster. Computing disasters are awful, but there's no denying that they greatly help the credibility of FCIC people. The Internet Worm, for instance. "For years we'd been warning about that - but it's nothing compared to what's coming." They expect horrors, these people. They know that nothing will really get done until there is a horror.


Next day we heard an extensive briefing from a guy who'd been a computer cop, gotten into hot water with an Arizona city council, and now installed computer networks for a living (at a considerable rise in pay). He talked about pulling fiber-optic networks apart.

Even a single computer, with enough peripherals, is a literal "network" - a bunch of machines all cabled together, generally with a complexity that puts stereo units to shame. FCIC people invent and publicize methods of seizing computers and maintaining their evidence. Simple things, sometimes, but vital rules of thumb for street cops, who nowadays often stumble across a busy computer in the midst of a drug investigation or a white-collar bust. For instance: Photograph the system before you touch it. Label the ends of all the cables before you detach anything. "Park" the heads on the disk drives before you move them. Get the diskettes. Don't put the diskettes in magnetic fields. Don't write on diskettes with ballpoint pens. Get the manuals. Get the printouts. Get the handwritten notes. Copy data before you look at it, and then examine the copy instead of the original. Now our lecturer distributed copied diagrams of a typical LAN or "Local Area Network", which happened to be out of Connecticut. One hundred and fifty-nine desktop computers, each with its own peripherals. Three "file servers." Five "star couplers" each with thirty-two ports. One sixteen-port coupler off in the corner office. All these machines talking to each other, distributing electronic mail, distributing software, distributing, quite possibly, criminal evidence. All linked by high capacity fiber-optic cable. A bad guy - cops talk a lot about "bad guys" - might be lurking on PC #47 or #123 and distributing his ill doings onto some dupe's "personal" machine in another office - or another floor - or, quite possibly, two or three miles away! Or, conceivably, the evidence might be "data-striped" - split up into meaningless slivers stored, one by one, on a whole crowd of different disk drives.

The lecturer challenged us for solutions. I for one was utterly clueless. As far as I could figure, the Cossacks were at the gate; there were probably more disks in this single building than were seized during the entirety of Operation Sundevil.

"Inside informant," somebody said. Right. There's always the human angle, something easy to forget when contemplating the arcane recesses of high technology. Cops are skilled at getting people to talk, and computer people, given a chair and some sustained attention, will talk about their computers till their throats go raw. There's a case on record of a single question - "How'd you do it?" - eliciting a forty-five-minute videotaped confession from a computer criminal who not only completely incriminated himself but drew helpful diagrams.

Computer people talk. Hackers brag. Phonephreaks talk pathologically - why else are they stealing phone-codes, if not to natter for ten hours straight to their friends on an opposite seaboard? Computer-literate people do in fact possess an arsenal of nifty gadgets and techniques that would allow them to conceal all kinds of exotic skullduggery, and if they could only shut up about it, they could probably get away with all manner of amazing information-crimes. But that's just not how it works - or at least, that's not how it's worked so far.

Most every phone-phreak ever busted has swiftly implicated his mentors, his disciples, and his friends. Most every white-collar computer-criminal, smugly convinced that his clever scheme is bulletproof, swiftly learns otherwise when, for the first time in his life, an actual no-kidding policeman leans over, grabs the front of his shirt, looks him right in the eye and says: "All right, asshole - you and me are going downtown!" All the hardware in the world will not insulate your nerves from these actual real-life sensations of terror and guilt.

Cops know ways to get from point A to point Z without thumbing through every letter in some smart-ass bad-guy's alphabet. Cops know how to cut to the chase. Cops know a lot of things other people don't know.

Hackers know a lot of things other people don't know, too. Hackers know, for instance, how to sneak into your computer through the phone-lines. But cops can show up right on your doorstep and carry off you and your computer in separate steel boxes. A cop interested in hackers can grab them and grill them. A hacker interested in cops has to depend on hearsay, underground legends, and what cops are willing to publicly reveal. And the Secret Service didn't get named "the Secret Service" because they blab a lot. Some people, our lecturer informed us, were under the mistaken impression that it was "impossible" to tap a fiber-optic line. Well, he announced, he and his son had just whipped up a fiber-optic tap in his workshop at home. He passed it around the audience, along with a circuit-covered LAN plug-in card so we'd all recognize one if we saw it on a case. We all had a look.

The tap was a classic "Goofy Prototype" - a thumb-length rounded metal cylinder with a pair of plastic brackets on it. From one end dangled three thin black cables, each of which ended in a tiny black plastic cap. When you plucked the safety-cap off the end of a cable, you could see the glass fiber - no thicker than a pinhole.

Our lecturer informed us that the metal cylinder was a "wavelength division multiplexer." Apparently, what one did was to cut the fiber-optic cable, insert two of the legs into the cut to complete the network again, and then read any passing data on the line by hooking up the third leg to some kind of monitor. Sounded simple enough. I wondered why nobody had thought of it before. I also wondered whether this guy's son back at the workshop had any teenage friends.

We had a break. The guy sitting next to me was wearing a giveaway baseball cap advertising the Uzi submachine gun. We had a desultory chat about the merits of Uzis. Long a favorite of the Secret Service, it seems Uzis went out of fashion with the advent of the Persian Gulf War, our Arab allies taking some offense at Americans toting Israeli weapons. Besides, I was informed by another expert, Uzis jam. The equivalent weapon of choice today is the Heckler & Koch, manufactured in Germany.

The guy with the Uzi cap was a forensic photographer. He also did a lot of photographic surveillance work in computer crime cases. He used to, that is, until the firings in Phoenix. He was now a private investigator and, with his wife, ran a photography salon specializing in weddings and portrait photos. At - one must repeat - a considerable rise in income. He was still FCIC. If you were FCIC, and you needed to talk to an expert about forensic photography, well, there he was, willing and able. If he hadn't shown up, people would have missed him.

Our lecturer had raised the point that preliminary investigation of a computer system is vital before any seizure is undertaken. It's vital to understand how many machines are in there, what kinds there are, what kind of operating system they use, how many people use them, where the actual data itself is stored. To simply barge into an office demanding "all the computers" is a recipe for swift disaster.

This entails some discreet inquiries beforehand. In fact, what it entails is basically undercover work. An intelligence operation. Spying, not to put too fine a point on it.

In a chat after the lecture, I asked an attendee whether "trashing" might work.

I received a swift briefing on the theory and practice of "trash covers." Police "trash covers," like "mail covers" or like wiretaps, require the agreement of a judge. This obtained, the "trashing" work of cops is just like that of hackers, only more so and much better organized. So much so, I was informed, that mobsters in Phoenix make extensive use of locked garbage cans picked up by a specialty high-security trash company.

In one case, a tiger team of Arizona cops had trashed a local residence for four months. Every week they showed up on the municipal garbage truck, disguised as garbagemen, and carried the contents of the suspect cans off to a shade tree, where they combed through the garbage - a messy task, especially considering that one of the occupants was undergoing kidney dialysis. All useful documents were cleaned, dried and examined. A discarded typewriter-ribbon was an especially valuable source of data, as its long one strike ribbon of film contained the contents of every letter mailed out of the house. The letters were neatly retyped by a police secretary equipped with a large desk-mounted magnifying glass.

There is something weirdly disquieting about the whole subject of "trashing" - an unsuspected and indeed rather disgusting mode of deep personal vulnerability. Things that we pass by every day, that we take utterly for granted, can be exploited with so little work. Once discovered, the knowledge of these vulnerabilities tend to spread.

Take the lowly subject of manhole covers. The humble manhole cover reproduces many of the dilemmas of computer-security in miniature. Manhole covers are, of course, technological artifacts, access-points to our buried urban infrastructure. To the vast majority of us, manhole covers are invisible. They are also vulnerable. For many years now, the Secret Service has made a point of caulking manhole covers along all routes of the Presidential motorcade. This is, of course, to deter terrorists from leaping out of underground ambush or, more likely, planting remote-control carsmashing bombs beneath the street.

Lately, manhole covers have seen more and more criminal exploitation, especially in New York City. Recently, a telco in New York City discovered that a cable television service had been sneaking into telco manholes and installing cable service alongside the phone-lines - without paying royalties. New York companies have also suffered a general plague of (a) underground copper cable theft; (b) dumping of garbage, including toxic waste, and (c) hasty dumping of murder victims.

Industry complaints reached the ears of an innovative New England industrial-security company, and the result was a new product known as "the Intimidator," a thick titanium-steel bolt with a precisely machined head that requires a special device to unscrew. All these "keys" have registered serial numbers kept on file with the manufacturer. There are now some thousands of these "Intimidator" bolts being sunk into American pavements wherever our President passes, like some macabre parody of strewn roses. They are also spreading as fast as steel dandelions around US military bases and many centers of private industry.

Quite likely it has never occurred to you to peer under a manhole cover, perhaps climb down and walk around down there with a flashlight, just to see what it's like. Formally speaking, this might be trespassing, but if you didn't hurt anything, and didn't make an absolute habit of it, nobody would really care. The freedom to sneak under manholes was likely a freedom you never intended to exercise.

You now are rather less likely to have that freedom at all. You may never even have missed it until you read about it here, but if you're in New York City it's gone, and elsewhere it's likely going. This is one of the things that crime, and the reaction to crime, does to us.

The tenor of the meeting now changed as the Electronic Frontier Foundation arrived. The EFF, whose personnel and history will be examined in detail in the next chapter, are a pioneering civil liberties group who arose in direct response to the Hacker Crackdown of 1990.

Now Mitchell Kapor, the Foundation's president, and Michael Godwin, its chief attorney, were confronting federal law enforcement mano a mano for the first time ever. Ever alert to the manifold uses of publicity, Mitch Kapor and Mike Godwin had brought their own journalist in tow: Robert Draper, from Austin, whose recent wellreceived book about ROLLING STONE magazine was still on the stands. Draper was on assignment for TEXAS MONTHLY.

The Steve Jackson/EFF civil lawsuit against the Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force was a matter of considerable regional interest in Texas. There were now two Austinite journalists here on the case. In fact, counting Godwin (a former Austinite and former journalist) there were three of us. Lunch was like Old Home Week.

Later, I took Draper up to my hotel room. We had a long frank talk about the case, networking earnestly like a miniature freelance-journo version of the FCIC: privately confessing the numerous blunders of journalists covering the story, and trying hard to figure out who was who and what the hell was really going on out there. I showed Draper everything I had dug out of the Hilton trashcan. We pondered the ethics of "trashing" for a while, and agreed that they were dismal. We also agreed that finding a SPRINT bill on your first time out was a heck of a coincidence.

First I'd "trashed" - and now, mere hours later, I'd bragged to someone else. Having entered the lifestyle of hackerdom, I was now, unsurprisingly, following its logic. Having discovered something remarkable through a surreptitious action, I of course had to "brag," and to drag the passing Draper into my iniquities. I felt I needed a witness. Otherwise nobody would have believed what I'd discovered...

Back at the meeting, Thackeray cordially, if rather tentatively, introduced Kapor and Godwin to her colleagues. Papers were distributed. Kapor took center stage. The brilliant Bostonian high-tech entrepreneur, normally the hawk in his own administration and quite an effective public speaker, seemed visibly nervous, and frankly admitted as much. He began by saying he consided computer intrusion to be morally wrong, and that the EFF was not a "hacker defense fund," despite what had appeared in print. Kapor chatted a bit about the basic motivations of his group, emphasizing their good faith and willingness to listen and seek common ground with law enforcement - when, er, possible.

Then, at Godwin's urging, Kapor suddenly remarked that EFF's own Internet machine had been "hacked" recently, and that EFF did not consider this incident amusing.

After this surprising confession, things began to loosen up quite rapidly. Soon Kapor was fielding questions, parrying objections, challenging definitions, and juggling paradigms with something akin to his usual gusto.

Kapor seemed to score quite an effect with his shrewd and skeptical analysis of the merits of telco "Caller-ID" services. (On this topic, FCIC and EFF have never been at loggerheads, and have no particular established earthworks to defend.) Caller-ID has generally been promoted as a privacy service for consumers, a presentation Kapor described as a "smokescreen," the real point of Caller-ID being to allow corporate customers to build extensive commercial databases on everybody who phones or faxes them. Clearly, few people in the room had considered this possibility, except perhaps for two late-arrivals from US WEST RBOC security, who chuckled nervously.

Mike Godwin then made an extensive presentation on "Civil Liberties Implications of Computer Searches and Seizures." Now, at last, we were getting to the real nitty-gritty here, real political horse-trading. The audience listened with close attention, angry mutters rising occasionally: "He's trying to teach us our jobs!" "We've been thinking about this for years! We think about these issues every day!" "If I didn't seize the works, I'd be sued by the guy's victims!" "I'm violating the law if I leave ten thousand disks full of illegal pirated software and stolen codes!" "It's our job to make sure people don't trash the Constitution - we're the defenders of the Constitution!" "We seize stuff when we know it will be forfeited anyway as restitution for the victim!"

"If it's forfeitable, then don't get a search warrant, get a forfeiture warrant," Godwin suggested coolly. He further remarked that most suspects in computer crime don't want to see their computers vanish out the door, headed God knew where, for who knows how long. They might not mind a search, even an extensive search, but they want their machines searched on-site. "Are they gonna feed us?" somebody asked sourly. "How about if you take copies of the data?" Godwin parried.

"That'll never stand up in court." "Okay, you make copies, give them the copies, and take the originals."


Godwin championed bulletin board systems as repositories of First Amendment protected free speech. He complained that federal computer crime training manuals gave boards a bad press, suggesting that they are hotbeds of crime haunted by pedophiles and crooks, whereas the vast majority of the nation's thousands of boards are completely innocuous, and nowhere near so romantically suspicious.

People who run boards violently resent it when their systems are seized, and their dozens (or hundreds) of users look on in abject horror. Their rights of free expression are cut short. Their right to associate with other people is infringed. And their privacy is violated as their private electronic mail becomes police property.

Not a soul spoke up to defend the practice of seizing boards. The issue passed in chastened silence. Legal principles aside - (and those principles cannot be settled without laws passed or court precedents) - seizing bulletin boards has become public-relations poison for American computer police.

And anyway, it's not entirely necessary. If you're a cop, you can get 'most everything you need from a pirate board, just by using an inside informant. Plenty of vigilantes - well, concerned citizens - will inform police the moment they see a pirate board hit their area (and will tell the police all about it, in such technical detail, actually, that you kinda wish they'd shut up). They will happily supply police with extensive downloads or printouts. It's impossible to keep this fluid electronic information out of the hands of police. Some people in the electronic community become enraged at the prospect of cops "monitoring" bulletin boards. This does have touchy aspects, as Secret Service people in particular examine bulletin boards with some regularity. But to expect electronic police to be deaf, dumb and blind in regard to this particular medium rather flies in the face of common sense. Police watch television, listen to radio, read newspapers and magazines; why should the new medium of boards be different? Cops can exercise the same access to electronic information as everybody else. As we have seen, quite a few computer police maintain their own bulletin boards, including anti-hacker "sting" boards, which have generally proven quite effective.

As a final clincher, their Mountie friends in Canada (and colleagues in Ireland and Taiwan) don't have First Amendment or American constitutional restrictions, but they do have phone lines, and can call any bulletin board in America whenever they please. The same technological determinants that play into the hands of hackers, phone phreaks and software pirates can play into the hands of police. "Technological determinants" don't have any human allegiances. They're not black or white, or Establishment or Underground, or pro-or-anti anything.

Godwin complained at length about what he called "the Clever Hobbyist hypothesis" - the assumption that the "hacker" you're busting is clearly a technical genius, and must therefore by searched with extreme thoroughness. So: from the law's point of view, why risk missing anything? Take the works. Take the guy's computer. Take his books. Take his notebooks. Take the electronic drafts of his love letters. Take his Walkman. Take his wife's computer. Take his dad's computer. Take his kid sister's computer. Take his employer's computer. Take his compact disks - they might be CD-ROM disks, cunningly disguised as pop music. Take his laser printer - he might have hidden something vital in the printer's 5meg of memory. Take his software manuals and hardware documentation. Take his science-fiction novels and his simulationgaming books. Take his Nintendo Game-Boy and his Pac-Man arcade game. Take his answering machine, take his telephone out of the wall. Take anything remotely suspicious.

Godwin pointed out that most "hackers" are not, in fact, clever genius hobbyists. Quite a few are crooks and grifters who don't have much in the way of technical sophistication; just some rule-of-thumb rip-off techniques. The same goes for most fifteen-year-olds who've downloaded a code-scanning program from a pirate board. There's no real need to seize everything in sight. It doesn't require an entire computer system and ten thousand disks to prove a case in court.

What if the computer is the instrumentality of a crime? someone demanded.

Godwin admitted quietly that the doctrine of seizing the instrumentality of a crime was pretty well established in the American legal system. The meeting broke up. Godwin and Kapor had to leave. Kapor was testifying next morning before the Massachusetts Department Of Public Utility, about ISDN narrowband wide-area networking.

As soon as they were gone, Thackeray seemed elated. She had taken a great risk with this. Her colleagues had not, in fact, torn Kapor and Godwin's heads off. She was very proud of them, and told them so.

"Did you hear what Godwin said about instrumentality of a crime?" she exulted, to nobody in particular. "Wow, that means Mitch isn't going to sue me."


America's computer police are an interesting group. As a social phenomenon they are far more interesting, and far more important, than teenage phone phreaks and computer hackers. First, they're older and wiser; not dizzy hobbyists with leaky morals, but seasoned adult professionals with all the responsibilities of public service. And, unlike hackers, they possess not merely technical power alone, but heavy-duty legal and social authority.

And, very interestingly, they are just as much at sea in cyberspace as everyone else. They are not happy about this. Police are authoritarian by nature, and prefer to obey rules and precedents. (Even those police who secretly enjoy a fast ride in rough territory will soberly disclaim any "cowboy" attitude.) But in cyberspace there are no rules and precedents. They are groundbreaking pioneers, Cyberspace Rangers, whether they like it or not.

In my opinion, any teenager enthralled by computers, fascinated by the ins and outs of computer security, and attracted by the lure of specialized forms of knowledge and power, would do well to forget all about "hacking" and set his (or her) sights on becoming a fed. Feds can trump hackers at almost every single thing hackers do, including gathering intelligence, undercover disguise, trashing, phone-tapping, building dossiers, networking, and infiltrating computer systems - criminal computer systems. Secret Service agents know more about phreaking, coding and carding than most phreaks can find out in years, and when it comes to viruses, break-ins, software bombs and trojan horses, Feds have direct access to red-hot confidential information that is only vague rumor in the underground.

And if it's an impressive public rep you're after, there are few people in the world who can be so chillingly impressive as a well-trained, well-armed United States Secret Service agent. Of course, a few personal sacrifices are necessary in order to obtain that power and knowledge. First, you'll have the galling discipline of belonging to a large organization; but the world of computer crime is still so small, and so amazingly fast-moving, that it will remain spectacularly fluid for years to come. The second sacrifice is that you'll have to give up ripping people off. This is not a great loss. Abstaining from the use of illegal drugs, also necessary, will be a boon to your health.

A career in computer security is not a bad choice for a young man or woman today. The field will almost certainly expand drastically in years to come. If you are a teenager today, by the time you become a professional, the pioneers you have read about in this book will be the grand old men and women of the field, swamped by their many disciples and successors. Of course, some of them, like William P. Wood of the 1865 Secret Service, may well be mangled in the whirring machinery of legal controversy; but by the time you enter the computer crime field, it may have stabilized somewhat, while remaining entertainingly challenging.

But you can't just have a badge. You have to win it. First, there's the federal law enforcement training. And it's hard - it's a challenge. A real challenge - not for wimps and rodents.

Every Secret Service agent must complete gruelling courses at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. (In fact, Secret Service agents are periodically re-trained during their entire careers.) In order to get a glimpse of what this might be like, I myself travelled to FLETC.


The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center is a 1500-acre facility on Georgia's Atlantic coast. It's a milieu of marshgrass, seabirds, damp, clinging sea-breezes, palmettos, mosquitos, and bats. Until 1974, it was a Navy Air Base, and still features a working runway, and some WWII vintage blockhouses and officers' quarters. The Center has since benefitted by a forty-million-dollar retrofit, but there's still enough forest and swamp on the facility for the Border Patrol to put in tracking practice.

As a town, "Glynco" scarcely exists. The nearest real town is Brunswick, a few miles down Highway 17, where I stayed at the aptly named Marshview Holiday Inn. I had Sunday dinner at a seafood restaurant called "Jinright's," where I feasted on deep-fried alligator tail. This local favorite was a heaped basket of bite-sized chunks of white, tender, almost fluffy reptile meat, steaming in a peppered batter crust. Alligator makes a culinary experience that's hard to forget, especially when liberally basted with homemade cocktail sauce from a Jinright squeeze-bottle.

The crowded clientele were tourists, fishermen, local black folks in their Sunday best, and white Georgian locals who all seemed to bear an uncanny resemblance to Georgia humorist Lewis Grizzard. The 2,400 students from 75 federal agencies who make up the FLETC population scarcely seem to make a dent in the low-key local scene. The students look like tourists, and the teachers seem to have taken on much of the relaxed air of the Deep South. My host was Mr. Carlton Fitzpatrick, the Program Coordinator of the Financial Fraud Institute. Carlton Fitzpatrick is a mustached, sinewy, well-tanned Alabama native somewhere near his late forties, with a fondness for chewing tobacco, powerful computers, and salty, down-home homilies. We'd met before, at FCIC in Arizona.

The Financial Fraud Institute is one of the nine divisions at FLETC. Besides Financial Fraud, there's Driver & Marine, Firearms, and Physical Training. These are specialized pursuits. There are also five general training divisions: Basic Training, Operations, Enforcement Techniques, Legal Division, and Behavioral Science.

Somewhere in this curriculum is everything necessary to turn green college graduates into federal agents. First they're given ID cards. Then they get the rather miserable-looking blue coveralls known as "smurf suits." The trainees are assigned a barracks and a cafeteria, and immediately set on FLETC's bone-grinding physical training routine. Besides the obligatory daily jogging - (the trainers run up danger flags beside the track when the humidity rises high enough to threaten heat stroke) - there's the Nautilus machines, the martial arts, the survival skills...

The eighteen federal agencies who maintain onsite academies at FLETC employ a wide variety of specialized law enforcement units, some of them rather arcane. There's Border Patrol, IRS Criminal Investigation Division, Park Service, Fish and Wildlife, Customs, Immigration, Secret Service and the Treasury's uniformed subdivisions... If you're a federal cop and you don't work for the FBI, you train at FLETC. This includes people as apparently obscure as the agents of the Railroad Retirement Board Inspector General. Or the Tennessee Valley Authority Police, who are in fact federal police officers, and can and do arrest criminals on the federal property of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

And then there are the computer crime people. All sorts, all backgrounds. Mr. Fitzpatrick is not jealous of his specialized knowledge. Cops all over, in every branch of service, may feel a need to learn what he can teach. Backgrounds don't matter much. Fitzpatrick himself was originally a Border Patrol veteran, then became a Border Patrol instructor at FLETC. His Spanish is still fluent - but he found himself strangely fascinated when the first computers showed up at the Training Center. Fitzpatrick did have a background in electrical engineering, and though he never considered himself a computer hacker, he somehow found himself writing useful little programs for this new and promising gizmo.

He began looking into the general subject of computers and crime, reading Donn Parker's books and articles, keeping an ear cocked for war stories, useful insights from the field, the up-and-coming people of the local computer crime and high technology units... Soon he got a reputation around FLETC as the resident "computer expert," and that reputation alone brought him more exposure, more experience - until one day he looked around, and sure enough he was a federal computer crime expert.

In fact, this unassuming, genial man may be the federal computer crime expert. There are plenty of very good computer people, and plenty of very good federal investigators, but the area where these worlds of expertise overlap is very slim. And Carlton Fitzpatrick has been right at the center of that since 1985, the first year of the Colluquy, a group which owes much to his influence.

He seems quite at home in his modest, acoustic-tiled office, with its Ansel Adams-style Western photographic art, a gold-framed Senior Instructor Certificate, and a towering bookcase crammed with three-ring binders with ominous titles such as Datapro Reports on Information Security and CFCA Telecom Security '90.

The phone rings every ten minutes; colleagues show up at the door to chat about new developments in locksmithing or to shake their heads over the latest dismal developments in the BCCI global banking scandal.

Carlton Fitzpatrick is a fount of computer crime war-stories, related in an acerbic drawl. He tells me the colorful tale of a hacker caught in California some years back. He'd been raiding systems, typing code without a detectable break, for twenty, twenty-four, thirty-six hours straight. Not just logged on - typing. Investigators were baffled. Nobody could do that. Didn't he have to go to the bathroom? Was it some kind of automatic keyboard-whacking device that could actually type code?

A raid on the suspect's home revealed a situation of astonishing squalor. The hacker turned out to be a Pakistani computer-science student who had flunked out of a California university. He'd gone completely underground as an illegal electronic immigrant, and was selling stolen phoneservice to stay alive. The place was not merely messy and dirty, but in a state of psychotic disorder. Powered by some weird mix of culture shock, computer addiction, and amphetamines, the suspect had in fact been sitting in front of his computer for a day and a half straight, with snacks and drugs at hand on the edge of his desk and a chamber-pot under his chair.

Word about stuff like this gets around in the hacker-tracker community.

Carlton Fitzpatrick takes me for a guided tour by car around the FLETC grounds. One of our first sights is the biggest indoor firing range in the world. There are federal trainees in there, Fitzpatrick assures me politely, blasting away with a wide variety of automatic weapons: Uzis, Glocks, AK-47s... He's willing to take me inside. I tell him I'm sure that's really interesting, but I'd rather see his computers. Carlton Fitzpatrick seems quite surprised and pleased. I'm apparently the first journalist he's ever seen who has turned down the shooting gallery in favor of microchips.

Our next stop is a favorite with touring Congressmen: the three-mile long FLETC driving range. Here trainees of the Driver & Marine Division are taught high-speed pursuit skills, setting and breaking road-blocks, diplomatic security driving for VIP limousines... A favorite FLETC pastime is to strap a passing Senator into the passenger seat beside a Driver & Marine trainer, hit a hundred miles an hour, then take it right into "the skid pan," a section of greased track where two tons of Detroit iron can whip and spin like a hockey puck.

Cars don't fare well at FLETC. First they're rifled again and again for search practice. Then they do 25,000 miles of high-speed pursuit training; they get about seventy miles per set of steel-belted radials. Then it's off to the skid pan, where sometimes they roll and tumble headlong in the grease. When they're sufficiently grease-stained, dented, and creaky, they're sent to the roadblock unit, where they're battered without pity. And finally then they're sacrificed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, whose trainees learn the ins and outs of car-bomb work by blowing them into smoking wreckage.

There's a railroad box-car on the FLETC grounds, and a large grounded boat, and a propless plane; all training-grounds for searches. The plane sits forlornly on a patch of weedy tarmac next to an eerie blockhouse known as the "ninja compound," where anti-terrorism specialists practice hostage rescues. As I gaze on this creepy paragon of modern low-intensity warfare, my nerves are jangled by a sudden staccato outburst of automatic weapons fire, somewhere in the woods to my right. "Nine millimeter," Fitzpatrick judges calmly.

Even the eldritch ninja compound pales somewhat compared to the truly surreal area known as "the raid-houses." This is a street lined on both sides with nondescript concrete-block houses with flat pebbled roofs. They were once officers' quarters. Now they are training grounds. The first one to our left, Fitzpatrick tells me, has been specially adapted for computer search-and-seizure practice. Inside it has been wired for video from top to bottom, with eighteen pan-and-tilt remotely controlled videocams mounted on walls and in corners. Every movement of the trainee agent is recorded live by teachers, for later taped analysis. Wasted movements, hesitations, possibly lethal tactical mistakes - all are gone over in detail.

Perhaps the weirdest single aspect of this building is its front door, scarred and scuffed all along the bottom, from the repeated impact, day after day, of federal shoe-leather.

Down at the far end of the row of raid-houses some people are practicing a murder. We drive by slowly as some very young and rather nervous looking federal trainees interview a heavyset bald man on the raid-house lawn. Dealing with murder takes a lot of practice; first you have to learn to control your own instinctive disgust and panic, then you have to learn to control the reactions of a nerveshredded crowd of civilians, some of whom may have just lost a loved one, some of whom may be murderers - quite possibly both at once.

A dummy plays the corpse. The roles of the bereaved, the morbidly curious, and the homicidal are played, for pay, by local Georgians: waitresses, musicians, most anybody who needs to moonlight and can learn a script. These people, some of whom are FLETC regulars year after year, must surely have one of the strangest jobs in the world.

Something about the scene: "normal" people in a weird situation, standing around talking in bright Georgia sunshine, unsuccessfully pretending that something dreadful has gone on, while a dummy lies inside on faked bloodstains... While behind this weird masquerade, like a nested set of Russian dolls, are grim future realities of real death, real violence, real murders of real people, that these young agents will really investigate, many times during their careers... Over and over... Will those anticipated murders look like this, feel like this - not as "real" as these amateur actors are trying to make it seem, but both as "real," and as numbingly unreal, as watching fake people standing around on a fake lawn? Something about this scene unhinges me. It seems nightmarish to me, Kafkaesque. I simply don't know how to take it; my head is turned around; I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or just shudder.

When the tour is over, Carlton Fitzpatrick and I talk about computers. For the first time cyberspace seems like quite a comfortable place. It seems very real to me suddenly, a place where I know what I'm talking about, a place I'm used to. It's real. "Real." Whatever.

Carlton Fitzpatrick is the only person I've met in cyberspace circles who is happy with his present equipment. He's got a 5 Meg RAM PC with a 112 meg hard disk; a 660 meg's on the way. He's got a Compaq 386 desktop, and a Zenith 386 laptop with 120 meg. Down the hall is a NEC Multi-Sync 2A with a CD-ROM drive and a 9600 baud modem with four com-lines. There's a training minicomputer, and a 10-meg local mini just for the Center, and a lab-full of student PC clones and half-a-dozen Macs or so. There's a Data General MV 2500 with 8 meg on board and a 370 meg disk.

Fitzpatrick plans to run a UNIX board on the Data General when he's finished beta-testing the software for it, which he wrote himself. It'll have E-mail features, massive files on all manner of computer crime and investigation procedures, and will follow the computer-security specifics of the Department of Defense "Orange Book." He thinks it will be the biggest BBS in the federal government. Will it have Phrack on it? I ask wryly.

Sure, he tells me. Phrack, TAP, Computer Underground Digest, all that stuff. With proper disclaimers, of course.

I ask him if he plans to be the sysop. Running a system that size is very time-consuming, and Fitzpatrick teaches two three-hour courses every day.

No, he says seriously, FLETC has to get its money worth out of the instructors. He thinks he can get a local volunteer to do it, a high-school student. He says a bit more, something I think about an Eagle Scout law enforcement liaison program, but my mind has rocketed off in disbelief.

"You're going to put a teenager in charge of a federal security BBS?" I'm speechless. It hasn't escaped my notice that the FLETC Financial Fraud Institute is the ultimate"Uhm, Carlton," I babble, "I'm sure he's a really nice kid and all, but that's a terrible temptation to set in front of somebody who's, you know, into computers and just starting out..."

"Yeah," he says, "that did occur to me." For the first time I begin to suspect that he's pulling my leg.

He seems proudest when he shows me an ongoing project called JICC, Joint Intelligence Control Council. It's based on the services provided by EPIC, the El Paso Intelligence Center, which supplies data and intelligence to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, and the state police of the four southern border states. Certain EPIC files can now be accessed by drug-enforcement police of Central America, South America and the Caribbean, who can also trade information among themselves. Using a telecom program called "White Hat," written by two brothers named Lopez from the Dominican Republic, police can now network internationally on inexpensive PCs. Carlton Fitzpatrick is teaching a class of drug-war agents from the Third World, and he's very proud of their progress. Perhaps soon the sophisticated smuggling networks of the Medellin Cartel will be matched by a sophisticated computer network of the Medellin Cartel's sworn enemies. They'll track boats, track contraband, track the international drug-lords who now leap over borders with great ease, defeating the police through the clever use of fragmented national jurisdictions.

JICC and EPIC must remain beyond the scope of this book. They seem to me to be very large topics fraught with complications that I am not fit to judge. I do know, however, that the international, computer-assisted networking of police, across national boundaries, is something that Carlton Fitzpatrick considers very important, a harbinger of a desirable future. I also know that networks by their nature ignore physical boundaries. And I also know that where you put communications you put a community, and that when those communities become self-aware they will fight to preserve themselves and to expand their influence. I make no judgements whether this is good or bad. It's just cyberspace; it's just the way things are.

I asked Carlton Fitzpatrick what advice he would have for a twenty-year-old who wanted to shine someday in the world of electronic law enforcement.

He told me that the number one rule was simply not to be scared of computers. You don't need to be an obsessive "computer weenie," but you mustn't be buffaloed just because some machine looks fancy. The advantages computers give smart crooks are matched by the advantages they give smart cops. Cops in the future will have to enforce the law "with their heads, not their holsters." Today you can make good cases without ever leaving your office. In the future, cops who resist the computer revolution will never get far beyond walking a beat.

I asked Carlton Fitzpatrick if he had some single message for the public; some single thing that he would most like the American public to know about his work.

He thought about it while. "Yes," he said finally. "Tell me the rules, and I'll teach those rules!" He looked me straight in the eye. "I do the best that I can."

Literary Freeware: Not for Commercial Use

Copyright (c) 1992, 1994 Bruce Sterling -

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Copyright (c) 1992, 1994 Bruce Sterling -

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