Underground: Chapter 11 -- The Prisoner's Dilemma

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Harrisburg Oh Harrisburg The plant is melting down The people out in Harrisbug Are getting out of town And when this stuff gets in You cannot get it out

-- from `Harrisburg', on Red Sails in the Sunset by Midnight Oil

Anthrax thought he would never get caught. But in some strange way, he also wanted to get caught. When he thought about being busted, he found himself filled with a strange emotion--impatience. Bring on the impending doom and be done with it. Or perhaps it was frustration at how inept his opponents seemed to be. They kept losing his trail and he was impatient with their incompetence. It was more fun outwitting a worthy opponent.

Perhaps he didn't really want to be caught so much as tracked. Anthrax liked the idea of the police tracking him, of the system administrators pursuing him. He liked to follow the trail of their investigations through other people's mail. He especially liked being on-line, watching them trying to figure out where he was coming from. He would cleverly take control of their computers in ways they couldn't see. He watched every character they typed, every spelling error, every mistyped command, each twist and turn taken in the vain hope of catching him.

He hadn't been caught back in early 1991, when it seemed everyone was after him. In fact Anthrax nearly gave up hacking and phreaking completely in that year after what he later called `The Fear of God' speech.

Late at night, on a university computer system, he bumped into another hacker. It wasn't an entirely uncommon experience. Once in a while, hackers recognised another of their kind. Strange connections to strange places in the middle of the night. Inconsistencies in process names and sizes. The clues were visible for those who knew how to find them.

The two hackers danced around each other, trying to determine who the other was without giving away too much information. Finally the mystery hacker asked Anthrax, `Are you a disease which affects sheep?'

Anthrax typed the simple answer back. `Yes.'

The other hacker revealed himself as Prime Suspect, one of the International Subversives. Anthrax recognised the name. He had seen Prime Suspect around on the BBSes, had read his postings. Before Anthrax could get started on a friendly chat, the IS hacker jumped in with an urgent warning.

He had unearthed emails showing the Feds were closing in on Anthrax. The mail, obtained from system admins at Miden Pacific, described the systems Anthrax had been visiting. It showed the phone connections he had been using to get to them, some of which Telecom had traced back to his phone. One of the admins had written, `We're on to him. I feel really bad. He's seventeen years old and they are going to bust him and ruin his life.' Anthrax felt a cold chill run down his spine.

Prime Suspect continued with the story. When he first came across the email, he thought it referred to himself. The two hackers were the same age and had evidently been breaking into the same systems. Prime Suspect had freaked out over the mail. He took it back to the other two IS hackers, and they talked it through. Most of the description fitted, but a few of the details didn't seem to make sense. Prime Suspect wasn't calling from a country exchange. The more they worked it through, the clearer it became that the email must have been referring to someone else. They ran through the list of other options and Anthrax's name came up as a possibility. The IS hackers had all seen him around a few systems and BBSes. Trax had even spoken to him once on a conference call with another phreaker. They pieced together what they knew of him and the picture fitted. The AFP were onto Anthrax and they seemed to know a lot about him. They had traced his telephone connection back to his house. They knew his age, which implied they knew his name. The phone bills were in his parents' names, so there may have been some personal surveillance of him. The Feds were so close they were all but treading on his heels. The IS hackers had been keeping an eye out for him, to warn him, but this was the first time they had found him.

Anthrax thanked Prime Suspect and got out of the system. He sat frozen in the night stillness. It was one thing to contemplate getting caught, to carry mixed emotions on the hypothetical situation. It was another to have the real prospect staring you in the face. In the morning, he gathered up all his hacking papers, notes, manuals--everything. Three trunks' worth of material. He carried it all to the back garden, lit a bonfire and watched it burn. He vowed to give up hacking forever.

And he did give it up, for a time. But a few months later he somehow found himself back in front of his computer screen, with his modem purring. It was so tempting, so hard to let go. The police had never shown up. Months had come and gone, still nothing. Prime Suspect must have been wrong. Perhaps the AFP were after another hacker entirely.

Then, in October 1991, the AFP busted Prime Suspect, Mendax and Trax. But Anthrax continued to hack, mostly on his own as usual, for another two years. He reminded himself that the IS hackers worked in a team. If the police hadn't nailed him when they busted the others, surely they would never find him now. Further, he had become more skilled as a hacker, better at covering his tracks, less likely to draw attention to himself. He had other rationalisations too. The town where he lived was so far away, the police would never bother travelling all the way into the bush. The elusive Anthrax would remain at large forever, the unvanquished Ned Kelly of the computer underground.

Mundane matters were on Anthrax's mind on the morning of 14 July 1994. The removalists were due to arrive to take things from the half-empty apartment he had shared with another student. His room-mate had already departed and the place was a clutter of boxes stuffed with clothes, tapes and books.

Anthrax sat in bed half-asleep, half-watching the `Today' show when he heard the sound of a large vehicle pulling up outside. He looked out the window expecting to see the removalists. What he saw instead was at least four men in casual clothes running toward the house.

They were a little too enthusiastic for removalists and they split up before getting to the door, with two men forking off toward opposite sides of the building. One headed for the car port. Another dove around the other side of the building. A third banged on the front door. Anthrax shook himself awake.

The short, stocky guy at the front door was a worry. He had puffy, longish hair and was wearing a sweatshirt and acid-wash jeans so tight you could count the change in his back pocket. Bad ideas raced through Anthrax's head. It looked like a home invasion. Thugs were going to break into his home, tie him up and terrorise him before stealing all his valuables.

`Open up. Open up,' the stocky one shouted, flashing a police badge.

Stunned, and still uncomprehending, Anthrax opened the door. `Do you know who WE are?' the stocky one asked him.

Anthrax looked confused. No. Not sure.

`The Australian Federal Police.' The cop proceeded to read out the search warrant.

What happened from this point forward is a matter of some debate. What is fact is that the events of the raid and what followed formed the basis of a formal complaint by Anthrax to the Office of the Ombudsman and an internal investigation within the AFP. The following is simply Anthrax's account of how it happened.

The stocky one barked at Anthrax, `Where's your computer?'

`What computer?' Anthrax looked blankly at the officer. He didn't have a computer at his apartment. He used the uni's machines or friend's computers.

`Your computer. Where is it? Which one of your friends has it?'

`No-one has it. I don't own one.'

`Well, when you decide to tell us where it is, you let us know.'

Yeah. Right. If Anthrax did have a hidden computer at uni, revealing its location wasn't top of the must-do list.

The police pawed through his personal letters, quizzed Anthrax about them. Who wrote this letter? Is he in the computer underground? What's his address?

Anthrax said `no comment' more times than he could count. He saw a few police moving into his bedroom and decided it was time to watch them closely, make sure nothing was planted. He stood up to follow them in and observe the search when one of the cops stopped him. Anthrax told them he wanted a lawyer. One of the police looked on with disapproval.

`You must be guilty,' he told Anthrax. `Only guilty people ask for lawyers. And here I was feeling sorry for you.'

Then one of the other officers dropped the bomb. `You know,' he began casually, `we're also raiding your parents' house ...'

Anthrax freaked out. His mum would be hysterical. He asked to call his mother on his mobile, the only phone then working in the apartment. The police refused to let him touch his mobile. Then he asked to call her from the pay phone across the street. The police refused again. One of the officers, a tall, lanky cop, recognised a leverage point if ever he saw one. He spread the guilt on thick.

`Your poor sick mum. How could you do this to your poor sick mum? We're going to have to take her to Melbourne for questioning, maybe even to charge her, arrest her, take her to jail. You make me sick. I feel sorry for a mother having a son like you who is going to cause her all this trouble.'

From that moment on, the tall officer took every opportunity to talk about Anthrax's `poor sick mum'. He wouldn't let up. Not that he probably knew the first thing about scleroderma, the creeping fatal disease which affected her. Anthrax often thought about the pain his mother was in as the disease worked its way from her extremities to her internal organs. Scleroderma toughened the skin on the fingers and feet, but made them overly sensitive, particularly to changes in weather. It typically affected women native to hot climates who moved to colder environments.

Anthrax's mobile rang. His mother. It had to be. The police wouldn't let him answer it.

The tall officer picked up the call, then turned to the stocky cop and said in a mocking Indian accent, `It is some woman with an Indian accent'. Anthrax felt like jumping out of his chair and grabbing the phone. He felt like doing some other things too, things that would have undoubtedly landed him in prison then and there.

The stocky cop nodded to the tall one, who handed the mobile to Anthrax.

At first, he couldn't make sense of what his mother was saying. She was a terrified mess. Anthrax tried to calm her down. Then she tried to comfort him.

`Don't worry. It will be all right,' she said it, over and over. No matter what Anthrax said, she repeated that phrase, like a chant. In trying to console him, she was actually calming herself. Anthrax listened to her trying to impose order on the chaos around her. He could hear noises in the background and he guessed it was the police rummaging through her home. Suddenly, she said she had to go and hung up.

Anthrax handed the phone back to the police and sat with his head in his hands. What a wretched situation. He couldn't believe this was happening to him. How could the police seriously consider taking his mother to Melbourne for questioning? True, he phreaked from her home office phone, but she had no idea how to hack or phreak. As for charging his mother, that would just about kill her. In her mental and physical condition, she would simply collapse, maybe never to get up again.

He didn't have many options. One of the cops was sealing up his mobile phone in a clear plastic bag and labelling it. It was physically impossible for him to call a lawyer, since the police wouldn't let him use the mobile or go to a pay phone. They harangued him about coming to Melbourne for a police interview.

`It is your best interest to cooperate,' one of the cops told him. `It would be in your best interest to come with us now.'

Anthrax pondered that line for a moment, considered how ludicrous it sounded coming from a cop. Such a bald-faced lie told so matter-of-factly. It would have been humorous if the situation with his mother hadn't been so awful. He agreed to an interview with the police, but it would have to be done on another day.

The cops wanted to search his car. Anthrax didn't like it, but there was nothing incriminating in the car anyway. As he walked outside in the winter morning, one of the cops looked down at Anthrax's feet, which were bare in accordance with the Muslim custom of removing shoes in the house. The cop asked if he was cold.

The other cop answered for Anthrax. `No. The fungus keeps them warm.'

Anthrax swallowed his anger. He was used to racism, and plenty of it, especially from cops. But this was over the top.

In the town where he attended uni, everyone thought he was Aboriginal. There were only two races in that country town--white and Aboriginal. Indian, Pakistani, Malay, Burmese, Sri Lankan--it didn't matter. They were all Aboriginal, and were treated accordingly.

Once when he was talking on the pay phone across from his house, the police pulled up and asked him what he was doing there. Talking on the phone, he told them. It was pretty obvious. They asked for identification, made him empty his pockets, which contained his small mobile phone. They told him his mobile must be stolen, took it from him and ran a check on the serial number. Fifteen minutes and many more accusations later, they finally let him go with the flimsiest of apologies. `Well, you understand,' one cop said. `We don't see many of your type around here.'

Yeah. Anthrax understood. It looked pretty suspicious, a dark-skinned boy using a public telephone. Very suss indeed.

In fact, Anthrax had the last laugh. He had been on a phreaked call to Canada at the time and he hadn't bothered to hang up when the cops arrived. Just told the other phreakers to hang on. After the police left, he picked up the conversation where he left off.

Incidents like that taught him that sometimes the better path was to toy with the cops. Let them play their little games. Pretend to be manipulated by them. Laugh at them silently and give them nothing. So he appeared to ignore the fungus comment and led the cops to his car. They found nothing.

When the police finally packed up to leave, one of them handed Anthrax a business card with the AFP's phone number.

`Call us to arrange an interview time,' he said.

`Sure,' Anthrax replied as he shut the door.

Anthrax keep putting the police off. Every time they called hassling him for an interview, he said he was busy. But when they began ringing up his mum, he found himself in a quandary. They were threatening and yet reassuring to his mother all at the same time and spoke politely to her, even apologetically.

`As bad as it sounds,' one of them said, `we're going to have to charge you with things Anthrax has done, hacking, phreaking, etc. if he doesn't cooperate with us. We know it sounds funny, but we're within our rights to do that. In fact that is what the law dictates because the phone is in your name.'

He followed this with the well-worn `it's in your son's best interest to cooperate' line, delivered with cooing persuasion.

Anthrax wondered why there was no mention of charging his father, whose name appeared on the house's main telephone number. That line also carried some illegal calls.

His mother worried. She asked her son to cooperate with the police. Anthrax felt he had to protect his mother and finally agreed to a police interview after his uni exams. The only reason he did so was because of the police threat to charge his mother. He was sure that if they dragged his mother through court, her health would deteriorate and lead to an early death.

Anthrax's father picked him up from uni on a fine November day and drove down to Melbourne. His mother had insisted that he attend the interview, since he knew all about the law and police. Anthrax didn't mind having him along: he figured a witness might prevent any use of police muscle.

During the ride to the city, Anthrax talked about how he would handle the interview. The good news was that the AFP had said they wanted to interview him about his phreaking, not his hacking. He went to the interview understanding they would only be discussing his `recent stuff'--the phreaking. He had two possible approaches to the interview. He could come clean and admit everything, as his first lawyer had advised. Or he could pretend to cooperate and be evasive, which was what his instincts told him to do.

His father jumped all over the second option. `You have to cooperate fully. They will know if you are lying. They are trained to pick out lies. Tell them everything and they will go easier on you.' Law and order all the way.

`Who do they think they are anyway? The pigs.' Anthrax looked away, disgusted at the thought of police harassing people like his mother.

`Don't call them pigs,' his father snapped. `They are police officers. If you are ever in trouble, they are the first people you are ever going to call.'

`Oh yeah. What kind of trouble am I going to be in that the first people I call are the AFP?' Anthrax replied.

Anthrax would put up with his father coming along so long as he kept his mouth shut during the interview. He certainly wasn't there for personal support. They had a distant relationship at best. When his father began working in the town where Anthrax now lived and studied, his mother had tried to patch things between them. She suggested his father take Anthrax out for dinner once a week, to smooth things over. Develop a relationship. They had dinner a handful of times and Anthrax listened to his father's lectures. Admit you were wrong. Cooperate with the police. Get your life together. Own up to it all. Grow up. Be responsible. Stop being so useless. Stop being so stupid.

The lectures were a bit rich, Anthrax thought, considering that his father had benefited from Anthrax's hacking skills. When he discovered Anthrax had got into a huge news clipping database, he asked the boy to pull up every article containing the word `prison'. Then he had him search for articles on discipline. The searches should have cost a fortune, probably thousands of dollars. But his father didn't pay a cent, thanks to Anthrax. And he didn't spend much time lecturing Anthrax on the evils of hacking then.

When they arrived at AFP headquarters, Anthrax made a point of putting his feet up on the leather couch in the reception area and opened a can of Coke he had brought along. His father got upset.

`Get your feet off that seat. You shouldn't have brought that can of Coke. It doesn't look very professional.'

`Hey, I'm not going for a job interview here,' Anthrax responded.

Constable Andrew Sexton, a redhead sporting two earrings, came up to Anthrax and his father and took them upstairs for coffee. Detective Sergeant Ken Day, head of the Computer Crime Unit, was in a meeting, Sexton said, so the interview would be delayed a little.

Anthrax's father and Sexton found they shared some interests in law enforcement. They discussed the problems associated with rehabilitation and prisoner discipline. Joked with each other. Laughed. Talked about `young Anthrax'. Young Anthrax did this. Young Anthrax did that.

Young Anthrax felt sick. Watching his own father cosying up to the enemy, talking as if he wasn't even there.

When Sexton went to check on whether Day had finished his meeting, Anthrax's father growled, `Wipe that look of contempt off your face, young man. You are going to get nowhere in this world if you show that kind of attitude, they are going to come down on you like a ton of bricks.'

Anthrax didn't know what to say. Why should he treat these people with any respect after the way they threatened his mother?

The interview room was small but very full. A dozen or more boxes, all filled with labelled print-outs.

Sexton began the interview. `Taped record of interview conducted at Australian Federal Police Headquarters, 383 Latrobe Street Melbourne on 29 November 1994.' He reeled off the names of the people present and asked each to introduce himself for voice recognition.

`As I have already stated, Detective Sergeant Day and I are making enquiries into your alleged involvement into the manipulation of private automated branch exchanges via Telecom 008 numbers in order to obtain free phone calls nationally and internationally. Do you clearly understand this allegation?'


Sexton continued with the necessary, and important, preliminaries. Did Anthrax understand that he was not obliged to answer any questions? That he had the right to communicate with a lawyer? That he had attended the interview of his own free will? That he was free to leave at any time?

Yes, Anthrax said in answer to each question.

Sexton then ploughed through a few more standard procedures before he finally got to the meat of the issue--telephones. He fished around in one of the many boxes and pulled out a mobile phone. Anthrax confirmed that it was his phone.

`Was that the phone that you used to call the 008 numbers and subsequent connections?' Sexton asked.


`Contained in that phone is a number of pre-set numbers. Do you agree?'


`I went to the trouble of extracting those records from it.' Sexton looked pleased with himself for hacking Anthrax's speed-dial numbers from the mobile. `Number 22 is of some interest to myself. It comes up as Aaron. Could that be the person you referred to before as Aaron in South Australia?'

`Yes, but he is always moving house. He is a hard person to track down.'

Sexton went through a few more numbers, most of which Anthrax hedged. He asked Anthrax questions about his manipulation of the phone system, particularly about the way he made free calls overseas using Australian companies' 008 numbers.

When Anthrax had patiently explained how it all worked, Sexton went through some more speed-dial numbers.

`Number 43. Do you recognise that one?'

`That's the Swedish Party Line.'

`What about these other numbers? Such as 78? And 30?'

`I'm not sure. I couldn't say what any of these are. It's been so long,' Anthrax paused, sensing the pressure from the other side of the table. `These ones here, they are numbers in my town. But I don't know who. Very often, 'cause I don't have any pen and paper with me, I just plug a number into the phone.'

Sexton looked unhappy. He decided to go in a little harder. `I'm going to be pretty blunt. So far you have admitted to the 008s but I think you are understating your knowledge and your experience when it comes to these sort of offences.' He caught himself. `Not offences. But your involvement in all of this ... I think you have got a little bit more ... I'm not saying you are lying, don't get me wrong, but you tend to be pulling yourself away from how far you were really into this. And how far everyone looked up to you.'

There was the gauntlet, thrown down on the table. Anthrax picked it up.

`They looked up to me? That was just a perception. To be honest, I don't know that much. I couldn't tell you anything about telephone exchanges or anything like that. In the past, I guess the reason they might look up to me in the sense of a leader is because I was doing this, as you are probably aware, quite a bit in the past, and subsequently built up a reputation. Since then I decided I wouldn't do it again.'

`Since this?' Sexton was quick off the mark.

`No. Before. I just said, "I don't want anything to do with this any more. It's just stupid". When I broke up with my girlfriend ... I just got dragged into it again. I'm not trying to say that I am any less responsible for any of this but I will say I didn't originate any of these 008s. They were all scanned by other people. But I made calls and admittedly I did a lot of stupid things.'

But Sexton was like a dog with a bone.

`I just felt that you were tending to ... I don't know if it's because your dad's here or ... I have read stuff that "Anthrax was a legend when it came to this, and he was a scanner, and he was the man to talk to about X.25, Tymnet, hacking, Unix. The whole kit and kaboodle".'

Anthrax didn't take the bait. Cops always try that line. Play on a hacker's ego, get them to brag. It was so transparent.

`It's not true,' he answered. `I know nothing about ... I can't program. I have an Amiga with one meg of memory. I have no formal background in computers whatsoever.'

That part was definitely true. Everything was self-taught. Well, almost everything. He did take one programming class at uni, but he failed it. He went to the library to do extra research, used in his final project for the course. Most of his classmates wrote simple 200-line programs with few functions; his ran to 500 lines and had lots of special functions. But the lecturer flunked him. She told him, `The functions in your program were not taught in this course'.

Sexton asked Anthrax if he was into carding, which he denied emphatically. Then Sexton headed back into scanning. How much had Anthrax done? Had he given scanned numbers to other hackers? Anthrax was evasive, and both cops were getting impatient.

`What I am trying to get at is that I believe that, through your scanning, you are helping other people break the law by promoting this sort of thing.' Sexton had shown his hand.

`No more than a telephone directory would be assisting someone, because it's really just a list. I didn't actually break anything. I just looked at it.'

`These voice mailbox systems obviously belong to people. What would you do when you found a VMB?'

`Just play with it. Give it to someone and say, "Have a look at this. It is interesting," or whatever.'

`When you say play with it you would break the code out to the VMB?'

`No. Just have a look around. I'm not very good at breaking VMBs.'

Sexton tried a different tack. `What are 1-900 numbers? On the back of that document there is a 1-900 number. What are they generally for?'

Easy question. `In America they like cost $10 a minute. You can ring them up, I think, and get all sorts of information, party lines, etc.'

`It's a conference type of call?'


`Here is another document, contained in a clear plastic sleeve labelled AS/AB/S/1. Is this a scan? Do you recognise your handwriting?'

`Yes, it's in my handwriting. Once again it's the same sort of scan. It's just dialling some commercial numbers and noting them.'

`And once you found something, what would you do with it?'

Anthrax had no intention of being painted as some sort of ringleader of a scanning gang. He was a sociable loner, not a part of a team.

`I'd just look at it, like in the case of this one here--630. I just punched in a few numbers and it said that 113 diverts somewhere, 115 says goodbye, etc. I'd just do that and I probably never came back to it again.'

`And you believe that if I pick up the telephone book, I would get all this information?'

`No. It's just a list of numbers in the same sense that a telephone book is.'

`What about a 1-800 number?'

`That is the same as a 0014.'

`If you rang a 1-800 number, where would you go?'

Anthrax wondered if the Computer Crimes Unit gained most of its technical knowledge from interviews with hackers.

`You can either do 0014 or you can do 1-800. It's just the same.'

`Is it Canada--0014?'

`It's everywhere.' Oops. Don't sound too cocky. `Isn't it?'

`No, I'm not familiar.' Which is just what Anthrax was thinking.

Sexton moved on. `On the back of that document there is more type scans ...'

`It's all just the same thing. Just take a note of what is there. In this case, box 544 belongs to this woman ...'

`So, once again, you just release this type of information on the bridge?'

`Not all of it. Most of it I would probably keep to myself and never look at it again. I was bored. Is it illegal to scan?'

`I'm not saying it's illegal. I'm just trying to show that you were really into this. I'm building a picture and I am gradually getting to a point and I'm going to build a picture to show that for a while there ...' Sexton then interrupted himself and veered down a less confrontational course. `I'm not saying you are doing it now, but back then, when all these offences occurred, you were really into scanning telephone systems, be it voice mailboxes ... I'm not saying you found the 008s but you ... anything to bugger up Telecom. You were really getting into it and you were helping other people.'

Anthrax took offence. `The motivation for me doing it wasn't to bugger up Telecom.'

Sexton backpedalled. `Perhaps ... probably a poor choice of words.'

He began pressing forward on the subject of hacking, something the police had not said they were going to be discussing. Anthrax felt a little unnerved, even rattled.

Day asked if Anthrax wanted a break.

`No,' he answered. `I just want to get it over and done with, if that's OK. I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to say "no comment". I'm going to admit to everything 'cause, based on what I have been told, it's in my best interest to do so.'

The police paused. They didn't seem to like that last comment much. Day tried to clear things up.

`Before we go any further, based on what you have been told, it is in your best interests to tell the truth. Was it any member of the AFP that told you this?'


`Who?' Day threw the question out quickly.

Anthrax couldn't remember their names. `The ones who came to my house. I think Andrew also said it to me,' he said, nodding in the direction of the red-headed constable.

Why were the cops getting so uncomfortable all of a sudden? It was no secret that they had told both Anthrax and his mother repeatedly that it was in his best interest to agree to an interview.

Day leaned forward, peered at Anthrax and asked, `What did you interpret that to mean?'

`That if I don't tell the truth, if I say "no comment" and don't cooperate, that it is going to be ... it will mean that you will go after me with ...' Anthrax grasped for the right words, but he felt tongue-tied, `with ... more force, I guess.'

Both officers stiffened visibly.

Day came back again. `Do you feel that an unfair inducement has been placed on you as a result of that?'

`In what sense?' The question was genuine.

`You have made the comment and it has now been recorded and I have to clear it up. Do you feel like, that a deal has been offered to you at any stage?'

A deal? Anthrax thought about it. It wasn't a deal as in `Talk to us now and we will make sure you don't go to jail'. Or `Talk now and we won't beat you with a rubber hose'.

`No,' he answered.

`Do you feel that as a result of that being said that you have been pressured to come forward today and tell the truth?'

Ah, that sort of deal. Well, of course.

`Yes, I have been pressured,' Anthrax answered. The two police officers looked stunned. Anthrax paused, concerned about the growing feeling of disapproval in the room. `Indirectly,' he added quickly, almost apologetically.

For a brief moment, Anthrax just didn't care. About the police. About his father. About the pressure. He would tell the truth. He decided to explain the situation as he saw it.

`Because since they came to my house, they emphasised the fact that if I didn't come for an interview, that they would then charge my mother and, as my mother is very sick, I am not prepared to put her through that.'

The police looked at each other. The shock waves reverberated around the room. The AFP clearly hadn't bargained on this coming out in the interview tape. But what he said about his mother being threatened was the truth, so let it be on the record with everything else.

Ken Day caught his breath, `So you are saying that you have now been ...' he cut himself off ... `that you are not here voluntarily?'

Anthrax thought about it. What did `voluntarily' mean? The police didn't cuff him to a chair and tell him he couldn't leave until he talked. They didn't beat him around the head with a baton. They offered him a choice: talk or inflict the police on his ailing mother. Not a palatable choice, but a choice nonetheless. He chose to talk to protect his mother.

`I am here voluntarily,' he answered.

`That is not what you have said. What you have just said is that pressure has been placed on you and that you have had to come in here and answer the questions. Otherwise certain actions would take place. That does not mean you are here voluntarily.'

The police must have realised they were on very thin ice and Anthrax felt pressure growing in the room. The cops pushed. His father did not looked pleased.

`I was going to come anyway,' Anthrax answered, again almost apologetically. Walk the tightrope, he thought. Don't get them too mad or they will charge my mother. `You can talk to the people who carried out the warrant. All along, I said to them I would come in for an interview. Whatever my motivations are, I don't think should matter. I am going to tell you the truth.'

`It does matter,' Day responded, `because at the beginning of the interview it was stated--do you agree--that you have come in here voluntarily?'

`I have. No-one has forced me.'

Anthrax felt exasperated. The room was getting stuffy. He wanted to finish this thing and get out of there. So much pressure.

`And is anyone forcing you to make the answers you have given here today?' Day tried again.

`No individuals are forcing me, no.' There. You have what you want. Now get on with it and let's get out of here.

`You have to tell the truth. Is that what you are saying?' The police would not leave the issue be.

`I want to tell the truth. As well.' The key words there were `as well'. Anthrax thought, I want to and I have to.

`It's the circumstances that are forcing this upon you, not an individual?'

`No.' Of course it was the circumstances. Never mind that the police created the circumstance.

Anthrax felt as if the police were just toying with him. He knew and they knew they would go after his mother if this interview wasn't to their liking. Visions of his frail mother being hauled out of her house by the AFP flashed through his mind. Anthrax felt sweaty and hot. Just get on with it. Whatever makes them happy, just agree to it in order to get out of this crowded room.

`So, would it be fair to summarise it, really, to say that perhaps ... of your activity before the police arrived at your premises, that is what is forcing you?'

What was this cop talking about? His `activity' forcing him? Anthrax felt confused. The interview had already gone on some time. The cops had such obscure ways of asking things. The room was oppressively small.

Day pressed on with the question, `The fact that you could see you had broken the law, and that is what is forcing you to come forward here today and tell the truth?'

Yeah. Whatever you want. `OK,' Anthrax started to answer, `That is a fair assump--'

Day cut him off. `I just wanted to clarify that because the interpretation I immediately got from that was that we, or members of the AFP, had unfairly and unjustly forced you to come in here today, and that is not the case?'

Define `unfairly'. Define `unjustly'. Anthrax thought it was unfair the cops might charge his mother. But they told her it was perfectly legal to do so. Anthrax felt light-headed. All these thoughts whirring around inside his head.

`No, that is not the case. I'm sorry for ...' Be humble. Get out of that room faster.

`No, that is OK. If that is what you believe, say it. I have no problems with that. I just like to have it clarified. Remember, other people might listen to this tape and they will draw inferences and opinions from it. At any point where I think there is an ambiguity, I will ask for clarification. Do you understand that?'

`Yes. I understand.' Anthrax couldn't really focus on what Day was saying. He was feeling very distressed and just wanted to finish the interview.

The cops finally moved on, but the new topic was almost as unpleasant. Day began probing about Anthrax's earlier hacking career--the one he had no intention of talking about. Anthrax began to feel a bit better. He agreed to talk to the police about recent phreaking activities, not hacking matters. Indeed, he had repeatedly told them that topic was not on his agenda. He felt like he was standing on firmer ground.

After being politely stonewalled, Day circled around and tried again. `OK. I will give you another allegation; that you have unlawfully accessed computer systems in Australia and the United States. In the US, you specifically targeted military computer systems. Do you understand that allegation?'

`I understand that. I wouldn't like to comment on it.' No, sir. No way.

Day tried a new tack. `I will further allege that you did work with a person known as Mendax.'

What on earth was Day talking about? Anthrax had heard of Mendax, but they had never worked together. He thought the cops must not have very good informants.

`No. That is not true. I know no-one of that name.' Not strictly true, but true enough.

`Well, if he was to turn around to me and say that you were doing all this hacking, he would be lying, would he?'

Oh wonderful. Some other hacker was crapping on to the cops with lies about how he and Anthrax had worked together. That was exactly why Anthrax didn't work in a group. He had plenty of real allegations to fend off. He didn't need imaginary ones too.

`Most certainly would. Unless he goes by some other name, I know no-one by that name, Mendax.' Kill that off quick.

In fact Mendax had not ratted on Anthrax at all. That was just a technique the police used.

`You don't wish to comment on the fact that you have hacked into other computer systems and military systems?' If there was one thing Anthrax could say for Day, it was that he was persistent.

`No. I would prefer not to comment on any of that. This is the advice I have received: not to comment on anything unrelated to the topic that I was told I would be talking about when I came down here.'

`All right, well are you going to answer any questions in relation to unlawfully accessing any computer systems?'

`Based upon the legal advice that I received, I choose not to.'

Day pursed his lips. `All right. If that is your attitude and you don't wish to answer any of those questions, we won't pursue the matter. However, I will inform you now that the matter may be reported and you may receive a summons to answer the questions or face charges in relation to those allegations, and, at any time that you so choose, you can come forward and tell us the truth.'

Woah. Anthrax took a deep breath. Could the cops make him come answer questions with a summons? They were changing the game midway through. Anthrax felt as though the carpet had been pulled out from beneath his feet. He needed a few minutes to clear his head.

`Is it something I can think over and discuss?' Anthrax asked.

`Yes. Do you want to have a pause and a talk with your father? The constable and I can step out of the room, or offer you another room. You may wish to have a break and think about it if you like. I think it might be a good idea. I think we might have a ten-minute break and put you in another room and let you two have a chat about it. There is no pressure.'

Day and the Sexton stopped the interview and guided father and son into another room. Once they were alone, Anthrax looked to his father for support. This voice inside him still cried out to keep away from his earlier hacking journeys. He needed someone to tell him the same thing.

His father was definitely not that someone. He railed against Anthrax with considerable vehemence. Stop holding back. You have to tell everything. How could you be so stupid? You can't fool the police. They know. Confess it all before it's too late. At the end of the ten-minute tirade, Anthrax felt worse than he had at the beginning.

When the two returned to the interview room, Anthrax's father turned to the police and said suddenly, `He has decided to confess'.

That was not true. Anthrax hadn't decided anything of the sort. His father was full of surprises. It seemed every time he opened his mouth, an ugly surprise came out.

Ken Day and Andrew Sexton warmed up a shaky Anthrax by showing him various documents, pieces of paper with Anthrax's scribbles seized during the raid, telephone taps. At one stage, Day pointed to some handwritten notes which read `KDAY'. He looked at Anthrax.

`What's that? That's me.'

Anthrax smiled for the first time in a long while. It was something to be happy about. The head of the AFP's Computer Crime Unit in Melbourne sat there, so sure he was onto something big. There was his name, bold as day, in the hacker's handwriting on a bit of paper seized in a raid. Day seemed to be expecting something good.

Anthrax said, `If you ring that up you will find it is a radio station.' An American radio station. Written on the same bit of paper were the names of an American clothing store, another US-based radio station, and a few records he wanted to order.

`There you go,' Day laughed at his own hasty conclusions. `I've got a radio station named after me.'

Day asked Anthrax why he wrote down all sorts of things, directory paths, codes, error messages.

`Just part of the record-keeping. I think I wrote this down when I had first been given this dial-up and I was just feeling my way around, taking notes of what different things did.'

`What were your intentions at the time with these computer networks?'

`At this stage, I was just having a look, just a matter of curiosity.'

`Was it a matter of curiosity--"Gee, this is interesting" or was it more like "I would like to get into them" at this stage?'

`I couldn't say what was going through my mind at the time. But initially once I got into the first system--I'm sure you have heard this a lot--but once you get into the first system, it's like you get into the next one and the next one and the next one, after a while it doesn't ...' Anthrax couldn't find the right words to finish the explanation.

`Once you have tasted the forbidden fruit?'

`Exactly. It's a good analogy.'

Day pressed on with questions about Anthrax's hacking. He successfully elicited admissions from the hacker. Anthrax gave Day more than the police officer had before, but probably not as much as he would have liked.

It was, however, enough. Enough to keep the police from charging Anthrax's mother. And enough for them to charge him.

Anthrax didn't see his final list of charges until the day he appeared in court on 28 August 1995. The whole case seemed to be a bit disorganised. His Legal Aid lawyer had little knowledge of computers, let alone computer crime. He told Anthrax he could ask for an adjournment because he hadn't seen the final charges until so late, but Anthrax wanted to get the thing over and done with. They had agreed that Anthrax would plead guilty to the charges and hope for a reasonable magistrate.

Anthrax looked through the hand-up brief provided by the prosecution, which included a heavily edited transcript of his interview with the police. It was labelled as a `summary', but it certainly didn't summarise everything important in that interview. Either the prosecution or the police had cut out all references to the fact that the police had threatened to charge Anthrax's mother if he didn't agree to be interviewed.

Anthrax pondered the matter. Wasn't everything relevant to his case supposed to be covered in a hand-up brief? This seemed very relevant to his case, yet there wasn't a mention of it anywhere in the document. He began to wonder if the police had edited down the transcript just so they could cut out that portion of the interview. Perhaps the judge wouldn't be too happy about it. He thought that maybe the police didn't want to be held accountable for how they had dealt with his mother.

The rest of the hand-up brief wasn't much better. The only statement by an actual `witness' to Anthrax's hacking was from his former room-mate, who claimed that he had watched Anthrax break into a NASA computer and access an `area of the computer system which showed the latitude/longitude of ships'.

Did space ships even have longitudes and latitudes? Anthrax didn't know. And he had certainly never broken into a NASA computer in front of the room-mate. It was absurd. This guy is lying, Anthrax thought, and five minutes under cross-examination by a reasonable lawyer would illustrate as much. Anthrax's instincts told him the prosecution had a flimsy case for some of the charges, but he felt overwhelmed by pressure from all sides--his family, the bustle in the courtroom, even the officiousness of his own lawyer quickly rustling through his papers.

Anthrax looked around the room. His eyes fell on his father, who sat waiting on the public benches. Anthrax's lawyer wanted him there to give evidence during sentencing. He thought it would look good to show there was a family presence. Anthrax gave the suggestion a cool reception. But he didn't understand how courts worked, so he followed his lawyer's advice.

Anthrax's mother was back at his apartment, waiting for news. She had been on night duty and was supposed to be sleeping. That was the ostensible reason she didn't attend. Anthrax thought perhaps that the tension was too much for her. Whatever the reason, she didn't sleep all that day. She tidied the place, washed the dishes, did the laundry, and kept herself as busy as the tiny apartment would allow her.

Anthrax's girlfriend, a pretty, moon-faced Turkish girl, also came to court. She had never been into the hacking scene. A group of school children, mostly girls, chatted in the rows behind her.

Anthrax read through the four-page summary of facts provided by the prosecution. When he reached the final page, his heart stopped. The final paragraph said:

31. Penalty

s85ZF (a)--12 months, $6000 or both

s76E(a)--2 years, $12000 or both

Pointing to the last paragraph, Anthrax asked his lawyer what that was all about. His lawyer told him that he would probably get prison but, well, it wouldn't be that bad and he would just have `to take it on the chin'. He would, after all, be out in a year or two.

Rapists sometimes got off with less than that. Anthrax couldn't believe the prosecution was asking for prison. After he cooperated, suffering through that miserable interview. He had no prior convictions. But the snowball had been set in motion. The magistrate appeared and opened the court.

Anthrax felt he couldn't back out now and he pleaded guilty to 21 counts, including one charge of inserting data and twenty charges of defrauding or attempting to defraud a carrier.

His lawyer put the case for a lenient sentence. He called Anthrax's father up on the stand and asked him questions about his son. His father probably did more harm than good. When asked if he thought his son would offend again, his father replied, `I don't know'.

Anthrax was livid. It was further unconscionable behaviour. Not long before the trial, Anthrax had discovered that his father had planned to sneak out of the country two days before the court case. He was going overseas, he told his wife, but not until after the court case. It was only by chance that she discovered his surreptitious plans to leave early. Presumably he would find his son's trial humiliating. Anthrax's mother insisted he stayed and he begrudgingly delayed the trip.

His father sat down, a bit away from Anthrax and his lawyer. The lawyer provided a colourful alternative to the prosecutor. He perched one leg up on his bench, rested an elbow on the knee and stroked his long, red beard. It was an impressive beard, more than a foot long and thick with reddish brown curls. Somehow it fitted with his two-tone chocolate brown suit and his tie, a breathtakingly wide creation with wild patterns in gold. The suit was one size too small. He launched into the usual courtroom flourish--lots of words saying nothing. Then he got to the punch line.

`Your worship, this young man has been in all sorts of places. NASA, military sites, you wouldn't believe some of the places he has been.'

`I don't think I want to know where he has been,' the magistrate answered wryly.

The strategy was Anthrax's. He thought he could turn a liability into an asset by showing that he had been in many systems--many sensitive systems--but had done no malicious damage in any of them.

The strategy worked and the magistrate announced there was no way he was sending the young hacker to jail.

The prosecutor looked genuinely disappointed and launched a counter proposal--1500 hours of community service. Anthrax caught his breath. That was absurd. It would take almost nine months, full time. Painting buildings, cleaning toilets. Forget about his university studies. It was almost as bad as prison.

Anthrax's lawyer protested. `Your Worship, that penalty is something out of cyberspace.' Anthrax winced at how corny that sounded, but the lawyer looked very pleased with himself.

The magistrate refused to have a bar of the prosecutor's counter proposal. Anthrax's girlfriend was impressed with the magistrate. She didn't know much about the law or the court system, but he seemed a fair man, a just man. He didn't appear to want to give a harsh punishment to Anthrax at all. But he told the court he had to send a message to Anthrax, to the class of school children in the public benches and to the general community that hacking was wrong in the eyes of the law. Anthrax glanced back at the students. They looked like they were aged thirteen or fourteen, about the age he got into hacking and phreaking.

The magistrate announced his sentence. Two hundred hours of community service and $6116.90 of restitution to be paid to two telephone companies--Telecom and Teleglobe in Canada. It wasn't prison, but it was a staggering amount of money for a student to rake up. He had a year to pay it off, and it would definitely take that long. At least he was free.

Anthrax's girlfriend thought how unlucky it was to have landed those giggling school children in the courtroom on that day. They laughed and pointed and half-whispered. Court was a game. They didn't seem to take the magistrate's warning seriously. Perhaps they were gossiping about the next party. Perhaps they were chatting about a new pair of sneakers or a new CD.

And maybe one or two murmured quietly how cool it would be to break into NASA.

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