Underground: Chapter 9 -- Operation Weather

Contents | Previous: Chapter 8 -- The International Subversives | Next: Chapter 10 -- Anthrax -- The Outsider

The world is crashing down on me tonight The walls are closing in on me tonight

-- from `Outbreak of Love' on Earth and Sun and Moon by Midnight Oil

The AFP was frustrated. A group of hackers were using the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) as a launchpad for hacking attacks on Australian companies, research institutes and a series of overseas sites.

Despite their best efforts, the detectives in the AFP's Southern Region Computer Crimes Unit hadn't been able to determine who was behind the attacks. They suspected it was a small group of Melbourne-based hackers who worked together. However, there were so much hacker activity at RMIT it was difficult to know for sure. There could have been one organised group, or several. Or perhaps there was one small group along with a collection of loners who were making enough noise to distort the picture.

Still, it should have been a straightforward operation. The AFP could trace hackers in this sort of situation with their hands tied behind their backs. Arrange for Telecom to whack a last party recall trace on all incoming lines to the RMIT modems. Wait for a hacker to logon, then isolate which modem he was using. Clip that modem line and wait for Telecom to trace that line back to its point of origin.

However, things at RMIT were not working that way. The line traces began failing, and not just occasionally. All the time.

Whenever RMIT staff found the hackers on-line, they clipped the lines and Telecom began tracking the winding path back to the originating phone number. En route, the trail went dead. It was as if the hackers knew they were being traced ... almost as if they were manipulating the telephone system to defeat the AFP investigation.

The next generation of hackers seemed to have a new-found sophistication which frustrated AFP detectives at every turn. Then, on 13 October 1990, the AFP got lucky. Perhaps the hackers had been lazy that day, or maybe they just had technical problems using their traceless phreaking techniques. Prime Suspect couldn't use Trax's traceless phreaking method from his home because he was on a step-by-step exchange, and sometimes Trax didn't use the technique. Whatever the reason, Telecom managed to successfully complete two line traces from RMIT and the AFP now had two addresses and two names. Prime Suspect and Trax.

`Hello, Prime Suspect.'

`Hiya, Mendax. How's tricks?'

`Good. Did you see that RMIT email? The one in Geoff Huston's mailbox?' Mendax walked over to open a window as he spoke. It was spring, 1991, and the weather was unseasonably warm.

`I did. Pretty amazing. RMIT looks like it will finally be getting rid of those line traces.'

`RMIT definitely wants out,' Mendax said emphatically.

`Yep. Looks like the people at RMIT are sick of Mr Day crawling all over their computers with line traces.'

`Yeah. That admin at RMIT was pretty good, standing up to AARNET and the AFP. I figure Geoff Huston must be giving him a hard time.'

`I bet.' Prime Suspect paused. `You reckon the Feds have dropped the line traces for real?'

`Looks like it. I mean if RMIT kicks them out, there isn't much the Feds can do without the uni's cooperation. The letter sounded like they just wanted to get on with securing their systems. Hang on. I've got it here.'

Mendax pulled up a letter on his computer and scrolled through it.

From aarnet-contacts-request@jatz.aarnet.edu.au Tue May 28 09:32:31

Received: by jatz.aarnet.edu.au id AA07461

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aarnet-contacts-recipients); Tue, 28 May 91 09:31:57 +1000

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Date: Tue, 28 May 91 09:32:08 +1000

From: rcoay@possum.ecg.rmit.OZ.AU (Alan Young)

Message-Id: <9105272332.29621@possum.ecg.rmit.OZ.AU>

To: aarnet-contacts@aarnet.edu.au

Subject: Re: Hackers

Status: RO

While no one would disagree that `Hacking' is bad and should be
stopped, or at least minimised there are several observations which I
have made over the last six or eight months relating to the persuit of
these people:

1. The cost involved was significant, we had a CSO working in
conjunction with the Commonwealth Police for almost three months full

2. While not a criticism of our staff, people lost sight of the ball,
the chase became the most important aspect of the whole exercise.

3. Catching Hackers (and charging them) is almost impossible, you have
to virtually break into their premises and catch them logged on to an
unauthorised machine.

4. If you do happen to catch and charge them, the cost of prosecution
is high, and a successful outcome is by no ways assured. There may be
some deterrent value in at least catching and prosecuting?

5. Continued pursuit of people involved requires doors to be left
open, this unfortunately exposes other sites and has subjected us to
some criticism.

The whole issue is very complex, and in some respects it is a case of
diminishing returns. A fine balance has to be maintained between
freedom, and the prevention of abuse, this appears to be the

Allan Young


`Yeah, I mean, this RMIT guy is basically saying they are not going to catch us anyway, so why are they wasting all this time and money?'

`Yep. The Feds were in there for at least three months,' Prime Suspect said. `Sounded more like nine months though.'

`Hmm. Yeah, nothing we didn't know already though.'

`Pretty obvious, leaving those accounts open all the time like they did. I reckon that looked pretty suspicious, even if we hadn't gotten the email.'

`Definitely,' Mendax agreed. `Lots of other hackers in RMIT too. I wonder if they figured it out.'

`Hmm. They're gonna be screwed if they haven't been careful.'

`I don't think the Feds have gotten anyone though.'

`Yeah?' Prime Suspect asked.

`Well, if they had, why would they leave those accounts open? Why would RMIT keep a full-time staff person on?'

`Doesn't make sense.'

`No,' Mendax said. `I'd be pretty sure RMIT has kicked them out.'

`Yeah, told them, "You had you're chance, boys. Couldn't catch anyone. Now pack your bags".'

`Right.' Mendax paused. `Don't know about NorTel though.'

`Mmm, yeah,' Prime Suspect said. Then, as usual, a silence began to descend on the conversation.

`Running out of things to say ...' Mendax said finally. They were good enough friends for him to be blunt with Prime Suspect.


More silence.

Mendax thought how strange it was to be such good friends with someone, to work so closely with him, and yet to always run out of conversation.

`OK, well, I better go. Things to do,' Mendax said in a friendly voice.

`Yeah, OK. Bye Mendax,' Prime Suspect said cheerfully.

Mendax hung up.

Prime Suspect hung up.

And the AFP stayed on the line.

In the twelve months following the initial line trace in late 1990, the AFP continued to monitor the RMIT dial-up lines. The line traces kept failing again and again. But as new reports of hacker attacks rolled in, there seemed to be a discernible pattern in many of the attacks. Detectives began to piece together a picture of their prey.

In 1990 and 1991, RMIT dial-ups and computers were riddled with hackers, many of whom used the university's systems as a nest--a place to store files, and launch further attacks. They frolicked in the system almost openly, often using RMIT as a place to chat on-line with each other. The institute served as the perfect launchpad. It was only a local phone call away, it had a live Internet connection, a reasonably powerful set of computers and very poor security. Hacker heaven.

The police knew this, and they asked computer staff to keep the security holes open so they could monitor hacker activity. With perhaps a dozen different hackers--maybe more--inside RMIT, the task of isolating a single cell of two or three organised hackers responsible for the more serious attacks was not going to be easy.

By the middle of 1991, however, there was a growing reluctance among some RMIT staff to continue leaving their computers wide open. On 28 August, Allan Young, the head of RMIT's Electronic Communications Group, told the AFP that the institute wanted to close up the security holes. The AFP did not like this one bit, but when they complained Young told them, in essence, go talk to Geoff Huston at AARNET and to the RMIT director.

The AFP was being squeezed out, largely because they had taken so long conducting their investigation. RMIT couldn't reveal the AFP investigation to anyone, so it was being embarrassed in front of dozens of other research institutions which assumed it had no idea how to secure its computers. Allan Young couldn't go to a conference with other AARNET representatives without being hassled about `the hacker problem' at RMIT. Meanwhile, his computer staff lost time playing cops-and-robbers--and ignored their real work.

However, as RMIT prepared to phase out the AFP traps, the police had a lucky break from a different quarter--NorTel. On 16 September, a line trace from a NorTel dial-up, initiated after a complaint about the hackers to the police, was successful. A fortnight later, on 1 October, the AFP began tapping Prime Suspect's telephone. The hackers might be watching the police watch them, but the police were closing in. The taps led back to Trax, and then to someone new--Mendax.

The AFP considered putting taps on Mendax and Trax's telephones as well. It was a decision to be weighed up carefully. Telephone taps were expensive, and often needed to be in place for at least a month. They did, however, provide a reliable record of exactly what the hacker was doing on-line.

Before police could move on setting up additional taps in Operation Weather, the plot took another dramatic turn when one of the IS hackers did something which took the AFP completely by surprise.

Trax turned himself in to the police.

On 29 October Prime Suspect was celebrating. His mum had cooked him a nice dinner in honour of finishing his year 12 classes, and then driven him to Vermont for a swot-vac party. When she arrived back home she pottered around for an hour and a half, feeding her old dog Lizzy and tidying up. At 11 p.m. she decided to call it a night.

Not much later, Lizzy barked.

`Are you home so soon?' Prime Suspect's mother called out. `Party not much fun?'

No-one answered.

She sat up in bed. When there was still no answer, her mind raced to reports of a spate of burglaries in the neighbourhood. There had even been a few assaults.

A muffled male voice came from outside the front door. `Ma'am. Open the door.'

She stood up and walked to the front door.

`Open the door. Police.'

`How do I know you're really the police?'

`If you don't open the door, we'll kick it in!' an exasperated male voice shouted back at her from her front doorstep.

Prime Suspect's mother saw the outline of something being pressed against the side window. She didn't have her reading glasses on, but it looked like a police badge. Nervously, she opened the front door a little bit and looked out.

There were eight or nine people on her doorstep. Before she could stop them, they had pushed past her, swarming into her home.

A female officer began waving a piece of paper about. `Look at this!' She said angrily. `It's a warrant! Can you read it?'

`No, actually I can't. I don't have my glasses on,' Prime Suspect's mother answered curtly.

She told the police she wanted to make a phone call and tried to ring her family solicitor, but without luck. He had been to a funeral and wake and could not be roused. When she reached for the phone a second time, one of the officers began lecturing her about making more phone calls.

`You be quiet,' she said pointing her finger at the officer. Then she made another unfruitful call.

Prime Suspect's mother looked at the police officers, sizing them up. This was her home. She would show the police to her son's room, as they requested, but she was not going to allow them to take over the whole house. As she tartly instructed the police where they could and could not go, she thought, I'm not standing for any nonsense from you boys.

`Where's your son?' one officer asked her.

`At a party.'

`What is the address?'

She eyed him warily. She did not like these officers at all. However, they would no doubt wait until her son returned anyway, so she handed over the address.

While the police swarmed though Prime Suspect's room, gathering his papers, computer, modem and other belongings, his mother waited in his doorway where she could keep an eye on them.

Someone knocked at the door. An AFP officer and Prime Suspect's mother both went to answer it.

It was the police--the state police.

The next-door neighbours had heard a commotion. When they looked out of their window they saw a group of strange men in street clothes brazenly taking things from the widow's home as if they owned the place. So the neighbours did what any responsible person would in the circumstances. They called the police.

The AFP officers sent the Victoria Police on their way. Then some of them set off in a plain car for the Vermont party. Wanting to save Prime Suspect some embarrassment in front of his friends, his mother rang him at the party and suggested he wait outside for the AFP.

As soon as Prime Suspect hung up the phone he tried to shake off the effect of a vast quantity of alcohol. When the police pulled up outside, the party was in full swing. Prime Suspect was very drunk, but he seemed to sober up quite well when the AFP officers introduced themselves and packed him into the car.

`So,' said one of the officers as they headed toward his home, `what are you more worried about? What's on your disks or what's in your desk drawer?'

Prime Suspect thought hard. What was in his desk drawer? Oh shit! The dope. He didn't smoke much, just occasionally for fun, but he had a tiny amount of marijuana left over from a party.

He didn't answer. He looked out the window and tried not to look nervous.

At his house, the police asked him if he would agree to an interview.

`I don't think so. I'm feeling a little ... under the weather at the moment,' he said. Doing a police interview would be difficult enough. Doing it drunk would be just plain dangerous.

After the police carted away the last of his hacking gear, Prime Suspect signed the official seizure forms and watched them drive off in to the night.

Returning to his bedroom, he sat down, distracted, and tried to gather his thoughts. Then he remembered the dope. He opened his desk drawer. It was still there. Funny people, these feds.

Then again, maybe it made sense. Why would they bother with some tiny amount of dope that was hardly worth the paperwork? His nervousness over a couple of joints must have seemed laughable to the feds. They had just seized enough evidence of hacking to lock him up for years, depending on the judge, and here he was sweating about a thimbleful of marijuana which might land him a $100 fine.

As the late spring night began to cool down, Prime Suspect wondered whether the AFP had raided Mendax and Trax.

At the party, before the police had shown up, he had tried to ring Mendax. From his mother's description when she called him, it sounded as if the entire federal police force was in his house at that moment. Which could mean that only one other IS hacker had gone down at the same time. Unless he was the last to be raided, Mendax or Trax might still be unaware of what was happening.

As he waited for the police to pick him up, a very drunk Prime Suspect tried to ring Mendax again. Busy. He tried again. And again. The maddening buzz of an engaged signal only made Prime Suspect more nervous.

There was no way to get through, no way to warn him.

Prime Suspect wondered whether the police had actually shown up at Mendax's and whether, if he had been able to get through, his phone call would have made any difference at all.

The house looked like it had been ransacked. It had been ransacked, by Mendax's wife, on her way out. Half the furniture was missing, and the other half was in disarray. Dresser drawers hung open with their contents removed, and clothing lay scattered around the room.

When his wife left him, she didn't just take their toddler child. She took a number of things which had sentimental value to Mendax. When she insisted on taking the CD player she had given him for his twentieth birthday just a few months before, he asked her to leave a lock of her hair behind for him in its place. He still couldn't believe his wife of three years had packed up and left him.

The last week of October had been a bad one for Mendax. Heartbroken, he had sunk into a deep depression. He hadn't eaten properly for days, he drifted in and out of a tortured sleep, and he had even lost the desire to use his computer. His prized hacking disks, filled with highly incriminating stolen computer access codes, were normally stored in a secure hiding place. But on the evening of 29 October 1991, thirteen disks were strewn around his $700 Amiga 500. A fourteenth disk was in the computer's disk drive.

Mendax sat on a couch reading Soledad Brother, the prison letters from George Jackson's nine-year stint in one of the toughest prisons in the US. Convicted for a petty crime, Jackson was supposed to be released after a short sentence but was kept in the prison at the governor's pleasure. The criminal justice system kept him on a merry-go-round of hope and despair as the authorities dragged their feet. Later, prison guards shot and killed Jackson. The book was one of Mendax's favourites, but it offered little distraction from his unhappiness.

The droning sound of a telephone fault signal--like a busy signal--filled the house. Mendax had hooked up his stereo speakers to his modem and computer, effectively creating a speaker phone so he could listen to tones he piped from his computer into the telephone line and the ones which came back from the exchange in reply. It was perfect for using Trax's MFC phreaking methods.

Mendax also used the system for scanning. Most of the time, he picked telephone prefixes in the Melbourne CBD. When his modem hit another, Mendax would rush to his computer and note the telephone number for future hacking exploration.

By adjusting the device, he could also make it simulate a phreaker's black box. The box would confuse the telephone exchange into thinking he had not answered his phone, thus allowing Mendax's friends to call him for free for 90 seconds.

On this night, however, the only signal Mendax was sending out was that he wanted to be left alone. He hadn't been calling any computer systems. The abandoned phone, with no connection to a remote modem, had timed out and was beeping off the hook.

It was strange behaviour for someone who had spent most of his teenage years trying to connect to the outside world through telephone lines and computers, but Mendax had listened all day to the hypnotic sound of a phone off the hook resonating through each room. BEEEP. Pause. BEEEP. Pause. Endlessly.

A loud knock at the door punctured the stereo thrum of the phone.

Mendax looked up from his book to see a shadowy figure through the frosted glass panes of the front door. The figure was quite short. It looked remarkably like Ratface, an old school friend of Mendax's wife and a character known for his practical jokes.

Mendax called out, `Who is it?' without moving from the sofa.

`Police. Open up.'

Yeah, sure. At 11.30 p.m.? Mendax rolled his eyes toward the door. Everyone knew that the police only raid your house in the early morning, when they know you are asleep and vulnerable.

Mendax dreamed of police raids all the time. He dreamed of footsteps crunching on the driveway gravel, of shadows in the pre-dawn darkness, of a gun-toting police squad bursting through his backdoor at 5 a.m. He dreamed of waking from a deep sleep to find several police officers standing over his bed. The dreams were very disturbing. They accentuated his growing paranoia that the police were watching him, following him.

The dreams had become so real that Mendax often became agitated in the dead hour before dawn. At the close of an all-night hacking session, he would begin to feel very tense, very strung out. It was not until the computer disks, filled with stolen computer files from his hacking adventures, were stored safely in their hiding place that he would begin to calm down.

`Go away, Ratface, I'm not in the mood,' Mendax said, returning to his book.

The voice became louder, more insistent, `Police. Open the door. NOW'. Other figures were moving around behind the glass, shoving police badges and guns against the window pane. Hell. It really was the police!

Mendax's heart started racing. He asked the police to show him their search warrant. They obliged immediately, pressing it against the glass as well. Mendax opened the door to find nearly a dozen plain-clothes police waiting for him.

`I don't believe this,' he said in a bewildered voice `My wife just left me. Can't you come back later?'

At the front of the police entourage was Detective Sergeant Ken Day, head of the AFP's Computer Crimes Unit in the southern region. The two knew all about each other, but had never met in person. Day spoke first.

`I'm Ken Day. I believe you've been expecting me.'

Mendax and his fellow IS hackers had been expecting the AFP. For weeks they had been intercepting electronic mail suggesting that the police were closing the net. So when Day turned up saying, `I believe you've been expecting me,' he was completing the information circle. The circle of the police watching the hackers watching the police watch them.

It's just that Mendax didn't expect the police at that particular moment. His mind was a tangle and he looked in disbelief at the band of officers on his front step. Dazed, he looked at Day and then spoke out loud, as if talking to himself, `But you're too short to be a cop.'

Day looked surprised. `Is that meant to be an insult?' he said.

It wasn't. Mendax was in denial and it wasn't until the police had slipped past him into the house that the reality of the situation slowly began to sink in. Mendax's mind started to work again.

The disks. The damn disks. The beehive.

An avid apiarist, Mendax kept his own hive. Bees fascinated him. He liked to watch them interact, to see their sophisticated social structure. So it was with particular pleasure that he enlisted their help in hiding his hacking activities. For months he had meticulously secreted the disks in the hive. It was the ideal location--unlikely, and well guarded by 60000 flying things with stings. Though he hadn't bought the hive specifically for hiding stolen computer account passwords for the likes of the US Air Force 7th Command Group in the Pentagon, it appeared to be a secure hiding place.

He had replaced the cover of the super box, which housed the honeycomb, with a sheet of coloured glass so he could watch the bees at work. In summer, he put a weather protector over the glass. The white plastic cover had raised edges and could be fastened securely to the glass sheet with metal clasps. As Mendax considered his improvements to the bee box, he realised that this hive could provide more than honey. He carefully laid out the disks between the glass and the weather protector. They fitted perfectly in the small gap.

Mendax had even trained the bees not to attack him as he removed and replaced the disks every day. He collected sweat from his armpits on tissues and then soaked the tissues in a sugar water solution. He fed this sweaty nectar to the bees. Mendax wanted the bees to associate him with flowers instead of a bear, the bees' natural enemy.

But on the evening of the AFP raid Mendax's incriminating disks were in full view on the computer table and the officers headed straight for them. Ken Day couldn't have hoped for better evidence. The disks were full of stolen userlists, encrypted passwords, cracked passwords, modem telephone numbers, documents revealing security flaws in various computer systems, and details of the AFP's own investigation--all from computer systems Mendax had penetrated illegally.

Mendax's problems weren't confined to the beehive disks. The last thing he had done on the computer the day before was still on screen. It was a list of some 1500 accounts, their passwords, the dates that Mendax had obtained them and a few small notes beside each one.

The hacker stood to the side as the police and two Telecom Protective Services officers swarmed through the house. They photographed his computer equipment and gathered up disks, then ripped up the carpet so they could videotape the telephone cord running to his modem. They scooped up every book, no small task since Mendax was an avid reader, and held each one upside down looking for hidden computer passwords on loose pieces of paper. They grabbed every bit of paper with handwriting on it and poured through his love letters, notebooks and private diaries. `We don't care how long it takes to do this job,' one cop quipped. `We're getting paid overtime. And danger money.'

The feds even riffled through Mendax's collection of old Scientific American and New Scientist magazines. Maybe they thought he had underlined a word somewhere and turned it into a passphrase for an encryption program.

Of course, there was only one magazine the feds really wanted: International Subversive. They scooped up every print-out of the electronic journal they could find.

As Mendax watched the federal police sift through his possessions and disassemble his computer room, an officer who had some expertise with Amigas arrived. He told Mendax to get the hell out of the computer room.

Mendax didn't want to leave the room. He wasn't under arrest and wanted to make sure the police didn't plant anything. So he looked at the cop and said, `This is my house and I want to stay in this room. Am I under arrest or not?'

The cop snarled back at him, `Do you want to be under arrest?'

Mendax acquiesced and Day, who was far more subtle in his approach, walked the hacker into another room for questioning. He turned to Mendax and asked, with a slight grin, `So, what's it like being busted? Is it like Nom told you?'

Mendax froze.

There were only two ways that Day could have known Nom had told Mendax about his bust. Nom might have told him, but this was highly unlikely. Nom's hacking case had not yet gone to court and Nom wasn't exactly on chummy terms with the police. The other alternative was that the AFP had been tapping telephones in Mendax's circle of hackers, which the IS trio had strongly suspected. Talking in a three-way phone conversation with Mendax and Trax, Nom had relayed the story of his bust. Mendax later relayed Nom's story to Prime Suspect--also on the phone. Harbouring suspicions is one thing. Having them confirmed by a senior AFP officer is quite another.

Day pulled out a tape recorder, put it on the table, turned it on and began asking questions. When Mendax told Day he wouldn't answer him, Day turned the recorder off. `We can talk off the record if you want,' he told the hacker.

Mendax nearly laughed out loud. Police were not journalists. There was no such thing as an off-the-record conversation between a suspect and a police officer.

Mendax asked to speak to a lawyer. He said he wanted to call Alphaline, a free after-hours legal advice telephone service. Day agreed, but when he picked up the telephone to inspect it before handing it over to Mendax, something seemed amiss. The phone had an unusual, middle-pitched tone which Day didn't seem to recognise. Despite there being two Telecom employees and numerous police specialists in the house, Day appeared unable to determine the cause of the funny tone. He looked Mendax dead in the eye and said, `Is this a hijacked telephone line?'

Hijacked? Day's comment took Mendax by surprise. What surprised him was not that Day suspected him of hijacking the line, but rather that he didn't know whether the line had been manipulated.

`Well, don't you know?' he taunted Day.

For the next half hour, Day and the other officers picked apart Mendax's telephone, trying to work out what sort of shenanigans the hacker had been up to. They made a series of calls to see if the long-haired youth had somehow rewired his telephone line, perhaps to make his calls untraceable.

In fact, the dial tone on Mendax's telephone was the very normal sound of a tone-dial telephone on an ARE-11 telephone exchange. The tone was simply different from the ones generated by other exchange types, such as AXE and step-by-step exchanges.

Finally Mendax was allowed to call a lawyer at Alphaline. The lawyer warned the hacker not to say anything. He said the police could offer a sworn statement to the court about anything the hacker said, and then added that the police might even be wired.

Next, Day tried the chummy approach at getting information from the hacker. `Just between you and me, are you Mendax?' he asked.


Day tried another tactic. Hackers have a well-developed sense of ego--a flaw Day no doubt believed he could tap into.

`There have been a lot of people over the years running around impersonating you--using your handle,' he said.

Mendax could see Day was trying to manipulate him but by this stage he didn't care. He figured that the police already had plenty of evidence that linked him to his handle, so he admitted to it.

Day had some other surprising questions up his sleeve.

`So, Mendax, what do you know about that white powder in the bedroom?'

Mendax couldn't recall any white powder in the bedroom. He didn't do drugs, so why would there be any white powder anywhere? He watched two police officers bringing two large red toolboxes in the house--they looked like drug testing kits. Jesus, Mendax thought. I'm being set up.

The cops led the hacker into the bedroom and pointed to two neat lines of white powder laid out on a bench.

Mendax smiled, relieved. `It's not what you think,' he said. The white powder was glow-in-the-dark glue he had used to paint stars on the ceiling of his child's bedroom.

Two of the cops started smiling at each other. Mendax could see exactly what was going through their minds: It's not every cocaine or speed user that can come up with a story like that.

One grinned at the other and exclaimed gleefully, `TASTE TEST!'

`That's not a good idea,' Mendax said, but his protests only made things worse. The cops shooed him into another room and returned to inspect the powder by themselves.

What Mendax really wanted was to get word through to Prime Suspect. The cops had probably busted all three IS hackers at the same time, but maybe not. While the police investigated the glue on their own, Mendax managed to sneak a telephone call to his estranged wife and asked her to call Prime Suspect and warn him. He and his wife might have had their differences, but he figured she would make the call anyway.

When Mendax's wife reached Prime Suspect later that night, he replied, `Yeah, there's a party going on over here too.'

Mendax went back in to the kitchen where an officer was tagging the growing number of possessions seized by the police. One of the female officers was struggling to move his printer to the pile. She smiled sweetly at Mendax and asked if he would move it for her. He obliged.

The police finally left Mendax's house at about 3 a.m. They had spent three and half hours and seized 63 bundles of his personal belongings, but they had not charged him with a single crime.

When the last of the unmarked police cars had driven away, Mendax stepped out into the silent suburban street. He looked around. After making sure that no-one was watching him, he walked to a nearby phone booth and rang Trax.

`The AFP raided my house tonight.' he warned his friend. `They just left.'

Trax sounded odd, awkward. `Oh. Ah. I see.'

`Is there something wrong? You sound strange,' Mendax said.

`Ah. No ... no, nothing's wrong. Just um ... tired. So, um ... so the feds could ... ah, be here any minute ...' Trax's voice trailed off.

But something was very wrong. The AFP were already at Trax's house, and they had been there for 10 hours.

The IS hackers waited almost three years to be charged. The threat of criminal charges hung over their heads like personalised Swords of Damocles. They couldn't apply for a job, make a friend at TAFE or plan for the future without worrying about what would happen as a result of the AFP raids of 29 October 1991.

Finally, in July 1994, each hacker received formal charges--in the mail. During the intervening years, all three hackers went through monumental changes in their lives.

Devastated by the break-down of his marriage and unhinged by the AFP raid, Mendax sank into a deep depression and consuming anger. By the middle of November 1991, he was admitted to hospital.

He hated hospital, its institutional regimens and game-playing shrinks. Eventually, he told the doctors he wanted out. He might be crazy, but hospital was definitely making him crazier. He left there and stayed at his mother's house. The next year was the worst of his life.

Once a young person leaves home--particularly the home of a strong-willed parent--it becomes very difficult for him or her to return. Short visits might work, but permanent residency often fails. Mendax lived for a few days at home, then went walkabout. He slept in the open air, on the banks of rivers and creeks, in grassy meadows--all on the country fringes of Melbourne's furthest suburbs. Sometimes he travelled closer to the city, overnighting in places like the Merri Creek reserve.

Mostly, he haunted Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges National Park. Because of the park's higher elevation, the temperature dropped well below the rest of Melbourne in winter. In summer, the mosquitoes were unbearable and Mendax sometimes woke to find his face swollen and bloated from their bites.

For six months after the AFP raid, Mendax didn't touch a computer. Slowly, he started rebuilding his life from the ground up. By the time the AFP's blue slips--carrying 29 charges--arrived in July 1994, he was settled in a new house with his child. Throughout his period of transition, he talked to Prime Suspect and Trax on the phone regularly--as friends and fellow rebels, not fellow hackers. Prime Suspect had been going through his own set of problems.

While he hacked, Prime Suspect didn't do many drugs. A little weed, not much else. There was no time for drugs, girls, sports or anything else. After the raid, he gave up hacking and began smoking more dope. In April 1992, he tried ecstasy for the first time--and spent the next nine months trying to find the same high. He didn't consider himself addicted to drugs, but the drugs had certainly replaced his addiction to hacking and his life fell into a rhythm.

Snort some speed or pop an ecstasy tablet on Saturday night. Go to a rave. Dance all night, sometimes for six hours straight. Get home mid-morning and spend Sunday coming down from the drugs. Get high on dope a few times during the week, to dull the edges of desire for the more expensive drugs. When Saturday rolled around, do it all over again. Week in, week out. Month after month.

Dancing to techno-music released him. Dancing to it on drugs cleared his mind completely, made him feel possessed by the music. Techno was musical nihilism; no message, and not much medium either. Fast, repetitive, computer-synthesised beats, completely stripped of vocals or any other evidence of humanity. He liked to go to techno-night at The Lounge, a city club, where people danced by themselves, or in small, loose groups of four or five. Everyone watched the video screen which provided an endless stream of ever-changing, colourful computer-generated geometric shapes pulsing to the beat.

Prime Suspect never told his mother he was going to a rave. He just said he was going to a friend's for the night. In between the drugs, he attended his computer science courses at TAFE and worked at the local supermarket so he could afford his weekly $60 ecstasy tablet, $20 rave entry fee and regular baggy of marijuana.

Over time, the drugs became less and less fun. Then, one Sunday, he came down off some speed hard. A big crash. The worst he had ever experienced. Depression set in, and then paranoia. He knew the police were still watching him. They had followed him before.

At his police interviews, he learned that an AFP officer had followed him to an AC/DC concert less than two weeks before he had been busted. The officer told him the AFP wanted to know what sort of friends Prime Suspect associated with--and the officer had been treated to the spectre of seven other arm-waving, head-thumping, screaming teenagers just like Prime Suspect himself.

Now Prime Suspect believed that the AFP had started following him again. They were going to raid him again, even though he had given up hacking completely. It didn't make sense. He knew the premonition was illogical, but he couldn't shake it.

Something bad--very, very bad--was going to happen any day. Overcome with a great sense of impending doom, he lapsed into a sort of hysterical depression. Feeling unable to prevent the advent of the dark, terrible event which would tear apart his life yet again, he reached out to a friend who had experienced his own personal problems. The friend guided him to a psychologist at the Austin Hospital. Prime Suspect decided that there had to be a better way to deal with his problems than wasting himself every weekend. He began counselling.

The counselling made him deal with all sorts of unresolved business. His father's death. His relationship with his mother. How he had evolved into an introvert, and why he was never comfortable talking to people. Why he hacked. How he became addicted to hacking. Why he took up drugs.

At the end, the 21-year-old Prime Suspect emerged drug-free and, though still shaky, on the road to recovery. The worst he had to wait for were the charges from the AFP.

Trax's recovery from his psychological instabilities wasn't as definitive. From 1985, Trax had suffered from panic attacks, but he didn't want to seek professional help--he just ran away from the problem. The situation only became worse after he was involved in a serious car accident. He became afraid to leave the house at night. He couldn't drive. Whenever he was in a car, he had to fight an overwhelming desire to fling the door open and throw himself out on to the road. In 1989, his local GP referred Trax to a psychiatrist, who tried to treat the phreaker's growing anxiety attacks with hypnosis and relaxation techniques.

Trax's illness degenerated into full-fledged agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces. When he rang the police in late October 1991--just days before the AFP raid--his condition had deteriorated to the point where he could not comfortably leave his own house.

Initially he rang the state police to report a death threat made against him by another phreaker. Somewhere in the conversation, he began to talk about his own phreaking and hacking. He hadn't intended to turn himself in but, well, the more he talked, the more he had to say. So many things had been weighing on his mind. He knew that Prime Suspect had probably been traced from NorTel as a result of Mendax's own near miss in that system. And Prime Suspect and Mendax had been so active, breaking into so many systems, it was almost as if they wanted to be caught.

Then there was Prime Suspect's plan to write a destructive worm, which would wipe systems en route. It wasn't really a plan per se, more just an idea he had toyed with on the phone. Nonetheless, it had scared Trax. He began to think all three IS hackers were getting in too deep and he wanted out.

He tried to stop phreaking, even going so far as to ask Telecom to change his telephone number to a new exchange which he knew would not allow him to make untraceable calls. Trax reasoned that if he knew he could be traced, he would stop phreaking and hacking.

For a period, he did stop. But the addiction was too strong, and before long he was back at it again, regardless of the risk. He ran a hidden cable from his sister's telephone line, which was on the old exchange. His inability to stop made him feel weak and guilty, and even more anxious about the risks. Perhaps the death threat threw him over the edge. He couldn't really understand why he had turned himself in to the police. It had just sort of happened.

The Victoria Police notified the AFP. The AFP detectives must have been slapping their heads in frustration. Here was Australia's next big hacker case after The Realm, and they had expected to make a clean bust. They had names, addresses, phone numbers. They had jumped through legal hoops to get a telephone tap. The tap was up and running, catching every target computer, every plot, every word the hackers said to each other. Then one of their targets goes and turns himself in to the police. And not even to the right police--he goes to the Victoria Police. In one fell swoop, the hacker was going to take down the entire twelve-month Operation Weather investigation.

The AFP had to move quickly. If Trax tipped off the other two IS hackers that he had called the police, they might destroy their notes, computer files--all the evidence the AFP had hoped to seize in raids.

When the AFP swooped in on the three hackers, Mendax and Prime Suspect had refused to be interviewed on the night. Trax, however, had spent several hours talking to the police at his house.

He told the other IS hackers that the police had threatened to take him down to AFP headquarters--despite the fact that they knew leaving his house caused him anxiety. Faced with that prospect, made so terrifying by his psychiatric illness, he had talked.

Prime Suspect and Mendax didn't know how much Trax had told the police, but they didn't believe he would dob them in completely. Apart from anything else, he hadn't been privy to much of his colleagues' hacking. They hadn't tried to exclude Trax, but he was not as sophisticated a hacker and therefore didn't share in many of their exploits.

In fact, one thing Trax did tell the police was just how sophisticated the other two IS hackers had become just prior to the bust. Prime Suspect and Mendax were, he said, `hackers on a major scale, on a huge scale--something never achieved before', and the AFP had sat up and taken notice.

After the raids, Trax told Mendax that the AFP had tried to recruit him as an informant. Trax said that they had even offered him a new computer system, but he had been non-committal. And it seemed the AFP was still keeping tabs on the IS hackers, Trax also told Mendax. The AFP officers had heard Mendax had gone into hospital and they were worried. There seemed to be a disturbing pattern evolving.

On the subject of the IS raids, Trax told Mendax that the AFP felt it didn't have any choice. Their attitude was: you were doing so much, we had to bust you. You were inside so many systems, it was getting out of control.

In any case, by December 1991 Mendax had agreed to a police interview, based on legal advice. Ken Day interviewed Mendax, and the hacker was open with Day about what he had done. He refused, however, to implicate either Trax or Prime Suspect. In February 1992, Prime Suspect followed suit, with two interviews. He was also careful about what he said regarding his fellow hackers. Mendax was interviewed a second time, in February 1992, as was Trax in August.

After the raid, Trax's psychiatric condition remained unstable. He changed doctors and began receiving home visits from a hospital psychiatric service. Eventually, a doctor prescribed medication.

The three hackers continued to talk on the phone, and see each other occasionally. One or the other might drop out of communication for a period, but would soon return to the fold. They helped each other and they maintained their deep anti-establishment sentiments.

After the charges arrived in the mail, they called each other to compare notes. Mendax thought out loud on the phone to Prime Suspect, `I guess I should get a lawyer'.

`Yeah. I got one. He's lining up a barrister too.'

`They any good?' Mendax asked.

`Dunno. I guess so. The solicitor works at Legal Aid, an in-house guy. I've only met them a few times.'

`Oh,' Mendax paused. `What are their names?'

`John McLoughlin and Boris Kayser. They did Electron's case.'

Trax and Prime Suspect decided to plead guilty. Once they saw the overwhelming evidence--data taps, telephone voice taps, data seized during the raids, nearly a dozen statements by witnesses from the organisations they had hacked, the 300-page Telecom report--they figured they would be better off pleading. The legal brief ran to more than 7000 pages. At least they would get some kudos with the judge for cooperating in the police interviews and pleading early in the process, thus saving the court time and money.

Mendax, however, wanted to fight the charges. He knew about Pad and Gandalf's case and the message from that seemed to be pretty clear: Plead and you go to prison, fight and you might get off free.

The DPP shuffled the charges around so much between mid-1994 and 1995 that all the original charges against Trax, issued on 20 July 1994, were dropped in favour of six new charges filed on Valentines Day, 1995. At that time, new charges--largely for hacking a Telecom computer--were also laid against Mendax and Prime Suspect.

By May 1995, the three hackers faced 63 charges in all: 31 for Mendax, 26 for Prime Suspect and six for Trax. In addition, NorTel claimed the damages attributed to the hacker incident totalled about $160000--and the company was seeking compensation from the responsible parties. The Australian National University claimed another $4200 in damages.

Most of the charges related to obtaining illegal access to commercial or other information, and inserting and deleting data in numerous computers. The deleting of data was not malicious--it generally related to cleaning up evidence of the hackers' activities. However, all three hackers were also charged with some form of `incitement'. By writing articles for the IS magazine, the prosecution claimed the hackers had been involved in disseminating information which would encourage others to hack and phreak.

On 4 May 1995 Mendax sat in the office of his solicitor, Paul Galbally, discussing the committal hearing scheduled for the next day.

Galbally was a young, well-respected member of Melbourne's most prestigious law family. His family tree read like a Who's Who of the law. Frank Galbally, his father, was one of Australia's most famous criminal barristers. His uncle, Jack Galbally, was a well-known lawyer, a minister in the State Labor government of John Cain Sr and, later, the Leader of the Opposition in the Victorian parliament. His maternal grandfather, Sir Norman O'Bryan, was a Supreme Court judge, as was his maternal uncle of the same name. The Galballys weren't so much a family of lawyers as a legal dynasty.

Rather than rest on his family's laurels, Paul Galbally worked out of a cramped, 1970s time-warped, windowless office in a William Street basement, where he was surrounded by defence briefs--the only briefs he accepted. He liked the idea of keeping people out of prison better than the idea of putting them in it. Working closely with a defendant, he inevitably found redeeming qualities which the prosecution would never see. Traces of humanity, no matter how small, made his choice seem worthwhile.

His choices in life reflected the Galbally image as champions of the underdog, and the family shared a background with the working class. Catholic. Irish. Collingwood football enthusiasts. And, of course, a very large family. Paul was one of eight children, and his father had also come from a large family.

The 34-year-old criminal law specialist didn't know anything about computer crime when Mendax first appeared in his office, but the hacker's case seemed both interesting and worthy. The unemployed, long-haired youth had explained he could only offer whatever fees the Victorian Legal Aid Commission was willing to pay--a sentence Galbally heard often in his practice. He agreed.

Galbally & O'Bryan had a very good reputation as a criminal law firm. Criminals, however, tended not to have a great deal of money. The large commercial firms might dabble in some criminal work, but they cushioned any resulting financial inconvenience with other, more profitable legal work. Pushing paper for Western Mining Corporation paid for glass-enclosed corner offices on the fiftieth floor. Defending armed robbers and drug addicts didn't.

The 4 May meeting between Galbally and Mendax was only scheduled to take an hour or so. Although Mendax was contesting the committal hearing along with Prime Suspect on the following day, it was Prime Suspect's barrister, Boris Kayser, who was going to be running the show. Prime Suspect told Mendax he had managed to get full Legal Aid for the committal, something Galbally and Mendax had not been able to procure. Thus Mendax would not have his own barrister at the proceedings.

Mendax didn't mind. Both hackers knew they would be committed to trial. Their immediate objective was to discredit the prosecution's damage claims--particularly NorTel's.

As Mendax and Galbally talked, the mood in the office was upbeat. Mendax was feeling optimistic. Then the phone rang. It was Geoff Chettle, the barrister representing the DPP. While Chettle talked, Mendax watched a dark cloud pass across his solicitor's face. When he finally put the phone down, Galbally looked at Mendax with his serious, crisis management expression.

`What's wrong? What's the matter?' Mendax asked.

Galbally sighed before he spoke.

`Prime Suspect has turned Crown witness against you.'

There was a mistake. Mendax was sure of it. The whole thing was just one big mistake. Maybe Chettle and the DPP had misunderstood something Prime Suspect had said to them. Maybe Prime Suspect's lawyers had messed up. Whatever. There was definitely a mistake.

At Galbally's office, Mendax had refused to believe Prime Suspect had really turned. Not until he saw a signed statement. That night he told a friend, `Well, we'll see. Maybe Chettle is just playing it up.'

Chettle, however, was not just playing it up.

There it was--a witness statement--in front of him. Signed by Prime Suspect.

Mendax stood outside the courtroom at Melbourne Magistrates Court trying to reconcile two realities. In the first, there was one of Mendax's four or five closest friends. A friend with whom he had shared his deepest hacking secrets. A friend he had been hanging out with only last week.

In the other reality, a six-page statement signed by Prime Suspect and Ken Day at AFP Headquarters at 1.20 p.m. the day before. To compound matters, Mendax began wondering if Prime Suspect may have been speaking to the AFP for as long as six months.

The two realities were spinning through his head, dancing around each other.

When Galbally arrived at the court, Mendax took him to one side to go over the statement. From a damage-control perspective, it wasn't a complete disaster. Prime Suspect certainly hadn't gone in hard. He could have raised a number of matters, but didn't. Mendax had already admitted to most of the acts which formed the basis of his 31 charges in his police interview. And he had already told the police a good deal about his adventures in Telecom's telephone exchanges.

However, Prime Suspect had elaborated on the Telecom break-ins in his statement. Telecom was owned by the government, meaning the court would view phreaking from their exchanges not as defrauding a company but as defrauding the Commonwealth. Had the DPP decided to lay those new charges--the Telecom charges--in February 1995 because Prime Suspect had given the AFP a draft Crown witness statement back then? Mendax began to suspect so. Nothing seemed beyond doubt any more.

The immediate crisis was the committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court. There was no way Boris Kayser was now going to decimate their star witness, a NorTel information systems manager. Galbally would have to run a cross-examination himself--no easy task at short notice, given the highly complex technical aspects of the case.

Inside the courtroom, as Mendax got settled, he saw Prime Suspect. He gave his former friend a hard, unblinking, intense stare. Prime Suspect responded with a blank wall, then he looked away. In fact, even if Mendax had wanted to say something, he couldn't. As a Crown witness, Prime Suspect was off-limits until the case was over.

The lawyers began to file into the courtroom. The DPP representative, Andrea Pavleka, breezed in, momentarily lifting the tension in the windowless courtroom.

She had that effect on people. Tall, slender and long-legged, with a bob of sandy blonde curls, booky spectacles resting on a cute button nose and an infectious laugh, Pavleka didn't so much walk into a courtroom as waft into it. She radiated happiness from her sunny face. It's a great shame, Mendax thought, that she is on the other side.

The court was called into session. Prime Suspect stood in the dock and pleaded guilty to 26 counts of computer crimes.

In the course of the proceedings his barrister, Boris Kayser, told the court that his client had cooperated with the police, including telling the AFP that the hackers had penetrated Telecom's exchanges. He also said that Telecom didn't believe--or didn't want to believe--that their exchanges had been compromised. When Kayser professed loudly what a model citizen his client had been, Ken Day, sitting in the public benches, quietly rolled his eyes.

The magistrate, John Tobin, extended Prime Suspect's bail. The hacker would be sentenced at a later date.

That matter dealt with, the focus of the courtroom shifted to Mendax's case. Geoff Chettle, for the prosecution, stood up, put the NorTel manager, who had flown in from Sydney, on the stand and asked him some warm-up questions.

Chettle could put people at ease--or rattle them--at will. Topped by a minute stubble of hair, his weathered 40-something face provided a good match to his deep, gravelly voice. With quick eyes and a hard, no-nonsense manner, he lacked the pretentiousness of many barristers. Perhaps because he didn't seem to give a fig about nineteenth century protocols, he always managed to looked out of place in a barrister's wig and robe. Every time he stood up, the black cape slid off his lean shoulders. The barrister's wig went crooked. He continually adjusted it--tugging the wig back into the correct spot like some wayward child. In court, Chettle looked as if he wanted to tear off the crusty trappings of his profession and roll up his sleeves before sinking into a hearty debate. And he looked as if he would rather do it at a pub or the footy.

The NorTel manager took the stand. Chettle asked him some questions designed to show the court the witness was credible, in support of the company's $160000 hacker-clean-up claim. His task accomplished, Chettle sat down.

A little nervous, Paul Galbally stood up to his full height--more than six feet--and straightened his jacket. Dressed in a moss green suit so dark it was almost black, with thin lapels and a thin, 1960s style tie, he looked about as understated hip as a lawyer could--and still show his face in court.

Halting at first, Galbally appeared unsure of himself. Perhaps he had lost his nerve because of the technical issues. WMTP files. UTMP files. PACCT audits. Network architecture. IP addresses. He had been expected to become an expert in the basics literally overnight. A worried Mendax began passing him notes--questions to ask, explanations, definitions. Slowly, Galbally started working up a rhythm to the cross-examination.

During the questioning someone from the back of the court sidled up to Mendax, in the front row of seats, and handed a note over his shoulder. Mendax unfolded the note, read it and then turned around to smile at the messenger. It was Electron.

By the time Galbally had finished, he had pulled apart much of the NorTel manager's evidence. As he built up a head of steam quizzing the witness, he forced the NorTel manager to admit he didn't know all that much about the alleged hacking incidents. In fact, he wasn't even employed by the company when they occurred. He had largely thrown together an affidavit based on second-hand information--and it was this affidavit which supposedly proved the hackers had cost the company $160000. Worse, it seemed to an observer at court that the NorTel manager had little Unix security technical expertise and probably would not have been able to conduct a detailed technical analysis of the incident even if he had been with the company in 1991. By the end of the defence's cross-examination, it appeared that Galbally knew more about Unix than the NorTel manager.

When Geoff Chettle stood up to re-examine the witness, the situation was hopeless. The manager soon stood down. In Mendax's view, the credibility of the NorTel Manager's statement was shot.

The court was then adjourned until 12 May.

After court, Mendax heard Geoff Chettle talking about the NorTel witness. `That guy is OFF the team,' he said emphatically.

It was a mixed victory for Mendax. His solicitor had knocked off one NorTel witness, but there were more where he came from. At a full trial, the prosecution would likely fly in some real NorTel fire-power, from Canada, where the 676-page security incident report had been prepared by Clark Ferguson and other members of the NorTel security team. Those witnesses would understand how a Unix system operated, and would have first-hand knowledge of the hackers' intrusions. It could make things much more difficult.

When Mendax returned to court a week later, he was committed to stand trial in the County Court of Victoria, as expected.

Later, Mendax asked Galbally about his options. Take the case to full trial, or plead guilty like the other two IS hackers. He wanted to know where the DPP stood on his case. Would they go in hard if he pleaded guilty? Had the NorTel manager disaster at the committal hearing forced them to back down a little?

Paul sighed and shook his head. The DPP were standing firm. They wanted to see Mendax go to prison.

Andrea Pavleka, the DPP's sunny-faced girl who radiated happiness, was baying for blood.

One month later, on 21 July 1995, Prime Suspect arrived at the County Court for sentencing.

Rising early that morning to make sure his court suit was in order, Prime Suspect had been tense. His mother cooked him a big breakfast. Toast, bacon and eggs the way he liked it. In fact, his favourite breakfast was an Egg McMuffin from McDonald's, but he never told his mother that.

The courtroom was already crowded. Reporters from newspapers, the wire services, a few TV channels. There were also other people, perhaps waiting for another case.

Dressed in a dark pin-stripe suit, Ken Day stood tapping on a laptop on the prosecution's side of the courtroom. Geoff Chettle sat near him. Prime Suspect's barrister, Boris Kayser, sifted through some papers on the other side.

Mendax lingered at the back of the room, watching his former friend. He wanted to hear Prime Suspect's sentence because, under the rules of parity sentencing, Mendax's own sentence would have to be similar to that of his fellow hackers. However, Prime Suspect might get some dispensation for having helped the prosecution.

A handful of Prime Suspect's friends--none of them from the computer underground--trickled in. The hacker's mother chatted nervously with them.

Court was called into session and everyone settled into their seats. The first case, it turned out, was not Prime Suspect's. A tall, silver-haired man in his mid-fifties, with eyes so blue they were almost demonic, stepped into the dock. As the reporters began taking notes, Prime Suspect tried to imagine what crime the polished, well-dressed man had committed.

Child molesting.

The man had not just molested children, he had molested his own son. In the parents' bedroom. Repeatedly. On Easter Sunday. His son was less than ten years old at the time. The whole family had collapsed. Psychologically scarred, his son had been too traumatised even to give a victim impact statement.

For all of this, Judge Russell Lewis told the court, the man had shown no remorse. Grave-faced, the judge sentenced him to a minimum prison term of five years and nine months.

The court clerk then called Prime Suspect's case.

At the back of the courtroom, Mendax wondered at the strange situation. How could the criminal justice system put a child molester in the same category as a hacker? Yet, here they both were being sentenced side by side in the same County Court room.

Boris Kayser had called a collection of witnesses, all of whom attested to Prime Suspect's difficult life. One of these, the well-regarded psychologist Tim Watson-Munro, described Prime Suspect's treatments at the Austin Hospital and raised the issue of reduced free-will. He had written a report for the court.

Judge Lewis was quick to respond to the suggestion that hacking was an addiction. At one point, he wondered aloud to the courtroom whether some of Prime Suspect's hacking activities were `like a shot of heroin'.

Before long, Kayser had launched into his usual style of courtroom address. First, he criticised the AFP for waiting so long to charge his client.

`This fellow should have been dealt with six to twelve months after being apprehended. It is a bit like the US, where a man can commit a murder at twenty, have his appeal be knocked back by the Supreme Court at 30 and be executed at 40--all for something he did when he was only twenty years old.

Thoroughly warmed up, Kayser observed that 20 per cent of Prime Suspect's life had gone by since being raided. Then he began hitting his high notes.

`This young man received no assistance in the maturation process. He didn't grow up, he drifted up.

`His world was so horrible that he withdrew into a fantasy world. He knew no other way to interact with human beings. Hacking was like a physical addiction to him.

`If he hadn't withdrawn into the cybernetic highway, what would he have done instead? Set fires? Robbed houses? Look at the name he gave himself. Prime Suspect. It has implied power--a threat. This kid didn't have any power in his life other than when he sat down at a computer.'

Not only did Kayser want the judge to dismiss the idea of prison or community service, he was asking him to order no recorded conviction.

The prosecution lawyers looked at Kayser as if he was telling a good joke. The AFP had spent months tracking these hackers and almost three years preparing the case against them. And now this barrister was seriously suggesting that one of the key players should get off virtually scot-free, with not so much as a conviction recorded against him? It was too much.

The judge retired to consider the sentence. When he returned, he was brief and to the point. No prison. No community service. The recording of 26 convictions. A $500 three-year good behaviour bond. Forfeiture of the now ancient Apple computer seized by police in the raid. And a reparation payment to the Australian National University of $2100.

Relief passed over Prime Suspect's face, pink and sweaty from the tension. His friends and family smiled at each other.

Chettle then asked the judge to rule on what he called `the cooperation point'. He wanted the judge to say that Prime Suspect's sentence was less than it would have been because the hacker had turned Crown witness. The DPP was shoring up its position with regard to its remaining target--Mendax.

Judge Lewis told the court that the cooperation in this case made no difference. At the back of the court, Mendax felt suddenly sad. It was good news for him, but somehow it felt like a hollow victory.

Prime Suspect has destroyed our friendship, he thought, and all for nothing.

Two months after Prime Suspect's sentencing, Trax appeared in another County Court room to receive his sentence after pleading guilty to six counts of hacking and phreaking. Despite taking medication to keep his anxiety under control while in the city, he was still very nervous in the dock.

Since he faced the least number of charges of any of the IS hackers, Trax believed he had a shot at no recorded conviction. Whether or not his lawyer could successfully argue the case was another matter. Bumbling through papers he could never seem to organise, Trax's lawyer rambled to the court, repeated the same points over and over again, jumping all over the place in his arguments. His voice was a half-whispered rasp--a fact which so annoyed the judge that he sternly instructed the lawyer to speak up.

Talking informally before court, Geoff Chettle had told Mendax that in his view there was no way Judge Mervyn Kimm would let Trax off with no recorded conviction. Judge Kimm was considered to be one tough nut to crack. If you were a bookmaker running bets on his court at a sentencing hearing, the good money would be on the prosecution's side.

But on 20 September 1995, the judge showed he couldn't be predicted quite so easily. Taking everything into account, including Prime Suspect's sentence and Trax's history of mental illness, he ordered no conviction be recorded against Trax. He also ordered a $500 three-year good behaviour bond.

In passing sentence, Judge Kimm said something startlingly insightful for a judge with little intimate knowledge of the hacker psyche. While sternly stating that he did not intend to make light of the gravity of the offences, he told the court that `the factors of specific deterrence and general deterrence have little importance in the determination of the sentence to be imposed'. It was perhaps the first time an Australian judge had recognised that deterrence had little relevance at the point of collision between hacking and mental illness.

Trax's sentence was also a good outcome for Mendax, who on 29 August 1995 pleaded guilty to eight counts of computer crime, and not guilty to all the other charges. Almost a year later, on 9 May 1996, he pleaded guilty to an additional eleven charges, and not guilty to six. The prosecution dropped all the other charges.

Mendax wanted to fight those six outstanding charges, which involved ANU, RMIT, NorTel and Telecom, because he felt that the law was on his side in these instances. In fact, the law was fundamentally unclear when it came to those charges. So much so that the DPP and the defence agreed to take issues relating to those charges in a case stated to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

In a case stated, both sides ask the Supreme Court to make a ruling not on the court case itself, but on a point of law. The defence and the prosecution hammer out an agreed statement about the facts of the case and, in essence, ask the Supreme Court judges to use that statement as a sort of case study. The resulting ruling is meant to clarify the finer points of the law not only for the specific case, but for similar cases which appear in future.

Presenting a case stated to the Supreme Court is somewhat uncommon. It is unusual to find a court case where both sides can agree on enough of the facts, but Mendax's hacking charges presented the perfect case and the questions which would be put to the Victorian Supreme Court in late 1996 were crucial for all future hacking cases in Australia. What did it mean `to obtain access' to a computer? Did someone obtain access if he or she got in without using a password? What if he or she used the username `guest' and the password `guest'?

Perhaps the most crucial question of all was this: does a person `obtain access' to data stored in a computer if he or she has the ability to view the data, but does not in fact view or even attempt to view that data?

A good example of this applied to the aggravated versions of the offence of hacking: viewing commercial information. If, for example, Mendax logged into a NorTel computer, which contained commercially sensitive information, but he didn't actually read any of those files, would he be guilty of `obtaining access' or `obtaining access to commercial information'?

The chief judge of the County Court agreed to the case stated and sent it up to the full bench of the Supreme Court. The lawyers from both sides were pleased with the bench--Justices Frank Vincent, Kenneth Hayne and John Coldrey.

On 30 September 1996, Mendax arrived at the Supreme Court and found all the lawyers assembled at the court--all except for his barrister. Paul Galbally kept checking his watch as the prosecution lawyers began unpacking their mountains of paper--the fruit of months of preparation. Galbally paced the plush carpet of the Supreme Court anteroom. Still no barrister.

Mendax's barrister had worked tirelessly, preparing for the case stated as if it was a million dollar case. Combing through legal precedents from not only Australia, the UK and the US, but from all the world's Western-style democracies, he had attained a great understanding of the law in the area of computer crime. He had finally arrived at that nexus of understanding between law, philosophy and linguistics which many lesser lawyers spent their entire careers trying to reach.

But where was he? Galbally pulled out his mobile and checked in with his office for what seemed like the fifth time in as many minutes. The news he received was bad. He was told, through second-hand sources, that the barrister had collapsed in a state of nervous exhaustion. He wouldn't be making it to court.

Galbally could feel his hairs turning grey.

When court opened, Galbally had to stand up and explain to three of the most senior judges in Australia why the defence would like a two-day adjournment. A consummate professional, Geoff Chettle supported the submission. Still, it was a difficult request. Time in the Supreme Court is a scarce and valuable thing. Fortunately, the adjournment was granted.

This gave Galbally exactly two days in which to find a barrister who was good, available and smart enough to assimilate a massive amount of technical information in a short time. He found Andrew Tinney.

Tinney worked around the clock and by Wednesday, 2 October, he was ready. Once again, all the lawyers, and the hacker, gathered at the court.

This time, however, it was the judges who threw a spanner into the works. They asked both sides to spend the first hour or so explaining exactly why the Supreme Court should hear the case stated at all. The lawyers looked at each other in surprise. What was this all about?

After hearing some brief arguments from both sides, the judges retired to consider their position. When they returned, Justice Hayne read a detailed judgment saying, in essence, that the judges refused to hear the case.

As the judge spoke, it became clear that the Supreme Court judges weren't just refusing to hear this case stated; they were virtually refusing to hear any case stated in future. Not for computer crimes. Not for murder. Not for fraud. Not for anything. They were sending a message to the County Court judges: don't send us a case stated except in exceptional circumstances.

Geoff Chettle slumped in his chair, his hands shielding his face. Paul Galbally looked stunned. Andrew Tinney looked as if he wanted to leap from his chair shouting, `I just killed myself for the past two days on this case! You have to hear it!' Even Lesley Taylor, the quiet, unflappable and inscrutable DPP solicitor who had replaced Andrea Pavleka on the case, looked amazed.

The ruling had enormous implications. Judges from the lower courts would be loath to ever send cases to the Supreme Court for clarification on points of law again. Mendax had made legal history, but not in the way he had hoped.

Mendax's case passed back down to the County Court.

He had considered taking his case to trial, but with recently announced budget cuts to Legal Aid, he knew there was little hope of receiving funding to fight the charges. The cuts were forcing the poor to plead guilty, leaving justice available only for the wealthy. Worse, he felt the weight of pleading guilty, not only as a sense of injustice in his own case, but for future hacking cases which would follow. Without clarity on the meaning of the law--which the judges had refused to provide--or a message from a jury in a landmark case, such as Wandii's trial, Mendax believed that hackers could expect little justice from either the police or the courts in the future.

On 5 December 1996, Mendax pleaded guilty to the remaining six charges and was sentenced on all counts.

Court Two was quiet that day. Geoff Chettle, for the prosecution, wasn't there. Instead, the quietly self-possessed Lesley Taylor handled the matter. Paul Galbally appeared for Mendax himself. Ken Day sat, expressionless, in the front row of the public benches. He looked a little weary. A few rows back, Mendax's mother seemed nervous. Electron slipped silently into the back of the room and gave Mendax a discreet smile.

His hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, Mendax blinked and rolled his eyes several times as if brought from a dark space into the bright, white-walled courtroom.

Judge Ross, a ruddy-faced and jowly man of late middle age with bushy, grey eyebrows, seated himself in his chair. At first, he was reluctant to take on the case for sentencing. He thought it should be returned to one of the original judges--Judge Kimm or Judge Lewis. When he walked into court that morning, he had not read the other judges' sentences.

Lesley Taylor summarised the punishments handed down to the other two hackers. The judge did not look altogether pleased. Finally, he announced he would deal with the case. `Two judges have had a crack at it, why not a third one? He might do it properly.'

Galbally was concerned. As the morning progressed, he became increasingly distressed; things were not going well. Judge Ross made clear that he personally favoured a custodial sentence, albeit a suspended one. The only thing protecting Mendax seemed to be the principle of parity in sentencing. Prime Suspect and Trax had committed similar crimes to Mendax, and therefore he had to be given a similar sentence.

Ross `registered some surprise' at Judge Lewis's disposition toward the sentencing of Prime Suspect. In the context of parity, he told Leslie Taylor, he was at times `quite soured by some penalties' imposed by other judges. He quizzed her for reasons why he might be able to step outside parity.

He told the court that he had not read the telephone intercepts in the legal brief. In fact, he had `only read the summary of facts' and when Taylor mentioned `International Subversive', he asked her, `What was that?'

Then he asked her how to spell the word `phreak'.

Later that day, after Judge Ross had read the other judges' sentences, he gave Mendax a sentence similar to Prime Suspect's--a recorded conviction on all counts, a reparation payment of $2100 to ANU and a three-year good behaviour bond.

There were two variations. Prime Suspect and Trax both received $500 good behaviour bonds; Judge Ross ordered a $5000 bond for Mendax. Further, Judge Lewis had given Prime Suspect almost twelve months to pay his $2100 reparation. Judge Ross ordered Mendax to pay within three months.

Judge Ross told Mendax, `I repeat what I said before. I thought initially that these were offences which justified a jail sentence, but the mitigatory circumstances would have converted that to a suspended sentence. The sentence given to your co-offender caused me to alter that view, however.' He was concerned, he said, `that highly intelligent individuals ought not to behave like this and I suspect it is only highly intelligent individuals who can do what you did'.

The word `addiction' did not appear anywhere in the sentencing transcript.

Contents | Previous: Chapter 8 -- The International Subversives | Next: Chapter 10 -- Anthrax -- The Outsider