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access codes. Some of Illuminati's users, however, were
members of the Legion of Doom. And so was one of
Steve Jackson's senior employees -- the Mentor. The
Mentor wrote for *Phrack,* and also ran an underground
board, Phoenix Project -- but the Mentor was not a
computer professional. The Mentor was the managing
editor of Steve Jackson Games and a professional game
designer by trade. These LoD members did not use
Illuminati to help their *hacking* activities. They used it
to help their *game-playing* activities -- and they were
even more dedicated to simulation gaming than they were
"Illuminati" got its name from a card-game that Steve
Jackson himself, the company's founder and sole owner,
had invented. This multi-player card-game was one of Mr
Jackson's best-known, most successful, most technically
innovative products. "Illuminati" was a game of
paranoiac conspiracy in which various antisocial cults
warred covertly to dominate the world. "Illuminati" was
hilarious, and great fun to play, involving flying saucers,
the CIA, the KGB, the phone companies, the Ku Klux
Klan, the South American Nazis, the cocaine cartels, the
Boy Scouts, and dozens of other splinter groups from the
twisted depths of Mr. Jackson's professionally fervid
imagination. For the uninitiated, any public discussion of
the "Illuminati" card-game sounded, by turns, utterly
menacing or completely insane.
And then there was SJG's "Car Wars," in which
souped-up armored hot-rods with rocket-launchers and
heavy machine-guns did battle on the American highways
of the future. The lively Car Wars discussion on the
Illuminati board featured many meticulous, painstaking
discussions of the effects of grenades, land-mines,
flamethrowers and napalm. It sounded like hacker
anarchy files run amuck.
Mr Jackson and his co-workers earned their daily
bread by supplying people with make-believe adventures
and weird ideas. The more far-out, the better.
Simulation gaming is an unusual pastime, but
gamers have not generally had to beg the permission of
the Secret Service to exist. Wargames and role-playing
adventures are an old and honored pastime, much
favored by professional military strategists. Once little-
known, these games are now played by hundreds of
thousands of enthusiasts throughout North America,
Europe and Japan. Gaming-books, once restricted to
hobby outlets, now commonly appear in chain-stores like
B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks, and sell vigorously.
Steve Jackson Games, Inc., of Austin, Texas, was a
games company of the middle rank. In 1989, SJG grossed
about a million dollars. Jackson himself had a good
reputation in his industry as a talented and innovative
designer of rather unconventional games, but his
company was something less than a titan of the field --
certainly not like the multimillion-dollar TSъ Inc., or
Britain's gigantic "Games Workshop."
SJG's Austin headquarters was a modest two-story
brick office-suite, cluttered with phones, photocopiers, fax
machines and computers. It bustled with semi-organized
activity and was littered with glossy promotional brochures
and dog-eared science-fiction novels. Attached to the
offices was a large tin-roofed warehouse piled twenty feet
high with cardboard boxes of games and books. Despite
the weird imaginings that went on within it, the SJG
headquarters was quite a quotidian, everyday sort of place.
It looked like what it was: a publishers' digs.
Both "Car Wars" and "Illuminati" were well-known,
popular games. But the mainstay of the Jackson
organization was their Generic Universal ъole-Playing
System, "G.U.ъ.P.S." The GUъPS system was considered
solid and well-designed, an asset for players. But perhaps
the most popular feature of the GUъPS system was that it
allowed gaming-masters to design scenarios that closely
resembled well-known books, movies, and other works of
fantasy. Jackson had licensed and adapted works from
many science fiction and fantasy authors. There was
*GUъPS Conan,* *GUъPS ъiverworld,* *GUъPS
Horseclans,* *GUъPS Witch World,* names eminently
familiar to science-fiction readers. And there was *GUъPS
Special Ops,* from the world of espionage fantasy and
And then there was *GUъPS Cyberpunk.*
"Cyberpunk" was a term given to certain science
fiction writers who had entered the genre in the 1980s.
"Cyberpunk," as the label implies, had two general
distinguishing features. First, its writers had a
interest in information technology, an interest closely akin
to science fiction's earlier fascination with space travel.
And second, these writers were "punks," with all the
distinguishing features that that implies: Bohemian
artiness, youth run wild, an air of deliberate rebellion,
funny clothes and hair, odd politics, a fondness for
abrasive rock and roll; in a word, trouble.
The "cyberpunk" SF writers were a small group of
mostly college-educated white middle-class litterateurs,
scattered through the US and Canada. Only one, ъudy
ъucker, a professor of computer science in Silicon Valley,
could rank with even the humblest computer hacker. But,
except for Professor ъucker, the "cyberpunk" authors were
not programmers or hardware experts; they considered
themselves artists (as, indeed, did Professor ъucker).
However, these writers all owned computers, and took an
intense and public interest in the social ramifications of
the information industry.
The cyberpunks had a strong following among the
global generation that had grown up in a world of
computers, multinational networks, and cable television.
Their outlook was considered somewhat morbid, cynical,
and dark, but then again, so was the outlook of their
generational peers. As that generation matured and
increased in strength and influence, so did the
cyberpunks. As science-fiction writers went, they were
doing fairly well for themselves. By the late 1980s, their
work had attracted attention from gaming companies,
including Steve Jackson Games, which was planning a
cyberpunk simulation for the flourishing GUъPS gaming-
The time seemed ripe for such a product, which had
already been proven in the marketplace. The first games-
company out of the gate, with a product boldly called
"Cyberpunk" in defiance of possible infringement-of-
copyright suits, had been an upstart group called ъ.
Talsorian. Talsorian's Cyberpunk was a fairly decent
game, but the mechanics of the simulation system left a
lot to be desired. Commercially, however, the game did
The next cyberpunk game had been the even more
successful *Shadowrun* by FASA Corporation. The
mechanics of this game were fine, but the scenario was
rendered moronic by sappy fantasy elements like elves,
trolls, wizards, and dragons -- all highly ideologically-
incorrect, according to the hard-edged, high-tech
standards of cyberpunk science fiction.
Other game designers were champing at the bit.
Prominent among them was the Mentor, a gentleman
who, like most of his friends in the Legion of Doom, was
quite the cyberpunk devotee. Mentor reasoned that the
time had come for a *real* cyberpunk gaming-book -- one
that the princes of computer-mischief in the Legion of
Doom could play without laughing themselves sick. This
book, *GUъPS Cyberpunk,* would reek of culturally on-
Mentor was particularly well-qualified for this task.
Naturally, he knew far more about computer-intrusion
and digital skullduggery than any previously published
cyberpunk author. Not only that, but he was good at his
work. A vivid imagination, combined with an instinctive
feeling for the working of systems and, especially, the
loopholes within them, are excellent qualities for a
professional game designer.
By March 1st, *GUъPS Cyberpunk* was almost
complete, ready to print and ship. Steve Jackson expected
vigorous sales for this item, which, he hoped, would keep
the company financially afloat for several months.
*GUъPS Cyberpunk,* like the other GUъPS "modules,"
was not a "game" like a Monopoly set, but a *book:* a
bound paperback book the size of a glossy magazine, with
a slick color cover, and pages full of text, illustrations,
tables and footnotes. It was advertised as a game, and
was used as an aid to game-playing, but it was a book, with
an ISBN number, published in Texas, copyrighted, and
sold in bookstores.
And now, that book, stored on a computer, had gone
out the door in the custody of the Secret Service.
The day after the raid, Steve Jackson visited the local
Secret Service headquarters with a lawyer in tow. There he
confronted Tim Foley (still in Austin at that time) and
demanded his book back. But there was trouble.
*GUъPS Cyberpunk,* alleged a Secret Service agent to
astonished businessman Steve Jackson, was "a manual for
"It's science fiction," Jackson said.
"No, this is real." This statement was repeated
several times, by several agents. Jackson's ominously
accurate game had passed from pure, obscure, small-
scale fantasy into the impure, highly publicized, large-
scale fantasy of the Hacker Crackdown.
No mention was made of the real reason for the
search. According to their search warrant, the raiders had
expected to find the E911 Document stored on Jackson's
bulletin board system. But that warrant was sealed; a
procedure that most law enforcement agencies will use
only when lives are demonstrably in danger. The raiders'
true motives were not discovered until the Jackson search-
warrant was unsealed by his lawyers, many months later.
The Secret Service, and the Chicago Computer Fraud and
Abuse Task Force, said absolutely nothing to Steve
Jackson about any threat to the police 911 System. They
said nothing about the Atlanta Three, nothing about
*Phrack* or Knight Lightning, nothing about Terminus.
Jackson was left to believe that his computers had
been seized because he intended to publish a science
fiction book that law enforcement considered too
dangerous to see print.
This misconception was repeated again and again,
for months, to an ever-widening public audience. It was
not the truth of the case; but as months passed, and this
misconception was publicly printed again and again, it
became one of the few publicly known "facts" about the
mysterious Hacker Crackdown. The Secret Service had
seized a computer to stop the publication of a cyberpunk
science fiction book.
The second section of this book, "The Digital
Underground," is almost finished now. We have become
acquainted with all the major figures of this case who
actually belong to the underground milieu of computer
intrusion. We have some idea of their history, their
motives, their general modus operandi. We now know, I
hope, who they are, where they came from, and more or
less what they want. In the next section of this book, "Law
and Order," we will leave this milieu and directly enter the
world of America's computer-crime police.
At this point, however, I have another figure to
My name is Bruce Sterling. I live in Austin, Texas,
where I am a science fiction writer by trade: specifically,
*cyberpunk* science fiction writer.
Like my "cyberpunk" colleagues in the U.S. and
Canada, I've never been entirely happy with this literary
label -- especially after it became a synonym for computer
criminal. But I did once edit a book of stories by my
colleagues, called *MIъъOъSHADES: the Cyberpunk
Anthology,* and I've long been a writer of literary-
cyberpunk manifestos. I am not a "hacker" of any
description, though I do have readers in the digital
When the Steve Jackson Games seizure occurred, I
naturally took an intense interest. If "cyberpunk" books
were being banned by federal police in my own home
town, I reasonably wondered whether I myself might be
next. Would my computer be seized by the Secret
Service? At the time, I was in possession of an aging Apple
IIe without so much as a hard disk. If I were to be raided
as an author of computer-crime manuals, the loss of my
feeble word-processor would likely provoke more snickers
I'd known Steve Jackson for many years. We knew
one another as colleagues, for we frequented the same
local science-fiction conventions. I'd played Jackson
games, and recognized his cleverness; but he certainly
had never struck me as a potential mastermind of
I also knew a little about computer bulletin-board
systems. In the mid-1980s I had taken an active role in an
Austin board called "SMOF-BBS," one of the first boards
dedicated to science fiction. I had a modem, and on
occasion I'd logged on to Illuminati, which always looked
entertainly wacky, but certainly harmless enough.
At the time of the Jackson seizure, I had no
experience whatsoever with underground boards. But I
knew that no one on Illuminati talked about breaking into
systems illegally, or about robbing phone companies.
Illuminati didn't even offer pirated computer games.
Steve Jackson, like many creative artists, was markedly
touchy about theft of intellectual property.
It seemed to me that Jackson was either seriously
suspected of some crime -- in which case, he would be
charged soon, and would have his day in court -- or else he
was innocent, in which case the Secret Service would
quickly return his equipment, and everyone would have a
good laugh. I rather expected the good laugh. The
situation was not without its comic side. The raid, known
as the "Cyberpunk Bust" in the science fiction community,
was winning a great deal of free national publicity both for
Jackson himself and the "cyberpunk" science fiction
Besides, science fiction people are used to being
misinterpreted. Science fiction is a colorful,
slipshod occupation, full of unlikely oddballs, which, of
course, is why we like it. Weirdness can be an
occupational hazard in our field. People who wear
Halloween costumes are sometimes mistaken for
Once upon a time -- back in 1939, in New York City --
science fiction and the U.S. Secret Service collided in a
comic case of mistaken identity. This weird incident
involved a literary group quite famous in science fiction,
known as "the Futurians," whose membership included
such future genre greats as Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl,
and Damon Knight. The Futurians were every bit as
offbeat and wacky as any of their spiritual descendants,
including the cyberpunks, and were given to communal
living, spontaneous group renditions of light opera, and
midnight fencing exhibitions on the lawn. The Futurians
didn't have bulletin board systems, but they did have the
technological equivalent in 1939 -- mimeographs and a
private printing press. These were in steady use,
producing a stream of science-fiction fan magazines,
literary manifestos, and weird articles, which were picked
up in ink-sticky bundles by a succession of strange, gangly,
spotty young men in fedoras and overcoats.
The neighbors grew alarmed at the antics of the
Futurians and reported them to the Secret Service as
suspected counterfeiters. In the winter of 1939, a squad
USSS agents with drawn guns burst into "Futurian House,"
prepared to confiscate the forged currency and illicit
printing presses. There they discovered a slumbering
science fiction fan named George Hahn, a guest of the
Futurian commune who had just arrived in New York.
George Hahn managed to explain himself and his group,
and the Secret Service agents left the Futurians in peace
henceforth. (Alas, Hahn died in 1991, just before I had
discovered this astonishing historical parallel, and just
before I could interview him for this book.)
But the Jackson case did not come to a swift and
comic end. No quick answers came his way, or mine; no
swift reassurances that all was right in the digital world,
that matters were well in hand after all. Quite the
opposite. In my alternate role as a sometime pop-science
journalist, I interviewed Jackson and his staff for an
in a British magazine. The strange details of the raid
me more concerned than ever. Without its computers,
the company had been financially and operationally
crippled. Half the SJG workforce, a group of entirely
innocent people, had been sorrowfully fired, deprived of
their livelihoods by the seizure. It began to dawn on me
that authors -- American writers -- might well have their
computers seized, under sealed warrants, without any
criminal charge; and that, as Steve Jackson had
discovered, there was no immediate recourse for this.
This was no joke; this wasn't science fiction; this was
I determined to put science fiction aside until I had
discovered what had happened and where this trouble
had come from. It was time to enter the purportedly real
world of electronic free expression and computer crime.
Hence, this book. Hence, the world of the telcos; and the
world of the digital underground; and next, the world of
PAъT THъEE: LAW AND OъDEъ
Of the various anti-hacker activities of 1990,
"Operation Sundevil" had by far the highest public
profile. The sweeping, nationwide computer
seizures of May 8, 1990 were unprecedented in
scope and highly, if rather selectively, publicized.
Unlike the efforts of the Chicago Computer
Fraud and Abuse Task Force, "Operation Sundevil"
was not intended to combat "hacking" in the sense
of computer intrusion or sophisticated raids on telco
switching stations. Nor did it have anything to do
with hacker misdeeds with AT&T's software, or with
Southern Bell's proprietary documents.
Instead, "Operation Sundevil" was a crackdown
on those traditional scourges of the digital
underground: credit-card theft and telephone code
abuse. The ambitious activities out of Chicago, and
the somewhat lesser-known but vigorous anti-
hacker actions of the New York State Police in 1990,
were never a part of "Operation Sundevil" per se,
which was based in Arizona.
Nevertheless, after the spectacular May 8 raids,
the public, misled by police secrecy, hacker panic,
and a puzzled national press-corps, conflated all
aspects of the nationwide crackdown in 1990 under
the blanket term "Operation Sundevil." "Sundevil" is
still the best-known synonym for the crackdown of
1990. But the Arizona organizers of "Sundevil" did
not really deserve this reputation -- any more, for
instance, than all hackers deserve a reputation as
There was some justice in this confused
perception, though. For one thing, the confusion
was abetted by the Washington office of the Secret
Service, who responded to Freedom of Information
Act requests on "Operation Sundevil" by referring
investigators to the publicly known cases of Knight
Lightning and the Atlanta Three. And "Sundevil"
was certainly the largest aspect of the Crackdown,
the most deliberate and the best-organized. As a
crackdown on electronic fraud, "Sundevil" lacked
the frantic pace of the war on the Legion of Doom;
on the contrary, Sundevil's targets were picked out
with cool deliberation over an elaborate
investigation lasting two full years.
And once again the targets were bulletin board
Boards can be powerful aids to organized fraud.
Underground boards carr