Chapter 3-9
Hacker Crackdown

Go to Table of Contents

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

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

The crowded clientele were tourists, fishermen, local black folks
in their Sunday best, and white Georgian locals who all seemed
to bear an uncanny resemblance to Georgia humorist Lewis Grizzard.

The 2,400 students from 75 federal agencies who make up the FLETC
population scarcely seem to make a dent in the low-key local scene.
The students look like tourists, and the teachers seem to have taken
on much of the relaxed air of the Deep South.  My host was Mr. Carlton
Fitzpatrick, the Program Coordinator of the Financial Fraud Institute.
Carlton Fitzpatrick is a mustached, sinewy, well-tanned Alabama native
somewhere near his late forties, with a fondness for chewing tobacco,
powerful computers, and salty, down-home homilies.  We'd met before,
at FCIC in Arizona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will it have Phrack on it?  I ask wryly.

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

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

No, he says seriously, FLETC has to get its money worth out of the instructors.
He thinks he can get a local volunteer to do it, a high-school student.

He says a bit more, something I think about an Eagle Scout law-enforcement
liaison program, but my mind has rocketed off in disbelief.

"You're going to put a TEENAGER in charge of a federal security BBS?"
I'm speechless.  It hasn't escaped my notice that the FLETC Financial
Fraud Institute is the ULTIMATE hacker-trashing target; there is stuff in here,
stuff of such utter and consummate cool by every standard of the
digital underground. . . .

I imagine the hackers of my acquaintance, fainting dead-away from
forbidden-knowledge greed-fits, at the mere prospect of cracking
the superultra top-secret computers used to train the Secret Service
in computer-crime. . . .

"Uhm, Carlton," I babble, "I'm sure he's a really nice kid and all,
but that's a terrible temptation to set in front of somebody who's,
you know, into computers and just starting out. . . ."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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