BLOODAXE COMES OUT SWINGING
Phrack editor Chris Goggans on Masters Of Deception
Chris Goggans, 26, is editor of the legendary underground ezine Phrack (firstname.lastname@example.org). Goggans was member of the computer underground group the Legion of Doom (LOD) -- within which his handle was "Erik Bloodaxe." Today, Goggans lives in Austin, Texas, and runs his one-man biz: Computer Security Technologies.
The book is very one-sided. Even in what it covers in that one-sidedness, it fails to paint an accurate picture. There's never enough detail.
Here's what I think happened: Josh pitched the book and HarperCollins bit. He assumed he'd get the full cooperation of the people involved for interviews. But he discovered they all wanted money. They wanted percentages. Points. People demanding film rights. Eveyone wanted something or they wouldn't talk.
Josh told us directly, when he came down to Texas to interview [LOD member] Scott Chasin and me. He said: "Ya, well, y'know, I'm having some problems talking to these guys, Chris. Everyone wants money. They're demanding this and demanding that." He told us the first meeting with one of them -- I can't remember who it was -- they showed up with their lawyer. And the lawyer started telling Josh how his client wasn't going to talk unless his client was given money.
When writing a book like this, without full cooperation you get something sketchy. So Josh was never able to pull off what he intended. But you have this obligation to the publisher, so you put together the best you can with what you have.
Did you liken the book to writing a sympathetic biography of Jeffrey Dahmer?
I hadn't read the book when I wrote that, just the excerpts in the the Wired article. But it's far too sympathetic: "Here's a book about the MOD, and they're basically good guys. Forget about the fact they are selling credit card cards and codes and crashing computer systems. They're nice guys. And I sure hope they don't hurt me, because I'm going to write nice flowery things about them."
So we end up with "New York vs Texas! Black vs White!" Forget about the fact LOD had a black member and a Mexican member, forget anything like that. It's "Three racist redneck Texans against a multi-ethnic group of computer youths from the inner city of New York, working to improve the lot life had handed them! "
You think he feared reprisal? And that the MOD is still active?
Welllll.... from everything I've seen, in continuing to watch and look around, most of them, yep, you bet. Whether they're in full swing remains to be seen. Remember, some of their friends didn't go to jail. They kept up on new developments. If you're a computer hacker, the first thing you do when out of jail is hook up with your friends.
Doesn't it change somewhat? It's one thing when you're 16, another when you're 26. A little wiser?
Yes and no. Some people go on with their lives. I think Mark is an example of that. For others, they don't have anything else. No work history. Convicted felon. No college education. How are you going to get a job? And what are you going to do? Sure, you know you know more than almost any other system administrator walking the beat in Manhattan, but you have absolutely nothing to back that up with on paper.
The biggest issue in the book -- and certainly in the Wired excerpt -- revolves around the word "nigger." Someone in the LOD supposedly called John Lee a nigger.
It's such blatant yellow journalism. And sure enough that's the one thing everyone picks up on. The insinuation [that I'm a racist] is completely untrue. But the more I am forced to deny it in public forums, the more it generates further speculation that I'm a racist. What's that line? "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
There was this supposed LOD phone bridge [a conference call for hackers]. John got hold of the number and came in with this big inflection in his English: "Yo! Dis is Dope Feeend! Wud up?" or something like that. Someone said something like, "Hang up you stupid nigger." Something like that. I wasn't on the bridge.
The book never says who called John a nigger. Some say it gives the impression it was you.
Oh yeah. I've had people from high school call me up: "Hey, you know you're a racist redneck?"
But you admit to "Jiving" the MOD History file. Josh contends that was a racist thing to do.
There were epithets of many kinds flung around at people about their backgrounds, not just at John Lee. Maybe, in the final analysis, I'm just too blinded from living in the South to see Jiving a file as being a terrible evil thing to do.
Josh attributes the clash at least partly to the difference in your class roots. Were you an affluent middle class kid?
Well, we didn't live in a tenement in inner city New York. My step-father was a gate agent for Delta. My mom didn't work. And there were four of us in the house. Whatever you can make off of that salary...
The biggest difference was geographic. You give off a certain attitude to fit into your environment. The main attitude of the people I've met from New York in the underground has been a sort of feral, packlike quality. Certainly those from the inner cities. If you're isolated and alone in that environment, other groups pick on you. So it's you against them. Whether it's people on your street versus people on their street, people in your borough versus people in that borough. Or the people in New York versus the people in Texas.
How was it different where you were in Texas?
I started hacking in Austin. And in Austin I was, at best, one of two hackers there. So it was impossible to develop an us-versus-them mentality. Hackers shared info.
You yourself don't have an accent. Are you from Texas?
Yeah, all my life. Never lived anywhere else. Everyone on my dad's side of the family, [breaks into Texan drawl] they all tawk like this. But people from East Texas what tawk like this, people don't take them too seriously, now. [back to normal voice] So I grew up never wanting an accent like that.
Are you pleased with any aspect of the book?
The thing I am most pleased with about the book is that it hasn't sold that well.
A version of this article appeared in Eye Weekly, a Torstar newspaper
© KKC Communications Corporation, 1995