Outing the Agent

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2007-08-03 Print this article Print

"We got a heads up yesterday she was coming out. So we back-channeled, unofficially reached out and said we want to help, we want you to have a successful story, we want it to be fair and balanced. Do you want access to Dark Tangent? Do you want to shoot video? No. She declined. The person of interest was observed, we were told when she landed at airport, and we had people" ready to intercept her, Priest said. The idea of outing those working undercover in security is something Defcon organizers dont discuss lightly. Its not that theyre against the First Amendment, by any means, Priest said.
The thing is, any fed whom Madigan might have managed to out could have turned out to be on the brink of shipping out to Afghanistan or some other dangerous area where federal agents are engaged, Priest said. If identified on film, an agent or the agents family could be endangered.
"You dont want it known if you work for the [National Security Agency] or the CIA," Priest said. Priest said its conjecture, but his guess is that Madigan wanted a splash piece along the lines of showing Defcon as a group of mostly criminals from whom federal agents are here to learn. "She said she believes people in Kansas would be interested in knowing whats happening at Defcon," Priest said, quoting Defcon staffers who worked undercover who talked with Madigan. Thats Kansas, he said, as a metaphor for mainstream America. "We have this image in the media as evil, dastardly, bad people," Priest said. "The reality is, we are the ultimate explorers, if you will. We see a problem or technology, we want to see how it works. Im speaking of the majority. There are some social misfits who do Nigerian spam or botnets. Thats the Russian mafia, whos realized they can [profit from black-hat hacking]," he said. Experts: Cyber-criminals are still running amok. Click here to read more. The criminal element makes up a small minority of Defcon attendees, but if theyre bold enough to be blatant, theyre in trouble. Defcon has proved this time after time in the past. One incident involved an attendee who gave a presentation titled "Hack the RNC." On stage, the presenter exhorted attendees to go back to New York and blow up a bus in front of Vice President Dick Cheney and kill members of the Republican party. "I thought I would be killed in the rush of people running to the stage to beat the snot out of him," Priest said. Meanwhile, out a side door, eight to nine federal agents were "chomping at the bit for access to the kid to drag him into jail," he said. "They had to take him into custody to protect" him from the Defcon crowd, he said. He wound up serving three years out of a five-year jail sentence. "We are a global community, but we are a law-abiding and patriotic community," said Priest, who himself is a government employee. "We think of this, youre in Geneva," Priest said. "Feds come in, they dont bust us. We dont turn their phone numbers into 976 numbers. Its neutral territory. And to have someone come in and poop on your couch, its bad form." NBC Universal had not responded to phone calls by the time story this posted. Editors Note: This story was updated to correct the name of the NBC show for which Michelle Madigan works. eWEEK regrets the error. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEKs Security Watch blog.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel