TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Craig Niedorf Remembered - Part 1

Craig Niedorf Remembered - Part 1

TELECOM Digest Editor (
Fri, 5 Aug 2005 22:42:12 EDT

It was fifteen years ago, about this time in the summer of 1990, that
craig Niedorf, then a college student about 21 years old, was told by
the federal government that they would not be finding him guilty
after all. The federal prosecutor came up with a total crock based
on some flaky testimony by BellSouth. To save embarassment to
themselves because of this prosecutorial misconduct, the government
simply decided to let him go, after all the hell they had first put
him through, for his alleged 'hacking'. I thought you might like to
see the story I ran in the Digest fifteen years ago, over the last
weekend of July, 1990.

Date: Fri, 27 Jul 90 16:55 CDT

Less than halfway through the trial, and before it had presented its
remaining witnesses, but government dropped all charges against Craig
Neidorf. Defense Attorney Sheldon Zenner said that Prosecutor Bill
Cook's decision was "in line with the highest standards of good
government and ethical conduct." Zenner said that the government could
have continued to the last and let the jury decide, but did the
honorable thing.

One reason for the surprise decision, according to one inside source,
was that, as the testimony and cross-examination proceeded, the
government realized that BellSouth had not been forthcoming about the
extent of availability of the document and its worth. The prosecution
apparently relied on the good faith of BellSouth because of the
previously good working relationship it had with it and other telecom

Craig Neidorf was ecstatic about the decision, and feels vindicated.
He can now resume his studies, complete his degree, and seriously
consider law school. He *WILL NOT* resume publication of PHRACK!

Zenner praised Bill Cook's decision to drop all charges, and added he
is not angry, but appreciative. Zenner also felt that the the efforts
of EFF, CuD, and the many individuals who supported Craig were
instrumental in creating credibility and visibility for the case,
generating ideas and information for the defense, and facilitating
enlisting some of the prospective defense witnesses to participate.

There are those who have taken the Ed Meese line and assumed that
Craig must have done *something* or the government wouldn't be
prosecuting him. Others have not been as strident, but have put their
faith in "The System," assuming that the process works, and as long as
Craig's procedural rights were protected, we should "wait and see."
Others on the extreme end have said that those of us who supported
Craig would change our minds once all the evidence has come out, and
we were criticized for raising issues unfairly when the government, so
it was claimed, couldn't respond because it had to protect Craig's
privacy and was required to sit in silence. One prosecutor even said
that when all the evidence comes out, Craig's supporters would slink
back under their rocks.

There is little cause for Craig's supporters to gloat, because the
emotional and financial toll on Craig and his family were substantial.
Dropping the charges hardly means that the system works, because if it
worked, there would have been no charges to begin with. From the
beginning, Craig expressed his willingness to cooperate, but the
government made this impossible with its persecution. Craig's
supporters, from the beginning, have published the evidence, explained
the issues, and we can still see no reason for his indictment. The
evidence presented by the government in some cases could have been
presented as well by the defense to show that *no* criminal acts
occurred. When witnesses must be coached into how to present negative
evidence, and when little, if any, can be adequately constructed, one
would think that somebody in the prosecutor's office might realize
there simply isn't a case there. The government had no case in the
beginning, they could not construct one, and they had nothing at the
end. So, dropping the charges does not indicate that the system works,
but rather that sometimes a just outcome may result despite unjust
actions of over-zealous agents. The prosecution not only lost the
case, but reduced its credibility in all areas of computer

The claim that a recent TELECOM Digest contributor made that the SS
and others may intentionally overstep bounds to establish more clearly
the lines of law may be true, but what about the costs to innocent
victims of such Machiavellian tactics? Do we really live in such a
cynical society that we find it acceptable to place lives, careers,
and reputations at great risk?

Now, however, it is time to move on and address the lessons learned
from the experience. Some of the issues include how computerists can
be protected from overzealousness, how law enforcement agents can
perform their legitimate tasks of gathering evidence without violation
rights, and how legislation can be written to reflect technological
changes that protect us from predators while not subverting our rights
with loose, broad, or inaccurate language. This has been the goal of
Mitch and the EFF, and it is one on which we should *all* unite and
focus our energy.


Date: Fri, 27 Jul 90 03:23 CDT
Subject: Days Three and Four of Craig's Trial

Some final comments on Day Three of Craig Neidorf's trial:

It was curious that, in introducing the PHRACK/INC Hacking Directory,
a list of over 1,300 addresses and handles, the prosecution seemed it
important that LoD participants were on it, and made no mention of
academics, security and law enforcement agents, and others. In some
ways, it seemed that Bill Cook's strategy was to put HACKING (or his
own rather limited definition of it) on trial, and then attempt to
link Craig to hackers and establish guilt by association. It was also
strange that, after several months of supposed familiarization with
the case, that neither Bill Cook nor Agent Foley would pronounce his
name correctly. Neidorf rhymes with eye-dorf. Foley pronounced it
KNEEdorf and Cook insisted on NEDD-orf. Further, his name was spelled
incorrectly on at least three charts introduced as evidence, but as
Sheldon Zenner indicated, "we all make mistakes." Yeh, even Bill Cook.
One can't but think that such an oversight is intentional, because a
prosecutor as aware of detail as Bill Cook surely by now can be
expected to know who he is prosecuting, even when corrected. Perhaps
this is just part of a crude, arrogant style designed to intimidate,
perhaps it is ignorance, or perhaps it is a simple mistake. But, we
judge it an offense both to Craig and especially his family to sit in
the courtroom and listen to the man prosecuting their son to
continually and so obviously mispronounce their name.


Special Agent Foley continued his testimony, continuing to describe
the step by step procedure of the search, his conversation with Craig,
what he found, and the value of the E911 files. On cross-examination,
Agent Foley was asked how he obtained the original value of the files.
The value is crucial, because of the claim that they are worth more
than $5,000. Agent Foley indicated that he obtained the figure from
BellSouth and didn't bother to verify it. Then, he was asked how he
obtained the revised value of $23,000. Again, Agent Foley indicated
that he didn't verify the worth. Because of the importance of the
value in establishing applicability of Title 18, this seems a crucial,
perhaps fatal, oversight.

Next came the testimony of Robert Riggs (The Prophet), testifying
presumably under immunity and, according to a report in the last issue
of CuD, under the potential threat of a higher sentence if he did not
cooperate. The diminutive Riggs said nothing that seemed harmful to
Craig, and Zenner's skill elicited information that, to an observer,
seemed quite beneficial. For example, Riggs indicated that he had no
knowledge that Craig hacked, had no knowledge that Craig ever traded
in or used passwords for accessing computers, and that Craig never
asked him to steal anything for him. Riggs also indicated that he had
been coached by the prosecution. The coaching even included having a
member of the prosecution team play the role of Zenner to prepare him
for cross-examination. It was also revealed that the prosecution asked
Riggs to go over all the back issues of PHRACK to identify any
articles that may have been helpful in his hacking career. Although
it may damage the egos of some PHRACK writers, Riggs identified only
one article from PHRACK 7 that MIGHT POSSIBLY be helpful.

What are we to make of all this? So far, it seems that the bulk of the
evidence against Craig is weak, exaggerated, and at times seems almost
fabricated (such as the value of the E911 file and Craig's "evil"
attempt to organize a league of "criminals." We have been told
repeatedly be some law enforcement officials and others that we should
wait, because evidence will come out that could not be discussed in
public, and that this evidence would silence critics. Some have even
said that those who have criticized law enforcement would "slink back
under their rocks" when the evidence was presented. Perhaps. But, so
far at least, there has been no smoking gun, no evidence that hasn't
been discussed previously, and no indication of any heinous conspiracy
to bring America to its knees by trashing the E911 system, robbing
banks, or destroying the technological fabric of society. Perhaps a
bombshell will be introduced before the prosecution winds up in a few
days. But, even if Craig is ultimately found guilty on any of the
counts, there is certainly nothing presented thus far that appears to
justify the severity of the charges or the waste of state resources.
To paraphrase that anonymous writer in the last issue of CuD, I can't
help but wonder why we're all here!

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