I haven't had time to even begin to deal with this until now. So I'll be
as clear as possible. Our fears of what this show would be simply did not
do it justice. The reality was so much worse than any of the warnings
we started getting months ago. And the most troubling part of all this
is that so many people involved in this really knew better yet sensationalism
was allowed to run unchecked.
A little history to begin with. We at 2600 were approached by MTV back
in 1998 when they expressed an interest in doing a hacker documentary,
with the Mitnick case being a focal point. For months after, we helped
hook them up with various people and spent a considerable amount of
time working with them and helping them however we could.
The first warnings of trouble came from an MTV intern who called into
Off The Hook on June 29 with the revelation that all references to
Mitnick had been eliminated and that the "documentary" was now going to
focus exclusively on three trendy teens instead of the people and
issues that were originally said to be the focus.
Even with this disturbing news, we told people to not pass judgement
until the thing had aired. Well, it's aired and now it's judgement day.
Right away, the show begins with such sensationalism and quotes meant
to scare the shit out of Joe America that I swear I could smell Geraldo.
"It's like being God." "If I had the opportunity to shut off all the
power in the city, would I do it?" "We want to know the location of
every squad car within the nearest vicinity [sic]." And finally, "What
people don't understand, they fear." Well, that's sure the theme of
this half hour, isn't it? MTV clearly didn't grasp what hackers are
or maybe they just didn't want to since anything that complex might
confuse the audience they know so well. And they certainly did their
bit to spread fear throughout the program with quotes like the above,
with absolutely nothing to show that this was anything other than
Then the part that really pissed me off personally. Earlier this year,
I had asked the producers for one little thing in exchange for all
the help that I and other 2600 people had given them. President Clinton
had given a speech in January on computer hackers. We couldn't get
the White House to give us a video copy which we would have loved to
use in our upcoming documentary. I asked them if they could pull some strings
and they said they'd look into it. Last I heard they were having no
success. And guess what footage managed to show up in this program?
That's right, the footage they didn't even KNOW about which they obtained
after all and kept for themselves without a word to any of us!
Fortunately there are other networks who do live up to their promises
and we've gotten the footage from them. But this shows the sleaze factor
at work in this kind of a production.
"Never before have people so young had so much potential power to
disrupt the systems we all rely on." Please. Here we have the MTV
age fixation coupled with a blatant bit of hysteria with no factual
basis to back it up. Better get used to it as virtually none of the "facts"
presented in the next half hour will be researched or confirmed in any way.
"Chameleon faced off with one of America's most dangerous enemies." This
is basically Chameleon getting a piece of mail from someone he doesn't
know who lives overseas - at least that's all the details we're going to
"Shamrock - role model or renegade?" Yeah, that's the question that's
been plaguing the hacker world for years.
"Mantis - who says he can find out anything he wants about you." Just
by making such a claim, MTV will skip over all the proof and do a
feature on you as if everything you claim is true. Not one iota of
evidence is ever presented to back up this absurd bragging.
Now I want to point out that I don't personally have anything against any of
the people who were portrayed in this program. They were basically taken
in by MTV and taken advantage of. But by the same token, I
don't think these people have a whole lot to do with the hacker
community - at least, not from what we could see here.
Almost every sentence uttered throughout this program was a mistruth of
one sort or another. Mantis: "People see hackers as some fat kid sitting
at home dressed in black... I don't fit the stereotype of a hacker."
Well, guess what? You do fit the stereotype - MTV's stereotype or else
why would they have ignored all of the other people who are part of the
hacker world who don't fit into the MTV demographic? It's hard to figure
out who was playing who more - these kids or the MTV marketers.
Narrator: "At 16, Chameleon left high school and became a superstar of the
hacking underground." Yeah, we have superstars in the hacker world just
like in the music business - how convenient for MTV. In fact, we don't
really care at all about the technology - it's all about personalities.
(That was sarcasm in case any MTV people are getting hard reading that.)
They seem really happy turning the whole thing into an episode of COPS
while Shamrock and friends walk in slow motion down city streets with
blurred faces. They can't get enough of his involvement with drug dealing,
as if that has got anything to do with anything. They call him an expert
on "phone phreaking" and once again don't back it up in any way. Apparently
just walking down a street saying "I have knowledge that many people don't"
is enough for MTV to believe you.
Serena is amazed that Shamrock knows she has two voice mail boxes. That's
literally as easy as spelling out her name on a touch tone keypad. He
makes it seem as if he's listening to her personal stuff and she believes
him without asking for a single detail. Hackers can do anything, after all.
They spend a great deal of time listing Shamrock's various offenses:
wreckless driving, driving with a suspended license, phone fraud, possession
of drugs, and assault. It doesn't have a blessed thing to do with hacking
but they had to fill the time somehow and it's either that or put in
something meaningful. There is one instance where something is alluded
to on his net broadcast which seems to put down credit card fraud which
was an opportunity to actually address that misconception. Of course, it's
never followed up.
"Not much is legal about hacking but it's never been easier to do." I'd
love to see MTV's definition of hacking. From this show it would appear
to be: affiliating with terrorists, taking over the military, moving
satellites, and dealing drugs.
Serena is once again amazed that Mantis has a copy of "The Matrix" on
his computer. Apparently, she's never had the opportunity to download
a file. That's really all there is to it, you know. It's pretty fucking
simple and, once again, has got absolutely nothing to do with hacking.
But you have to love the mixed up hacker logic that is used to defend
copying a movie: "It's all about trading information. Information has to
be free. If Big Brother is watching me, why can't he be watched also?"
Hello?? The MATRIX?! Copying a pirated movie is somehow striking out
at Big Brother? What an insult to the many truly deserving causes that
are out there and were passed over for this tripe.
The only part of the program with any glimour of what hacking is
about is the section on the L0pht. But they never even bother to
get into it, spending less than a minute on the entire group/concept
and using the majority of that time to portray them as people
whose most important ability would be disrupting the entire Internet.
Next, Serena follows Shamrock as he attempts to get to an imprisoned
friend's disk before the authorities do. (Didn't we see this plot
device in "Hackers"?) Of course we never see the disk, don't get any
details about the friend, and learn absolutely nothing about anything
in the whole fiasco. But we do get to hear this bizarre exchange:
- Serena: "What do you think you can find on this disk?"
- Shamrock: "The police! You know, when we're listening to them on the
radio, obviously they're transmitting on a radio frequency - we know
what frequency they're transmitting on cuz we're receiving it."
Maybe a good dose of LSD is the only thing that'll make sense out
"You never know what you're dealing with when it comes to hacking"
is one of the insightful concluding thoughts. You also never know
what you're dealing with when you don't do any research into the
subject matter or check out your sources. I'm hearing now that Shamrock
is claiming he made the whole thing up just to fuck with them. If
that's true, MTV certainly got what they deserved by ignoring the
advice and warnings of knowledgeable people in order to pursue an
utterly fictitious story. But while Shamrock may have thought it was
amusing, it was stupid and caused great harm to the community by
making people believe this kind of crap. I can only assume that he
thought they would actually check the facts before running with the
story. Now we all know better.
As for Chameleon, all kinds of allegations are thrown around about his
dealing with a terrorist. Yet the only "evidence" of this comes from
the editor of AntiOnline, who does not exactly have a good reputation
when it comes to presenting facts accurately. (MTV hired him as their
technology consultant - another detail they kept quiet.) There is
absolutely NO EVIDENCE from a credible source that this foreign person
he got a check from had anything to do with any terrorist group. All
it shows is that someone was monumentally stupid in thinking that paying
to hack a web page was a good idea. Again, nothing to do with hacking.
Again, the facts were never checked.
Mantis: "I've been to the end of the Internet and back - over the
course of my years, I've done everything possible." This kid is 19.
With a boast like that, I expect him to have found the meaning of
life by the time he's 30. I say we hold him to it.
What's amazing (and indicative of the MTV sleaze once more) is that
Mantis isn't shown to be doing anything illegal. In fact, he's the
success story, teaching others, staying out of trouble, doing
positive things... Yet MTV manages to make him look like a criminal
by getting him to say that IF he did something illegal he would
know how to cover himself. Slick.
The whole charade ends with footage of Serena not able to get into
her AOL account and saying "my account has been hacked by hackers."
She feels "angry and violated." There is irony here - most everyone
in the hacker world has the same feeling right now because of MTV's
yellow journalism. But once again, there is no evidence to suggest
that this "hack" is anything more than a publicity stunt, much like when
MTV hacked its own web page a while back to get attention. If there
is anything to suggest that Serena herself didn't do this or one of
her fellow employees didn't set it up to get the "perfect ending," I
sure didn't see it. Changing a password on AOL is not exactly hacking.
But since nothing else in this half hour was either, we can hardly
So the lessons to be learned here are several. The most important
being: DON'T TRUST THE MEDIA! Especially the slick and trendy media.
They're not interested in the story but rather in being cool and
accepted in the industry. If you don't know how to deal with them,
they will screw you over and as a result screw over those people
you're supposedly speaking on behalf of. Far too many people were
getting all excited about MTV doing a piece on Mitnick that they
played right into their hands and got crucified. While Kevin was
justifiably upset that they cut him out of the program (they claim
they just didn't have enough time), I think he'll be happy not to
have any affiliation at all with this portrayal. Interestingly,
special thanks are given to David Schindler (Kevin's prosecutor)
which means that they actually managed to do a rare video interview
with him and still decided to shelve it or maybe he gave them a ton of
money to just sit on the story. At this point, I'll believe anything.