According to many historians, the “Greek miracle” of a polis was achieved as a result of a cultural transition from mythos to logos. That is the transition of a culture based on myths to one of reason. It was on logos on which society was born in Greek culture. But myths didn’t die, they just took a second seat. Even today we have myths. Myths have positive and negative qualities. In general, myths give many a key facet in their life, and that is hope. Hope that now is amazing, that the future will be better, and that we can achieve our dreams. We build myths around organizations. A good example is the many myths involved in military operations, with good and bad repercussions. A recent example is that of Marines attacking CIA HQ. Another myth is that of the Spartans of Thermopylae. We also build myths around people. An example is the technical prowess of Kevin Mitnick. While Mitnick certainly has technical skills, per his own admission, most of his victories derived from social engineering his targets. Finally, we also create entire fictional myths. Batman, Captain America, etc. come to mind.
However, while myths provide hope, it becomes important to resort to reason when confronted with people who have purposefully created a facade of murky notoriety or have achieved a notable amount of fame based on nebulous events. Particularly when this facade is emphasized through the lens of journalism (a profession not itself without hyperbole). Recently in the media we’ve seen at least two individuals accused of sexual harassment. Both have a substantial amount of myth within the information security and hacking community built around them.
The first is John Draper (AKA Captain Crunch). Draper earned the nickname after finishing a stint in the Air Force and at National Semiconducter, when he (with Dennis Teresi) discovered that a whistle provided as a free gift in a Captain Crunch cereal box blew a perfect 2600 Hz. Next to switch-hooking this is probably the most famous example of phreaking in hacker history. The 2600 Hz tone was unique at the time because AT&T’s long pipes used that frequency to indicated a trunk line was available for analog call routing. This connected the receiving end of the trunk and allowed the connected (transmitter) side to enter an “operator mode.” No not shooter-operator. Phone operator. This provided the impetus for Draper to build blue boxes and ultimately start the “2600: The Hacker Quarterly” zine. A zine that still runs today.
The problem recently (and not so recently) is that John Draper has been accused of sexually harassing several people dating back to the 1970’s. Furthermore, rumors within the hacker/information security community have suggested for some time that John Draper preferred his victims male and young. Underage young.
According to the referenced Buzzfeed article, “Ethan Smith, now the Los Angeles bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, told BuzzFeed News that Draper once drew him to his hotel room with the promise of an interview, but then commenced an “exercise,” climbing on Smith’s back and rubbing his erect penis against him.” Additionally Buzzfeed reported, “Another of the three men who joined Draper in his hotel room, James Erickson, said Draper courted him for months as a teenager to join in “energy exercises,” eventually bringing him to his hotel room when he was drunk and jumping on his back. The young man threw Draper off and fled the room, he said.”
Sexual harassment and rape are about power. One way of building social capital is by building myths based on kernels of truth. Once built, it can lead to recognition and recognition and can lead to more social capital and ultimately power. It can easily create a disproportionate relationship between the object of a myth and its adherents. Not unlike a cult leader and their followers. When your childhood hacker hero turns about to be a sexual predator it stems from his power and from that very same social capital.
Why did the hacker community give John a pass? As a community hackers have shown pedophiles no mercy. The rumors of Draper’s disgusting adolescent proclivities have bubbled around for years and many people were aware; and yet… silence. A community that values transparency and the egalitarian distribution of information was a silent community on this. Was it because if we destroyed this myth it would smear the very origin of a culture? Who knew and said nothing? There is no “right reason” for this. This was a long time coming and assuming there is truth to the accusations he should be treated with no more deference than countless other sexual predators.
The second individual is Morgan Marquis-Boire. Wired drooled on this individual. After reading this, Google’s hiring practices definitely come into question. The “esteemed” venue First Look Media pulled him in (laughably) as their Chief of Security eventually giving Marquis-Boire a voice with their communist outreach platform, “The Intercept.” Wonder how that vetting went? “Sir..are you a hacker? Yes? Great! You’re hired!” I hope it improved, but I suspect “The Intercept” is looking for people based on their reputation and not facts, since their reporters fact-checking seems to mirror their vetting process and that is to say pretty non-existent. Now it seems that at least four individuals have claimed that not only did Marquis-Boire assault them, but he also raped them. A celebrated human rights activist uncovered as a serial rapist.
This is no accusation. This is self-admission. Per the Verge expose, “Lila, on the other hand, managed to out-maneuver him. She made him communicate with her in written electronic mediums, and when he was evasive, demanded that he describe his own behavior clearly and specifically. In the end, she was able to provide The Verge with both a chat log and a PGP signed and encrypted email from Morgan Marquis-Boire. In the email, he apologizes at great length for a terrible but unspecified wrong. And in the chat log, he explicitly confesses to raping and beating her in the hotel room in Toronto, and also confesses to raping multiple women in New Zealand and Australia.”
For me the word “pig” is not reserved for police officers. “Pig” an animal that has demonstrable intelligence but chooses to wallow in its own excrement and filth. The description is reserved for much lesser things than public servants and officers of the law. Men and women who use their power as tool to bolster their own ego by destroying the psyches of their victims. The very way in which they define themselves is exploitative because without their victims they would have very little to live for. Standing atop myths of their own creation oft repeated by the ignorant.
It is a fact that males overwhelm females in the information security community. The graph on the left is derived from the Census Bureau. This disparity only accounts for “Information Security Analysts,” but is generally true for the entire information technology labor category to varying degree. In a group in which males dominate, males should self-police their behavior. Not in relation to women, but in relation to each other and what it means to define yourself as a man. By that logic, the need for power through rape and assault should be an automatic dismissal from the club of “man.” A call to expunge individuals, to punish them, and to serve them up for justice. No one can claim to be a man who seeks this venal and disgusting method of self-aggrandizement. If you want power, pick the biggest guy in the group and swing at him with your ax.
In this profession of information security and its lauded, if notorious, roots we should retain the myth of Robin Hood. Not Jekyll and Hyde. We should welcome anyone of any gender or ethnicity. However, none of us should stand by and give rape a “pass.” At the very least, we should kill false hope. Kill myths around which lies nothing of merit but a character of lascivious desire intent on destroying those in a disadvantaged position.
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” -Justice Louis Brandeis
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia