[From Computer underground Digest]

Date: Sat, 8 Oct 1994 00:57:06 -0500 (CDT)
From: bje@RIPCO.COM(Bruce Esquibel)
Subject: File 1--"Operation Sundevil" is finally over for Dr. Ripco

((MODERATORS' NOTE: I first learned of Operation Sundevil, part of
the US Secret Service's "hacker crackdown" of 1990 described by Bruce
Sterling in the book of the same name, the day after it happened.
I called RIPCO BBS in Chicago and received a voice message instead of
the familiar computer tone. Dr. Ripco and Ripco BBS had been busted,
and he bade farewell to us all:

     This is 528-5020.

     As you are probably aware, on May 8, the Secret Service
     conducted a series of raids across the country.  Early news
     reports indicate these raids involved people and computers
     that could be connected with credit card and long distance
     toll fraud. Although no arrests or charges were made, Ripco
     BBS was confiscated on that morning.  It's involvement at
     this time is unknown. Since it is unlikely that the system
     will ever return, I'd just like to say goodbye, and thanks
     for your support for the last six and a half years.  It's
     been interesting, to say the least.

     Talk to ya later.  %Dr. Ricpo%

The raiders carted off Dr. Ripco's BBS-related computer hardware,
books, posters, and other possessions.  No computer-related charges
were filed against Dr Ripco then or since. Nor was he given any
indication that he was under suspicion for any offense.  For over four
years, he remained in legal limbo, while over $15,000 worth of
computer equipment depreciated in government possession.

Because of its lively and diverse message boards, the large
cross-section of users, and the exceptional competence of Dr. Ripco as
a sysop, the BBS became one of the most popular "underground" boards
in the country in the 1980s. Despite its reputation as a "hacker
haven," Ripco was an open system with at that time one of the best
collection of text files in the nation. As we reported in CuD 3.02 in
1991, it also attracted an informant known as "The Dictator," also
identified as "Dale Drew." According to court documents, "The
Dictator's" reports were the primary "evidence" to justify the Ripco
raid.

When announcing the news of Operation Sundevil, Secret Service
spokespersons lauded its scope--150 USSS agents in addition to local
law enforcement support, 13 cities, 28 search warrants, 23,000 seized
computer disks--they had no reason to suspect that their
then-perceived "success" would quickly turn into a major embarrassment
of comic proportions (see CuD 1.09 for Sundevil news).  A few
eventual arrests--some of which were not Sundevil dependant--were
the only demonstrable outcome. Even these were tarnished by USSS and
others' hyperbole and similar excesses:  The ludicrous claim that this
"group" was responsible for what one newspaper reported as "up to $50
million" in fraud costs, the questionable use of an informant, the
seemingly indiscriminate manner in which equipment was seized, the
lack of subsequent information to convince a skeptical community that
the raids' excesses were warranted--soon had Sundevil operatives on
the defensive.  Some of those responsible for Sundevil, such as USDA
Bill Cook and USSS special agent Tim Foley, were successfully sued in
civil court for their excesses in raiding Steve Jackson Games a few
months earlier. One high-profile state prosecutor closely associated
with Sundevil often cautioned critics to "wait until all the facts
come out," presumably because the operation and those who planned it
would be vindicated.

After over four years, vindicating facts have not yet emerged.  Quite
the opposite: Sundevil was costly, had few significant results,
produced few directly-related indictments or convictions, proved a
major public relations disaster, and messed up some innocent lives.

Sundevil  did, however, have some significant unintended
consequences.  It galvanized the cybercommunity, increased the
visibility of The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Computer
Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), and led to the
involvement of many individuals and groups in monitoring and shaping
legislation affecting the "information infrastructure."

Ripco BBS returned to operation a few months after the raid more
popular than ever, and has since evolved into a sophisticated system
linked to the Internet. The original telephone number is the same,
although it now has multiple lines to accommodate all the users.

And, for Dr. Ripco, Operation Sundevil has finally come to a close.
His equipment was finally returned, although the original files
were erased. Ripco can be reached at (312) 528-5020.))

             == Dr. Ripco's report on events this week ==

Hiya Jim,

Besides offering greetings I just wanted to let you know that
Operation Sundevil is officially closed, I guess.

Ripco (the original) came home to roost, the SS finally released the
seized hardware and I picked it up today. From what I gathered I was
the last one to get out of their hair.

I know SJ had some problems but surprisingly, everything seems to be
in fairly good shape. My guess is it all probably just sat in storage.

Although it physically is back, the system isn't. One condition was to
have all the data erased prior to return because of the copyrighted
pirate warez lurking about. The guy from the justice department said
it wouldn't look right to just return it, would put the feds in the
light that it was ok to have it with their blessing.

I suppose I could of cut some deal leaving the non-warez intact but
after seeing it take 4 1/2 years just to make up their mind to return
it, I didn't feel like waiting another 4 for someone to sort
everything out. A few pieces of the hardware still have some value
today, the old bbs would only have historical value.

It would also appear (Secret Service agents) Foley & Golden are/were
the butt of some inside joke.
Every time their names were mentioned, someone either rolled their eyes or
engaged in jest. The new guy in charge (Greg Meyer) seemed pretty cool
overall. I know, never trust a fed, but it was interesting he had the same
attitude like the guy in D.C. (Josuha Silverman), a hint of
embarrassment and total lack of logic behind the whole thing. It
appears the computer fraud division, at least here in the Chicago
office is more aiming at counterfeiting.

Anyway, I wanted to say thanks for everything. I don't know what would
have happened if we didn't communicate early on, but it's unlikely
things would have ended in a whimper like it did. I'm totally
convinced the efforts of CuD, the EFF and CPSR made a major impact on
all of this; it put the feds in a defensive position instead of
offensive. Things could always have come out better but you have to be
grateful for what you have.

Thanks much Jim, all your efforts and assistance is deeply
appreciated.

Bruce Esquibel (Dr. Ripco)
bje@ripco.com