It takes an unusual person to look forward to a trial which will determine whether he will face serious charges involving espionage, online theft, the stealing of intellectual and private property, receiving stolen goods and attempting to sell stolen goods among a host of possible charges, not to mention a tsunami’s-worth of separate small-claims court litigation from a number of private businesses. Nineteen-year-old Dylan Wheeler is a rare breed. Happy to declare himself the chief conspirator amongst a group of young hackers from Canada, the United States and Australia, all of whom met online, he has repeatedly confessed to being what he calls ‘the Black Hat.’ Yet at other times he insists upon having been reformed. A toxic combination of sociopath and narcissist—sometimes in a quite charmingly disarming way, I might add—with a dollop of reckless daredevil, Dylan enjoys basking in the spotlight of celebrity and insists in spouting dogmatic clichés about freedom of expression. Clearly his defense lawyer will have a gargantuan task trying to convince a skeptical jury and public that he is not the menace to society the U.S. Justice Department and the press are saying he is.
Having written an article on the case in general for BaDoink and read scores of articles about the matter in various newspapers, websites and magazines, it sort of made sense to talk to Wheeler himself. Sure, some of the quotations from interviews seemed to go against others. He seemed curmudgeonly, contradictory, and, above all, very bright for one so young. As he lives in Perth, Australia, and I live in Chicago, we talked and decided to do a sort of extemporaneous Q & A format. From my point-of-view this gave him plenty of time to think and reply to my questions. All well and good, save for the fact that Dylan Wheeler chose to reply in a freewheeling way in sentences that were either paragraph long run-ons or else jagged little fragments. The answers have been edited for clarity. Dylan objected to some of this editing, but his objections seemed to be more predicated on the contradictions and plain old flip-flops of many of his answers going public.
Talking the talk of anarchists is always interesting. In 1840, the philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote What is Property? Or, An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government. This is considered one of the most influential works of anarchist philosophy and is the origin of the rallying cry “property is theft!” In it, Proudhon poses this question:
If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: What is property! may I not likewise answer, It is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?
All well and good. This is the generic answer utilized by anarchists, nihilists and general shit-stirrers for close to 200 years. Ask any of them if you might appropriate their ‘intellectual property,’ however, and I’d be surprised if they’d willingly furnish it in your direction. If only Dylan felt the same kind of empathy for those whose work he’s appropriated from various governments and private businesses as he does for his own work being ruthlessly confiscated by the Australian Secret Service and the Perth police.
Q – Can I ask you to tell us who you are. I know you’re nineteen-year-old from Perth in Western Australia and attending Macquarie University. A lot of folks don’t like teenagers, mistrust them totally, think they’re distracted by smoking dope, spending too much time on the Net, especially on the social networks and are addicted, if not to sex, to porn. Having brought up two kids of 33 and 31 and having the youngest about to turn 16, I like to think I’m more empathetic than most. At any rate, you and your ‘friends’ are the current poster children for whatever is supposed to be wrong with today’s section of privileged youth. That’s all, of course, a pack of clichés and stereotypes. Can you enlighten me? Who is Dylan Wheeler?
A – I was studying for a B.A. at Curtin University; however, due to other commitments. I was unable to focus on my units, so I have deferred this semester. I’m now in the process of doing a Bachelor of Security Studies at Macquarie University, externally. I play online poker as a full-time job. I consider myself a curious person. I question everything. As a youth I explored drugs to better understand pharmacology, but not in the way teens today smoke dope and sit on the social networks all day, as you’ve so put it. It’s been years since I touched anything not prescribed to me by a medical professional.
I’ve had one real girlfriend from 2010 to 2013, which ended somewhat abruptly owing to the events occurring at the time. Stressful being associated with someone the police are accusing of being some bad person. I live a somewhat adventurous life. I’ve backpacked Thailand, Cambodia, Thailand, while other people my age would have still been in school. I once ordered a dozen bottles of champagne—it was Moët one week, Bollinger the next, every week for two months. Sometimes I got adventurous and ordered a half-dozen of each. I have trashed hotel rooms. I have racked up over $1,000 in minibar & room service bills in a single night.
With other people’s money or your own?
My own. The money I spend is MY money. No one else has a right in saying how I feel the need to spend my money. I respect my parents. They put a roof over my head, clothed me and put me in elite schools growing up.
How are your parents holding up to this circus? I know a couple whose son was an engineering major at University of Minnesota and got in trouble for vanishing some chemical warfare research files belonging to DuPont Chemicals. They ended up having to mortgage their house in order to hire a really good lawyer. Does the system in Oz allow you to get a decent lawyer without putting everybody in the poorhouse? Are they (your folks) supportive of you?
I’d have no idea. Just that they aren’t the kind that would go to jail, even if it saved a million lives. In reality, my legal fees will probably send me bankrupt. Trial alone is estimated in excess of $80,000. Further, the Australian legal system has a nice kick where, even if I prove innocent at all, I’m not reimbursed legal fees, nothing. What a great system we have. The innocent can end up losing their houses to PROVE innocence. Tell me that’s a fair system!
I’ve tried legal aid; it doesn’t work, especially when the legal aid lawyer is basically making deals to incarcerate me with the police working on the case. I can quote, Dr. Neville Barber, my legal aid lawyer, talking about a kid they had locked up that he said belonged in prison, basically portraying that he was a lost cause. Who trusts a lawyer that can’t even support their client? And I’m happy to name names, because it’s not slanderous, it’s not defamatory.
My current legal team, Saunin Legal, is excellent. Led by Lloyd Rayney, The problem is, most people, even innocent people, just don’t have the money. I’m sure all Australians can see the level of injustice in the legal system.
The newspapers have been their usual hysterical selves. Conspiracies galore are afoot, it seems. How did you guys find each other? Is David Pokora some kind of fiendish mastermind? I realize there may be questions you can’t or are not allowed to answer. Simplified, how did this whole damned thing happen? Was this a prank? Were you planning on blackmailing/holding to ransom Microsoft?
Well, David is often referred to as the ‘leader,’ but they don’t often mention that, in reality, without me, the actual, alleged ‘group’ wouldn’t be in jail. The unauthorized action wouldn’t have happened. And the gaming industry would still be suffering from insecure networks. David and I got to know each other through his alias Xenon 7. He was kind of a household name in the Xbox scene, although I’ll admit that I’d dabbled in ‘black hat’ prior to any of this. Truthfully, really, it was pretty much all coincidental how everyone just ended up coming together. It wasn’t as if we put much effort into anything. It was as if all of this was just meant to happen.
It was an accident?
I guess you could say so. Chris Ward (C.W in the indictment) was a contact of mine on the MSN Messenger back in the day. He had contacted me with a SQL database dump from the Epicgames forum, running vBulletin at the time. If it wasn’t for the fact that Chris had no use for the database, as the employees didn’t even use the same passwords for their network/email accounts, then I probably wouldn’t even have been contacted, and my curiosity to breach their network wouldn’t have occurred. With that database in hand, I’d found a potential employee to investigate. Soon after I found his personal Gmail account, which coincidentally used the forum password, I then found an email from a service he’d signed up to, listing his password for the service in plain text. I couldn’t believe it. So much for security! I still remember trying the password on the VPN and… success! So later I contacted David (Pekora) to see if he had any interest in any involvement. He was very interested, and a partnership was born.
You did the big one. You fucked with Uncle Sugar! The arraignment won’t be issued until February 2015, by the USJD, so, clearly, the prosecutor, Edward McAndrew, doesn’t have all his ducks in line. Can you throw me a bone? Did you guys break into the Pentagon’s computer and commit mayhem? Same with the US Army? Same with the NSC…?
To this day, I believe that if the informant (Person A), hadn’t have become involved, things would have remained completely private. We’d still be accessing internal networks around the world and a friendship would still exist. We gained access to NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), we had access to DoD, USMIL: The lot! Did we commit espionage? I guess we did. But… If you’d have asked me, “Did we ever grab documentation, or ever look for anything that would warrant the CIA to take us in the back of a van somewhere and shoot us?” Of course not. Even if any of us did, it would never be advisable to admit it. It’s one thing to fuck around with Microsoft and the FBI, but it’s a whole world of hurt if you fuck with the wrong people.
So the notion that many ‘experts’ have had, that C.W. is your Person A, your snitch, is wrong?
Chris Ward is not Person A. Chris Ward lives in North Carolina. Person A lives in Delaware. The only person in our group who lives in Delaware is Justin May.
Explain the ‘Black Hat’ thing a little better. Do the other guys in the group maybe consider you something of a nihilist sociopath?
You’re not getting it out of me. I’ve been a black hat in the past. Everyone’s done something a little questionable in their life. I hate to break it to you, but there is no real objective to life. We choose what we do with our lives. If we want to make an influence, we do that. If we want to work our asses off all year long working for the man, then we will do just that. I’m not a nihilist or a sociopath. Do I have tendencies in line with both? Sure! But that doesn’t put me in line with neither.
Is some of this that you’re a merry little prankster and some of this is about how you ‘kids’ go about getting noticed and getting jobs? So were you going about auditioning for a future job with ASIS (the Australian Secret Intelligence Service) or the SRG (Secret Response Group) and getting the attention of the likes of Nick Warner and Julie Bishop in the most standout way possible?
Did I mention the amount of Skype credit I wasted calling up and fucking with Nigerian scammers and criminals? You also see where kids call up two Dominos at the same time, have them talk to each other. Instead, we called up, like, 20 or even 30 at the same time. We really were just a bunch of people with too much spare time. Truthfully, I did eventually feel the need to get noticed. It was coming to an end, and I felt that it was time to tell the story. Did I get noticed? Boy, did I.
But this is the twenty-first century. No one is going to hire most of these guys. Besides, I was the one that really did security. The rest of the group were programmers or just used information I’d obtained to get access themselves. Most companies aren’t going to hire a programmer with a criminal background like that and, after they’ve done their time, technology will have advanced yet again. Technology is just moving way too fast these days.
Can we take it back to you, Dylan? Whoever did raid your house, the local Perth police or ASIS and the SRG, did they confiscate all your good tech shit? Were you prepared? Are you stuck with the school’s computer?
The Western Australian police along with a ‘liaison officer’ (?) from the FBI. Which they never really wanted to admit. It was about 11 officers total if my memory is anything to go by.
A country is meant to stand by their citizens, not let an international agency conspire against a citizen. It’s just sick. If you look into Canada and David (Pekora), Canada wanted nothing to do with the case. Canada will not prosecute their citizens just because a big, scary American government agency, namely the FBI, comes in and tells them how to do their job. My parents’ house was raided and they confiscated anything and everything that belonged to me, including just plain old pieces of paper. They really didn’t give a fuck. They just wanted to intimidate.
I can see where you’d be seen as a sort of anti-establishment hero. How are you being treated at school and in the neighborhood? Is the political climate toward you empathetic or hostile?
I’m that guy generally. Not many people really notice just who I am when I walk around any more. I don’t exactly look like the photo that went up in the newspaper over here back when I was raided, though. But if the subject is brought up, I’d guess maybe two-thirds of the people out there would remember the story. Generally, everyone more or less has the same “Good on you, fuck the man!” attitude.
Do you have any idea as to how the other guys are bearing up under all this scrutiny and criticism?
Well, they’re all in federal prison. Only one is on bail, and on strict conditions. They’ve all basically been put under conditions where they’re not to speak to each other, or anyone else relating to the case. No computers. I’d hate to know how they feel after being locked up for about… I think a year now.
Now the best story I read about this whole thing is that Microsoft flew their head of security, Miles Hawkes, from San Francisco all the way to Perth to meet you. I have to know, were they really so cheap that they only took you out for grub at some shopping mall food court while he grilled you? I personally would have demanded something very fancy and expensive. What did you have to eat on them, anyway?
They flew Miles Hawkes business class all the way to see me and we just sat there in the lobby of the Perth Hyatt Regency. He ordered a diet coke and I had a coke. We didn’t eat.
So did you demand $500,000 to talk to Hawkes? Or were you just yanking the Computer World reporter’s chain?
I don’t recall saying that. No.
In your email, you said. “I just collaborated a parts list together.” So, without me trying to put words in your mouth: Are you saying that you and David Pokora collaborated on something fictional, but instinctive, a clever bit of science-fiction that they totally took the bait on? Which means you never broke into Microsoft?
The way it happened is that Chris Ward and I came up with a parts list for the Durango PC that we listed on eBay, and also sold to the FBI for $5,000 via a private conversation and sale that was set up through a contact on MSN. I had given the parts list to David (Pokora and eventually we allowed Nathan LeRoux to build one using the parts list. It was so convincing that we fooled Microsoft and the developers that it was the real deal.
The five grand was from the FBI. The $50,000 was one of 3 eBay Auctions, I never received a dime (of that) because nothing was ever finalized, because no one in their mind is stupid enough to pay $50k+ for something with little value. I received $5,000, which was distributed evenly against David and myself, Nathan receiving the costs he spent on the PC parts.
Look, the break-in at Microsoft is a whole other story which involves two other individuals who broke into Microsoft’s Redmond campus and stole three Xbox One FINAL kits, which were basically priceless equipment to anyone. Sony didn’t seem to care much about the PS4 specifications being leaked by myself to the media. Sony is way too lax. I mean, have you not met Japanese people? They’re into some crazy shit.
More like eccentric than crazy.
It’s a joke. Have you not seen some of the crazy products that come out of Japan? Let alone the porn.
Finally, how are you holding up, Dylan? You bearing up well?
I’m doing all right. My health is somewhat average. I’ve developed severe GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). I’ve been to the ER three times this year for panic attacks. In fact, before this year, I had never been to the ER before for any reason. But a Xanax or two every day seems to be doing the trick.