Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.
It is not very often that you find lyrics at Wikipedia. For She Moved Through The Fair the lyrics are there, and yet the sources are almost nowhere to be found on the Internet at all. Even finding the books themselves is difficult - what the Toronto Public Library have they do not circulate: Irish Country Songs Volume 1, Herbert Hughes, 1909 & Wild earth: and other poems, Padraic Colum, 1916. As for the (apparently) most important variant, Our Wedding Day, all I can find is three verses (of ten they say).
Here's Fairport Convention from the late 60s. Everyone likes to sing this song too slowly. ... Even so, and even though she edits out the laying on of hands, I like this 1997 singing of it by Sinéad. Finally there is this two-verse version by Chloe Doyle, from which I have excised the surrounding junk.
And though the elements and images of the story are all gone over in Mel Gibson's Braveheart, the music (to my ears at least) is not.
Leaving me with a big question mark ... ? (coloured to match an image from James Lasdun's The Siege).
Some copyright squabble do you think? Is that it? The copyright vibe is certainly sounding in the rails these days - 'Train comin' gonna suck you right off!' In the meantime these are still downloadable at IsoHunt: Braveheart, Mel Gibson, 1995, & Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged, 1998.
The Financial Stability Board (FSB) (previously Financial Stability Forum) of the G7/G8/G20 defines G-SIFI as "Global Systemically Important Financial Institution." G-SIFIs are "firms whose disorderly failure, because of their size, complexity and systemic interconnectedness, would cause significant disruption to the wider financial system and economic activity." And nevermind the grief caused by their everyday business-as-usual.
Whoever is doing the interior design for the G20 goes in for blue & green - part of the program no doubt - and the fake grass in Seoul is particularly effective. Could this be called 'aquamarine wash' do you think?
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue, and they went to sea in a Sieve.
Edward Lear, The Jumblies.
The FSB mostly comprises central banks and is run by an Italian, 63 year old Mario Draghi, aka 'Signor Altrove' or 'Mr Somewhere Else', aka 'Super Mario'.
He must obviously hang out with Silvio Berlusconi from time to time. I think old guys who are getting regular blow-jobs are probably fitter for purpose that those who are not. This is just my opinion, and I have no idea if our Mario is getting his share or not - I hope so.
One could go on to wonder if is it worthwhile distinguishing jumblies from muggles and numbys and slithy toves? I'll leave it to you ...
I have never seen or heard anything by Lady Gaga. It seems that Camille Paglia has. She talks about the 'death of sex' which I find unlikely, even understanding her essay (I think). Hyperbole was it?
Here are two photographs: to the left is one I found on Numa Perrier's blog. She calls it 'lust' which title I do not understand at all though the photograph is exquisite; and the other is of Sharri Sutton by Kwesi Abbensetts.
I will not make a fool of myself by offering any criticism either of the images or of Camille - I am just wondering if maybe Camille has missed something? Because both of these photographs speak to me powerfully about something which is not dead at all. (Did I really say that?!) Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) involving myth & imagination ... whatever ...
If you want to see the death of sex it seems more evident (to me at least) in the metrosexual 'Together We Are Strong' calendar image I received by email the other day. I didn't buy one. And of course, André Dahmer always has something lively to say about sex (Tirinha dos Malvados):
Comics from the 10s
Let's fuck Oswaldo. / That won't make money Rosali.
Let's watch the sun rise Cida. / That won't pay my rent.
Have an ice-cream? Go find a poor artist, I don't have time.
What do you want to do later Rosali? / ART!
I had planned to attend a 'spiritual event' organized by Oikos today: Gathering Strength in Times of Climate Change but in the end I just could not get out the door for it because ... I don't believe them.
This is a big deal for me - on the same scale as the 10-10-10 fiasco a few weeks ago. Except this time I don't feel a damned thing.
A-and that's about it for spiritual today. High tide in the compost heap.
Helen Caldicott will be speaking in or near Port Hope on Tuesday. I doubt I will get there either. The muggles wouldn't have her in their church. The Anglican maven of correctitude, Margaret Tandy nixed it. Looks like the organizers, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper have managed to find another venue - the Best Western Convention Centre.
Looking at her I wonder where Margaret Tandy stands on gay ordination in the Anglican Church? And why? But I am sorry to say I am not interested enough to poke around and find out ... maybe later.
Bureaucratic doom is on the horizon anyway. As I was trying to trim the free-loaders away from Chloe's singing I noticed a new Blogger feature to upload videos - and like a fool I tried it. In an instant the maggots had edited all of my HTML to their 'standard'. They have been moving in this direction for some time - if you use their 'compose' mode they are constantly changing HTML keywords to lowercase, substituting RGB values for 'color' codes and so forth. It would be ok if compose-mode actually worked - but it doesn't
So I see clearly that my time here may be limited. One day they will go through their database and whack everything! And that will be it, the end, kaput! Just fixing their edits to the code for this post took over an hour.
So ... Well ... I have tried to stop this stupid blog a number of times, and maybe, gentle reader, this is the Deus ex machina come to rescue me or Reductio ad nihil or some such thing.
Here's the story of Albert Gonzalez, super-hacker. A story with a moral though the moral is murky. He ain't no ... Robin Hood. The NYT doesn't include any pictures but there are a few around. 20 years he got! 70 million credit card numbers they say he stole ... but not $70 million bucks I don't think ... So ... and look at Bernie Madoff - he got 150 years!
I have a mouse in the apartment. He seems to have slipped in under the door. It's November. Mice like to come indoors for the winter. So last night I was discussing approaches to it with a friend. He recommended a regular-old Victor mousetrap. "They don't like those very much," he said.
Or something ...
Two down! Entergy's Indian Point in New York a-and Yankee in Vermont too! Hallelujah!
You have to watch every fuckin' word that you read in the Globe and Mail. They report that the Mining industry lobbied nine of 24 MPs who helped kill ethics bill, and among the nine is Bruce Hyer.
And if it slips by you ... if you (like me) did not know that Bruce Hyer is the author of C-311. Not that that makes him an angel necessarily either - but if you look into his bio you don't have to look far to find good. It turns out that he abstained, but he was present, and he tells me that he had his reasons for it.
All good. Not capable (and never was) of actually getting up on my toes - but a little more aware this afternoon at least. Thankyou Bruce Hyer. Good on ya'!
I have been trying to read some of Wole Soyinka. A 1964 novel The Interpreters stopped me cold. Two memoirs: The Man Died (1970) & You Must Set Forth at Dawn (2006) have begun to give me a clue - a certain rhetorical inertia that Chinua Achebe indulges too at moments. In Wole's case he seems to do it almost all of the time.
So the short answer is "Bah! Humbug!" but before I go dissing and trashing a Nobel prize winner I will let it cook a little longer.
2. Warning Port Hope a toxic time bomb; the only solution? Move, Carola Vyhnak, November 9 2010.
3. Caldicott no longer welcome at Port Hope church, Carola Vyhnak, November 12 2010.
4. Lady Gaga The Death Of Sex, Camille Paglia, September 12 2010.
5. The Great Cyberheist, James Verini, November 10 2010.
6. Explosion shuts US nuclear plant, Reuters, November 9 2010.
7. Mining industry lobbied nine of 24 MPs who helped kill ethics bill, Steve Rennie, November 11 2010.
She Moved Through the Fair.
My young love said to me,
My mother won't mind
And my father won't slight you
For your lack of kind.
And she laid her hand on me
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
Till our wedding day.
As she stepped away from me
And she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her
Move here and move there.
And then she turned homeward,
With one star awake,
Like the swan in the evening
Moves over the lake.
The people were saying,
No two e'er were wed
But one had a sorrow
That never was said.
And I smiled as she passed
With her goods and her gear,
And that was the last
That I saw of my dear.
Last night she came to me,
My dead love came in.
So softly she came
That her feet made no din.
As she laid her hand on me,
And this she did say:
It will not be long, love,
'Til our wedding day.
I once had a true love and I loved him so well
I loved him far better than my tongue can tell
And I thought that he spoke and to me did say
"It will not be long, love, 'til our wedding day"
If I were an eagle and had wings for to fly
I would fly to his castle and there I would lie
On a bed of green laurel I would lay myself down
And with my fond dreams I would my love surround
I dreamt last night that my true love came in
So slowly he came that his feet made no din
And I thought that he spoke and to me did say
"It will not be long, love, 'til our wedding day"
Warning Port Hope a toxic time bomb; the only solution? Move, Carola Vyhnak, November 9 2010.
Port Hope is sitting on a carcinogenic time bomb that residents can only escape by moving out of town, a renowned doctor and anti-nuclear activist warns.
Historic low-level radioactive waste buried in parks, ravines, streets, industrial sites, the harbour and hundreds of backyards poses a “life or death” threat and can’t be safely remediated, according to Dr. Helen Caldicott.
“It’s a disaster. You can’t clean it up. Transferring it just exposes more people to radioactive material,” Caldicott said Tuesday from Seattle. On a visit to Port Hope next week, she plans to tell the community an hour east of Toronto that the only safe solution is to relocate the entire town of 16,000.
Caldicott’s warning comes in contrast to assurances by Canada’s nuclear safety commission that cancer rates in Port Hope, which has been living with low-level radioactive contamination for decades, are comparable to other communities — and that the cleanup now underway doesn’t pose a health risk.
That operation — the largest radioactive waste cleanup in Canadian history — is off to a slow and cautious start with the trial excavation of a private backyard. Removal of contaminated soil from numerous sites around town will begin in earnest next fall. The waste will be trucked to an enclosed storage mound just south of Highway 401, where it will be sealed up for centuries.
Digging out more than 1.2 million cubic metres of soil, enough to fill 500 Olympic-size pools, will take a decade and cost at least $260 million. The final scope and price tag are unknown.
The cleanup by Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. marks a major milestone in a decades-long fight to eradicate a dark stain on the town.
The low-level radioactive waste was the result of 50 years of radium and uranium refining at the waterfront Cameco refinery, the former Crown corporation Eldorado Nuclear Ltd., between the 1930s and 1980s.
Contaminated soil used as fill was identified as a health hazard in the late ’70s, but it took decades to find a long-term solution.
Glenn Case, manager of project engineering for the Port Hope Area Initiative, a division of AECL, isn’t worried about health risks.
“I’m 100 per cent confident we can do it protecting the environment, workers and the public,” he said.
But two skeptical residents’ groups who met with Caldicott during a visit to Ontario last year invited her to speak at a public meeting next Tuesday evening. Her appearance is being paid for by Families Against Radiation Exposure (FARE).
The Australian-born physician has spent almost 40 years educating people around the world about the medical hazards of the nuclear age. She was nominated for a Nobel Prize and was the subject of the 1982 documentary, If You Love This Planet.
Calling Port Hope a “tragedy,” Caldicott says people should never be exposed to radioactive material. Even so-called low-level radiation causes high-level doses when it gets inside the body and turns cells cancerous in a “silent process” that takes five to 60 years, she says.
Drinking water that’s taken from Lake Ontario is also at risk, adds Caldicott. She agrees with residents who have long complained about the lack of a real health study in the area.
“There hasn’t been a decent epidemiological study,” Caldicott says. “The whole thing is medically corrupt from beginning to end.”
Her diagnosis next week will probably be met with “shock, anger and disbelief,” she predicts, urging residents to educate themselves then demand to be moved and get the government to pay for it.
But Carene Smith, whose home near the lake is the project’s guinea pig, has nothing but praise for the “wonderful federal government’s” handling of the problem.
While the metre-deep pit that used to be her backyard yielded worse contamination than expected, she’s not concerned about health risks.
“I refuse to be alarmist about it,” says Smith, a lawyer who doesn’t spend much time at home.
Tuesday’s meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. at St. Mark’s Parish Hall, 51 King St. in Port Hope.
Caldicott no longer welcome at Port Hope church, Carola Vyhnak, November 12 2010.
A Port Hope church has slammed the door on an acclaimed anti-nuclear activist for warning residents about a “life or death” crisis from radioactive waste buried in their town.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, who was to have spoken at St. Mark’s Parish Hall next Tuesday evening, is no longer welcome because of her “inflammatory” comments, Rector Marg Tandy said in a letter to parishioners.
The church has changed its mind about renting the hall, she told two local environmental groups hosting Caldicott’s visit.
In an interview with the Star earlier this week, Caldicott urged the entire town of 16,000 to move because of the “life or death” threat from historic low-level radioactive waste buried in hundreds of backyards, parks, streets and industrial sites.
“It’s a disaster. You can’t clean it up,” the world-renowned doctor and Nobel Prize nominee said, referring to an unprecedented 10-year project by Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. to dig up 1.2 million cubic metres of contaminated soil and bury it north of town. The waste was the result of 50 years of radium and uranium refining at the Cameco refinery, formerly Crown corporation Eldorado Nuclear Ltd.
“The whole thing is medically corrupt from beginning to end,” Caldicott said, predicting cancer rates will soar.
Her language is unacceptable, Tandy and the church’s two wardens said in rejecting Caldicott, who will now appear at a larger venue in Oshawa.
“This is not the mutually respectful language of an educational and informative talk,” Tandy said. “It is the inflammatory and uncompromising language of pressure politics.”
Canada’s nuclear safety commission called Caldicott’s claims “unacceptable fear-mongering.”
More than 40 scientific studies show “Port Hope residents are as healthy as the rest of the Canadian population,” argued CNSC president Michael Binder. Caldicott’s allegations of medical corruption are “simply outrageous,” he said in a letter to the media.
Caldicott’s remarks triggered nasty phone calls to event organizers, said Sanford Haskill of Families Against Radiation Exposure (FARE), which is paying her speaking fee.
“I don’t agree with what she has to say, but I want to hear if there’s a scientific reason why we should move,” he said, adding FARE and co-sponsor Friends of the Port Hope Clean-up are disappointed over the church’s action.
As of Friday, a few $15 tickets were still available from FARE at 905-885-1572. Caldicott’s talk begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Octavien’s Banquet Hall in the Best Western Convention Centre, 559 Bloor St. W. in Oshawa.
Lady Gaga The Death Of Sex, Camille Paglia, September 12 2010.
[The Sunday Times has put up a pay-wall]
Lady Gaga is the first major star of the digital age. “The planet’s biggest pop phenomenon.” “The most famous woman in the world.” “The new Madonna.” Since her debut album, ‘The Fame’, was released in August 2008, Stefani Germanotta (aka Gaga) has risen from obscurity in grungy downtown Manhatton to sell 15m albums and 40m singles worldwide. Her videos have garbered hundreds of millions of hits on the web. Her Facebook page alone has more than 10m followers. Fans of Gaga have grown up with sell phones and iPods as sticky extensions of their bodies. It is an era of miniaturisation, computer-generated special effects and image manipulation by Photoshop, with everything steeped in unreal, highly saturated colour disconnected from nature. The fine arts have been replaced by video games, from which the cartoonish Lady Gaga seems to have popped.Since her rise, she has remained almost continually on tour. Hence, she is a moving target who has escaped serious scrutiny. She is often pictured tottering down the street in some outlandish get-up and fright wig. Most of what she has said about herself has not been independently corroborated… “Music is a lie”, “Art is a lie”, “Gaga is a lie”, and “I profusely lie” have been among Gaga’s pronouncements, but her fans swallow her line whole.
She constantly touts her symbiotic bond with her fans, the “little monsters”, who she inspires to “love themselves” as if they are damaged goods in need of her therapeutic repair. “You’re a superstar, no matter who you are!” She earnestly tells them from the stage, while their cash ends up in her pockets. She told a magazine with messianic fervour: “I love my fans more than any artist who has ever lived.” She claims to have changed the lives of the disabled, thrilled by her jewelled parody crutches in the Paparazzi video.
Although she presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one. Her upbringing was comfortable and eventually affluent, and she attended the same upscale Manhattan private school as Paris and Nicky Hilton. Gaga showed early talent as a pianist but was never a prodigy.
There is a monumental disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalised artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.
For two years, I have spent an irritating amount of time trying to avoid Gaga’s catchy but depthless hits, which make me leap for the radio dial to switch stations. That banal voice - alternating between bland, bubblegum soprano and pushy, faux-manly alto. Gaga’s proper ambience is bars and dance clubs, where she is wildly popular. Lady Gaga is a manufactured personality, and a recent one at that. Photos of Stefani Germanotta just a few years ago show a bubbly brunette with a glowing complexion. The Gaga of world fame, however, with her heavy wigs and giant sunglasses (rudely worn during interviews) looks either simperingly doll-like or ghoulish, without a trace of spontaneity. Every public appearance, even absurdly at airports where most celebrities want to pass incognito, has been lavishly scripted in advance with a flamboyant outfit and bizarre hairdo assembled by an invisible company of elves.
Furthermore, despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Lady Gaga is far less sexy than Stefani Germanotta used to be. In fact, Gaga isn’t sexy at all - she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation? Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution? In Gaga’s manic miming of persona after persona, over-conceptualised and claustrophobic, we may have reached the limit of an era.
In 1933, the critic IA Richards, writing about The Waste Land, spoke of TS Eliot’s “persistent concern with sex, the problem of our generation, as religion was a problem of the last.” After the first world war, sexual experimentation and titilating smart talk became the hallmark of the emancipated new woman, who smoked, drank, bobbed her hair and danced the antic Charleston. Hollywood discovered that sex was great box office - leading to pressure from civic and religious groups for a production code, which movie-makers found ingenious ways to evade.
We are appraoching the 100-year anniversary of Hollywood sex: Theda Bara’s incarnation as The Vamp in A Fool There Was (1915), a lurid femme fatale who slew overnight the lingering Victorian ideal of the pure, saintly woman-child, portrayed on screen by Mary Pickford and Dorothy and Lilian Gish. Theda Bara, like Lady Gaga, was a manufactured personality; although the studio publicity department claimed she was born in the Sahara to a French artist and Arabian princess, she was actually Theodosia Goodman, the daughter of a Jewish tailor in Cincinatti.
The sexual icon of 1920s Hollywood was Clara Bow, a madcap flapper who was probably falsely rumoured to have bedded the entire University of Southern California football team. Lithe Louise Brooks, with her signature bobbed hair, made landmark films of decadent eroticism in Germany. Wicked mae West and lushly buxom Jean harlow began the tradition of the sex bomb, which continued through Hedy Lamarr to Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, whose influence endures around the globe. But the cardinal sexual pioneer was Marlene Dietrich, who exploded on the international scene in 1930 as the heartless cabaret singer of The Blue Angel. In her subsequent films with the director Josef von Sternberg, Marlene toyed with transvestism (based on the drag balls of Weimar Berlin) and created the sophisticated look of hard glamour that remains a staple of fashion magazines.
Marlene was Madonna Louise Ciccione’s idol; the seductive, commanding Marlene permeates Madonna’s brilliant videos of the 1980s and the early ’90s, with their dominatrix, transvestite and bisexual motifs. Madonna wanted to play Marlene on film, but the idea was overruled by Marlene herself, who (as the proud daughter of a Prussian officer) decreed Madonna “too vulgar.”
Weimar cabaret was recreated in the 1972 film Cabaret, based on Christpher Isherwood’s Berlin stories. Bob Fosse’s dazzlingly aggressive choreography in that blockbuster film was adopted by Madonna for her videos and stage shows - all of which have been doggedly imitated by Lady Gaga. Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest Alejandro video) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft? But the main point is that the young Madonna was on fire. She was indeed the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir. Madonna’s incandescence is still on view in videos like Open Your Heart, Vogue and Express Yourself. However, for Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture. Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference. Is it the death of sex? Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over.
The web has been a communication revolution, the magnificent fulfilment of Marshall McLuhan’s prophecy of a “global village.” But it has also fragmnted and dispersed personal expression, draining energy from the performing arts, with their dynamic physicality. For a decade and a half, stars have steadily waned in power and sexual charge. Thus Gaga seems comet-like, a stimulating burst of novelty, even though she is a ruthless recycler of other people’s work. She is the diva of déjà vu. Gaga has glibly appropriated from performers like Cher, Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Gwen Stefani and Pink, as well as from fashion muses like Isabella Blow and Daphne Guinness. Drag queens, whom Gaga professes to admire, are usually far sexier in many of her over-the-top outfits than she is.
Peeping dourly through all that tat is Gaga’s limited range of facial expressions - something she has tried to make a virtue of in her song Poker Face, which perfectly describes her frosty mug, except when she goes weepy-tremulous or flashes a goofy, rabbit grin. Her videos repeatedly thrust that blank, lugubrious face at the camera and us; it’s creepy and coercive. Marlene and Madonna gave the impression, true or false, of being pansexual. Gaga, for all her writhing and posturing, is asexual. Going off to the gym in broad daylight, as Gaga recently did, dressed in a black bustier, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels isn’t sexy - it’s sexually dysfunctional. And it’s criminally counterproductive, erasing the cultural associations from that transgressive garb and neutering it. The gym-going Madonna, to her credit, has always been brutally honest about publicity showing herself in ratty gear with no make-up.
Gaga has become increasingly frank about airing her sexual issues, revealing that she is “quite celibate” and that she avoids sex because she fears losing her creativity through her vagina - an odd place for it to drain by any standard. Despite her phobias, her lyrics can be blatantly explicit, as in the crass clunker of a line “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” (from Love Game). There’s more carpentry talk of a “vertical stick” in Bad Romance, where the theme is anal (”rear window”) and safely vagina-free. Gaga’s sexual reticence can’t be chalked up to priest-ridden guilt: although she was nominally raised Catholic, her father (an Internet entrepreneur who was once a bar-band rock musician in New Jersey) was clearly less repressive than Madonna’s old-school authoritarian Italian-Amercian father. In fact, the puritanical strictness of Madonna’s background sparked her ambition and strengthened her best work. Without taboos, there can be no transgression - which is why Madonna’s ideas waned after she drifted into misty Kabbalah.
There is no religious frame of reference in Gaga’s songs, aside from the passing assertion, “Got no salvation, got no religion” (in So Happy I Could Die); there is nothing remotely comparable to the sweeping gospel-choir crescendo of Madonna’s Like A Prayer. So it is unsurprising to hear that Gaga is consulting celebrity “spiritual guides” like Deepak Chopra.
Compare Gaga’s insipid songs, with their nursery-rhyme nonsense syllables, to the title and hypnotic refrain of the first Madonna song and video to bring her attention on MTV, Burning Up, with its elemental fire imagery and its then shocking offer of fellatio. In place of Madonna’s valiant life force, what we find in Gaga is a disturbing trend towards mutilation and death. Thus we get Gaga lyrics like “Show me your teeth”; “Need a man now, so show me your fangs”; “Take a bite of my bad girl meat” (from Teeth) - faintly sadistic cunnilingual jokes that must be the cat’s meow among smirky teens.
At last year’s MTV awards show, Gaga staged a barbaric spectacle where she was seemingly crushed to death by a falling chandalier, after which her bloodied body was hoisted up to dangle limply above her piano. On her current tour, she appears to be killed by a psychotic stalker, who gnaws her throat as the blood pours down her chest. Monster claws and other horror-movie regalia are a Gaga staple. Several of her videos feature murders og men - by rat poison or by being burnt alive from Gaga’s flame-throwing brassiere. Her Bad Romance video ends with the tableau of Gaga prettily gloating on a bed next to the incinerated skeleton of her victim. The grisly mix of sex and death is sick, symptomatic of Gaga’s alienation from her own body - another example of which is her promise to reveal the title of her next album tattooed on her body next New Year’s Eve. A Washington Post article described Gaga at a gay-rights event last year as “looking slightly embalmed.” Yes, Gaga is like Norma Desmond entombed in her own deadly cult of self. The layer of plastered make-up without which she never leaves her room makes her resemble the waxy, mummified saints under glass in Italian churches. It’s no coincidence that Gaga’s Telephone video, her longest to date, is set in a prison. Gaga has a bunkered mentality, as if she can’t escape the burden or rigid limitations of her own assumed personality. Rootless, she carries her own detention camp around with her, typified by a tattoo on her arm with the death date of an aunt she never knew.
Insurgent performers have often captured the spirit of a generation, from Frank Sinatra driving bobbysoxers wild and Elvis Presley lewdly gyrating his hips, to the Beatles waking people up with a bang after their dreary upbringing in the conformist, postwar 1950s. International idols have always been springtime spirits of infectious energy, symbols of a new dawn. Among the magnetic presences in music today are tigresses of charismatic sensuality or gamines of buoyant charm - Beyonce, Shakira, Rihanna, Nelly Furtado. Never has there been a breakthrough mainstream performer like Gaga who obsessively traffics in twisted sexual scenarios and solipsistic psychodramas. All the frantic, flailing arm moves imposed on her by professional choreographers can’t desguise her essential depressiveness and spiritual paralysis, registered in her videos in her often inert torso. With her garish costumes and piano playing, Gaga is often compared to Elton John. But Elton never tried to present himself as a sexual athlete. On the contrary, his sequined costumes were self-satirising, meant to amuse and render him harmless. And Elton’s co-written original songs were well-constructed populist hits that won a huge, multi-generational audience, and are still on the radio after 40 years.
Like Boy George (another of Gaga’s claimed models), Elton sang feelingly, even souldfully (as in the tender Your Song), which Gaga does not. Furthermore, Elton’s supple piano work was superior to anything Gaga has shown thus far. For example, in her video of her performance on BBC1 last year of an acouistic peformance of Poker Face, Gaga is pleased as punch with her ostentatious fusillade of empty flourishes, which are embarrassingly unsupported by the song itself.
Another leading performer whom Gaga has claimed as an influence is David Bowie. Welcoming Gaga to her TV show in Los Angeles last year, Ellen DeGeneres went off on a servile, stammering encomium in which she
implied that Gaga had surpassed Bowie - an idiocy that should have been instantly punished by a lightning bolt from Zeus. Bowie at his height in the early 70s was one of the great avant-garde artists of the 20th century. He was the brilliant heir to Dada and surrealism. And in his daring gender-bending, he was a warrior for sexual liberation and for a redefining of the psychic fluidity of sexual orientation. Gaga does not belong in Bowie’s company.
Another inspiration regularly cited by Gaga is Andy Warhol, whose code of fame and celebrity she has adopted. Warhol would certainly have endorsed Gaga’s relentless marketing of appropriated material, exactly as he transformed newspaper photos of stars and politicians into brightly coloured silk-screens. But comparisons are less convincing of Warhol’s Factory to the Haus of Gaga, the style team whose leading figures are Matt Williams and Nicola Formichetti (the true inventors of her look). In person, Warhol was modest and recessive; the theatrical denizens of the Factory were not hidden backstage as cogs in a commercial machine. Many of Warhol’s superstars were authentic misfits, products of New York’s bohemian and beatnik underground in the 1950s. They were edgy and sometimes self-destructive, including the bold-as-brass drag queens (Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling) who cross-dressed when it was dangerous to do so.
Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions. She should relax and snap back to her real genre, which is closer to vaudeville or musical comedy in the bantering Bette Midler style. Right now, with her spindly physique and wobbly moves, Gaga sometimes seems overwhelmed by her frenetic production, like Citizen Kane’s terrified, feeble, reedy-voiced mistress pushed out onto the stage of Salammbo. She wants to have it both ways - to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”. Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion. Joplin, far more cruelly ostracised in her Texas home town than Gaga ever was in Manhatton, chanelled the profound emotions and raw technique of black blues singers, backed by virtuosic psychedelic guitars.
Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions. They don’t notice her awkwardness because they’ve abandoned body language in daily interactions. They’re not repelled by the choppy cutting of her videos (in febrile one-second bursts) because that’s how they process reality - as a cluttered, de-centred environment of floating bits.
Gaga’s fans are marooned in a global technocracy of fancy gadgets but emotional poverty. Everything is refracted for them through the media. They have been raised in a relativistic cultural vacuum where chronology and sequence as well as distinctions of value have been lost or jettisoned by politically correct educators. It is a world of blurred borderlines - between childhood and adulthood as well as between parents and children. The young waver between dependence and independence and are slow to leave the comforts of home. Old family hierarchies have broken down. Gaga, for example, gets drunk with her parents and calls her father her “best friend.” She startlingly said this summer: “I’ve been in my father’s arms for two weeks wishing him happy Father’s Day.”
There are blurred borderlines between the sexes: gender is now alleged to be fabricated rather than biological; so everything is a pose. Thus Gaga welcomed the rumour about her being intersex and converted it into a fashion statement. Casual “hooking up” blends friends and lovers, with sex becoming merely an excuse for filial hugging. Borderlines have blurred too between public and private: reality-TV shows multiply; cell-phone convesations blare everywhere; secrets are heedlessly blabbed on Facebook and Twitter. Hence Gaga gratuitously natters on about her vagina. In the sprawling anarchy of the web, the borderline between fact and fiction has melted away.
Camille Paglia: Professor of Humanities and Media Studies, University of The Arts in Philadelphia.
The Great Cyberheist, James Verini, November 10 2010.
One night in July 2003, a little before midnight, a plainclothes N.Y.P.D. detective, investigating a series of car thefts in upper Manhattan, followed a suspicious-looking young man with long, stringy hair and a nose ring into the A.T.M. lobby of a bank. Pretending to use one of the machines, the detective watched as the man pulled a debit card from his pocket and withdrew hundreds of dollars in cash. Then he pulled out another card and did the same thing. Then another, and another. The guy wasn’t stealing cars, but the detective figured he was stealing something.
Indeed, the young man was in the act of “cashing out,” as he would later admit. He had programmed a stack of blank debit cards with stolen card numbers and was withdrawing as much cash as he could from each account. He was doing this just before 12 a.m., because that’s when daily withdrawal limits end, and a “casher” can double his take with another withdrawal a few minutes later. To throw off anyone who might later look at surveillance footage, the young man was wearing a woman’s wig and a costume-jewelry nose ring. The detective asked his name, and though the man went by many aliases on the Internet — sometimes he was cumbajohny, sometimes segvec, but his favorite was soupnazi — he politely told the truth. “Albert Gonzalez,” he said.
After Gonzalez was arrested, word quickly made its way to the New Jersey U.S. attorney’s office in Newark, which, along with agents from the Secret Service’s Electronic Crimes Task Force, had been investigating credit- and debit-card fraud involving cashers in the area, without much luck. Gonzalez was debriefed and soon found to be a rare catch. Not only did he have data on millions of card accounts stored on the computer back in his New Jersey apartment, but he also had a knack for patiently explaining his expertise in online card fraud. As one former Secret Service agent told me, Gonzalez was extremely intelligent. “He knew computers. He knew fraud. He was good.”
Gonzalez, law-enforcement officials would discover, was more than just a casher. He was a moderator and rising star on Shadowcrew.com, an archetypal criminal cyberbazaar that sprang up during the Internet-commerce boom in the early 2000s. Its users trafficked in databases of stolen card accounts and devices like magnetic strip-encoders and card-embossers; they posted tips on vulnerable banks and stores and effective e-mail scams. Created by a part-time student in Arizona and a former mortgage broker in New Jersey, Shadowcrew had hundreds of members across the United States, Europe and Asia. It was, as one federal prosecutor put it to me, “an eBay, Monster.com and MySpace for cybercrime.”
After a couple of interviews, Gonzalez agreed to help the government so he could avoid prosecution. “I was 22 years old and scared,” he’d tell me later. “When you have a Secret Service agent in your apartment telling you you’ll go away for 20 years, you’ll do anything.”
He was also good-natured and helpful. “He was very respectable, very nice, very calm, very well spoken,” says the Secret Service agent who would come to know Gonzalez best, Agent Michael (a nickname derived from his real name). “In the beginning, he was quiet and reserved, but then he started opening up. He started to trust us.”
The agents won his trust in part by paying for his living expenses while they brought him to their side and by waiting for Gonzalez to work through his withdrawal. An intermittent drug addict, Gonzalez had been taking cocaine and modafinil, an antinarcoleptic, to keep awake during his long hours at the computer. To decompress, he liked Ecstasy and ketamine. At first, a different agent told me, “he was extremely thin; he smoked a lot, his clothes were disheveled. Over time, he gained weight, started cutting his hair shorter and shaving every day. It was having a good effect on his health.” The agent went on to say: “He could be very disarming, if you let your guard down. I was well aware that I was dealing with a master of social engineering and deception. But I never got the impression he was trying to deceive us.”
Gonzalez’s gift for deception, however, is precisely what made him one of the most valuable cybercrime informants the government has ever had. After his help enabled officials to indict more than a dozen members of Shadowcrew, Gonzalez’s minders at the Secret Service urged him to move back to his hometown, Miami, for his own safety. (It was not hard for Shadowcrew users to figure out that the one significant figure among their ranks who hadn’t been arrested was probably the unnamed informant in court documents.) After aiding another investigation, he became a paid informant in the Secret Service field office in Miami in early 2006. Agent Michael was transferred to Miami, and he worked with Gonzalez on a series of investigations on which Gonzalez did such a good job that the agency asked him to speak at seminars and conferences. “I shook the hand of the head of the Secret Service,” Gonzalez told me. “I gave a presentation to him.” As far as the agency knew, that’s all he was doing. “It seemed he was trying to do the right thing,” Agent Michael said.
He wasn’t. Over the course of several years, during much of which he worked for the government, Gonzalez and his crew of hackers and other affiliates gained access to roughly 180 million payment-card accounts from the customer databases of some of the most well known corporations in America: OfficeMax, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dave & Buster’s restaurants, the T. J. Maxx and Marshalls clothing chains. They hacked into Target, Barnes & Noble, JCPenney, Sports Authority, Boston Market and 7-Eleven’s bank-machine network. In the words of the chief prosecutor in Gonzalez’s case, “The sheer extent of the human victimization caused by Gonzalez and his organization is unparalleled.”
At his sentencing hearing in March, where he received two concurrent 20-year terms, the longest sentence ever handed down to an American for computer crimes, the judge said, “What I found most devastating was the fact that you two-timed the government agency that you were cooperating with, and you were essentially like a double agent.”
IN APRIL, I visited Gonzalez at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, R.I., situated by a river and a pleasant place as jails go. Once muscular and tan, Gonzalez, who turned 27 and 28 behind bars, was pallid and thin. His khaki uniform hung on him baggily, and his eyes were bloodshot behind wire-rim glasses. Occasionally a mischievous smile played on his face; otherwise, he looked through the wire-glass partition with a sympathetic but inscrutably intense stare.
He didn’t want to talk about his crimes at first, so in a soft voice he told me about his ex-girlfriend, who had stopped visiting him (“I can’t blame her”), about what he’d been reading (“Stalingrad,” by Antony Beevor; “Into Thin Air,” by Jon Krakauer; essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson), about his thoughts on recent high-profile computer breaches in the news. The public’s ignorance about his chosen criminal field baffled him. He had become a fan of National Public Radio at Wyatt, and had recently listened to a discussion of hackers on “Fresh Air.” (“Terry Gross is a great host,” he wrote me earlier in a letter, but “these authors and co-authors can’t possibly be making decent earnings. Are they?”) He talked about his childhood and family. His father, Alberto Sr., is a landscaper who as a young man left Cuba on a raft and was picked up by a Coast Guard cutter in the Florida straits. He and Albert share a birthday with Gonzalez’s 5-year-old nephew, “whom I love more than anyone in this world,” Gonzalez said. His nephew’s mother, Maria, Gonzalez’s sister and only sibling, “always learned by listening to our parents’ advice.” He didn’t.
Gonzalez bought his first PC, with his own money, when he was 12. He took an interest in computer security after it was infected with a downloaded virus. “We had to call the technician who sold it to us, and he came over,” he said in one letter. “I had all these questions for him: ‘How do I defend myself from this? Why would someone do this?’ ” He got over his indignation easily enough, and by the time he was 14 had hacked into NASA, which resulted in a visit by F.B.I. agents to his South Miami high school. Undeterred, Gonzalez formed a cooperative of “black hats” — curiosity-driven hackers with an antiauthoritarian bent — and acquired a reputation. He gave an interview to the online magazine ZDNet under his new screen name, soupnazi: “Defacing a site to me is showing the admins [and] government . . . that go to the site that we own them,” he said. On the side he was also purchasing clothing and CDs online with stolen credit-card numbers. He ordered the merchandise delivered to empty houses in Miami, and then had a friend drive him to pick it up during lunch period.
By the time he dropped out of Miami Dade College during his freshman year, Gonzalez had taught himself, by reading software manuals, how to hack into Internet service providers for free broadband. He discovered he could go further than that and co-opted the log-ins and passwords of managers and executives. “On their computers would always be a huge stash of good information, network diagrams, write ups,” he said, audibly enthralled at the memory. “I would learn about the system architecture. It was as if I was an employee.”
Gonzalez’s closest friend, Stephen Watt, who is now serving a two-year prison sentence for coding a software program that helped Gonzalez steal card data, describes Gonzalez as having “a Sherlock Holmes quality to him that is bounded only by his formal education.” Like the other hackers who would go on to form the inner circle of Gonzalez’s criminal organization, Watt met Gonzalez when both were teenagers, on EFnet, an Internet relay chat network frequented by black hats. Watt and Gonzalez interacted strictly online for a year, though each lived in South Florida. Once they began spending time together, in Florida and New York, Watt, who is 27, noticed that Gonzalez’s talents as an online criminal carried over into his life away from the computer. “He could spot wedding rings at 50 yards. He could spot a Patek Philippe at 50 yards. He would have been a world-class interrogator. He was very good at figuring out when people were lying.”
Like many hackers, Gonzalez moved easily between the licit and illicit sides of computer security. Before his first arrest, in the A.T.M. lobby, Gonzalez made his way from Miami to the Northeast after he hacked into a New Jersey-based Internet company and then persuaded it to hire him to its security team. The transition from fraudster to informant was not too different.
After he agreed in 2003 to become an informant, Gonzalez helped the Justice Department and the Secret Service build, over the course of a year, an ingenious trap for Shadowcrew. Called Operation Firewall, it was run out of a makeshift office in an Army repair garage in Jersey City. Gonzalez was its linchpin. Through him, the government came to, in hacker lingo, own Shadowcrew, as undercover buyers infiltrated the network and traced its users around the world; eventually, officials even managed to transfer the site onto a server controlled by the Secret Service. Meanwhile, Gonzalez patiently worked his way up the Shadowcrew ranks. He persuaded its users to communicate through a virtual private network, or VPN, a secure channel that sends encrypted messages between computers, that he introduced onto the site. This VPN, designed by the Secret Service, came with a special feature: a court-ordered wiretap.
Gonzalez worked alongside the agents, sometimes all day and into the night, for months on end. Most called him Albert. A couple of them who especially liked him called him Soup, after his old screen-name soupnazi. “Spending this much time with an informant this deeply into a cybercrime conspiracy — it was a totally new experience for all of us,” one Justice Department prosecutor says. “It was kind of a bonding experience. He and the agents developed over time a very close bond. They worked well together.”
On Oct. 26, 2004, Gonzalez was taken to Washington and installed in the Operation Firewall command center at Secret Service headquarters. He corralled the Shadowcrew targets into a chat session. At 9 p.m., agents began knocking down doors. By midnight, 28 people across eight states and six countries had been arrested, most of them mere feet from their computers. Nineteen were eventually indicted. It was by some estimates the most successful cybercrime case the government had ever carried out.
“I did find the investigation exciting,” Gonzalez told me of turning against Shadowcrew. “The intellectual element. Unmasking them, figuring out their identities. Looking back, it was kind of easy, though. When someone trusts you, they let their guard down.”
He did say, however, that he “actually had a bad conscience” about it. “I had a moral dilemma, unlike most informants.” On another occasion, when he was discussing the same subject, Gonzalez wrote to me in a letter, “This distinction is very important . . . my loyalty has always been to the black-hat community.”
Those captured by the government with his help are less interested in this distinction. “Shadowcrew was not a forum of thugs,” a member who occasionally laundered money for Gonzalez told me. This casher served two years in prison thanks to Operation Firewall. “He was a coward who betrayed us all, and I suppose if you believe in karma, he got what he deserved in the end.”
Before being arrested, Gonzalez had actually vouched for this casher to the higher-ups at Shadowcrew. He had gone out of his way to help many members, according to the federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Scott Christie, who worked with him on Operation Firewall. Christie says that based on their exchanges when Gonzalez was being recruited as an informant, Gonzalez seemed to be “less interested in money than in building up Shadowcrew.” He “gave back to the members in the way of education and personal benefit. Unlike other cybercriminals, he wasn’t just out for gain.”
Indeed, no one I spoke with compared him to a gangster or a mercenary — preferred honorifics among hackers — but several likened him to a brilliant executive. “In the U.S., we have two kinds of powerful, successful business leaders. We have people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who are the most sophisticated of electronic technicians and programmers,” says Steve Heymann, the Massachusetts assistant U.S. attorney who, in the spring of 2010, secured a combined 38 years of prison time for Gonzalez and his co-conspirators for their corporate breaches. “Then we have others, like the C.E.O.’s of AT&T or General Electric, who are extremely good in their area but also know when to go to others for expertise and how to build powerful organizations by using those others. Gonzalez fits into that second category.”
BY THE TIME Gonzalez returned to Miami after Operation Firewall, in late 2004, he was already exploring the vulnerability of corporate wireless networks. Just as data security had been an afterthought for many businesses in their rush to get online in the 1990s, creating opportunities for the likes of Shadowcrew, many firms had taken no precautions as they eagerly adopted WiFi in the early 2000s. Gonzalez was especially intrigued by the possibilities of a technique known as “war driving”: hackers would sit in cars or vans in the parking lots of big-box stores with laptops and high-power radio antennae and burrow through companies’ vulnerable WiFi networks. Adepts could get into a billion-dollar multinational’s servers in minutes.
Gonzalez reconnected with an old friend from EFnet, Christopher Scott, who was willing to do grunt work. Scott began cruising the commercial stretches of Route 1 in Miami, looking for war-driving targets. His experiments at BJ’s Wholesale Club and DSW met with success. He stole about 400,000 card accounts from the former, a million from the latter. He described the breaches and passed card numbers to Gonzalez.
The following summer, Scott parked outside a pair of Marshalls stores. He enlisted the help of Jonathan James, a minor celebrity among Miami black hats for being the first American juvenile ever incarcerated for computer crimes. (At 15, he hacked into the Department of Defense; he lived under house arrest for six months.) Scott cracked the Marshalls WiFi network, and he and James started navigating the system: they co-opted log-ins and passwords and got Gonzalez into the network; they made their way into the corporate servers at the Framingham, Mass., headquarters of Marshalls’ parent company, TJX; they located the servers that housed old card transactions from stores. Scott set up a VPN — the system Gonzalez and the Secret Service used to ensnare Shadowcrew — so they could move in and out of TJX and install software without detection. When Gonzalez found that so many of the card numbers they were getting were expired, he had Stephen Watt develop a “sniffer” program to seek out, capture and store recent transactions. Once the collection of data reached a certain size, the program was designed to automatically close, then encrypt, compress and forward the card data to Gonzalez’s computer, just as you might send someone an e-mail with a zip file attached. Steadily, patiently, they siphoned the material from the TJX servers. “The experienced ones take their time and slowly bleed the data out,” a Secret Service analyst says.
By the end of 2006, Gonzalez, Scott and James had information linked to more than 40 million cards. It wasn’t a novel caper, but they executed it better than anyone else had. Using similar methods, they hacked into OfficeMax, Barnes & Noble, Target, Sports Authority and Boston Market, and probably many other companies that never detected a breach or notified the authorities. Scott bought a six-foot-tall radio antenna, and he and James rented hotel rooms near stores for the tougher jobs. In many cases, the data were simply there for the taking, unencrypted, unprotected.
“For a long time, probably too long a time, computer security was something that was just dollars and cents off the bottom line — it doesn’t bring in money,” Heymann told me when I asked why war-driving hackers were able to steal data so easily. “At the same time, in these cases, companies were beginning to warehouse vast amounts of information” far more swiftly than they were coming to understand the vulnerabilities of their systems. A result was what he called “a primeval muck that creates a period when dramatic, costly attacks can get at vast amounts of resources.”
At the same time that Gonzalez was stealing all this bank-card data, he was assembling an international syndicate. His favored fence was a Ukrainian, Maksym Yastremskiy, who would sell sets of card numbers to buyers across the Americas, Europe and Asia and split the proceeds with him. Gonzalez hired another EFnet friend, Jonathan Williams, to cash out at A.T.M.’s across the country, and a friend of Watt’s in New York would pick up the shipments of cash in bulk sent by Williams and Yastremskiy. Watt’s friend would then wire the money to Miami or send it to a post-office box there set up by James through a proxy. Gonzalez established dummy companies in Europe, and to collect payment and launder money he opened e-gold and WebMoney accounts, which were not strictly regulated (e-gold has since gone out of business). He also rented servers in Latvia, Ukraine, the Netherlands and elsewhere to store the card data and the software he was using for the breaches. Finally, he joined up with two Eastern European hackers who were onto something visionary. Known to him only by their screen names, Annex and Grig, they were colluding to break into American card-payment processors — the very cash arteries of the retail economy.
“I’ve been asking myself, why did I do it?” Gonzalez told me over the phone from prison recently. “At first I did it for monetary reasons. The service’s salary wasn’t enough, and I needed the money. By then I’d already created the snowball and had to keep doing it. I wanted to quit but couldn’t.” He claims his intentions were partly admirable. He genuinely wanted to help out Patrick Toey, a close friend and hacker who would later do much of the more sophisticated legwork involved in Gonzalez’s hacking into corporate networks. Unlike Gonzalez and Watt, Toey, who is 25, had a rough upbringing. After dropping out of high school, he supported his mother and his younger brother and sister by hacking. Gonzalez invited Toey to live in his condominium in Miami, rent-free. Gonzalez owned it, but he enjoyed living at home with his parents more. He says he loved his mother’s cooking and playing with his nephew, and he could more easily launder money through his parents’ home-equity line of credit that way.
Gonzalez relished the intellectual challenges of cybercrime too. He is not a gifted programmer — according to Watt and Toey, in fact, he can barely write simple code — but by all accounts he can understand systems and fillet them with singular grace. I often got the impression that this was computer crime’s main appeal for Gonzalez.
But he also liked stealing. “Whatever morality I should have been feeling was trumped by the thrill,” he told me. And he liked spending. Partly but not entirely in jest, he took to referring to his scheme as Operation Get Rich or Die Tryin’, after the 50 Cent album and movie. Gonzalez would not discuss with me just how rich he got, but he certainly was seeing profits in the millions of dollars. Little of that found its way to Toey, however, and probably none to Watt. For himself, Gonzalez bought, in addition to the condo, a new BMW 330i. He often stayed in luxury hotel suites in Miami on a whim. He took frequent trips to New York, where he and Watt — who worked by day in the I.T. department of Morgan Stanley and later developed securities-trading software and moonlighted as a nightclub promoter — spent thousands on hotels, restaurants, clubs and drugs. Lots of drugs. “I don’t know when he slept,” Agent Michael says, referring to Gonzalez’s lifestyle during the time they worked together.
It seems clear now that Gonzalez didn’t mind betraying people. What would come to anger the Secret Service most is that he used information from their investigations to enrich himself. “He would be working for the service during the day, and then come home and talk to me, and I’d be selling dumps for him,” Toey told me, referring to databases of stolen card information. Gonzalez sold dumps to hackers who he knew were under investigation, in effect setting them up. In the case of one Miami suspect being investigated by the service, Toey told me: “We basically ripped [him] off and sold him databases that were all dead and expired. They came from a company where a breach was being investigated by the service. He got caught with the database, and it looked like he’d done it.” Toey and Gonzalez then split the profits. (Gonzalez confirmed this account of events.)
When I asked Toey how he felt about using information from government investigations to betray other hackers, including black hats, he said: “I didn’t like it at all that he did it. But at the same time, I don’t know any of those people.” He added, “More money for us.”
Agent Michael investigated the Miami suspect, but he did not know until I told him that Gonzalez had set the man up. “It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “Looking back, we knew what he wanted us to know. . . . He was leading a double life within a double life.”
BY THE SPRING of 2007, Gonzalez was tired of working for the Secret Service. “He wasn’t showing up on time,” according to Agent Michael, who began talking with other agents about cutting Gonzalez loose. “He didn’t want to be there.” He was also tired of war driving. He wanted a new challenge. He found one in a promising technique called SQL injection.
SQL (usually pronounced “sequel”) stands for Structured Query Language, the programming language that enables most commercial Web sites to interact with their associated databases. When you log on to the Web site of a clothing store to buy a sweater, for example, the site sends your commands in SQL back to the databases where the images and descriptions of clothing are stored. The requested information is returned in SQL, and then translated into words, so you can find the sweater you want. But there is a vulnerability here: such databases in a company’s servers often exist in proximity to other all-too-accessible databases with more sensitive information — like your credit-card number.
SQL is the lingua franca of online commerce. A hacker who learns to manipulate it can penetrate a company with frightening dependability. And he doesn’t need to be anywhere near a store or a company’s headquarters to do so. Since SQL injections go through a Web site, they can be done from anywhere.
Gonzalez urged Watt and Toey to experiment with SQL. Watt wasn’t interested. “I had objections to what he was doing on a moral level — and on top of that, I took an intellectual exception,” Watt says. “If Albert said we were going to go after the Church of Scientology or Blackwater, I would have dove in headfirst.” Toey, however, said he felt he owed Gonzalez. He began poking around on the sites of businesses that seemed vulnerable — or for which he had a philosophical distaste. “I just didn’t like what they did,” he said of the clothing chain Forever 21. The clothes were poorly made, he said, and the employees poorly paid. “It’s just everything I hate about this country in one store.”
Under the assault of Toey’s expertise and contempt, Forever 21 didn’t stand a chance. “I went to their Web site, and I looked at their shopping-cart software, and within five minutes, I found a problem,” he said, with his customary concision. “Within 10 minutes we were on their computers and were able to execute commands freely. From there we leveraged access until we were the domain administrators. Then I passed it over to Albert.”
What came next was the truly inspired step. Gonzalez focused on TJX in part because it stored old transactions, but he found that many of the cards were expired. He needed a way to get to cards right after customers used them. It was possible, he learned, to breach the point-of-sale terminals at stores, the machines on checkout counters through which you swipe your card at the supermarket, the gas station, the department store — just about anywhere you buy something.
Gonzalez and Toey took reconnaissance trips to stores around Miami to look at the brands and makes of their terminals. He downloaded schematics and software manuals. Earlier, Jonathan Williams visited an OfficeMax near Los Angeles, loosened a terminal at a checkout counter and walked out of the store with it. Hackers working with an Estonian contact of Gonzalez’s hacked into the Maryland-based Micros Systems, the largest maker of point-of-sale systems, and stole software and a list of employee log-ins and passwords, which they sent to Gonzalez.
Now once Toey got him into a system, Gonzalez no longer had to sift through databases for the valuable stuff. Instead, he could go straight to the servers that processed the cards coming from the terminals, in the milliseconds before that information was sent to banks for approval. He tried this on JCPenney, the clothing chain Wet Seal and the Hannaford Brothers grocery chain, in the last instance compromising more than four million cards. His Estonian contact used the technique on Dave & Buster’s. “Every time a card was swiped, it would be logged into our file,” Toey says. “There was nothing anyone could do about it.”
When they pieced together how Gonzalez organized these heists later, federal prosecutors had to admire his ingenuity. “It’s like driving to the building next to the bank to tunnel into the bank,” Seth Kosto, an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey who worked on the case, told me. When I asked how Gonzalez rated among criminal hackers, he replied: “As a leader? Unparalleled. Unparalleled in his ability to coordinate contacts and continents and expertise. Unparalleled in that he didn’t just get a hack done — he got a hack done, he got the exfiltration of the data done, he got the laundering of the funds done. He was a five-tool player.”
Gonzalez and Toey were returning from a trip to Toys “R” Us to check out its terminals one afternoon in the spring of 2008 when a sports car with tinted windows pulled up behind them at a red light. Gonzalez became suspicious and turned into a bus lane. The sports car followed. When the light turned green, Gonzalez didn’t move. The car didn’t move. After waiting for minutes, in a static game of chicken, car horns blaring, Gonzalez suddenly accelerated into oncoming traffic before doing a U-turn and turning into an alley. The pursuing car flew by, Gonzalez pulled out behind him, sped up alongside the car and peered inside. Gonzalez and Toey made out a police light on the dashboard. It was a surveillance car.
Gonzalez had by that point stopped working as an informant, according to the service. Instructions had come down to the Miami field office to start tailing him. Maybe the most valuable cybercrime informant it had ever employed, the key to Operation Firewall, was now being investigated. And the Secret Service wasn’t alone: the F.B.I. was looking into a wireless intrusion at Target’s headquarters that originated at one of its Miami stores. The store, the bureau discovered, was in the line of sight of Gonzalez’s condo, in ideal range for a war-driving antenna.
But Gonzalez wasn’t worried. He was certain he’d covered all his tracks.
KIM PERETTI KNOWS Gonzalez as well as almost anyone in the government. She has worked with him. She has also prosecuted him — though Peretti does not come across as a federal prosecutor. Younger in appearance than her 40 years, she grew up in Wisconsin and is girlish, even bubbly, in person, apt to express frustration with phrases like “Oh, sugar!” Peretti was hired to the Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section shortly after 9/11. Peretti made a point of getting to know the agents in the Secret Service’s Electronic Crimes Task Force because she knew that they were, like her, eager to make a name in going after cybercriminals. She lobbied to be assigned to Operation Firewall, and in 2003 she was.
When I met Peretti at a restaurant near her new office in McLean, Va. — she left the government in May to take a job at PriceWaterhouseCoopers — she was wearing a blue skirt suit and designer glasses. “She’s got the whole Sarah Palin eyewear thing going on,” Gonzalez had written to me in a letter, by way of explaining that it wasn’t at all unpleasant being investigated by her. But their relationship goes back further than that. Much of what Peretti knows about cybercrime she learned from working with Gonzalez.
“Albert was an educator,” she said, describing their experience on Operation Firewall. “We in law enforcement had never encountered anything like” him. “We had to learn the language, we had to learn the characters, their goals, their techniques. Albert taught us all of that.” They worked as well together as any investigative team she has been a part of, she said.
When we met, Peretti brought with her a poster-size screen shot of Shadowcrew’s homepage as it appeared the day after the raids. Secret Service technicians had defaced it with a photograph of a shirtless, tattooed tough slouching in a jail cell. The text said, “Contact your local United States Secret Service field office . . . before we contact you!”
By the time she was 35, thanks to Operation Firewall and Gonzalez, Peretti was the Justice Department’s chief prosecutor of cybercrime in Washington. But in 2005, even as she was litigating the Shadowcrew case, she encountered a new cybercrime wave unlike anything that had come before. “The service keeps calling me, saying, ‘We’ve got another company that contacted us,’ ” she said. “The volume was getting bigger and bigger. There was just an explosion.”
In the days before Christmas 2006, the Justice Department and Stephen Heymann, the assistant U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, received a series of frantic calls from TJX’s attorneys. The company had been contacted by a credit-card company, because a rapidly growing number of cards used at Marshalls and T. J. Maxx stores seemed to have been stolen. TJX had examined its Framingham, Mass., servers, and what it found was catastrophic. According to its own account, for about a year and a half, cards for “somewhere between approximately half to substantially all of the transactions at U.S., Puerto Rican and Canadian stores” were believed stolen. It was the biggest theft of card data in U.S. history, and there wasn’t a lead in sight.
“At that point we had quite literally the entire world as possible suspects,” Heymann told me in May, when we met in his office in the federal court building overlooking Boston Harbor. With his father, Philip, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, Heymann teaches courses on criminal law at Harvard Law School. He had been deputy chief of the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s criminal division and then set up one of the first computer-crime units in the country, so he was well versed in the comparative challenges. “If you’ve got a murder scene, there’s blood, there’s fingerprints. If you have a hacker going into a company, the critical information can be lost the moment the connection is broken. The size of the networks might be so large and so confusing that they’re very hard to understand and search. The people involved may only be known by screen names. Figuring that out is very different from figuring out who Tony the Squirrel is,” he said. Heymann had never seen anything like the TJX breach.
Then, in 2007, attorneys for Dave & Buster’s called the Secret Service. That company, too, had been breached, but this was different. The thieves had managed to access its point-of-sale system. By that summer, Peretti and Heymann had huge amounts of data, lots of potential leads and no clue as to whom they were chasing. “For the first six to nine months, it was tiring, exhaustive, thorough,” Heymann told me. “I’d like to tell you it was also brilliant and incisive and led to the key lead, but it wasn’t.” They were in desperate need of a break.
They finally got one, courtesy of Peretti’s old friends at the Secret Service. For two years, it turned out, an undercover agent in its San Diego office had been buying card dumps from Maksym Yastremskiy, Gonzalez’s fence. The agent traveled to Thailand and Dubai to meet with the Ukrainian, and in Dubai he furtively copied the hard drive in Yastremskiy’s laptop. Technicians at the Secret Service combed through it and discovered, to their joy, that Yastremskiy was a meticulous record keeper. He had saved and catalogued all of his customer lists and instant messages for years. In the logs, they found a chat partner who appeared to be Yastremskiy’s biggest provider of stolen card data. But all they had for the person was an I.M. registration number — no personal information.
In July 2007, Yastremskiy was arrested in a nightclub in Turkey, and the Secret Service turned up a useful lead. The anonymous provider had asked Yastremskiy to arrange a fake passport. One of the provider’s cashers had been arrested, and he wanted to get his man out of the United States. The only problem: he didn’t say where the casher had been arrested.
So agents phoned every police station and district attorney’s office around the country that had made a similar arrest or brought a similar case. After weeks of these calls, their search led them to a prison cell in North Carolina, where Jonathan Williams was being held. He had been arrested with $200,000 in cash — much of which had been intended for Gonzalez — and 80 blank debit cards; the local authorities hadn’t linked him to a larger criminal group, and they couldn’t have known about Gonzalez. The Secret Service agents plugged in a thumb drive in Williams’s possession at the time of his arrest and found a file that contained a photograph of Gonzalez, a credit report on him and the address of Gonzalez’s sister, Maria, in Miami. (He was also arrested with a Glock 9-millimeter pistol and two barrels for the gun, one threaded to fit a silencer.) The file was “a safety precaution, in case [Gonzalez] tried to inform on me,” Williams told me from prison in June. Officials then traced packages Williams had sent to the post-office box in Miami. This led the Secret Service to Jonathan James. They pulled James’s police records and found that in 2005 he was arrested by a Palmetto Bay, Fla., police officer who found him in the parking lot of a retail store in the middle of the night. The officer didn’t know why James and his companion, a man named Christopher Scott, were sitting in a car with laptops and a giant radio antenna, but she suspected they weren’t playing World of Warcraft.
The real eureka moment came when Secret Service technicians finally got the I.M. registration information for whoever was providing Yastremskiy with bank-card data. There was no address or name, but there was an e-mail address: email@example.com. It was a dead giveaway to anyone who knew Gonzalez. Peretti remembers vividly the afternoon in December 2007 when agents called her and told her to come to their office. They sat her down and showed her the e-mail address. “And they looked at me,” Peretti said. “They’ve got 10 agents looking at me. Three minutes passed by, I was sitting there like a dull person. And then I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ ”
Gonzalez knew the Secret Service was investigating Yastremskiy, but he continued to move databases through him. When I asked Gonzalez why, he said, “I never thought he would leave Ukraine.” The country has no extradition policy with the U.S. But Yastremskiy did leave. “It wasn’t until he got busted,” Gonzalez told me, that he realized his mistake.
Operation Get Rich or Die Tryin’ unraveled fast. Christopher Scott’s home and Gonzalez’s condo were raided simultaneously. Agents seized Scott, along with nine computers and 78 marijuana plants; in Gonzalez’s place they found various designer drugs and a half-asleep Patrick Toey. Toey was flown to Boston to testify before a grand jury. He directed Heymann and Peretti to the e-gold and WebMoney accounts and to servers located abroad. The servers eventually led them to Watt, who returned to his Greenwich Village apartment to find agents and a battering ram awaiting him. The Gonzalezes’ home was raided, but Albert was not there.
Peretti knew that if they didn’t find him soon, he would disappear. “Albert had said during Firewall how afraid he was of spending any time in prison,” she said. “I knew he’d be gone the next day.”
They found him at 7 in the morning on May 7, 2008, when agents rushed into his suite at the National Hotel in Miami Beach. With him were a Croatian woman, two laptops and $22,000. Over time, he started talking. Months later, he led Secret Service agents to a barrel containing $1.2 million buried in his parents’ backyard. Attorney General Michael Mukasey himself held a news conference in August 2008 to announce the indictment. “So far as we know, this is the single largest and most complex identity-theft case ever charged in this country,” he told reporters. Gonzalez’s attorney assured him the government’s case was weak. Electronic evidence often didn’t hold up, he said.
That was before attorneys for Heartland Payment Systems Inc., in Princeton, N.J., called Peretti in early January 2009. One of the largest card-payment processors in the country, Heartland, which services about a quarter of a million businesses, had been hacked. But not just hacked — owned in a way no company had ever been owned. As Peretti would soon learn from Gonzalez, he had helped the two Eastern European hackers, Annex and Grig, slip into Heartland via SQL injection. By the time Heartland realized something was wrong, the heist was too immense to be believed: data from 130 million transactions had been exposed. Indictments were brought against Gonzalez in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts (where the cases were eventually consolidated). At a loss for anything else to say, Gonzalez’s attorney told a reporter: “He’s really not a bad guy. He just got way in over his head.”
On May 18, 2008, Jonathan James shot himself in the head. He left a suicide note saying he was convinced the government would try to pin Gonzalez’s crimes on him because of the notoriety James had gained as a teenage hacker.
AT HIS SENTENCING in March, Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty to all charges, sat almost motionless. As far as I saw, he didn’t once look back at the gallery in the federal courtroom in Boston, where his mother sat stoically while his father wept into a handkerchief as Gonzalez’s sister consoled him. Nor did he glance at Heymann, as he told the court that Gonzalez had committed the worst computer crimes ever prosecuted; nor at Peretti, nor his old colleagues from the Secret Service, who also sat in the gallery. Gonzalez just leaned forward and peered straight ahead at the judge, as though — the set of his head was unmistakable — staring intensely at a computer.
He spoke just once, a few sentences at the end. “I blame nobody but myself,” he said. “I’m guilty of not only exploiting computer networks but exploiting personal relationships, particularly one that I had with a certain government agency who believed in me. This agency not only believed in me but gave me a second start in life, and I completely threw that away.” Accounting for time served and good behavior, Gonzalez is expected to get out of prison in 2025.
In May, Toey began a five-year sentence, and Scott started a seven-year sentence. Yastremskiy was given 30 years in a Turkish prison, a fate apparently so grim he’s lobbying to be extradited to the U.S. so he can be imprisoned here. Watt, who maintains that he was never fully aware of what Gonzalez wanted to use his software for, and who refused to give information on Gonzalez to the grand jury or prosecutors, was sentenced to two years.
According to Attorney General Eric Holder, who last month presented an award to Peretti and the prosecutors and Secret Service agents who brought Gonzalez down, Gonzalez cost TJX, Heartland and the other victimized companies more than $400 million in reimbursements and forensic and legal fees. At last count, at least 500 banks were affected by the Heartland breach. But the extent of the damage is unknown. “The majority of the stuff I hacked was never brought into public light,” Toey told me. One of the imprisoned hackers told me there “were major chains and big hacks that would dwarf TJX. I’m just waiting for them to indict us for the rest of them.” Online fraud is still rampant in the United States, but statistics show a major drop in 2009 from previous years, when Gonzalez was active.
The company line at the Justice Department and the Secret Service is that informants go bad all the time, and that there was nothing special about Gonzalez’s case. As Peretti put it, “You certainly feel anger” — but “you’re not doing your job if you fall into the trap of thinking the criminal you’re working with is your best friend.” The agent in charge of the Criminal Investigative Division at the Secret Service told me: “It’s unfortunate. We try to take measures. But it does happen. You need to deal with criminals to get other criminals. Albert was a criminal.”
Heymann lauds how the Secret Service handled things. “When you find out one of your informants has committed a crime,” he said, “you can hide the fact, which unfortunately does happen from time to time. You can play it down — soft-pedal it, try to make it go away. Or you can do what I think the Secret Service very impressively did here, which is to go full bore.” He said that after Gonzalez became a suspect, “the size of the investigation, the amount of assets, all increased significantly. That reflects enormous integrity.”
But Gonzalez did have friends in the government, and there is no question some of them feel deeply betrayed. Agent Michael was the most candid with me about this: “I put a lot of time and effort into trying to keep him on the straight and narrow and show him what his worth could be outside of that world, keep him part of the team. And he knows that, and he knew what good he could have done with his talent.” He continued, “We work with a million informants, but for me it was really tough with him.”
After his sentencing, Gonzalez was transferred from Wyatt to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn (before ultimately ending up in a prison in Michigan). Situated between a loud stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Gowanus Bay, M.D.C. is brutal, even for a prison. Populated by hardened offenders, it is among the last places a nonviolent government informant would want to be. “The place is terrible,” Agent Michael said. “But you know what? When you burn both ends of the candle, that’s what you get.” Even Gonzalez was impressed by the government’s indifference to his comfort. He says he always knew it would stick it to him somehow, “but I never thought it would be this badly.”
“I’ve been asking myself a lot why didn’t I ever feel this way while I was doing it,” Gonzalez told me, when I spoke with him in June. An inmate at M.D.C. who didn’t like informants had recently threatened to kill him, he said. It was his 29th birthday, and the 5th birthday of his nephew. Gonzalez’s sister wanted to bring her son to New York to visit, but Gonzalez told her not to. “I didn’t want him to get scared, seeing me in here,” he told me. Instead, Gonzalez was spending the day reading a biography of Warren Buffett.
I asked him how he felt when he thought about people like Agent Michael and Peretti. “They’re part of the betrayals,” he said.
During the legal proceedings, the court ordered Gonzalez to undergo a psychological evaluation. “He identified with his computer,” the report reads. “It is hard, if not impossible, even at the present for Mr. Gonzalez to conceptualize human growth, development and evolution, other than in the language of building a machine.”
As we spoke, Gonzalez recalled how he first became obsessed with computers as a child. “I remember so many times having arguments with my mother when she’d try to take the computer power cord from me, or she’d find me up at 6 a.m. on the computer when I had to be at school at 7:30. Or when I’d be out with [my girlfriend] and not paying any attention to her because I’d be thinking about what I could do online.”
He reflected on his days with Shadowcrew, and on his decision to help the government. “I should have just done my time in 2003,” he said. “I should have manned up and did it. I would be getting out about now.”
Explosion shuts US nuclear plant, Reuters, November 9 2010.
An explosion on Entergy Corp's main transformer shut the 1020-megawatt Unit 2 at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York, the second shutdown at the company's nuclear plants within an hour.
The company has also shut its 605-megawatt nuclear plant in Vernon, Vermont due to a system pipe leakage.
The reactor is known to have leaked tritium twice this year and the Vermont Senate has voted to permanently shut the plant in 2012.
News of the two shutdowns arrive at a time when Entergy faces a civil investigation by the US Department of Justice into the way the power utility operates its transmission system and power plants in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas.
There were no casualties or injuries associated with Sunday evening's explosion at the Indian Point reactor and no resulting fire, a company spokesman said.
An electrical problem set off the explosion and workers have begun inspecting the equipment, spokesman Jim Steets said.
Sunday's explosion, which took place at about 18.30 Eastern Time (12.30pm Monday NZT), holds no danger of a radiation leak, he added.
"The plant safely shut down automatically," Steets said. "The plants system responded well to the shutdown."
Entergy has been plagued by several problems related to its older, inefficient power plants.
Independent power producers and small municipal utilities have complained for a decade about how Entergy controls access to its 24,000km transmission system, alleging the company has avoided upgrading its grid network.
The Unit 1 reactor at Indian Point plant was shut down permanently in 1974 as the emergency core cooling system did not meet regulatory requirements. Unit 3 is now operating at full capacity at the 2045-megawatt power plant complex.
While the company has not named the substance leaked out of the feedwater system piping at the Vermont Yankee plant, some media reports said the water had low levels of radioactive elements.
The company, however, did not immediately return calls seeking comments on the Vermont plant.
Mining industry lobbied nine of 24 MPs who helped kill ethics bill, Steve Rennie, November 11 2010.
Ottawa: A lobbying blitz on Parliament Hill may have sealed the defeat of a controversial mining bill that lost a razor-thin vote in the House of Commons.
Records filed with Canada's lobbying watchdog show nine of the 24 MPs who skipped the vote last month were lobbied by the mining industry.
The private member's bill would have forced Canadian mining companies to toughen their environmental and human-rights standards when working abroad.
The bill lost by just six votes, 140 to 134.
The nine absent MPs lobbied by the mining industry were Liberals Scott Andrews, Scott Brison, Martha Hall Findlay, Keith Martin, John McCallum, Geoff Regan and Anthony Rota, as well as New Democrats Charlie Angus and Bruce Hyer.
Fifteen other Liberal, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and independent MPs also skipped the Oct. 27 vote, but records show they were not lobbied by the mining industry.
All but one Conservative MP voted against the bill. Former environment minister Jim Prentice missed the vote because he was on his way to China for trade talks.
Ms. Hall Findlay said her opposition to the bill came from her background in international law and business, not from any lobbyists. She has blogged about why she didn't back the bill.
“My position had long been decided before anyone approached me on this file,” she said in an interview.
She brushed aside the notion that lobbyists doomed the bill. She said supporters of the bill also came out in full force, even if they don't appear in the lobbyist registry.
“This was not a question of lobbying by the mining companies. There was huge lobbying on the other side, too,” Ms. Hall Findlay said.
“Some people may have been affected by one, some people may have been affected by the other. I can tell you, for me personally, your question – ‘Did it affect me?’ – no.”
Mr. Regan also said his mind was made up before he spoke to any lobbyists.
The other MPs didn't return calls and emails.
The lobbyist registry reveals the mining industry put a full-court press on Parliament Hill in the days and weeks leading up to the late October vote.
Lobbyists for mining companies and industry groups reported dozens of “communications” with MPs, senators, political staff and senior bureaucrats in September and October.
Some were one-on-one meetings, while others were with groups of people.
Former Liberal cabinet minister Don Boudria was one of the busiest lobbyists. He is now a Hill and Knowlton lobbyist who was working on behalf of Barrick Gold.
The lobbyist registry shows Mr. Boudria, a Grit veteran, had 22 “communications” with Liberal MPs, Senator Dennis Dawson and two aides in Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's office between Oct. 12-26.
Mr. Boudria declined comment. “I do not comment upon client work,” he wrote in an email to The Canadian Press on Thursday.
Mr. Regan saidMr. Boudria tried to get him to vote against the bill. “He would have been speaking to me to try and persuade me to vote against the bill,” the MP said. “He knew already where my mind was.”
Liberal MP John McKay sponsored the bill, C-300, which all three opposition parties initially supported. He recalls that Parliament Hill was crawling with mining lobbyists ahead of the vote.
“You couldn't turn around without bumping into one of them in the lobby,” Mr. McKay said in an interview. “They were all over the place.”
Mr. McKay said he spoke to Liberals who skipped the vote, but he couldn't persuade them to support his bill.
“I think there was local pressure brought to bear on MPs who have mining interests in their ridings,” he said.
The registry shows MPs were lobbied by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, Goldcorp Inc., Vale Canada Inc., Iamgold Corp., the Mining Association of Canada, Stillwater Mining Company and Xstrata Nickel.
Industry watchdog group MiningWatch Canada also lobbied MPs.