Category Archives: Politics

The Nevada State Party Democratic Convention: An Attempt At A History Part One

I worked on this.

An attempt to convey the events leading up to the turmoil of the 2016 Nevada State Party Democratic Convention. These events include the disorganization of the state caucuses as well as the suspension and possible arrest of the credentials chair before the Clark County convention. The events of the state convention will be covered in part two, which will only be finished in August, after the democratic national convention.

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Transcript of June 13 1991 October Surprise Conference

The following transcript was initially posted on pastebin, “Transcript of June 13 1991 October Surprise Conference”. Only changes to the transcript arise through the conveniences of html, with appropriate italics and embedded links. Author of the pastebin document, including transcript, is this site’s manager. Document starts after the line break.

A transcript of a conference on June 13, 1991, sponsored by the Fund For New Priorities, on Youtube as “Christopher Hitchens on Trading Weapons for Iranian Hostages: October Surprise Conspiracy (1991)” and “Christopher Hitchens on the Iran Hostage Crisis and October Surprise (1991)”. This transcript should not imply an endorsement of the conspiracy theory, only an indication that I believe it to be of interest. The theory was often relayed to be as one fostered by lunatics, but those on-stage appear sane, sound, and cautious in their assessments. On the other hand, Barbara Honegger, who hogs the floor with a long statement in the second session, is now well-known for her theories involving UFOs and 9-11 conspiracies. Ari Ben-Menashe, a source frequently mentioned by Honegger and a few others is a mysterious con man, leaving one uncertain how connected he is and when he’s conning you or telling you of actual dealings he was part of.

A 2011 profile of Ben-Menashe can be found here: “The unbelievable life of Ari Ben-Menashe” by Brian Hutchinson.

In 2014, he would register as a lobbyist in the U.S. for the breakaway Libyan province of Cyrenaica: “Notorious Canadian lobbyist signs $2M contract to promote Libya militants aiming to divide country”.

The wikipedia entry for the “Brokers of Death” arms case, involving Cyrus Hashemi, Samuel Evans, and Avraham Bar-Am is here, where charges were brought against the men for selling weapons to Iran, and then dropped when prosecutors were unable to prove that they weren’t doing so under the orders from the U.S. government: “Brokers of Death arms case”.

Contemporary articles on this strange case include “The Katzenjammer Falcon” by James Traub (New York magazine on Google Books) and “Cyrus Hashemi’s Shadow Legecy” by Christopher Byron (also New York magazine on Google Books).

The report on the unsavoury activities of the Ronald Reagan campaign, the report published by the committee headed up by Senator Donald Albosta and referred to here as the “Albosta report”, I have been unable to find anywhere on-line [edit, made on February 6th, 2018; the two volumes of the “Albosta report”, or “Debategate report”, can be found here at, courtesy of the National Security Archive]. The Joint Report of the Task Force to Investigate Allegations Concerning the Holding of American Hostages by Iran in 1980 (“October Surprise Task Force”), the report produced by the investigation which this conference hoped to inspire, is available for reading on-line by all and download by those affiliated with participating universities at the Hathitrust site.

Part of why I believe there is the possibility of truth in such astonishing allegations, despite the presence of several frauds surrounding it, is because I know that another attempt to interfere in crucial American diplomacy for the purpose of winning an election did take place and was successful. This previous attempt took place in 1968 and was Richard Nixon’s sabotage of the Paris Peace Talks. An excellent resource on this astonishing event can be found by the tenacious, diligent, and superb reporter Robert Parry: “LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason'”.

My own work on this interference by Nixon and his campaign, making vivid the surrounding timeline of this betrayal and its aftermath, accompanied by the relevant audio files of Lyndon Johnson discussing this treason with aides and Nixon himself can be found here: “The Treason of Richard Nixon: From Possibility to Certainty Part One” and “The Treason of Richard Nixon: From Possibility to Certainty Part Two”.

What follows is the conference transcript:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is with great interest and excitement, that we now open the formal part of today’s congressional colloquy on “An Election Held Hostage and the October Surprise”. What really happened? This conference, the latest in a series of more than sixty five Capitol Hill conferences held over the past twenty two years, under the auspices of the Fund For New Priorities [in America], promises to rival many of our previous landmark events in its importance, by bringing to the attention of the members of Congress, important issues and dangers to our constitutional democracy. As always, this conference has been brought to you under the sponsorship of members of Congress of both houses. The final list of the sponsors who have responded to the “Dear Colleague” letter which has been circulated in both houses, the letter which was written by senators Adams, Cranston, Harkin, and Wellstone…will be published at the end of this colloquy, with an edited transcript, after the conclusion, obviously, of the proceedings.

The conference is reminiscent of a conference the fund sponsored on March 7 and 8, of nineteen hundred and seventy three. That conference was chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, and assisted by his assistant Rufus Edmondson. And the conference then was entitled, “Congress Versus the Executive”. And at that time, we had seventy five members of the Senate, out of a hundred, who sponsored the conference, and we had over two hundred members of the House, who sponsored that conference. The experience of today’s conference is somewhat different, and is worth some consideration and discussion. But in any event, that conference actually led to the structuring and establishment of the Senate Select Committee on Watergate. And one of the side bits that I’m told frequently, at that conference, was Roger Mudd sitting behind the scenes, alongside me, as Ronald Berger talked at that conference, about impeachment. “It’s in the constitution, gentlemen,” and read the section on impeachment, and Roger Mudd turned to me, and behind scenes whispered, and said, pointing to the senators, who were arrayed on the panel, and the other congressmen, and the words were, “Do you think this bunch of pussycats will ever impeach that S.O.B.?” I said, “Roger,” whispering back, “March 7th is a historic day. It may not seem plausible today, but it may be in the very near future.” It took fourteen or fifteen months after that conference, for actual impeachment proceedings to begin to take place in the House judiciary committee. We have a different situation today, and we hope that we will examine these questions with as much probity, with as much care, as is required.

To serve today as moderator, we are most fortunate to have with us Dr. William Green Miller, currently president of the American Committee on U.S.-Soviet Relations. Dr. Miller happens to be uniquely qualified for this role from his academic background, he has a B.A. from Williams College at Oxford, with a specialization in Middle East Studies, and a distinguished career in consulting on Capitol Hill. Where he has served as staff director of the Select Committee on Intelligence from May 1976 to September 1981, and as staff director of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations from February 1975 to May 1976. The Church Committee, and a stint in foreign service also, from 1959 to 1967. But his qualifications for today’s conference highlight his role in November 1979, when Dr. Miller served as President Carter’s Special Emissary to Iran, in an effort to obtain the release of the hostages then held in Iran.

This mission, actually led to the release of the first group of twelve hostages from Iran. Most Americans do not even remember that today. And on this note, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Dr. Miller, and to set the tone for today’s conference, I would like to quote from the part of this New Yorker magazine’s “Talk of the Town”: “Perhaps the most disquieting legacy of Iran-Contra, in which extremely serious political crimes were exposed, and then left largely unexorcised, is a kind of pervasive moral lassitude. In which charges that the president ial election of 1980 was compromised with the help of the Iranian government evoke an almost bored reaction. It now appears that the charges wll be left to linger unanswered and uninvestigated because no one with any power, sees it to be in his personal interest to confront them.” That’s the end of the quote. We, as American citizens, cannot let this be. Dr. Miller.

This first panel, is aimed at establishing the facts that are known, about these circumstances that have been set before you. The charges, as we all recognize, are very serious, and the charges are of such gravity, that they deserve careful investigation. The people here on this first panel have been engaged in investigation from the outside. Three are journalists, and Gary Sick, on my right, is uniquely qualified to examine this question, having served in the NSC, during the time that these events took place. And as a Middle East scholar, has looked carefully into these issues, since that time. The panelists will discuss the facts as they have been able to discover them, in the course of their work. I think it will become clear that there are many things that remain to be answered. And I hope that one outcome of this panel will be to distinguish between what is known and what deserves to be known through proper investigation and either through Congress or whatever authorities are appropriate. Gary Sick has made it clear that he has not yet come to any conclusions. And it seems to me in the spirit of fairness that people who are here, are here to see what the facts are, and what is not known.

And I would like to begin, first with Gary Sick, who will lay the fact base, and then we’ll turn to Christopher Hitchens, who’s the Washington editor of Harper’s magazine, and columnist for The Nation. And then, Martin Kilian, who is the Washington correspondent for Der Spiegel, and finally, to Joel Bleifuss, columnist for In These Times. Gary, why don’t you open the session?

Well, let me just give a very brief background about how I got to where I am at this point, and sortof where I think we are, at least factually, if possible. I was perhaps one of the most reluctant people in this whole story. I was in the White House when the hostages were released. At that time, there immediately began to be rumors that something had happened, that there was some kind of a deal that was struck…I didn’t think that had happened, I didn’t believe you needed to explain the facts that way, that they could be adequately explained by Iranian internal politics and other events. And, later I wrote a book on the subject, and never even mentioned these rumors or charges. I was approached in the 1988 election when this subject began to emerge very strongly by a number of people asking me to comment on the thing, “Did I think these charges were true?” I recognized at the time that there were certainly some new allegations that were coming up, some new evidence that had to be taken account of, but basically I wasn’t prepared to say that I thought the charges were true. And, curiously enough, even after the 1988 election and all this information had come out, I submitted a book proposal to the Twentieth Century Fund, to write a book about the Reagan administration and Iran, and didn’t even mention this as a possibility to be covered in the book. However, as I started working on that book, I had felt I had to start at the beginning. And I felt that I had to resolve those issues in my own mind once and for all, because everything else that happened between the Reagan administration and Iran, was colored, if this did happen, it made a tremendous difference in the way you analyzed what came later. So, I began working on that as I was working on a number of other issues at the time.

As time went on, and certainly not just because of my own work, but certainly Marin Kilian was crucial in this…he had done far more work than I had and kept filling me in on new information as it went along, and in fact, is probably more than anyone else responsible for why I’m here. He may not like that, but that is a fact, nonetheless. But, gradually as I worked on the issue, I became more and more convinced that something happened. I was building up a detailed chronological base, and things kept falling into a pattern, that I simply couldn’t ignore. And then I began doing interviews myself, and gradually, moved from the side of those who dismissed the idea entirely to what, in my view now, and I say this in all seriousness, there really is no doubt at all in my mind, that there were meetings between the Republican campaign and the Iranians, in the course of the 1980 elections, to discuss the question of the hostages. That, to me, is no longer seriously in doubt. The question is, exactly how did it happen, and, can this fact ever be proved? And I’m not sure we’ll ever have full answers to either of those questions.

Let me outline for you, from my own perspective, based on my own research, what I think happened, and the logic of what happened, and then we can go on from there. I do believe that the people in the Reagan campaign, or the Republican campaign, really, because at the beginning of this thing, in early 1980, there were several Republican campaigns going on. You’ll recall that Mr. Bush was running against Mr. Reagan at that time, and they each had their own separate campaign staff, and I think both of them were in fact interested in this issue at the time. But there was a very deep abiding concern on the part of the Republican campaigns, that the hostage issue would be exploited by President Carter, at a key moment in the election, and upset their campaign plans. Everything else was going their way. The numbers were on their side, in terms of the economy, President Carter was viewed as badly wounded by not only the hostage issue, but a lot of other things that were going on, and I think the Republicans felt, with some justification, that it was their election. That this was going to be their time. And if you’re the campaign manager, you have to think, what do I have to worry about? What do I have to protect myself from? And I think they looked around, and one of the things that struck them, that they did need to protect themselves about, was the hostage issue. The fact that, perhaps the hostages would be released at the last second, or at a key moment, and there would be such a wave of emotional response from the American people, that it would overcome the view of Carter as not qualified, or as someone they weren’t going to vote for, and change their mind.

That, it seems to me, was the essential underlying concern that went on. From the information that I’ve been given, by sources who in fact said they were there when these things happened, Mr. Casey, who became the campaign manager for Mr. Reagan in February of 1980, within a month or two after that, probably within a month, approached some individuals, who were plugged into the Iranian circuit, and who were also, as it turns out, were providing information to the U.S. government. These were men who had been identified by the U.S. government as sources with good access into Iran, and they were providing information to us. Us, being the U.S. government at that time, about what was going on. Mr. Casey got in touch with them, and not to put too fine a point on it, they became double agents. They were working on one hand for the U.S. government, and on the other hand, they were providing information to the people in the Republican campaign. I have this from the fellow who did it. And he – his brother is dead – but he says, that’s his words, “We became double agents.” Working for both sides. That led to a major breakthrough in July of 1980. After the Republican convention, and after Mr. Reagan was nominated, Mr. Casey, I believe Mr. Casey went to Madrid, where he met, through the good offices of these gentlemen he had met earlier, he met with Mr. [Mehdi] Karroubi, who was, at that time, a member of the intimate inner circle of Khomeini, and at that meeting, they talked about the possibility of doing, some kind of an agreement, about the hostages.

Mr. Karroubi went back to Tehran, checked back with, presumably Khomeini, and about ten days later, came back, they had a second meeting, and agreed that in their view, the Iranians would hold the hostages, and make a gift of them, as Mr. Casey put it, according to this source, make a gift of the hostages, to the incoming Reagan administration. In return, for promises of political support, military equipment, unfreezing American assets, and arms. And the arms supply was to begin fairly soon, and to go on after they came into office. That was the nature of the deal, as I understand it, that was done at that time…and the, a number of things happened in the period immediately after that. One, the Iranians being good bargainers, instead of just taking the deal, came to the Carter administration and opened negotiations with us, I think, now, in retrospect, to see if we had something better to offer. Then what they’d been offered from the Republican side. We, of course, didn’t know another offer was already on the table. So, we were negotiating on the basis that we thought we were only negotiating with the Iranians, in fact there may have been a third party associated with the negotiations. We bargained rather hard, actually. And in retrospect, I must say, that it makes us look a little bit naive. We honestly didn’t want to get into a position of providing arms for hostages, as foolish as that may sound these days. We thought that was not the way it should be done, and so, we bargained very hard. They asked us for arms, we held back, we delayed, we tried to give them only partial information, we tried to get out of getting into a position of trading U.S. arms for Iranian hostages.

In the end, just before the election, President Carter agreed that we would return all of the military equipment that Iran had bought and paid for, that was in the United States, that we would return that. But that pledge was not made till very late in October; in the meantime we had been bargaining. If indeed they had had a somewhat different offer from the other side, our offer probably didn’t look very good. In any event, the negotiations went on with the Carter administration, there was at the same time a second rescue mission that was coming to fruition, that had been planned by the Carter administration, at that point there was no intention of using it, we were involved in negotiations with Iran, but the hostage rescue mission was there in case it was needed. I think the Republicans got very worried about that, and that the second rescue mission was going to be used, in late October, to reverse the situation if nothing else happened. There were a number of reasons why the Republicans had reason to begin to get nervous again, although the deal had been done. And my understanding is, that in mid-October, they had another meeting, in Paris, which was attended by Republicans, again Mr. Casey, an Iranian group and a group of Israelis, who were present, to review the deal as it stood at that time, and to make sure that things were as they were supposed to be as they came up to the final days of the election. This was about two weeks before the election.

Immediately after those meetings, which in my view took place about the 15th to the 20th of October, 1980…immediately after that, a whole series of things began to happen very suddenly. Some of the hostages were moved to different locations, as if they were suddenly afraid that a rescue mission was going to happen. There was a secret shipment of military equipment from Israel to Iran, which the Carter administration in fact learned about, and complained to Israel that they were shipping arms to Iran, and they promised not to do it again, but it came within forty eight hours after those meetings were concluded in Paris. There were a whole series of other things that happened. The Majlis, the Iranian parliament, that was charged with responsibility for dealing with the hostage issue, went into a complete stall at that point, and everything came to a halt. Suddenly, nothing could get done with regard to that, and there were a number of other things. Anyway, there was a very active period in those, really seventy two hours, after what I think were the completion of the meetings in Paris. The rest of the story you know quite well, the hostages were not released before the election, Ronald Reagan won the election, the hostages were held, detailed negotiations went on with the Carter administration that were getting no place until the fifteenth of January, 1981…at that point, the Iranians completely reversed themselves, in effect, suddenly after having bargained very, very hard with us, for months, from November to January, the Iranians suddenly reversed themselves totally, and for all practical purposes, paid us to take the hostages back. I mean, that isn’t putting too strong a point on it, that Iran suddenly agreed to bring current all of its loans, which was a terribly costly thing for Iran to do, to resolve the whole banking issue, and there were some technical aspects, but suffice it to say, Iran completely reversed itself and as you all know, on the 20th of January, we had completed all the negotiations for the release of the hostages at eight o’clock in the morning, and all of the information was in Iran’s hands, and they sat and waited until five minutes after Mr. Reagan had taken the oath of office, and at which point they announced that they had agreed to the terms that had been worked out as of eight o’clock that morning, and the hostages were released within half an hour of thereafter. As I say, this did arouse some suspicions at the time, but you could understand it as the Iranians sortof taking one last twist of the knife to Jimmy Carter, and they were quite capable of doing something like that on their own.

What we didn’t know at the time, and I haven’t learned till much later, is that there was a substantial flow of military equipment that began almost immeidately. And it’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that as the plane with the hostages took off from Tehran and headed to freedom, other planes were loaded and taking off from Israel going the other way with military equipment. The military equipment continued to flow for some years after that time, from Israel, and always with the knowledge of the U.S. government. This is not a supposition, this is something that high officials in the Israeli government have themselves said publicly, and the people in the U.S. government at the time, that have been interviewed on ths subject…never say that this didn’t happen. They simply say, It wasn’t me, who wasn’t responsible for the reports about these arms that were being sent from Israel to Iran. And that’s basically the structure of the story. What don’t we know about this? We don’t know a lot of things. And, my suspicion is that a lot of things are not going to be known. I regard this as a professional intelligence operation, a covert action, that was done certainly with the assitance and participation of professionals. They didn’t, I’m sure, go around leaving stray memos in their wake, I suspect there were no photographs taken of Mr. Casey sitting with Mr. Karroubi in a hotel room in the Ritz Hotel in Madrid. And so forth. I mean, so if you’re looking for a smoking gun, if that is what it takes, a transcript or a tape of the meeting, of Mr. Casey talking to Mr. Karroubi, you know, I suspect that we’re not going to find that smoking gun. There are many things, however, that we could learn that simply have not been available to individuals who have been working on this story, on their own, and with really very limited resources. Some of those things that we could learn, certainly there are…I would like very much, for instance, to simply look at the campaign records. Up until now, all of our efforts to look at the Republican campaign records have met a stone wall from Mr. Meese, who is responsible for the campaign records, and he has refused to let anybody have a peek at anything in those campaign records, which are out in California now. So that would be an interesting place to start.

I would like very much to look at Mr. Casey’s diaries, travel records and the like, I think we might learn a great deal. And obviously, if this isn’t true, if it’s…that’s where we’re going to find out it isn’t true. We need to have hard documentary evidence that says either Mr. Casey was missing on those days, or he did travel on those days, or he didn’t. And if he didn’t, let’s find out about it. I think that…but we have to look at the records. A simple denial – “I think he was around all that week” – is not really enough to take care of the issue. It’s more serious than that. There are flight records, we know the tail numbers of some of the aircraft that were involved in these operations. I would like very much to have access to FAA records that would identify those. I would like to have passports subpoenaed, of certain individuals to see what the stamps are on certain dates of travel. There are tapes that were made of Mr. Hashemi, Cyrus Hashemi, who was working as I say, in fact as a double agent, his office was bugged during a good part of that period. That is now known for sure, he was indicted later on the basis of those tapes. Where are the tapes? I would love to know what Mr. Hashemi was saying in his office and on his telephone during that period of October 1980. We’ve not been able to get our hands on those tapes. There are a number of places one could look. Is that going to solve all of our problems or answer all of our questions? Probably not.

But we’re never going to be able to answer even the basic questions until we look at the material that is presumably available and can only be gotten through a subpoena. So, I will end my lengthy opening statement.

Thank you, Gary. [applause] Christopher Hitchens, as a journalist could you…add to the structure of the fact situation, and really address the question from the point of view of a journalist of what kinds of information you think to be important to know, for the public to know.

There’s a terrible character in a Moliere play called Monsieur Jordan who’s appalled later to discover late in life that he’s been speaking prose his entire career. I find I’ve been writing about the October Surprise often without knowing it. Since 1984, when I got interested in the belated discovery that there had indeed been an attempt to destabilize President Carter’s re-election effort, and that one of the fruits of that destabilization was the presence in the Republican camp of his presidential papers. In other words, we learned in 1984 that in rehearsing for his debate for President Carter, Governor Reagan rehearsed in the same way as President Carter did. That’s to say by reading President Carter’s briefing book. In other words, there’s prima facie evidence for some skullduggery. The word used for the practice by David Stockman at the time was “filching”. Other, more evasive words were used by alternatively amnesiac Mssrs. Casey and Baker, who said they had got the book from the other one.

A very unsatisfactory inquiry was set up by Congress, without subpoena power, without public hearings. Speaker O’Neill was so anxious on behalf of the Democratic Party that the American electorate forget the name “Jimmy Carter”, that he helped to ensure that the inquiry went nowhere. But a professor at an American university here that I became friendly with at the time, John Bansoft, demanded that there be a Special Prosecutor, and took the matter to Judge Harold Green, of this jurisdiction. I decided to quote [for] you what Judge Green said, in replying to the hysterical campaign mounted against the proposal for an investigation of Debategate, by the then Attorney General. Judge Greene accused the Attorney General of utterly misunderstanding the Ethics in Government Act, and criticized the notion, established in prima facie evidence in the investigation of Debategate, and I quote from the judge, “that there had been an information gathering apparatus, employed by a presidential campaign which uses former agents of the FBI and the CIA.” That was the judge in upholding the subsequently defeated motion for a Special Prosecutor. Now, I just kept my files on the Debategate matter, which was successfully thwarted and derailed as an investigation, and then read them again once I was able to read the Iran-Contra testimony. In other words, I read the two of them against one another. It’s a course of action I recommend to people who are interested in this hypothesis, because it makes the following supposition thinkable: all the evidence found by the Albosta Committee, that investigated the theft of President Carter’s papers, showed that the Republicans were principally worried about the President’s diplomacy in relation to Iran. That they’d set up under the chairmanship of Ed Meese and Bill Casey, what they themselves termed an October Surprise Committee. That they’d hired some acting, some former, and some serving, agents of the Central Intelligence Agency and other military organizations, to monitor airports, airfields, other centers, to see what movement there might be in relation to Iran. And to report back. That they had established moles, somewhere, we still don’t know where, within President Carter’s national security apparatus.

Then…that’s all on the record from the first thwarted inquiry. From the second derailed inquiry, the Iran-Contra inquiry, we learned there was another unsolved matter which was, when did this Iran-Contra connection begin? In other words, when did the Iranian bit begin? In the hysterically deceitful press conference that he gave in November of 1986, Attorney General Meese sent everyone haring down the opposite road, the road that led towards Nicaragua, and towards the future. And blocked any attempt to ask the question, when did your covert military relationship with Iran begin? Because if that question was to be asked…if, for example, it was to be established that weapons were going to Iran in 1981, it couldn’t very well be argued that they were going to trade for hostages. Because there were no hostages in ’81, in Tehran, and in ’81, there weren’t any yet in Beirut. Nor, at that stage, was it even argued by the Republicans that there were any moderates to deal with in Tehran. In other words, the usual alibis wouldn’t do. So, this question, in other words, could not be asked. And it was intriguing and sometimes entertaining to see the lengths to which that question was avoided. As I say, put that question together with the evidence of funny business in the 1980 campaign, that was already on the record, and you had a working hypothesis. Which I first printed in 1987.

Now, when people want to change the subject in this country, especially if they want to discredit a witness, or a hypothesis, the easy recourse is to the words “conspiracy theory”, about which I want to say a little. Unless you want a total moral and intellectual relativist, who believes that all facts have the same weight, and convey the same values, life is impossible without theory. There must be, in other words, the mind must attempt to explain arrangements of fact. The usual convenience term used here is “hypothesis”. If my hypothesis was true, that there was a thread linking the Debategate inquiry to the Iran-Contra inquiry, and that it would have taken the form of a bargain, made covertly, between the Reagan campaign and the Ayatollah…if it were true, I’d need to find evidence in two places. There’s no such evidence at the time. But the two places I’d need to find it, would be in the fall of 1980, and in the spring of 1981. I’d have to find evidence that there had been meetings between Reagan campaign people and envoys of the Ayatollah, in the fall of 1980. And I’d have to find evidence that there’d been arms traffic between the United States and Iran in early ’81. Didn’t have any such evidence at the time, so I confined myself to saying that this was a hypothesis. It’s in precisely those two places that all the evidence has since surfaced. Very largely due to the efforts of Martin Kilian and Gary Sick. But many others too. And I think it warrants one in saying, not that there is insufficient evidence, but that there is appallingly too much evidence. That this sort of skullduggery took place. I myself am very impressed by the quantity and the quality of the evidence. Since I’m speaking in a personal capacity, I can drop the polite conditional tone that’s been adopted since our proceedings began this morning and say, I certainly have no doubt whatever, of what happened in that case, and I am impressed as Gary Sick is in another connection, by the way all evidence that turns up, all evidence always points in the same direction.

In other words, if there is a conspiracy, the evidence is taking part in it. The facts are conspiring. And I’m certainly impressed when facts conspire, as they do in this case. Now, I mustn’t overrun my time, but I thought one could summarize by saying what we knew, and what we speculated. Was there an attempt to destabilize the Democrat re-election campaign in 1980? Yes there was. That can be stated beyond doubt. Was it the Iran hostage crisis that provided the weak link for that destabilization? The answer to that is yes. Was that fact known consciously by the Republican campaign operatives? Yes, it was. Whatever might have been the outcome of the 1980 election, we know from their internal discussions that they believed that only a hostage release could save President Carter from defeat. In other words, the state of mind, the Mens Rea, is important. Was there undisclosed contact between Reagan envoys and Iranian envoys in that period, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Did both sides after 1981 behave as if they had made a secret understanding of arms for hostages, except in reverse? Yes. The answer is that they did so behave as if they’d come to a secret understanding. Now, was there sabotage of the hostage rescue mission or missions? I would say, we are not certain. Did Reagan know? A question people can’t even bring themselves to ask. Did the president know? You notice people think, “Oh, let’s not go into that.” My answer is, of course it’s impossible to prove cognition with Reagan, that’s already been demonstrated. I have the feeling that it probably was done without his knowledge or consent, and I also have the feeling that the later theory, that untruthfully stated, that he had not been told and did not know, and which he had been and did, of the Iran-Contra diversion, was probably evolved as the cover story in case they were caught in 1980. I think there are elements of that cover story were used for a later scandal with only partial success.

Was the current president of the United States and leader of the free world in any way directly or personally involved? We can’t be clear about that, we can be clear that some of his subordinates in the world in which he was best qualified, that is to say, the world of secret intelligence and covert operations were closely concerned, and we do have an unbroken record of lying by the president when he is asked about the meetings he has attended where either arms or hostages are discussed. If you look up Theodore Draper’s history of Iran-Contra, I forget the exact page numbers, but there are three pages which handily summarize and condense the number of occasions on which the president has lied flat out about his participation in meetings where an unconstitutional arms for hostage trafficking was discussed. In other words, a presidential denial of the sort that we recently had from George Bush carries for this purpose, for the purpose of any intellectually serious investigation, no weight at all. As Gary Sick says, and I’ll close on this point and hand it over to Martin, all the fresh evidence does have the uncanny faculty of fitting the hypothesis that I and some others have been advancing since 1987 and if it were true, it would explain why it is that this Republic occasionally, rather more often than is comfortable, needs to convene its Congress into special sessions in order to find out sometimes what the government is doing, and sometimes who the government is. If we are to be relieved of this distressing necessity in the future, it would be as well that we acted with more respect to the recent past. Thank you. [applause]

Martin Kilian.

I want to keep my remarks very short, so you people have enough time for questioning. And I think what I might do, is just give a short rundown on how this started, and where it is, and the promises and the problems of it, because there certainly are problems with it. I started working this two and a half years ago, and after a while it appeared to me probably the problem of getting this story home in the U.S. were almost overwhelming. So, we decided, by we I mean the magazine [Der Spiegel], because I have the backing of my editors for that, we decided to go around in Europe a little bit. And in the fall of 1988, early December ’88, I was about to throw the towel in. Because I felt that the information we had at the time, people like Richard Brenneke and others, there might be something to it, but it wasn’t good enough. There were also glaring contradictions, there were people who obviously lied to us, and so it didn’t amount to much. And I think at this point I probably would have given up if it hadn’t been several trips to Europe…lo and behold, in Europe we found several people who gave us rather detailed descriptions of what had happened in the fall of 1980. The problem with them was, that they were not willing to go on the record. One of them, as a matter of fact, was severely threatened, and at least as he told us, and he refused to talk with us anymore.

But, talking to an intelligence official, a former intelligence official in France, talking to a German arms dealer who was very, very intimately connected to the Iranian leadership, I came to the conclusion that either something indeed had happened in the fall of 1980, or it was a conspiracy of lying. Some kind of disinformation campaign to besmirch or smear American officials who had been in the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980. Now, even after two and a half years, I can’t rule out that a lot of what people have been telling me and a lot of other people is not true, but if you take all what we have, I think you have to be really, really paranoid to believe that there are witnesses and informants on three continents popping up over two and a half years, that all of them are supposed to be lying or all of them are disinforming.

Let’s get into the hard facts. The facts we have, and I want to expand on one thing which neither Gary nor Chris have mentioned, we do know about the meeting on October 2nd, 1980, between Mr. Allen and Mr. [Lawrence] Silberman and Mr. McFarlane. I believe Richard Allen, that he wasn’t going there to do any monkey play, but: I think it would be very important to know why Mr. McFarlane importuned Mr. Allen to come to this meeting; I would like to know why a then Senate Arms Committee staffer brought an Iranian to a meeting of two high ranking Reagan campaign officials and I would like to know what they really talked about. Perhaps Mr. McFarlane could clear this up. And it’s up to him perhaps to answer that.

The second hard fact we have is that yes, there was an intelligence operation against Jimmy Carter. There’s no doubt about it, we have the Albosta Committee report. The third hard fact are the weapons. And I think it’s not just weapons from Israel. I do think you see a pattern of private or semi-private arms dealers in Europe, in 1981 and following, shipping arms to Iran. It is very possible that even those operations were connected to something which might have happened in the fall of 1980. The other thing is, we went to a former high ranking German official, who told us that starting in 1981, stuff out of NATO’s stores was shipped out of area. The Germans had to be notified of this; as treaties require, but they did not want to know what happened to the stuff. We were talking big numbers of material. And have a pick: it was either shipped to Angola, Afghanistan, or Iran, or all three of them. The fourth fact, and that is the most interesting one, and nobody has talked about that…in late July, 1980, Richard Nixon was in London. And the London Sunday Telegraph reported that Mr. Nixon at that time tried to get British ex-commandos to help him free the hostages in Tehran. Now, when the Sunday Telegraph, in a very nice story, approached the Nixon people about this, Nixon’s spokesperson first said, “We neither confirm nor deny it.” Later, they denied it. I think they’re not telling us the truth. I think Mr. Nixon was there; I think he talked about the hostages with British officials, and I think it should be asked by the Congressional panel if it ever comes to pass, what the ex-president was doing there.

One more point, about George Bush. I never really thought George Bush was in Europe. I think it’s a non-starter. I might be wrong. But: the question is not whether the President was in 1980 in Paris. The question is whether people in the Reagan-Bush campaign met in Paris, Madrid, Zurich, Rowley, Frankfurt, with Iranians. And I hope that we will have more in the next six to eight months. I think we have to be very patient. And I am prepared, I am still prepared at this late date, that the whole thing is nothing but a huge disinformation campaign, but it would be hard, I would be very hard pressed to believe that. Thank you.

Joel Bleifuss, please.

In 1980, private citizens connected with the Reagan Bush campaign made a deal with representatives of the Ayatollah Khomeini to delay the release of fifty two American hostages held in Iran until after the election, in order to insure that Carter would not win the election with a last minute release of the hostages. In return, the campaign guaranteed the delivery of weapons and spare parts that Iran desperately needed for its war against Iraq. For four years I’ve been writing about this, using the adjective “alleged” to preface the word “deal”. But let’s not kid ourselves, I firmly believe it happened. Read through the nine hundred and eighty six page collection of documents and news clippings that David Marx has compiled you that is at the front door. Or read the two thousand four hundred and thirteen Albosta report on the theft of President Carter’s briefing books prepared by the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service. Those two thousand four hundred and thirteen pages provide some details of an intelligence operation that entailed, in addition to the theft of President Carter’s briefing books, the creation of two October Surprise groups within the campaign. One of those groups, headed by William Casey, included Richard Wirthlin, Pete Daley, and Ed McGarrick. The other, which was headed by Richard Allen, included Fred Eckel, John Layman, and Admiral Thomas Moorer. On page fifty seven of the report, the Committee describes how it was informed that, I quote, “highly placed member of the U.S. intelligence committee [community], with links to the Reagan-Bush committee, leaked to the press about a deal being negotiated in October 1980, between Carter and Iranian president, Bani-Sadr, that would have traded hostages for spare parts.” At least in part. The report goes on to say, that the committee looked into this allegation, but decided not to publish the results of that inquiry because it could not discover the identity of this highly placed member of the U.S. intelligence committee.

In light of the current charges, perhaps staff reports from the Albosta investigation should be resurrected. And on a speculative note, perhaps the relevant congressional committees should now probe the actions during 1980 of two highly placed members in the U.S. intelligence committee who worked in the Carter White House, and went on to see their careers prosper in the Reagan and then Bush administrations. Robert Gates, who in 1980 was the top aide to CIA director Stansfield Turner, and Donald Gregg, who is the CIA liaison to the National Security Council. The affidavits in volume two of the Albosta report are also of interest. There you will find an outbreak of collective memory loss similar to that which plagued those who brought this country Watergate and Iran-Contra, from Richard Allen to Margaret Tutwiler, to George Will, who you will remember prepped Reagan for his October 28th debate with Carter, no one has been able to recall how the Carter debriefing books found their way out of the White House, and into the hands of public citizen Ronald Reagan. The question now before Congress, is whether in addition to stealing Carter’s briefing notebooks, this cabal of would-be presidents and their friends stole the 1980 election.

A good number of people claim knowledge of a series of October meetings in Paris, where details of the deal were worked out. Among those who are alleged to have been at that meeting are William Casey, George Bush, and Donald Gregg, at the time, a U.S. official, a man who would later express interest in re-supplying the copters. These meetings are alleged to have taken place two weeks before what was a very close election. So, one would expect the campaign records would be able to explain where campaign manager Casey and vice presidential candidate George Bush’s days in question. The Bush Administration tried to explain just that last year when the Justice Department charged Portland arms dealer Richard Brenneke with making false declarations in court. In the fall of 1988, Brenneke had testified before a federal judge that he was present at a Paris meeting where details of the deal were being hammered out. The U.S. attorney prosecuting Brenneke last year sought to prove Brenneke was lying, providing alibis for Casey, Gregg, and Bush. But the government failed to come up with satisfactory alibis for all three and in the end, the jury unanimously found Brenneke not guilty. Gregg, in fact, left his ambassador’s residence in Seoul, South Korea, and went to Portland as a government witness. Gregg told the court that he was on Bethany Beach, Delaware, and offered as proof photos of him and his family basking in the sun. The problem for Gregg is that according to U.S. Weather Service satellite photos, it was cloudy that weekend.

As for Bush’s alibi, you can take your pick. The Paris meetings are said to have taken place on October 18th and 19th, 1980, perhaps October 20th. During that weekend, two weeks before what was a very close election, candidate Bush disappeared from public view for twenty hours. Enough time to jet to Paris, attend a meeting, and jet back. Just hypothetically, where was George? Bush administration has been working overtime to provide an alibi, but these overeager efforts apparently have not been co-ordinated. In the fall of 1988, Republican presidential campaign workers explained that Bush spent these unaccounted hours at the Chevy Chase country club on private business. That story was supported by a heavily redacted Secret Service report that said that Bush was at the club with unknown parties. In May, 1990, at the Brenneke trial, where this report again surfaced, the Justice Department offered two Secret Service agents as witnesses to explain Bush’s whereabouts, with unconvincing lackluster testimony, the two had trouble making their case. On October 22nd, 1991, a few days after Gary Sick’s piece appeared in the New York Times, and Robert Parry’s Frontline documentary aired on PBS, Vice President Quayle was asked on Detroit’s ABC affiliate where Bush was that weekend in October. Quayle said he didn’t know, but that he promised to get back to the station with an answer. The next day, the Vice President’s office faxed a Bush itinerary which stated that on Sunday October 19th, Bush spent all day at home at Washington without a Secret Service escort. On May 8, the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Kovitz provided a third Bush itinerary for his lost weekend. Kovitz wrote, “Sunday, Washington D.C. Lunch with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and Mrs. Stewart. This alibi originates with the Secret Service which several months ago provided that information to the Government Accounting Office. Apparently, brunching with the Supreme Court Justice looks more presidential than an overnight visit to a Washington country club with private parties unknown.

Further, the brunch with the Stewarts cannot be confirmed; the Judge is dead and his wife suffers chronic memory loss. Also, on May 8, Jerry Sepper weighed in with a fourth alibi: he reported Bush was at home with the Secret Service escort, unlike the previous Quayle alibi which said the Secret Service wasn’t present. Pepper wrote, quote: “The Secret Service says he awoke at about six thirty Sunday, had lunch at his Washington home, and spent the day there preparing a speech for the Zionist Organization of America in Washington.” The three other brief points to be considered that have been brought up before: something happened between October 11 and October 22 which caused Iran in its on-going negotiations with the Carter administration to drop the demand that would have linked the release of hostages to the guarantee that the U.S. would supply Iran with spare parts that it desperately needed for its war with Iraq. The hostages, as it has been said, were released moments after Reagan was sworn in. And U.S. arms started flowing into Iran immediately thereafter.

Did this deal take place? The allegations should at least be investigated with the same thoroughness and, I would say, more that was given the Reagan-Bush campaign’s theft of the Carter briefing books. I believe these allegations raise a number of serious questions, and I’ll mention two. There is a question as to how this 1980 arms for hostages deal is affecting the Middle East peace process. It is alleged that Israel was the middleman in the arms deal. Is Israel using its knowledge now of this affair to influence the Bush administration’s negotiations? Intelligence Newsletter of Paris reports that when Israeli Prime Minister Shamir was in Washington last year, he presented Bush with two files, one of which contained information on what George [Bush] knew and when he knew it. But that concern is perhaps a political one. There is a second, and I think, broader philosophical question about what- and that involves what is the job of Congress? To borrow half a metaphor from Virginia Woolf, does the U.S. Capitol represent the cranium of a constitutional democracy? Or, merely an exalted lid that is keeping some pretty nasty stuff from spilling into the public view? [applause]

We have about twenty minutes for questions from the floor. And I’m sure the panelists would be happy to address any issues here.

Before you do that, we’re joined by Senator Wellstone, one of the initiating sponsors. Senator Wellstone has an interest in this as one of the initiating sponsors, he’s been here for a few minutes, do you have anything you wanted to say to our assembled gathering before you have to leave, Senator Wellstone?

I think I’ll just let the discussion go on, I’ve just been very interested in what’s been said, and I do find myself in very strong agreement with the sentiment that’s been expressed here, which is there should indeed be hearings and a real investigation. It’s such an important question. You don’t need to pre-judge the answer, but it’s an important question, that goes to the very heart of the kind of questions that should be researched. So, I’m here as a supporter of this gathering today. [applause]

Would you identify yourselves when you ask questions.

…staff of the Foreign Relations Committee. I wonder if Gary Sick would be willing to describe the perspective from inside the White House…in, I guess it was September or October of 1980, when it appeared that there was going to be a release of the hostages. President Carter delivered an early morning press statement and then apparently it happened thereafter.

The date I think…the question as I understand it is, an event that took place in the White House at a point when President Carter made an early morning announcement, that certain things were going to happen, and then they didn’t happen. You said September, in fact, I believe the date you’re referring to is April 1st, 1980, that was before the rescue mission…but it was during the primaries. In fact, it was the morning of the Wisconsin primary, and this event has lived on in the mythology of the time. In fact, William Casey cited that, the events as he understood them of April 1st, 1980, as one of the reasons why he was convinced Carter would misuse the hostage issue to his own benefit. And what happened on that morning, is that President Carter had given the Iranians a deadline. He said that they were supposed to move the hostages into the care of the government, away from the hostage takers, away from the students, by the end of March. That date ran out. And Carter was prepared on the end, the day before, to make a statement. He was prevailed upon, and I was in that meeting, especially by Secretary Vance, to please hold off, because we had information that Boni-Sadr was going to make a speech the next day in which he would in fact announce that the government was going to take custody of the hostages. Carter hesitated, because he had put things off many other times, and he was always being accused of wishy-washy behavior, and he finally said, “Alright. I’ll see you here in the morning at five o’clock. At the Oval Office, and we’ll see.” What he had to say. Five o’clock in the morning is what, uh, noon or thereabouts in Tehran. Noon to one o’clock. We all re-assembled at five o’clock in the morning in the Oval Office, on the morning of April 1st…Bani-Sadr’s speech was, in fact, coming in, in bits and pieces, from the FBIS that was transmitting, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, that was translating the speech, and in that, Bani-Sadr, in fact, did say the words that he said he was going to say, that is, that if the United States fulfilled certain responsibilities, the hostages would, in fact, be moved to the custody of the government.

Carter then, according to the rules of the game, was supposed to reply in some form to say, “OK, we’ve got a deal.” Carter put out a statement that morning, which was carefully worded, which said that he saw this as a positive sign, a move forward, and certainly welcomed the idea of the hostages being moved into the care of the government and away from the others, and that the United States would take positive note of this…something to that effect. That was, of course, on the morning of the Wisconsin primary. And, Carter won the Wisconsin primary handily. And, part of, as I say, what I consider as someone who was at the meeting, part of the mythology is, that this whole thing was cooked up by Carter to use the hostages to win the Wisconsin primary. That this was all done on that basis. That was not my impression, looking at it from the White House point of view, but in many cases, your impression from the inside was less important than the impression from the outside, and certainly the media, I think 100%, felt that this was manipulation of the hostage issue for political benefit and that has lived on, in the time. But that’s my recollection of what it looked like from the inside.

…there’s a relationship between that, what transpired subsequent, which was they were not transferred to the government, and the other negotiations that were going on with the Republican campaign.

I don’t think so. My impression is that Khomeini, in effect, vetoed subsequently the speech that Bani-Sadr had made. Bani-Sadr had made this promise, within a few days Khomeini publicly vetoed that, said that was not what was going to happen, and the hostages were not turned over in fact to the care of the government, and that led to Carter’s decision to launch the rescue mission. And that decision was taken within a week after that April 1st announcement, which was then vetoed, turned around, and that’s when Carter decided to go with the rescue mission. Which took place on the 24th. I don’t think it had anything to do with what was going on in the Republican campaign at that time. Except, as I say, it shaped attitudes for Mr. Casey, certainly. And he’s on record as saying that this was a deciding moment for him, in seeing how Carter would abuse the system and manipulate the system for his own political benefit.

Question here.

Given the rivalry, the continued rivalry between radicals and pragmatists in Tehran, why, in your opinion, have we not heard more from the Iranian side of this? Other than Mr. Karroubi.

The question is, in view of the competition between rival factions in Tehran, why haven’t we heard more about it from the Iranian side. I can’t go into elaborate detail in this case, but I do believe, in fact, that the reason we’re hearing about Madrid, which after all was something we didn’t know about…eight months ago, none of us really knew about any meetings in Madrid. We had some inklings that there had been meetings elsewhere, but it was very fuzzy and very vague. And from my point of view, the new information about those meetings, which put a beginning on the story in effect, and a sort of structure for the thing, wasn’t a last second business that was cobbled together in October just before the elections, but in fact, there was a beginning to this story, and there was a certain logic and structure to it, was one of the things that made me change my mind about this whole issue, that I finally reluctantly said, you know, this…the reason why that information suddenly became available, in my view, is because of rivalries in Tehran. Where people who had been told to keep their mouth shut, previously, were suddenly let to be known that they could talk about this issue to some degree. And I really genuinely believe that that’s why we got the information on the Madrid meeting. So in that sense, they have. Otherwise, there has been dead silence. They have not published the story, in the Iranian papers…you gotta remember, this is dynamite in Iran also. Because it indicates that certain factions who may be at each other’s throats now, but who were united at that time, were colluding with the United States and Israel, at a time of high ideological fervor. And while the hostages were being held. That is something they have to be very very careful about. Talking about publicly in Iran. I think what we’ve seen is, the Iranians have allowed other people to speak on their behalf. And that that’s what we’re getting in terms of these sources.

Question here.

…for The Independent. Two questions for Gary Sick. In your famous op-ed piece, you said that you hadn’t made your mind up about whether President Bush was there. I wondered if your mind had changed in either direction. And secondly, as to the overall October Surprise theory, what piece of evidence would, do you think now needs to come out in public, which would either prove or disprove, and how would that happen? Who’d be in a position to release that?

Let me be very brief. I have not changed my mind, I’m exactly where I was before, and I think Joel Bleifuss did an excellent job of laying out, it’s not so much that I believe George Bush was in Paris, I mean I would be prepared to believe in a moment he wasn’t, it doesn’t make any sense. It would be a stupid thing for him to do, it would be extremely risky. What keeps me from coming to that conclusion is the fact that Bush’s story keeps changing all the time. This should be the easiest thing in the world to prove. All you have to do is pull out the Secret Service records and say, here’s where he was, that’s it, let the people on the team be interviewed, that’s the end of the game. That’s the end of the story. They’ve never done that. And I simply can’t understand why. If they really want to lay this to rest, they haven’t done it. Where are the documents, where are the facts? This is nothing secret. Secondly, what is it that needs to be known? Well…I’ve been working on this, as has, other people have, certainly Martin has, for the last two years or more. Putting together little bits and pieces of information. I do not operate on the basis that there is going to be a sudden revelation from heaven, the skies will open, everything will become clear. That is not the way this story works. It’s put together in little bits and pieces, like a large mosaic, and we’ve got quite a little bit of the landscape identifiable in that mosaic right now. But there are large gaping holes. I don’t think they’re going to be filled in by one single piece of information.

Yes, the lady here.

Yes, Barbara Honegger, the author of October Surprise. I would like to know, Gary, what specific dates if we have them, these Madrid meetings happened on, because as you know, this is really the one significant new piece of information that was not already published in my book in 1989.

The dates for the meetings in Madrid…unfortunately, there’s some other people doing research on this, and I can’t steal their material, at this point. Let me be somewhat more general than I would like to be, but it really is someone else’s information, and I simply have to respect that at this point. I would say, from the 25th to the 29th of July, and from the, let’s say the tenth to the fifteenth of August. And that in those time periods, there were in each case, probably two different meetings. So they would have a meeting one day adjourn, and have a meeting the next day, and then they would go home. And then come back later, and have another set of, a dual set of meetings. That’s my understanding at the moment…

Can you identify any individuals, as you have already, besides Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Casey?

There are allegations…I have…my basic rule of thumb on identifying individuals who are involved, is that I want to have at least two, and I would prefer to have three different sources, before I make any public statements. And I don’t have that as yet.

May I re-phrase it then? Without giving the names, how many individuals in addition to Mr. Casey, from the Republican camp, or Republican sympathizers and also on the Iranian side in addition to Mr. Karroubi numbers?

In the meetings themselves, for which I have an eyewitness, Mr. Casey was accompanied by two individuals.

…you say somebody else’s information, is that somebody from Congress, Congress side who’s investigating-

No, it’s not.

-or is it some media?

It’s media.

Question here.

Was Mr. Karroubi accompanied by anyone?

Yes. Mr. Karroubi was accompanied by his brother Hassan, who shows up in the Iran-Contra affair later on, and he was also accompanied by a couple of revolutionary guards.

Question here.

Harvey Wasserman, from the Columbus Free Press. A lot of the speculation has centered on whether or not George Bush actually went to Paris, and I think it’s been demonstrably, or well-stated, that that may ultimately be a red herring. It seems inconceivable that such negotiations could have gone on, between the Reagan-Bush campaign, and the Iranians, without George Bush knowing about it. Whether or not he went to Paris, but I have a question and a quick follow-up. Isn’t it possible that the Iranians, who many people believe, that they believe the real power in the U.S. did lie with the CIA, and therefore would have rested with George Bush, who was its former head, isn’t it possible that in order to seal this arrangement, they would have demanded George Bush’s personal presence, if not in Paris, then perhaps meeting with Mr. [Mohammed Ali] Rajai in New York, or some other personal contact with George Bush at some point along in the negotiations? And I have a quick follow-up.

I mean, I think one might as well take that as your statement. I mean, yeah, that seems…there’s reason to that, I’d only add to it, it ought to be born in mind that American democracy wasn’t the only loser in this affair. That by dealing directly with the hostage takers and with the people around Khomeini, in effect a great blow was dealt at the one chance of representative government in Iran as well. Bani Sadr government was badly undercut by this process of negotiation. So it adds to the rather large mountain of debt that we owe the Iranian people for past and present interventions in their internal affairs.

…people who’ve said that they were at these meetings, that Bush’s presence was required, because, you know, he would sortof lend weight to the negotiations and they wanted a commitment from somebody who would be in power.

The follow-up is, of course the Carter administration did make a failed attempt to rescue the hostages and did discuss a second one, this would be for Mr. Sick. My understanding is that both Oliver North and Richard Secord were involved in one or both of those operations. Could you discuss that please?

To the best of my knowledge, Richard Secord was not involved in the first, he was the Deputy Commander of the second, and was the man who was primarily responsible for putting it together. Oliver North, if he was involved at all, he was a very young officer at the time, I’ve been told by people, and I simply cannot verify this, I’ve not personally verified the information, that he was in a unit that in fact was deployed to Turkey during the first rescue mission in case it was needed. I’ve been told that, I have absolutely no hard evidence of it, and I make no claims of it. If so, he was very much on the fringes of the operation. As far as I know, neither Secord nor North were involved in the direct planning or execution of the first rescue mission.

May I comment on that?

No, she’s had- You’ve had far too many-

There’s another questioner beside you.


I’d like to state more briefly the question that ended the original press conference, there is this, this ominous undertone to this, about there being sortof two governments here in the United States, there are two alternative explanations of that, one is that all you had was the Reagan-Bush campaign group that was getting ready to be the government anyhow, but there’s this other group of covert operation experts that were inside the Central Intelligence Agency, that had been removed from government, that President Carter has referred to in his Village Voice interview. What do you understand, Mr. Sick and any of the other panelists, to be the relationship, if any, between that group of disgruntled CIA covert operations specialists and this entire operation, that took on the tone of a covert operation?

Well, let me say this, from my understanding, and again, I’m speaking only on the basis of fragmentary evidence that when Mr. Casey became director of CIA, that in many cases he felt that to run a proper intelligence organization, you shouldn’t just use the people inside the organization who can be identified under light cover in embassies and things of the sort, but that you should have them under deep cover, in other words, they should not be directly affiliated with the agency, and some of those people as I understand it correctly, did in fact end up in rather interesting jobs, places, later on, where, presumably they could act outside the realm, again of, not only of possible penetration by the enemy, but also, penetration by Congress. So, if these people were not actually working for you, you don’t have to account for them, and they don’t have to be subject to Congressional oversight. Now, I’ve heard convincing evidence that that happened in certain cases, I can’t name a list of twenty people, we do know that some of those people showed up again in “The Enterprise” [the name of the group involved in getting money for the Contras by selling weapons to Iran], in the Iran-Contra affair, and they did. So I, to me, it’s not difficult at all to believe that some of those people who were removed from the CIA, ended up coming back, working for the campaign, perhaps working off the books for Mr. Casey, and showing up again in covert operations here and there. That was their profession, they were good at it, and they probably wanted to get back in the game again. So, that doesn’t surprise me. I do, as I say, and I’ve said before, I do part company with you, in the sense that these people constitute a second government that is somehow making policy for the United States.

I’d just like to make a comment on your comment about Richard Secord, if I may. And that is that I have with me published sources that I will give you after the meeting, that Mr. Secord was in fact involved with the logistical arrangements for the [unintelligible] Egypt site. In the Desert One operation.

Question here.

…Zeitung. Did any body of you during the long investigations, come across any piece of information that might be, in one way or the other, important to the assessment of Robert Gates?

I’ve talked to former Israeli intelligence official, named Ari Ben-Menashe, and he has talked about Gates in connection with 1980. And being involved in this deal. And that’s the only source I have on the record for this. And I think it’s sortof published speculation at this point. But I think it’s something that could be investigated. And it’s also…it is apparent, I think, that there was somebody in the Carter White House who was passing information on to the Republican Party. And it would seem that Gates would be one person that could be looked into.

Mr. Sick, what about the tapes? You mentioned the tapes, and you haven’t elaborated on that, could you please?

Could you identify yourself?

Yeah, my name is Herbert Quinde with the Executive Intelligence Review. The publication associated with Lyndon Larouche.

Basically, what I said about the tapes is what I know about the tapes. That is that I do know that Cyrus Hashemi’s office was bugged, starting as early as October, 1980, that he did business out of there, with his brother and, certainly with the U.S. government, and also presumably with other people, during that period of time, that he was subsequently indicted by Rudolph Giuliani, in 1984…for illegal arms sales, based on evidence dating back to 1980 and 81 and those tapes. And the tapes, to the best of my knowledge, have never been seen since that time. So I…that’s basically what I know.

I think the FBI at one point had said the tapes had been lost, because at one point we were trying to get access to them.

Portions of the tape are in the court record, from the case…the Hashemi case. From that sting operation in ’86.

Identify yourself, please.

…Center for Responsive Law. Gary, you mentioned that arms were practically leaving as the hostages were coming back. Do we have any hard evidence that any arms were going in, before the Turkish plane was downed in July of ’81?

Only the word of people. I have no manifests, I do have some contract data, which looks…real. Involving an Iranian that I know independently to have been a real name of an individual involved in procurement that was signed with an Israeli arms dealer in July of 1981. There, however, is a lot of testimony from individuals about, and many of these senior Israelis, who will not go on the record unfortunately, with this. That the arms shipment started much earlier than that. There is, in fact, an allegation that will remain to be seen, that in fact, there were some arms shipments, in addition to the one airplane shipment that we know of in October, of 1980, from Israel, which looked very much like a sortof gesture of goodwill. That this is sortof sealing the deal that was done in October 15th to the 20th. That in addition to that, there may have been other deliveries even earlier, before the inauguration, as further evidence of that. But that again, remains very speculative, it’s on the basis of a single source and I feel very uncomfortable talking about it, because my rule of thumb has been, throughout this, that since these people are talking to us, are many cases themselves, dubious, unreliable people, that you simply don’t go with a single source. I like to have two or three, before I’m prepared to make an allegation, and in this case, I have only one source.

You say that’s between the election and the inauguration?

That’s right.

We have time for one more question. Here?

David McMichael. With reference to Mr. Ben-Menashe, Joel, if I recall my conversation with him correctly, he said up through, at least, September of 1980 at the various meetings, there had been the working assumption both of the Israelis and the Iranian representatives, that the objective was somehow to deliver the hostages into the custody of the Republican campaign representatives. And, in fact, arrangements had been made, to deliver them in Karachi, by sometime early in October. And that they were very surprised to learn that the decision had been made by Mr. Casey that they were in no case to be delivered. But it also raises the further question of, except perhaps for pettiness, of why the delay after the election, when no further electoral purpose could be served by holding the hostages…is anyone prepared to comment on that?

Yeah. I think it [unintelligible] the point, how complicated the story altogether is. It’s true, not just Mr. Ben-Menashe, also others have said that the Republicans’ first goal was to get these hostages out. Using Karachi as a point of departure. Now, I think one of the problems that people who investigate this story have had to deal with in the last two years, is that it is a terribly complicated thing. It’s not like a very straight line and I think there were setbacks, there were changes of mind, I think there were reverses, and I even wouldn’t rule out, that you had competing factions within the election campaign, within the Reagan-Bush campaign team. And I think what Mr. Ben-Menashe said about the Karachi connection, would make a lot of sense. Except for one point: how would they have explained to the American public in July of 1980, that all of a sudden, they got the hostages out, while the president, Jimmy Carter, did not get them out? There were very grave political questions associated with this. And, if he’s right, if Mr. Ben-Menashe is right, about the Karachi thing, it would be very interesting to know why it never came to pass.

I want to thank our panelists for coming here today, and laying out the facts as we know them, and what is not known. We’ll proceed now to the next panel on-

We’re going to have a quick change of scene, if we may. Morton Halperin, Marcus Raskin, please come forward. [applause]

This second panel will look at the issues that have been raised, from separate perspectives. Mort Halperin will begin with a constitutional view, Professor Beisner from American University will present the view of a historian. Mark Raskin will look at it from the point of view of a long time policy practitioner and student of American policy, and ethics / morality. And Tom Blanton will look at the issue from the point of view of the record. As a active member of the National Security Archive, he’s in a position to give an evaluation of the data that’s available and to address the question of what Congress, if it involved itself, would be likely to find. So, if Mort Halperin would begin.

Thank you, I’m pleased to be here. I also need to say that, as I’ve explained to the organizer of the conference, I had a prior commitment which could not be changed, so I will have to speak and then leave, and I mean no disrespect to my fellow panelists, whose views I would certainly like to stay and hear, and join in the conversation about, so I regret that. I think it is worth noting, that this conference is being held on the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times. An event which began to educate the American public to a fact which also underlines this meeting. And that fact is, that we have permitted in this country something which should not be permitted in a democratic society, and which our constitution is designed to prevent. Namely, we have permitted a secret government. A government that both functions in secret and then is allowed to keep its history secret.

The startling thing about the Pentagon Papers is that it revealed that what we had been told about the war was not what had happened. To remind you just of one of the most, and for me, the most startling revelation…namely, that the South Vietnamese government in 1965 did not ask the American government to intervene militarily. In fact, it was bitterly opposed to the American military intervention. But we had told the South Vietnamese government that unless they allowed American troops to come into Vietnam, we would cease all our support. And that in fact, not only did they have to allow the troops to come in, but they had to pretend to ask for them. So, the American public was told that there was this urgent request from the South Vietnamese government which we were responding to, to help a free people, as we always call our allies. As we now call the Kuwaitis. To help a free people, and that we had to do it. We learned from the Pentagon Papers, that this was simply a lie. That they did not want us in, that we had insisted upon coming in, and there were many other fundamental falsehoods that we learned about only from the Pentagon Papers. I think we need to insist, certainly now that the Cold War is ending, and that the primary justification for the secret agencies, for the secret government, and for the secret history, the primary justification for that, the Cold War, has come to an end abroad. We need to start insisting that the legacy of the Cold War at home…be lifted. And that the United States be restored to the democracy that our founders meant it to be, that we celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the Bill of Rights, we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, that we celebrate the end of the Cold War abroad, by restoring democracy at home. And that means ending secret agencies. It means that the Congress must insist that the intelligence agencies of the government, the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Office, whose very existence is still supposed to be secret, the CIA’s functions, the National Security Agency’s functions, that these be made public. And that their budgets be made public. But that also that the history become public. That we not be dependent on a Daniel Ellsberg to give us the Pentagon Papers, that we not be dependent on a Gary Sick to dig and dig, until he begins to come up with evidence of a possible October surprise. But that the government be required to make the history of what’s happened to us public in a much more timely fashion then is now going on.

Now, as we sit here, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is marking up a very, very modest proposal. It is a proposal that for the first time, statutorily sets out the standards for the publication of the diplomatic history of the United States. Which is released thirty years after the event. And as we know, the entire advisory committee to the State Department resigned. Because the State Department was putting out a volume of what took place thirty years ago, which left out all the key documents, and which gave no indication that it had left out all the key documents, and therefore, they resigned in protest. Congress is now seeking to change things. The Senate last year unanimously voted a set of rules, they are now before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and we have a letter from the State Department, announcing that any procedures that Congress will impose on the release of these documents is unconstitutional, and violates the president’s prerogatives in foreign affairs. And the president is, as he now seems to do with any bill that shows any life in the Congress of the United States, is threatening a veto of this legislation, on the grounds that the president’s legal adviser has told him that this will jeopardize the constitutional prerogatives of the president.

Now, you all remember the famous story of the crowds in Philadelphia who were gathering outside the hall where the constitution was being written in secret. And the great fear was, that they were in fact creating a monarchy. And the crowds in Philadelphia were fearful as the constitutional convention went on in secret, longer and longer, that what they were going to be confronted with, was the creation of a new monarchy. And as the constitutional convention finally ended, the great hero of the convention, as far as the people were concerned, Benjamin Franklin, came out. And the people gathered around him, and they shouted “What is it? What is it?” meaning, was it a monarchy? And Franklin looked at them and said, “It’s a republic, if you can keep it.” And I think that message needs to be directed to two places. First of all, we need to try to find a way to persuade George Bush, if not Boyden Gray, that it is a republic, and that we intend to keep it. They seem to think that in fact it is a monarchy, in which the president, and not the congress, decides what information we will have about how our government functions. And second of all, we need to direct that message to the Congress. Because the Congress has been unwilling to take on the president on the issues of government secrecy.

Let me just suggest a few simple steps I think the Congress ought to take, so that we do not need to meet five years from now, and ten years from now, and twenty years from now, to wonder again what has been done in the name of the United States in secrecy by our secret government. Congress ought to enact this very simple and very modest proposal about the diplomatic history of the United States. It ought to make the budget of the intelligence community and the functions of those agencies public, and ought to legislate the rules and procedures on which they operate. It ought to amend the Freedom of Information Act, so that it can become an even more effective tool than it is, for the release of information relating to national security. And Congress needs to make it clear in its oversight functions that it will not permit a secret government to operate in the name of the United States without our knowing about it. This is a republic, it is a constitutional democracy, it was built on a series of checks and balances, and it was built on the fundamental principle that the people have a right to know what their government is doing, to judge what the elected officials are doing, at the ballot box and in communications with the president and the executive branch, and we need to say, that as the Cold War ends abroad, that we will free ourselves to restore our democracy at home, in which we have a right to know what is done and a right to judge the officials of the government by knowing fully what they did in our name. And those are the principles I suggest should inform us as we look at the facts of this particular case. Thank you. [applause]

I’d like to turn to Marcus Raskin, Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Thank you very much. I have several points which really are a follow-up to what Mort Halperin has said. And that really goes to, I think, the case, finally, but then using the case as a way of re-thinking or re-structuring our own federal government. One way of reading American history is to take the Constitution and say, well, the Bill of Rights to the Constitution and the Preamble, are the democratic sections. And with the constitutional body, that is, internal workings of the constitution really represent the “how a government is to operate”. With the constitutional struggle which has existed in the United States since its inception, was between a republic and a democracy. In the 18th century, a democracy was not quite that popular. Indeed, it was viewed as something very dangerous by a number of people within the United States and in different parts of the world. And the republic, on the other hand, reflected the idea that the well-born and the propertied and the whites, males, should in fact govern. And that the whole struggle then, of the American constitution and the whole struggle in relation to that constitution, and to the character of the society is going to be, whether or not we could indeed be a democracy. And so, every step of the way, the Bill of Rights was used as an instrument. In the preamble, it was used as an instrument to develop inclusivity. To change the nature of what the governing structure was going to be. To include people, rather than exclude them. To include women. To include minorities. Et cetera. And that all of those reflected the historic struggle within the United States, for at least a hundred seventy five year period.

Now, simultaneous to this, by the end of the Second World War, something else began to happen. That was, that the United States found itself having an empire. And of trying to figure out how to run that empire. And so it began the process of re-organizing government itself. Re-organizing government came indeed to become what I term the national security state. The national security state meant, that there would be neither war nor peace, that there would be loyalty, in fact, not to the people as a whole, but to organization. To the organizational structure, that there would be secrecy, in which secrecy would dominate the character of what the basic system of government would be. And that those who became witting to that system would in fact be the ones who’d run the action.

So, in effect we had over the course of a period of time, from 1947-48 on, was the slow erosion of a democratic process in the following way: not that democracy ceased, or not that the republic ceased, but each became more and more a fig leaf for the actual ways that the government operated. That the way the government operated, was basically through and with the national security apparatus. And that apparatus included the Central Intelligence Agency, it included the National Security Agency, the CIA, significant aspects of the Department of Defense. And that each of those, in fact, had no legitimacy from Congress. That is to say, there were no public hearings in many cases. That the budgets, for example, of the CIA and the National Security Agency, were voted in secret, without any sort of understanding of the bulk of Congress where those monies were to go and how they would in fact be used. So this was the framework going into the 1980 election. The election was that this country was involved in neither war nor peace, that we were involved in constant conflict. That the government itself, that is the national security state itself, was involved in numerous covert operations over a forty year period. That coming in, therefore to the election, it was assumed this was indeed the way business was to be done. That the United States itself found that it would operate to suborn elections in different places in the world if it didn’t like the way the character of that election was going.

So finally what began happening is that this method was turned onto ourselves. And in 1980, what we began seeing was, as that national security state system began to come apart, a little bit, as a result of the end of the Vietnam war, as a result of Watergate, as a result of the Carter election, it meant that new notions of the possibility of governing in a new way, came to the fore, but also it meant that those people who were disturbed about the transformation of the national security state and greater control over operations, were indeed very very concerned, and very upset, about that direction.

Casey played an important role in this regard, as I would argue did several members, or two members of the National Security Council staff. Indeed, what we’re talking about here, is really in terms of what several people have spoken, several of the people here have been members of the National Security Council staff. So, at least to that extent, we know whereof we speak. The direction then, which occurred in 1980, for that election, meant two things, one is the re-assertion of the national security state. Pushing forward greater defense budgets and also, having a new system which before was only used sparingly in my view. It was used, but only sparingly. And that was contract officers who were assets of the CIA, who in effect would receive contracts to be in business by themselves, for the purpose of carrying out activities of the American government. In the 1980 election, it was critical to win that election on the part, both of the Republicans and Democrats obviously…Reagan was behind, it was said, by two percent in the polls of that time. And so that election became critical, and what here was important: was to find that way of winning the election, and so here what was used was those groupings within the national security state establishment who had served at one time, as people who could make all sorts of contacts, in order to upset the usual direction of that election possibly. This had been done earlier, in 1968, as well. Where the Republicans attempted to undercut President Johnson, and indeed, also that election, by making contact with South Vietnamese representatives in order to get the South Vietnamese to stop the possibility of the United States not bombing during that period.

So, here we are. We know pretty much what the facts are. Can this be made public in such a way as to change the direction of the country? And to begin the process of dismantling the national security state? This case can begin to do it. For it goes to a fundamental element of democracy, which is election. The election by the people. And if it is shown that this election was indeed polluted, indeed it will open the possibilities of a glasnost within the United States. It will open up the possibility of saying what indeed does the CIA do? Where are its records, what does the National Security Agency do? Are its records to be made, and should they be made public? And so forth and so on. And in that process, we will then be able to begin to talk through what the character of a modern democracy should be. And the character, in my view, of a modern democracy, has to be predicated on openness and on fairness, and non-pollution of elections. Either our own, or of other nations as well. So that means that the rules of the game which we want to apply to ourselves, we will have to accept in application to other nations as well. Thank you very much. [applause]

I’d like to turn to Professor Beisner, historian from American University.

I’d like to speak briefly about some things that seem to me, in this story that are both commonplace on the one hand and rare, on the other. And then briefly suggest significance of some of the events historically. What I see as commonplace in this story, or a part of the story that is commonplace, is the close connection between foreign policy and politics. There’s absolutely nothing new in that, in our history at all. And it’s become increasingly commonplace, since about the 1940s. Since the World War Two era, I think. And I think largely for two reasons, one of which is very encouraging. The first reason is simply the growing importance of international affairs in the United States, that is the growing participation of the United States in world affairs, and so the issues come up much more. Whereas you can have campaigns nearly a century ago, or more than a century ago, in which it simply would not be an issue. The encouraging part is, it seems to me, that compared to a century ago, or seventy five years ago, and to some degree on some issues, even yet today…a century or so ago, the public at large had very little interest in foreign affairs, very little knowledge about foreign affairs, and the U.S. government was able to make policy most of the time in a kindof public opinion and political vacuum.

Now there are qualifications to that at certain times of course. But from the 1940s onward, presidents, their administrations, members of Congress and so forth, have become increasingly aware that there is a public out there that cares about diplomatic and military issues, and they need to be concerned with. And as that concern has grown, the temptation to play politically with diplomatic events has grown, I think. But the normal situation, what again has been fairly commonplace in a lot of elections, it seems to me, has been cases of the incumbent manipulating events to his advantage. So that we have, we could get arguments about all of these, but let me just briefly mention some…we have Truman in 1948, for example, in the quick recognition of Israel, and on another kind of issue, pre-empting the right with a very hard line against the Soviet Union, helping him get elected in 1948. We have Johnson in 1964 withholding far more belligerent plans in Vietnam so that he could picture Richard [sic] Goldwater as the crazy man. We have Johnson, excuse me, the Johnson administration then at the very end of the 1968 campaign trying to produce negotiations on the Vietnam war in order to help get Humphrey elected. We have Nixon in ’72, along with Kissinger also playing all kinds of games with respect to Vietnam negotiations in order to affect the ’72 elections.

So this is very commonplace. And I have not heard anything today indicating that Carter would have passed up such an opportunity in 1980, either. And apparently there were some potential October surprises in the decisions to allow arms already purchased by Iran to be delivered to Iran. As Mark has indicated, another common, or fairly common phenomenon in the last fifty years, has been U.S. action affecting the elections of other states. And a reverse example of that, which I might want to mention, since I’ve been brought here as a historian, I think it’s my duty to mention something at least two hundred years old. Or nearly two hundred years old. An extreme rarity in American history, was the effort by the government of France, in 1796, to elect a president. Making every attempt it could, to get Jefferson elected in the expectation, an inaccurate one, that a Jefferson administration would be far friendlier to a revolutionary France, than an Adams administration would be. And they failed in that attempt, but not for lack of trying. What we have heard described today, and what we’ve all read about, over the last few years, that may have happened in 1980…if it did happen, is a rarity. In this case, I cannot play the normal historian’s role of declaring everything commonplace and something we’ve always seen.

The kind of, if this indeed occurred, if this indeed occurred…and we have an opposition party affecting foreign policy in an extremely important area, in order to affect the election, if this occurred the way it did…the only precedent that I can think of at the moment that is similar to that, has also just been mentioned by Mark, and that was the effort of the Republican party in 1968 to torpedo any last minute Vietnam settlement, by contacting the Vietnamese, South Vietnamese government, and encouraging that government, successfully, to hold back from the Paris negotiations that were just opening at that time. I don’t for a moment believe that that action prevented a peace settlement in Vietnam in 1968. I think that was unlikely to happen any time soon. But it was a crucial intrusion into diplomacy by private parties and in secret.

The meaning, the significance of all of this, it seems to me, it is probably too early to tell. Somewhat narrowly, again I’m skeptical despite some of the figures that have been mentioned, that the Reagan campaign intrusion into the Iran situation in 1980 decided an election. I doubt, it would take some extraordinary analysis to even make the case that that made a difference in Reagan’s election. It’s quite clear that the Republican campaign group, however, thought that it would. There are some other interesting, fairly narrow, if significant, historical issues, however, that become more understandable now, as we hear the story of 1980. One is the story of the behavior of the Reagan National Security Council. Which seems to be continuous with the behavior of the Republican campaign organization in 1980. As others have mentioned, and I won’t belabor the point here, the whole Iran-Contra issue looks different now, given the perspective that the situation gives us.

There’s some broader issues as well. I’ve recently been doing some reading in the history of U.S. relations with Iran in the Truman administration. And I have just, in fact, the last few days been reading in that volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States series that has been so excised. It’s a fascinating volume, it covers the U.S. relations with Iran and other states in the near East, from 1952 to 1954. There’s some crucial documents in it, but absolutely no reference whatsoever to the fact that the CIA played a fairly important role in Iran in 1953. But I bring it up here also as a way of indicating how I think what we’ve heard today suggests that this country has never understood with whom it’s dealing, in Iran. I think the Carter administration efforts demonstrate that. The Reagan campaign people probably demonstrated that. And as far as I can see, Harry Truman and Dean Acheson did not understand Iran either, although they…Acheson seems to have understood Iran better than the British did. But Acheson’s concern in the 1952, ’53, ’54 volume, has very little to do with Iran, it has very little to do with Islam, it all has to do with the Soviet Union. It’s that we have to act in such a way in Iran in order to prevent it falling into the hands of quote the commies end quote, which is actually state department telegramese, and not quite as pejorative as it sounds. But the language you use.

I think we also have further evidence today, which is pretty obvious, that presidents concerned about re-election will always worry about how a diplomatic or military situation might affect their re-election. Whether it’s in a campaign year, or one or two or three years away from the campaign year. I simply regard that as a given, and I’m not sure that there’s absolutely anything that can be done about it.

Somewhat facetiously, but not entirely, I’d like to say also that listening, reading much of what’s come out over the last year or so, reading the packet that you’ve received today and I got a copy of yesterday, and listening to the investigative journalists who spoke earlier, seems to me in part, today, we’ve been treated to sortof a legacy to Izzy Stone. I mean, I felt a number of times that Izzy Stone should be here, but there are people carrying on the role, obviously. Finally, I’d like to say one other thing. One of the things that I’ve been convinced of over their years, studying diplomatic history…and not without ambivalence…I stand before you as an ardent middle roader. And so, ambivalence comes naturally to me. And one of the things that I’ve become convinced of over the years, is that, in a constitutional democracy, foreign policy is bound to be carried out in such a way that’s messy. And that’s the word that’s often used when this issue is commented on. Now, what I’ve felt ambivalent about over the years, very often is, is that really what we want? And those of you who’ve read and listened to George Kennan, for example, over the years, know how deeply in the souls of people like Kennan, lie the wish to get rid of the public and to get rid of some of the difficulties involved, in the messiness involved in practicing foreign policy. In a republic.

But the last ten years…and this issue along with Iran-Contra, especially, have convinced me that we can hardly have messier attempts at conducting foreign policy, then we have received when people make an effort to conduct that policy outside the channels of constitutional democracy. So the issue is probably not a nice, neat, clear-cut foreign policy conducted undemocratically versus a messy democratic foreign policy. I’m not quite sure that the conclusion is that foreign policy is always messy, but it’s clear that an attempt to get around the bounds set by the American constitution and law, is likely to make the situation even worse. Thank you. [applause]

Thank you, professor Beisner. The last panelist is Tom Blanton, who is Deputy Director of the National Security Archives.

I was asked onto this panel today to discuss essentially whether and how a congressional investigation should take place. As to these issues around the hostages in 1980 and the election campaign. But mine is a very small voice, actually, when compared to distinguished panelists that we’ve heard from today, and as compared to Representative Derrick and his seventy five colleagues who signed a letter requesting a congressional investigation and, I guess, especially compared to the voices of the former hostages who’ve requested such an investigation. So I’d like to limit my remarks really to three basic points. One of which is the historical context for the calls for a congressional investigation. Second, is the specific ideas as to where Congress might go and what it might find. And third is to comment generally on what may or may not be achieved by a congressional investigation. First, just on the historical context. As I’ve gone over the past couple weeks through the, literally hundreds of press clippings, through the mailings that Barbara Honegger has kindly sent me over the years, through the various books by Bani-Sadr, Gary Sick’s book, the books by the negotiators who ultimately did get the hostages out, I was struck that I came across a call for a congressional investigation which, to my knowledge is the very first call for a congressional investigation of the release of the hostages…it was actually made by a prominent American while the hostages were still being held. And I’d like to read it to you today, because I think, in many respects, it could become the epigraph for our on-going efforts to see an investigation occur. And let me quote:

“I think it is time for us to have a complete investigation as to the diplomatic efforts that were made in the beginning. Why they have been there so long. And when they come home, what do we have to do in order to bring that about. What arrangements were made? And I would suggest that Congress should hold such an investigation.” Quote unquote. That was Ronald Reagan. On October 28, in the presidential debate with Jimmy Carter. I think he was right. I agree with this distinguished American. There should be an investigation.

Let me just suggest a few points about what Congress could look for. And might find. And in this regard I must admit I’ve been scooped somewhat, and I recommend to everyone that they visit their local newsstand and get a copy of this week’s issue of The Nation magazine. David Corn has written an excellent article summarizing much of these leads and issues under the title, “Leads Congress Should Pursue”. And I recommend it to everyone considering an investigation, or continuing an investigation. But let me just go down a few of the key records that different speakers have already alluded to, that may help resolve this issue one way or another. First of course, the campaign records from the Reagan-Bush campaign of the fall of 1980 which are apparently in the custody of the Reagan Library Project in California, and Edwin Meese, the former attorney general has the say over whether anyone can gain access to those. I think obviously from what Gary Sick said on the first panel, it’s going to require something on the order of a subpoena to get into those. But in those papers should be things like appointment books and phone logs and a variety of records that may or may not show, were there actual meetings, were people in the office, were Republican members of that campaign talking to Iranians and so forth. And that’s certainly an imperative, and it’s clear from the efforts of journalists and so forth, that the fact that they haven’t been able to get access to those materials is in itself a recommendation for a congressional investigation. Second, of course, would be William Casey’s personal papers. As far as I know, only one researcher has been allowed access to Casey’s personal papers dating from the 1980 period, that was Joseph Persico, for his biography of Casey. I recommend it to you not for what it says about the October surprise, because it doesn’t say very much, it discusses it very briefly, and I think less than a page, but for the context of Casey’s life and Casey’s operations, I think very essential for any informed judgement on this matter.

Apparently, Persico went through the personal papers, about twenty to thirty boxes worth, at Casey’s house, here in Washington, with the permission of Casey’s widow, while writing his biography of Casey. He found no appointment books and no phone logs, and he could not conclude from the evidence available to him whether or not those still existed or whether those had already been shipped off to the Hoover institution, which is, as I understand it, the ultimate repository of the Casey materials. Again, I suspect because these are under the control of the family, it will require a subpoena to gain any further access to those materials.

Further, we now have the new evidence of the last several months, is really in the form of a series of interviews, many of them on videotape , many of them on audiotape, many of them in notes, by some very credible researchers. The crew who put together the PBS Frontline piece, Robert Parry and others, Gary Sick and others…again, those are very useful as tips for investigators, but to have them become a real core public record of this story, they need to be under oath, and they need to be taken in some official proceeding. Again, an argument for an official congressional investigation.

Further, Gary Sick this morning recommended a couple of other “record sets”, if you will, that should be gone after. Things like the flight records, because they do have tail numbers from a variety of these witnesses that they have interviewed. Passport records, customs and immigration and so forth. And the tapes from the sting operation that Cyrus Hashemi was part of, the celebrated [Samuel] Evans-[Avraham] Bar-Am case, that ultimately was dropped in New York. That, by the way, did pick up [Manucher] Ghorbanifar in its wide net, at the time, in ’86. Again, this material may need to be subpoenaed because there’s almost no other way to avoid the privacy considerations and so forth, that might prevent it from being obtained. I think the most sensitive area of all, of records that haven’t been discussed yet today, which may be the most illuminating, or the least illuminating, depending on what you come up with, are the communications intelligence. The regular intercepts, monitoring of worldwide electronic communications by the National Security Agency. Clearly, in 1980, that monitoring had to have been a major focus of the entire U.S. intelligence community. This was the primary issue of the day, clearly they would have been monitoring as best they could any communications to or from the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran. Clearly they would be attempting to monitor any communications to or from various embassies, particularly in places like Paris, where there was a significant Iranian exile community, and where Khomeini himself had spent some time, while in exile. Clearly they would have been attempting to monitor the Iranians with whom they were negotiating. For instance, [Mirza Sayyed Mohammad] Tabatabai [one of the leaders of the Iranian revolution], what is it, the brother of the wife of Khomeini’s son, who was ultimately one of the key mediators with the Algerians in the ultimate Carter negotiations. Clearly they would have been attempting to track people like [Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, maybe Karroubi, who was after all a member of the parliament, and apparently the leader of a hardline faction which they were clearly worried about, which preached time after time against any negotiations with the great Satan. And they would clearly, I believe, have been attempting to monitor at least any dealings of the various arms dealers, ex-patriots, and others, who were attempting to make contacts between the U.S. government and the Iranians. Various reporters have said to me over time, that they know of as many as a hundred such contacts by would-be dealers, most of which never came to anything, but they did exist, and the records of those contacts, the electronic intercepts of phone calls, of cables, of radio transmissions, and so forth, would have clearly been a major focus of U.S. investment and monitoring and clearly, I think this is the major area which recommends a congressional investigation, because there is effectively no way, for journalists, for historical researchers, and even in many respects, for attorneys in court cases, because the court cases would be forced to be dropped. The government has a power under the Classified Information Procedures Act to force the dropping of various prosecutions, on the basis of state secrets.

Clearly a congressional investigation is, in effect, the only practical method for getting at those super secret, above top secret communications intercepts, which are so sensitive that, I think in the 1980s, only on a couple of key occasions, particularly in the downing of the KAL 007, has the U.S. government officially released any of these intercepts. Clearly, it can be done when it serves certain purposes of the administration, but in this case, it would require not only a subpoena, but congressional investigators with code word clearances and so forth. But obviously, it should be a major area to focus. And then I’ll refer you to David Corn’s article for other general discussion of these record systems, now let me move on to point three, which is, what are we likely to find out? What may or may not be achieved?

What we may find out from, if we actually get a hold of these records, is whether or not the meetings actually took place. The communications intercepts may show whether there was a deal or not, in the sense that you presumably have conversations, dialogues, back and forths, reportings, and so forth, that may convey some of the substance of those discussions. But from the personal records, the appointment books, the phone logs, the credit card records and so forth and so on, you can only conclude whether the meetings actually took place. That may be enough, in itself, that would be a scandal. And I would just remind people of that, while you’re chasing George Bush and other folks, just the mere fact of top campaign officials meeting with representatives of foreign governments, and discussing something as sensitive as the hostages, is in itself a highly questionable activity. And Gary Sick and others have proved this to their satisfaction. So, just in closing, it’s unclear how far even a congressional investigation with subpoenas to go towards resolving the issue of whether there was a deal or not. They may only be able to resolve whether there were meetings or not. But there has to be a major attempt to create a public record. Because without that public record, we’re all going to continue to be dependent on the kinds of anonymous sources, unsourced information, hearsay information, that is very troubling, to any investigator, certainly a total documents fiend like myself and the National Security Archives staff, who’ve been very strongly agnostic on this whole question, simply because of the almost complete lack of that kind of hard documentation and its dependence on interviews and sources. We’re not reporters, if we were reporters, those sources, as Gary Sick and Robert Parry and others have demonstrated, are plenty good enough to go and get it in a newspaper. The point now, I think, is that congress, internally at least, is debating whether to hold…right now, they’re in the course of an informal staff proceeding. What congressman Derrick referred to as the equivalent of a grand jury type investigation, prior to bringing an indictment. To see whether or not the evidence warrants the bringing of an indictment, the mounting of an official investigation.

That’s all well and good, and I was especially encouraged that congressman Derrick said that they would come to a decision on whether to proceed, he estimated in the next two weeks. I would be greatly surprised if that occurred, but the point, I think, fundamentally, is that if proceedings are kept informal, if proceedings are held in secret, say in the various intelligence committees, of the House and the Senate, then you’re guaranteed to have no resolution of this story one way or another. A caution: even if you do have a formal investigation, with subpoena power, you’re not guaranteed to know whether or not it actually occurred. But if you don’t have an investigation, you’re guaranteed never to know. So, in conclusion, I just want to echo what Moorhead Kennedy said earlier, which is just simply, as a citizen, for the health of the democracy, for the public’s right to know, there should be a formal official investigation with subpoena power, to pull all of this evidence together for all of our sakes. Thank you. [applause]

We have time for questions, comments. Yes, please, would you-

Sarah McClendon, McClendon Independent News Service. I’d like to know why you’re so naive to think we’d get anywhere with Congress, if they did have an investigation, when they don’t answer subpoenas, like Gonzales is trying to get the Federal Reserve Board to come forward with the records on banks and can’t get it, time after time, and when they also stopped the Iran-Contra hearings and told them not to go back beyond a certain period because the FBI, because if they did, they’d have to take out a president.

You’re absolutely right. I have no confidence that they’re going to get to the bottom of this thing, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. I mean, I think if you’re in your business, or if you’re in my business, you’re a hopeless optimist. Why do you keep going out there writing stories every day and try to tell the people what’s going on in the government, if you don’t believe that it has…you gotta do it, even just for it’s own sake. Even if it doesn’t result in the truth ever essentially emerging.

Well, I’ve got four or five scandals that the Congress committees “are looking into” and they keep on looking into them, and they don’t do a damn thing about it.

Well, you’ve got your finger on a major point, which is, one of the key reasons why Congress is so reluctant to investigate this story, is that to investigate it and to find out the truth will uncover the fact that a number of committees and subcommittees of Congress have been derelict in their duty in terms of tracking exactly this set of issues. I think you have some high level members, for instance, of the Iran-Contra committees who are not interested in going back over the ground, part of which was covered by them, because it will show their own failures in that investigation. So I think that’s part of the picture. Another part of the picture is, of course, partisanship, that the Republicans are not interested in opening this can of worms. But, fundamentally, it comes down to a matter of will. And what you write, and the documents I come up with, and what everyone else here talks about and writes and puts out in the public domain, either will help generate enough momentum to have an official investigation, or it won’t.

Question here.

…[unintelligible], Action Information Bulletin. Given the track record of the national security apparatus, and with great professionalism, in destroying and disappearing documents and other materials, that relate to its operations…if you remember, of course, Richard Nixon’s own secretary, with her foot, disappeared three minutes of critical tape. If you remember the fact that during the Iran-Contra hearings, Tom Polgar, longtime CIA officer, acknowledged that massive numbers of documents were not released, or provided to the committee. My point here is to suggest, is it not in order to, as we speak here today, to go to court, to consider going to court, to get a court injunction that would lay down the basis that the government cannot disappear or destroy the relevant documents that have been listed here today as being needed.

I think it’s a very good idea.

I might also add, if I may, on behalf of The Fund for New Priorities, holding sessions such as this one today, is part of the democratic process, and the people’s right to know. We’ve done this for twenty two years, not as well as we’d like. But your participation, the press’s participation, the American citizenry, concern about this issue, is the way in which Congress will respond. Without that kind of national pressure, and we’re a very small group even in this hearing room today, but we have the responsibility, and we have the democratic right to know. And more organizations, more individuals clambering for democracy, for knowledge, for the kind of recommendations that Mort Halperin made on this panel, will provide the grist, if you will, the ability to put some spine in some of our congressmen, and put the responsibility where it belongs. Absent that kind of pressure, if we didn’t do even the thing we did in March of ’73, I don’t know whether the Senate Select Committee on Watergate would have ever come to be. The thing we didn’t do, by the way, in Iran-Contra, was to have an adequate public hearing, and an adequate demand and pressure from our own group, and to that extent we plead guilty that we didn’t do enough, and the press didn’t do enough, and the people didn’t do enough. I’ve a letter from Arthur Liman, who was supposed to be on the panel, because I’d criticized Arthur Liman’s handling of his role in Iran-Contra. And he says in the letter that I have, excusing himself from coming to this, because he had to go to a bar association meeting on minorities, we wanted to present the questions we had to Arthur Liman today. But it’s an aroused and concerned citizenry, it’s an aroused press if you will. The media has been on this only in a limited way. And Sarah McClendon and everyone else should be on this. We had people talking, why isn’t it covered more adequately, and Hitchens has been working on it, and Kilian has been working on it, and they’ve been marginalized, and Barbara Honegger has been working on it, and the Christic Institute has been working on it, and it’s all, well, that left-wing or fringe group or that other group. And they’re just rattling around again. But the American people, if they know what’s going on, if they hear what’s going on, and they call their congressman and say, as Butler Derrick just said, we have a concern. And then you will see more than seventy five. We don’t have the atmosphere that we had in 1973 and the concern that we had.

I’m Harvey Wasserman, author of a history book called Harvey Wasserman’s History of the United States, along those lines, a group of us will be meeting at two o’clock at 122 Maryland Avenue to make sure that this story continues. I want to take strong issue with Mr. Beisner as a fellow historian. I thin it’s very clear that had the hostages been released, when President Carter thought they were going to be released, and had his deal gone through, that Carter would have won the election. I don’t believe it was just Republican paranoia. The polls showed it, and their polls, Richard Wirthlin’s polls, showed a shift of ten percent, in the public opinion, which was more than enough to give this election to Jimmy Carter. The election was much closer in 1980 than people remember in terms of the popular vote. I think it’s also very important, when we discuss this event, to keep it in historical perspective. This is one of the major shaping events of the twentieth century. There are very few events you can point to, that very clearly turn the course of American politics. The assassination of John Kennedy, the manipulation in 1968 of the Vietnamese thing, and really beyond that, you almost have to go all the way back to the sinking of the Lusitania, which brought the United States into World War I.

And I bring that up for a very specific point. When Woodrow Wilson was president in 1915, a vast majority of the United States opposed getting into World War I, and the Germans sank the luxury liner, the Lusitania, charging that it was carrying British arms, from New York to London. The British strongly denied it, and Woodrow Wilson went along with them. Seventy years later, deep sea divers went down to the Lusitania, and in fact, found many tons of weapons that were going from the United States to Great Britain. So it may very well be that the United States got into World War I on the basis of a lie. And World War I was a major shaping event in American history. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. We now have a situation in 1980, where the American public had a choice between a moderate liberal Democrat and an extreme right wing Republican. We all know what happened in the 1980s, and we all, I think, can go back and take strong questioning about what the 1980s might have looked like, had Jimmy Carter been re-elected, as opposed to Ronald Reagan. The world would have been very different, not only in the 1980s, but probably for an entire generation to come. So I think it’s very important that people keep in perspective the enormity of the impact of what we’re talking about here. This was not a small event. And I think Ms. McClendon’s point is very well taken. We, in no way shape or form, can trust a congressional investigation. A congressional investigation cannot be an end to this situation. It cannot be a major victory if Congress decides to investigate this deal in 1980. Because aside from the historical impact, there is, as I think you’ll agree, no precedent for a strong case to be made against a sitting president for having committed treason. And essentially we are talking about treason here. The idea of an opposition campaign, negotiating sub rosa, with a foreign government to delay the release of hostages, if that isn’t treason, I don’t know what is. And we’re talking about the current and the former president of the United States involved here, there really is nothing of that magnitude in the history of this country. And I hope people will keep that in mind as we proceed, because it really dwarfs anything that this congress or any future congress, in many ways any past congress, is probably willing to deal with. And I think Mr. Paperin is exactly right, that people, as a whole, are going to have to deal with this issue. [applause]

Yes, I’d like Marcus Raskin to expound a bit more on the point that you were making. It seems that the point that you’re making is fundamentally more profound, than that which is being acknowledged by most of the speakers and the questioners. That whereas most of the people are talking about some element in the Republican party establishing negotiations, somehow with a foreign power to win a particular election, your point, at least if I heard it correctly, is fundamentally different. That this was, in fact, a counterstrike, against the entire concept of democratic government in the United States by elements of a national security state. That had been formulated since 1947, with the passage of the National Security Act. Now, if that is the constitutional reality that we’re dealing with, it seems to me that we have to define it properly, in order to define the nature of what the congressional investigation has to be here. Could you, in fact, clarify your point? And am I right in hearing what you’re saying?

Alright, I think there are two elements to it. The first element, is that starting with the end – and here Professor Beisner will know far more than I – but starting with the end of the Second World War, it was taken for granted that the United States could intervene in other people’s elections. Now, we had of course done that consistently in South America and in Latin America. But what we needed at that point in the early and late 1940s, was a new apparatus. And that apparatus was one which assumed that we were running a worldwide empire. You can call it the free world, you can call it what you want, but the assumption was that there were things we could do, which were so-called “legitimated” because we had power. But there was no real internal legitimation in the country for those things. The legitimation really didn’t come from Congress, except in the most broad way. For example, there is no place in the laws which says that covert operations should be conducted by a part of the American government. Yet it’s the case that covert operations go on. And the meaning of covert operations, in fact, is that you’re breaking the law of another country. That’s why you do it covertly. You’re trying to get their secrets, you’re doing all sorts of things, whether blackmail or secrets, or whatever it is, that’s why you’re conducting a covert operation on that level. And also you’re conducting it because you don’t want to go through congress because it would be publicly debated within the United States, and indeed in that sense, an elitist notion is, that a small grouping of people know better than others, that this is the way things should go on. This is the way politics should be conducted, in an international sense.

Now that has come to be known as the legitimate way of doing business in American society over the forty year period. And I would argue that that’s illegitimate. That that in itself, that national security state apparatus has to be dismantled. Now, in the context of that illegitimate system, came another illegitimate system. And that illegitimate system was, it came at various stages. Groupings of people who went out on their own to do various sorts of enterprises, which you know very well about. Other groupings of people organizing businesses, proprietaries for the CIA, to be used as fronts for other activities of the CIA, as if they were individual businessmen, not responsible to the CIA. But beyond that, came to be something that occurred in 1980 which is so profound. And that is the return of the possible fixing of an American election. Now, subjectively, from the point of view of Casey, his view is, look, Carter is an interloper. He tried to get rid, and indeed was successful at getting rid of part of the CIA. Stansfield Turner is an interloper, although god knows he isn’t, but indeed that is the perspective that Casey was taking, and indeed Casey was a man who’d been involved with secret operations since the second world war, and since the OSS, since OSS days. So, his perspective is, look, these people have indeed disturbed the orderly way of doing business by the United States, over this period of time. They were indeed, in the 1980s, if Carter had his way, who knows what might emerge with regard to the CIA. There was indeed, under Carter, much heavier controls over covert operations. As you know, as soon as Casey came in, with Reagan, they removed the controls over the covert operations. There had been a committee established, an oversight committee established in the White House, which no longer had that particular oversight responsibility over covert operations. So, a very great deal changed at that point.

Now, what does this mean? It means, in effect, you have a governing structure which is illegitimate, which it uses either the Republic or the Democracy, the rhetoric of Democracy or Republic, but operates on its own. And it operates in a framework of controlled legitimacy. That is, self-enforced legitimacy, indeed various people here have been part of it. Halperin had been part of it, I had been part of it, Sick had been part of it, and it operates in the context of rules and regulations which are self-imposed. But they’re not responsive to Congress per se, or to the public, per se. That system has, in my view, to be dismantled. Secondarily, came out of that system…a criminal system. And the criminal system is the one that we’re talking about here. Which now goes to the point, can you not only fix other people’s elections, but can you fix the elections at home? And in that sense, Wasserman’s comments are very important. I’m not here to talk about traitorous activity of the president, nor do I know enough to even begin to make such a charge. But it is clear that elections over the course of a forty year period have been fixed by the United States abroad. And that those people who undertake to do that abroad, have no problems doing that home. [applause]

A couple of points with regard to the press. Ms. Katherine Graham, owner of the Washington Post company, made her post Iran-Contra pilgrimage to Langley in November of 1988, and stated in a speech there, that democracy flourishes when government can keep its secrets. Point two, the Frontline program referred to, Mr. Angelo Codevilla, who is the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff member referred to anonymously, previously…declared there on, and was identified as an informal consultant to the Republican campaign Committee, and in fact did deliver from his privileged position, information to that committee. That’s a heavy duty felony. To which he has openly admitted. Has any prosecution gone forward? Has any charge been made against him? Point three, and my last one…with regard to secrecy…there is currently a private lawsuit under way in federal court in Baltimore. Maxwell versus First National Bank of Maryland. This case involves, I will not go into the details, some charges relating to a CIA front company, which was a client at that bank. The plaintiff, Mr. Maxwell, in his private suit, for damages against the bank for wrongful discharge…was in charge of that account. In late December, the Justice Department, that oxymoron, presented an affidavit signed by the director of Central Intelligence, Mr. William Webster, in support of its motion, that Mr. Maxwell, a private citizen, who had never entered into an official relationship with the United States, never signed any secrecy agreement, by reason of the doctrine of absolute state secrecy, is to be prevented at any time in this proceeding, from referring to Associated Traders Corporation, to the Justice Department, to the FBI, or to the CIA, for fear of grave danger to the national security of the United States. These three points, I submit to you, illustrate where we are, on a very direct, important, and human level. Thank you. [applause]


I had a question for Tom Blanton, I think it would be best…on the congressional investigation. And that is, what evidence is there beyond the assurances that Butler Derrick gave this morning, and the seventy five signers of this letter, that this quasi grand jury proceeding is really taking place, that something serious is happening on the part of the democratic leadership. I mean, who is the staff in charge, how many staff people are working on this, what are they doing, what letters have been written, what requests have been made…to the administration, and to Meese in California, to the other types of records you’ve talked about. Do you see or hear any of that being done on any sort of timetable…and I guess a related question, on the Senate side, is there any indication at this point, that the intelligence community and the work up to the Gates nomination hearings plan to pursue any of these issues in that forum?

To answer your first question, I really can’t answer it. You have to ask congressman Derrick. I’m not privy to those discussions, I’ve not attended any of those meetings, I couldn’t even name all the, you know, what committees have contributed staff to this operation, but you should check with the house leadership, and I’m sure you have much better sources on the hill than I do. On the-

My concern is, in checking with the leadership, the answers to those sorts of questions are quite vague, and they’re not, they’re not reassuring to a reporter, that something is happening. And I think perhaps Butler Derrick may have conveyed a different impression when he talked about a grand jury proceeding, that something is really going on here.

Yeah, he certainly conveyed a different impression I hadn’t heard before, which is why I remarked on it, and I would recommend that you talk to him, the notion that in two weeks they would decide is, I think, news. On the second question, I have no indications about what the Senate intelligence committee is or is not looking into, just some references in the media that four or five staff members are working full-time, compiling a briefing book on Gates. We’ve compiled one at the National Security Archives, and everyone’s welcome to come get a copy of. We’ll charge you for it, but that’s to cover our costs. But I have no notion other than that, about what they’re looking into.


Barbara Honegger, the author of October Surprise. What I’d like to add here is some very specific data, some facts, people ask me, where are the smoking guns. And we’ve, Tom Blanton has listed a number of the documents that need to be subpoenaed, and the kinds of documents, and the kinds of sources that need subpoenas, once we get subpoena power, whether it’s in a class action suit, which is my hope, frankly, on the part of the fifty two hostages or some good subset of them, or whether there’s a congressional hearing or investigation with subpoena power and under oath testimony. Just a couple of the highlights, and I’m on the record, going to say, here, that while I’m in Washington over the next two days, I am going to compile from my own five year research, and being the author of the only book on this subject, which I have available here, for those who would like to see it…published in 1989, and I should add that the day my book was published, May 12, 1989, the Bush Justice Department chose to sue one of the key witnesses, self-proclaimed eye witnesses, Richard Brenneke, on that precise date. That is not a coincidence. My book is important. And you should read it.

Now, in the book, there are references to a number of smoking guns and in the three years since I have written the book, I have on a daily basis continued this research, full-time. Just some tips of the iceberg, of some of these smoking guns. Half of which are contained in the book, and half of which are not. I pledge here that I will make a list of all thirty seven of them. There are audiotapes. We know where they are, they have to be subpoenaed. And I will make that list available to the individuals in the Congress that I happen to personally know, including Spencer Oliver, the chief counsel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including Mr. Robert Torricelli, and his assistant, Rick Frost, including Mr. Butler Derrick and his assistant, Michael Harrison, who is there today. And a whole list of the individuals I have been assured have been working on this quote grand jury unquote, they will have this list of smoking guns before I leave Washington on Saturday. And this list of smoking guns, I will make available to the press, in whatever way I can, if and only if, the decision is made by this so-called staff level investigation in the House of Representatives, not to go forward with subpoena power, and I will make the full list available to the press. You will see in a moment the problem with the dilemma and the trade-off of making the full list available to the press now, is that people have a way of dying very quickly, if they know something. The epilogue to my book, which I call “A Kinder, Gentler Nation”, is a list of some thirty individuals who have either been assassinated, assassination attempts on their life, and I add in that list, Mr. Brenneke himself, also Houshang Lavi, now deceased, who is the self-acknowledged individual, an Iranian arms dealer who has said that, on videotape, in an interview I arranged for him…that he personally at the October 2nd meeting, that Richard Allen, Lawrence Silberman, the judge who has now let Oliver North off the hook, not coincidentally, and also Mr. Robert McFarlane. Not coincidentally, later at the center of Iran-Contra. These three men have acknowledged publicly, having been at the October 2nd 1980 meeting in the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, with, they say, an Iranian, maybe an Egyptian, well, that man has come forward, his name is Houshang Lavi. There were two attempts on his life. He is now deceased from a heart attack. I presume that was of natural causes. But: just some examples of the highlights, smoking guns, that are going to be on the list of thirty seven that I will give to these members of the staff level investigation. The surprising one that has not yet been mentioned here today, was actually mentioned on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, on November 7th, 1986, by none other than Richard Allen himself, one of the participants of the meeting with Mr. Houshang Lavi on October 2nd, 1980. That October 2nd, 1980 meeting is one of the hard data points that we have. And Misters Allen, Silberman, and McFarlane want you to believe that nothing happened there.

I have a tape recorded interview with Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe, whom we know, was a former Israeli intelligence agent, who was in a position to know at the time, later a top assistant to Mr. Shamir himself. He is right now, as I am speaking to you, in Australia writing a book on October Surprise for release in five languages, this November 1991. So, it will not be long before his entire story is out in his own words. However, in a tape recorded interview with him, I have the transcript in my possession with me here today, he has stated that to his personal knowledge, as part of what he called the “Ora Group” in Israel, six members were critical in that group; there was a total of approximately ninety two billion dollars in U.S. and other Western arms that were brokered by the Israelis to Iran, over the period of the Iran-Iraq war. We are talking twice the entire estimated forty billion dollars that it costs the United States and all of our allies to fight the recent Persian Gulf war. Now, this Ari Ben-Menashe is very important. He is also, in a tape recorded interview with me, personally present at this – hard fact – October 2nd 1980 meeting with Allen, Silberman, and McFarlane, and he has stated in a taped interview with me, that Mr. Houshang Lavi, now deceased, two assassination attempts against his life, was working for Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe and Israeli intelligence at the time. Mr. Houshang Lavi happened to be Jewish and Iranian. Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe happens to be Jewish and born in Iran. And you will see in the revised edition of my book that this is a very important connection, the Jewish-Iranian connection.

In any case, the tip of the iceberg, in terms of a hard data point we need to subpoena, is that this very man, Richard Allen, who we know was at this meeting…and Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe has also now identified the two Iranians at the meeting, that Houshang Lavi would not name for me, except to say one of them was a doctor. I had asked him, “Was it Dr. Cyrus Hasehmi?”, he said, “No, I guarantee you it is not.” Now Mr. Lavi is deceased. But Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe is now stated on tape that the individual, the doctor at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel meeting, with Allen, Silberman, McFarlane, and according to Ben-Menashe, Ben-Menashe himself and Lavi, was a Dr. Om Ghomshei, who I’ve checked with Bani Sadr, he is the former president of Iran, he has checked that, he came back to me through his translator, his english translator, one week ago in writing, and he said Mr. Ghomshei, Dr. Ghomshei, is a very important figure who is close to Mr. Mehdi Kashani. Well, Mr. Kashani in my tape recorded interview with Ari Ben-Menashe, as having been Mr. Ari Ben-Menashe’s number one core contact in Iran, for the arms for hostages deals. So, this is a critical meeting, it’s not what Richard Allen said, I happen to disagree with Martin Kilian, that he agrees with Richard Allen, I do not believe Richard Allen. I think that it was a very important, substantive meeting, I do not believe that it just happened in the lobby, there were at least five or six individuals that we can identify already, as acknowledging having been present. And as a result of that meeting, there were certain understandings that were made. Richard Allen, a participant in this hard fact October 2nd 1980 meeting, with Lavi and presumably also Ben-Menashe, and Dr. Ghomshei of Iran, and Ghomshei’s aide, who is still not identified by name, this same Richard Allen, on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, on November 7th 1986, stated to a nationwide television audience, that he Richard Allen, then the first national security advisor to President Reagan, on Reagan’s first full day in office, that was January 21st, 1981, that he, Allen, turned to Reagan, presumably in the Oval Office or somewhere close there, in the White House certainly, said Mr. Reagan, “There’s a fifty-third hostage…” Or a fifty-fourth hostage. “..who is still being held in Iran. Her name is Cynthia Dwyer, and she happens to be the wife of one of my former college buddies.” Well, Mr. Allen put out on MacNeil-Lehrer that the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, turned to him on January 21st 1981 and said, “You call or let us call the Iranians, call Iran and tell them that the deal is off, unless she is also released.” Well, there is a tape recording in the White House Situation Room basement made of all calls to foreign officials, especially heads of state…

Can I ask you, you’ve got very important thing to say, and they’re people who want to talk with you about it…we have a few minutes, and there are a few more questions. With your indulgence. Question here. Thank you.

My name is Robert Boehm, from The Fund for New Priorities and also the Center for Constitutional Rights. The point I wish to make is that, to emphasize the important constitutional aspects discussed by Morton Halperin, and to add a further point: and that is that the operations of the CIA, as they have existed almost from the beginning, are themselves really unconstitutional, because the constitution requires that all appropriations made of funds for the government must be appropriated by Congress and by nobody else. And must be revealed in the budget. Well, actually the CIA operation is not separate at all, is not voted on separately by the Congress, but is, consists of monies given to the CIA by various other agencies. So there is no real way in which the Congress can even know how much the CIA has been getting. As a matter of fact, at one time, Senator Kennedy ventured a guess that it ran perhaps five billion dollars. Actually, the funds expended for the CIA and other intelligence agencies now have been publicly admitted to be approximately thirty billion dollars. Now, this continuing violation of the constitution is something that invites, I think, the attention of legal scholars. Actually, it was presented in court, in a very well-known case, Harrington against the government. Congressman Michael Harrington raised this issue, and brought it to the attention of the courts. Unfortunately, the circuit court of appeals in, I believe, Massachusetts, ruled that he did not have standing to sue. It’s really hard to justify the decision of that time, because it would seem to me that a Congressman has every important interest in knowing how the funds that Congress votes are expended. But the court held against him on it, and other constitutional lawyers were afraid to bring the matter to the Supreme Court because they were afraid it would also give a bad decision. However, I think the issue is still very much alive and I think it’s something that should be investigated and that it should play a role in the deliberations of people who want to bring out, prevent secrecy in government.

Time for one more question. Alright. Well, I think that brings us to an end. I want to thank our panelists who have spoken here today. In very different ways they have made a plea for a formal investigation to be made by an appropriate committee of Congress. Particularly concerning charges made in connection with the so-called October Surprise. The panelists have outlined what they know, what they don’t know, and what needs to be known. They’ve also given us some sense of the constitutional issues, the historical context, and some sense of the practical politics involved. And from what we’ve heard today, it seems to me that the charges and allegations by any reasonable standard are very serious. They affect the reputation and integrity of some of our leaders of both parties, our government, and its process. And I am sure that most Americans want to believe in the integrity and openness of its leaders, its government, and its processes. I certainly do. But these allegations are so serious that they deserve to be examined. The truth or falsity of them determined, and the necessary judgements made in a fair, just, and thorough and authoritative way, and the Congress is an appropriate way to do that.

Thank you. I’d also like to close with a vote of gratitude to the staff who works so hard in preparing this. We have our west coast director David Marks, we have Washington staff in the form of Robert Van Devere, and Bill Anderson, and all the other members of the Fund, I want to thank the panelists, I want to thank Moorhead Kennedy and Barry Rosen and the other hostages, for the role that they’ve continued to play in a very important democratic process. As I said before, we will have a follow-up in the form of videotapes available. This is the commercial part, the Fund for New Priorities is a tax exempt educational organization, we raise money from the people. And we need help to distribute the materials to hold these conferences. Any contributions should be sent to The Fund at 171 Madison Avenue, New York, 106. Our office in Washington is 202675239. I would also like to add a correction or an apology to Barbara Cohen, who called, somewhat furious, with a statement I made earlier, a statement that attempted clarification of my remarks…is that she was not able, or she did not feel comfortable with moderating this panel today. And I said I would make such a statement as a clarification of the remarks that I made earlier in the day.

Did she say why she wouldn’t feel comfortable?

You’ll have to call her with regard to that. I got this by telephone message, I’m making the apology public, she said she’d come down here, and, what was the statement Eleanor? I can’t recall. “Make a condemnatory statement for what my earlier remarks,” I’m trying to clarify them, to the extent that I know…I misconstrued them or misrepresented them. In any event, I want also to call your attention to the fact that MacNeil-Lehrer tonight will have, I think, a few of our panelists participating in the MacNeil-Lehrer Hour…we have, I think have been taped, I know we have been taped by C-Span, so I know we’ll have the videotapes available, I think we were covered by other networks, and to the extent that we’ll have the materials available, we will do so. We will also have an edited transcript [not the same as this transcript on pastebin at URL which is by the uploader] and again, thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen, very much. [applause]

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Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club: The Fappening Part Two

In an attempt to avoid infinite delays on this very long post, I’ll be putting it up unfinished, with additions made every so often, so that the thing is complete by the end of the week, Friday, March 27th, 2015 Friday, April 3rd 8th (sometime in April), 2015…let’s aim for early May. This might be seen as the third part of a three part series, “The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings: Gawking at the Wreckage” and “Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club: The Fappening”.




“I found out something I never knew,” Bobby Kennedy said of Dallas not long before his own murder. “I found out my world was not the real world.”

The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and its Hold on America by Sally Denton & Roger Morris

Mindy McCready, Kari Ann Peniche, Michelle Braun

Mindy McCready, Kari Ann Peniche, Michelle Braun; photos taken, respectively from “Mindy McCready weeps as she confirms affair with Roger Clemens” (no credit),, and “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure”, photo credit Broward Sheriff’s Office.

It ends with stolen rubies. It begins with ridiculous dreams. “You are one interesting girl,” said Howard Stern when he interviewed Kari Ann Peniche. “How do you get to be Miss Teen USA? That seems like a big deal, Miss Teen USA.” “Miss United States Teen,” Peniche corrected him. “I was modeling at a modeling agency and the receptionist, she was like, “Oh, I’m giving up my crown next weekend,” and I was like, “What crown?” and she’s like, “I’m Miss Teen Oregon,” and I was, “I wanna be Miss Teen Oregon! So…” Stern: “And after you win the whole thing, you think, something’s going to happen, but nothing really big happens, does it?” Peniche: “Um…no. Playboy came along.”1 Shandi Finnessey, Miss USA 2004: “Playboy, for some reason, has these little tentacle feelers that go out and girls in pageants are like, “My year’s over. Playboy!””2 “My initial reaction to the offer of doing Playboy was absolutely not,” said Peniche. “My mom raised me with honesty and integrity. There was no amount of money that could basically screw over the pageant, or make the pageant look bad…After talking more and more with my agents about it, and my mom, we came to an agreement to do it.” Finnessey: “A lot of people also think that Playboy is this big door that opens up, and provides all these other opportunites…”3 Does the obvious qualifier need to be added? Okay: no, it doesn’t.

Peniche seemed like a soft edged creature, whose soft edges you were never sure were entirely a pose, or whether it was genuine vulnerability occasionally employed for her own ends. “What’s your favorite song?” she was asked on the Sin City Sessions podcast. “I’m like an Air Supply, Kenny Loggins, Carpenters kind of girl. My favorite song, in the whole wide world has to be Kenny Loggins, “Danny’s Song”, because my dad used to sing it, when I was little…and I also love “Let Me be the One” by The Carpenters…I’m such a nerd when it comes to music.”4 Right after “Bush or brazilian?” (“Oh, brazilian,” said with a kind of obviously dismissiveness, from a time before hair made a comeback) on the same podcast, she was asked, “What turns you on?”: “Someone who makes me laugh…you know what turns me on? Someone who does my errands,” and then she gave a charming laugh. “Yeah, that turns me on.” Which was punctuated with another laugh5.

Peniche was one point in the trio, along with Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart, who appeared in the sex tape which Gawker and the current editor of The New Republic, Gabriel Snyder, had published: “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker”. “Every young woman I know was violated when the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and other successful women were posted on the internet for public consumption against their will,” Reut Amit would write in “That Type of Girl Deserves It”, which was also published on Gawker; the gossip platform Gawker, as well as on Gawker Media’s porn division, Fleshbot, had also published (the following links are all NSFW) “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” (archive today link), “New Super Dirty Olivia Munn Pics: ‘I Want Your Big Dick Right Here'” (archive link today), “Christina Hendricks Says These Giant Naked Boobs Aren’t Hers, But Everything Else Is” (archive today link), “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee’s Heather Morris” (archive today link), “Are These Nude Photos Of Scarlett Johansson The Real Deal? [UPDATED 9/16/11]” (archive today link), “First Cassie, Now Rihanna: It’s Naked R&B Star Week” (archive today link), “Ashley Greene: Naked on the Internet?” (archive today link), and “Double Whammy Celebrity Nudity: Kat Dennings and Jessica Alba Topless!” (archive today link), all of them hacked celebrity nudes. Amit’s essay bluntly equated viewing such stolen pictures with rape: “We are not concerned with what it means to violate a young woman by viewing her unwilling naked body. We see hacking a computer as a crime but viewing the hacked image as a misdemeanor rather as an act of sexual violence.”

“Your bared body can always be used as a weapon against you. You bared body can always be used to shame and humiliate you,” wrote Roxane Gay in “The Great 2014 Celebrity Nude Photos Leak is only the beginning”, published in The Guardian. A follow-up post to Snyder’s “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker” was “More People Know Kari Ann Peniche’s Boobs Than Her Face” by Brian Moylan, might be an example of what Gay was writing about: you are nothing but your decaying body, you dunce. Peniche, wrote Moylan, “walked right up to Chambers (who plays Dr. Alex Karev) at a party in L.A. Problem is, even after all the kerfuffle, he had no clue who she was. Harsh…Damn, we give it a month before she’s somewhere in Hollywood knocking over tables and screaming, “Don’t you know who I am? I was the other girl in the McSteamy tape!”” Gay writes of these on-lookers and debasers as if they are some crowd distant and faraway from The Guardian; well, at the time that her piece was published, Moylan was one of her colleagues at the paper6. “It’s not merely tawdry that the private sexual conversations of partners are now being disseminated like memes,” wrote Zoe Williams in “If you click on Jennifer Lawrence’s naked pictures, you’re perpetuating her abuse”. “It’s an act of sexual violation, and it deserves the same social and legal punishment as meted out to stalkers and other sexual predators.” Williams’ essay was published in The Guardian; she was a colleague of Moylan as well. That John Manese, the man behind the reddit, “The Fappening”, identified as asexual, did not seem to excuse him of complicity in the matter. Does Moylan being a gay man excuse him of complicity here?

I think you can look at this as a violation, though not equal to sexual assault – and Gawker, which had perpetrated this violation many, many times in the past, had better hope like sweet hell it’s not equivalent to sexual assault – but whatever degree of violation you want to assign it, this was just one more violation in the life of Kari Ann Peniche. This was revealed, not by the enlighteneed, noble souls of Gawker, but by a degenerate with a special place in my heart, Howard Stern. A degenerate, as well as a great interviewer. From his episode with Peniche, recorded after the sex tape went public and she was briefly on a rehab program called Sober House7:

HOWARD STERN [HS]: They sit her down in the first episode. They sit Kari down, in the first episode, and they…right away, you come clean, and you say, hey, I was molested…


HS: Raped…

KAP: Mmmmm.

HS: I mean, no wonder you got sex issues.

KAP: (laughs)

ROBIN QUIVERS [RQ]: Well, who, what was happening, how old were we, what was going on?

KAP: My next door neighbour molested me when I was five, six, seven.

HS: How old was he?

KAP: Older. Much older.

HS: Like a teenager?

KAP: No, like fifties.

HS: Like fifty?

RQ: Ewwww.

KAP: Yeah, but he also had a mental, like, thing.

HS: But how does he get alone with you? Where the fuck are your parents in all of this?

KAP: Um, well, my parents they worked, my mom worked a lot. My dad was working or passed out, one or the other. We had a nanny. And I had two other brothers. So, I would just go to the backyard fence, and…

HS: And he would take advantage of you?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: And you didn’t know what was going on, you were a kid.

KAP: No, I looked forward to it. Because he would bring candy…or give me games…

HS: And what was he doing to you at five? I mean, that’s the sickest Goddamn thing ever. Touching your vagina?

KAP: Mmmmhmmm.

HS: No kidding.

KAP: And then he would have me touch his.

HS: Through the fence, no less.

KAP: Mmmhmm. And then, oh my gosh, once he cut his finger, and the nanny had come out right, right when…he had pulled his finger out his finger from the fence, and it was one of those metal fences with wood on the other side. And the nanny went and got him a band-aid, and didn’t realize that my panties were down.

RQ: Wow.

HS: What kind of people were watching you, wolves?

RQ: Blind people.

HS: Nobody cared about you.

RQ: Well, that’s what it would seem, I suppose.

KAP: No, I had great parents. My mom-

HS: No, you didn’t.

KAP: Yeah, I had a good mom.

HS: Really?

KAP: She’s amazing.

RQ: You said your dad might have been passed out, what do you mean?

HS: He’s a drunk.

KAP: Yeah, he was like a musician/drug-addict.

RQ: You didn’t have good parents. I’m gonna-

KAP: My mom was great, though.

HS: Still alive? Both parents?

KAP: Mmmhmm.

HS: Do you ever see your dad? Or do you have nothing to do with him?

KAP: No, I do. I have a relationship with him as I choose to. I go see him. He’s not a bad person, he just made poor choices.

“How long was that going on?” Stern would ask. “For two or three years,” Peniche would answer. Stern: “Two or three years. And you say you looked forward to it, as a kid, because you got candy.” Peniche: “Isn’t that sick, isn’t that weird? But I didn’t know better.” Stern: “The bad part in this whole story is, nobody ever offered me candy for any kind of sexual thing.”8 They would then move on to a decade later9:

HS: And then, terrible stories as you’re growing up. Rape occurred.

KAP: Mmmhmm.

HS: How did this happen to you?

KAP: I was raped when I was fourteen and again when I was seventeen.

HS: How as a fourteen year old? Because you mentioned you were a sexy, hot model, you were going overseas modeling. So, were any parents around, or were you just out of their supervision?

KAP: When I was raped at seventeen it actually happened overseas. And no, there weren’t parents…we would go over…you know, I was the youngest one, like the next youngest girl was nineteen, from Australia. And we would live in a models’ apartment for six to eight weeks.

HS: Right. And what happened when you were fourteen?

KAP: I was raped by college boys. I had snuck out of the house, and…like, I had unscrewed my alarm system, and superglued it together so I could go out the window.

HS: You went to go to a party, have parties with friends? What happens, you go to a party and they all jump on you?

KAP: Nah, I just got drunk. And, you know…put myself in a bad situation, basically.

HS: You were drunk, and they took advantage of you. Wow. How many guys?

KAP: Just one.

HS: Oh, one guy. You never reported him.

KAP: MmmMmm [No].

HS: Why do you think that is? Why not report the fucker?

KAP: Because I think uh…at fourteen I was also getting into trouble. I was getting caught smoking cigarettes, or ditching school, and so, if you try to, you feel if you say something like that time, you’re just coming up with an excuse. Nobody’s going to believe you, you know.

HS: Everybody’s going to think you’re just…

KAP: And then you have to admit that you snuck out.

HS: Right. So did you ever tell anyone, or just kept it to yourself?

KAP: I didn’t tell anybody until I was nineteen.

HS: Did you ever say anything to the guy afterwards, or did you-

KAP: Uh Uh [No].

HS: -you fuck, you raped me.

KAP: MmmMmm [No].

HS: What did you do, you just got up and left?

KAP: I really, I never saw him again. It was a college party I’d gone to.

HS: He passed out after he did it.

KAP: No, he actually dropped me off at my house.

RQ: Wow, that was nice. Nah, I’m only teasing.

HS: Well, it wasn’t all bad, I guess.

KAP: Yeah.

HS: Oh my god. Where does he rape you? At the party?

KAP: Mmmhmm.

HS: And then says, “Get in the car, I’ll take you home”?

KAP: No, I asked him to take me home.

HS: And isn’t that crazy, that you got into the car with him and it could have happened again?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: You weren’t thinking.

KAP: Yeah. I was fourteen and drunk.

HS: Jesus christ. Who knew this was going on when I had you in the tickle chair [a reference to her previous, first appearance on the show, when they had a prop chair which women sat in]?

KAP: But it’s okay. It doesn’t matter, really.

HS: I wouldn’t have tickled you.

KAP: Who cares? It doesn’t matter really.

HS: You keep saying that about the sex. It so matters.

KAP: Well, it doesn’t matter, really. Why would you let some sick fuck, basically, like, affect your future, your forever?

RQ: Don’t you think it has?

KAP: It has, yeah. And that’s what I learned in sex rehab. I used to think, it doesn’t bother me, like, it’s not going to affect me. And actually it did. A lot of ways about my personality, my relationship.

HS: Sure.

HS: When you were seventeen, and modeling, how does a guy get a hold of you like that? You have no parents around…were you at a modeling session when you were raped?

KAP: No, I was actually in Itaewon [district unit in Yongsan District of Seoul], in Korea. Itaewon is like the American area. It’s like, there’s a lot of military guys. It was by a military guy [a military guy raped me]. And again, I was…I don’t drink at all, anymore, so…

HS: No kidding. Stop.

RQ: It wasn’t good for you.

HS: You were drunk. Where did this guy meet you?

KAP: At one of the bars.

HS: And so he says, “Hey, come back to my place”?

KAP: No, all I remember is…I remember very little of it, in a hotel room. And then not being able to fully wake up…and then I woke up behind a dumpster when the sun was coming up, and I was covered like in shitwater and…

RQ: Do you think this was a roofies situation?

KAP: Absolutely.

HS: Somebody slipped you something?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: You don’t even remember being raped?

KAP: I barely remember any of it.

HS: You’re kindof hazy about it. And then you wake up behind the dumpster?

KAP: Mmmhmm.

HS: Wow. Boy, guys are cold.

KAP: Yeah.

HS: Phewww.

KAP: But I was a virgin by choice till eighteen (laughs).

HS: That’s the weird thing, right? Yeah. Tough stuff.

Peniche would go on to win Miss Teen Oregon, then Miss United States Teen, then pose for Playboy while Miss United States Teen, after which, “Playboy came along,” Stern summarized, “and you did Playboy, and then you got booted out of being Miss United States Teen.” Stern: “And then things went downhill…did you get addicted to drugs? What was your whole thing?” Peniche: “Sex and drugs.” Stern: “Sex and drugs. What drugs were you doing? Meth?” Peniche: “All of them.” Robin Quivers: “You didn’t have favorites? You just did them all?” Peniche: “No, I had favorites. I went through phases.”10

Another follow-up post to “Dane’s Anatomy”, this one by Foster Kamer, would hint as to how Peniche paid for her habits: “Who’s Calling McSteamy Trio Participant Kari Ann Peniche A Hooker?” What takes place on the tape is very mundane – the three in various states of undress talk on a bed, and the two women get together in a bath – with only two moments that might concern us here. The first, is right before Peniche gets into the tub with Gayheart, when Dane tells them they’re “two of the fucking hottest girls”, Gayheart then says, “I know, you’re so nice…I was so bummed when you said that, you know…” Peniche: “That what?” Gayheart: “We had to call one of your girls.” Peniche gives her charming laugh. Gayheart: “Remember what I said to you?” Peniche: “Yeah.” Gayheart: “And then you’re like, “We can pay you.”” Peniche: “No.” Gayheart: “I was like, “No, you. You’re normal, you’re funny, you’re smart, you’re nice, you’re fun.” She was like, “No, I don’t do it.”” Gayheart’s line, “We had to call one of your girls,” touched on the point that was the theme of “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has madam past, claim sources”, whose contents were summarized in “Who’s Calling McSteamy Trio Participant Kari Ann Peniche A Hooker?”, and this was the original essence:

Three on-the-record sources tell us the dethroned Miss United States Teen queen freely admitted to once being in the sex-for-hire business.

Country singer Mindy McCready tells us Peniche revealed that she hooked up guys with hookers when the two ladies were roommates on VH-1’s “Celebrity Rehab” show.

“Did she say she’d been a madam?” says McCready. “She sure did.”

Bodyguard Joey Gonzalez recalls, “Kari Ann wanted to hire me to follow a girl who worked for her – who she said was skimming money and stealing clients. I declined. But she bragged about how her girls could make $15,000 a month. She introduced me to one girl who told me she’d just gotten a boob job Kari Ann had paid for.”

Author Mark Ebner says Peniche told him she used to “subcontract” for big-time madam Michelle (Nici) Braun, who pleaded guilty this year to money laundering and prostitution.

“Kari Ann said that, unlike Nici, she’d only take 40% of what a girl brought in,” recalls Ebner, adding that Peniche admitted having turned tricks herself. (Another source says Peniche once joked, “I’ve gone from labor to management.”)

An obvious question would be how exactly this sex tape had ended up at Gawker. We know of one part of the route: journalist Mark Ebner (who gets a shared by-line with Gabriel Snyder on the original piece featuring the video, “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker”) brought the video to Gawker, something openly stated in “Nude video pal”: “Ebner says he was present on July 30 at an L.A. Starbucks when an unnamed informant gave LAPD vice cops the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche tape. “The police said they already had Kari Ann under surveillance,” says Ebner, who admits bestowing the tape on, which first invited us to the frolic.”

Kari Ann Peniche would be allowed to give her most in-depth explanation of how the tape ended up with this unnamed informant on, where else, Howard Stern11. It was an intricate tale that involved Mindy McCready, a country singer who had long term addiction issues and was on Celebrity Rehab alongside Peniche:

HS: I’ll get into the whole night. According to what I’m reading…the claim is, you lived with a girl, she was your roommate for a couple of years. Somebody got into your personal computer-

KAP: Oh, Mindy McCready from Celebrity Rehab?

HS: From Celebrity Rehab?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: You lived with Mindy?

KAP: No, I never lived with her. After Celebrity Rehab, she had called me, and said, “I don’t want to be alone in my hotel.” And I said, come on over to my house, like, she’d invite me over to her house. Or her hotel. I was like, “I have six bedroom house. I’ll take you to the airport in two days.” She was supposed to stay for two days, because that’s when her flight was. Well, she ended up staying three weeks. Like, taking over my bedroom…like, I slept in the bunkbeds of my own house. Like, in my guest room. I was like, she’s taking over my room. And at first it was fun, like we cooked, we were going to go to Nashville, be country singers together, and then all of a sudden when I got the offer for Sober House, and she didn’t, she got really, really nasty with me. We were driving home from dinner one night, and she grabbed the steering wheel while I was driving, screaming at me, telling me how my career’s a joke, and Dr. Drew has asked her to help me. And I was like, what are you talking about?

KAP [continued]: And anyhow, when I left for Sober House, I said, “Mindy, when I leave, I need you to leave as well, because I’m having a housesitter here, and I want to blame her if anything happens in the house, you know.” Because I have a dog there, too. And she goes, “I’m not going anywhere.” And so then, I got to set, and asked the other producers and Drew to get her out of the house, and they were like, “Just call the cops.” So, I called the cops, but then when the cops were calling me, I’m at Sober House, I’m not even at my house, and Dr. Drew wouldn’t let me answer my phone. And I’m like, “It’s them.” And they’re like, “We’re filming right now.” So, anyhow, Mindy had told the police that, I guess, she was on the lease. So, they left. And, you know.

HS: Couldn’t get her out of your house. Now, you blame her, for taking out of your computer, the video…

KAP: She stole my external hard drives.

HS: Alright. So, in other words, this video, which I want to ask you about…with you, Rebecca Gayheart, and the other one…

RQ: Eric Dane.

HS: Eric Dane. That video was living in your computer. You think she took it out of there, released it on the internet…

KAP: Oh, I already know. I have the text messages from her, and everything. She was extorting me, basically. She wanted a certain amount of money from me, if I wanted my hard drives back.

HS: Now, everybody in the video thought you were a prostitute, working for Rebecca and Eric, right?

KAP: Right.

HS: Because at one point, they see him on the phone with his credit card?

KAP: No, that was me on the phone with my credit card.

HS: Right. And checking his credit card.

KAP: No, (laughs) if you actually watch the video – I’ve only watched it twice – but, you know, I had an assistant who used to videotape me doing everything, and I was actually buying a plane ticket to go to Hawaii. You see the suitcases on the edge of my bed too. And it was a completely different day, you could totally see it. And I was reading it to the airline people.

RQ: So they matched up those two pieces of video?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: So, in other words, you’re saying, you’re not a prostitute…

KAP: No (laughs).

HS: …you’ve never been a prostitute…

KAP: No.

HS: You weren’t charging people for sex?

KAP: No.

HS: And so, when you were with Eric and Rebecca, it was a friendly thing.

KAP: Yeah. We were at a party, and, like, we just wanted to continue the party. And then we came back to my condo.

HS: You’ve only watched it two times?

KAP: Yeah.

HS: I’ve watched it four thousand times.

The relevant details of Peniche’s version are that McCready had gotten the sex tape when she’d stolen Peniche’s hard drives, she had never charged anyone for sex, and she hadn’t charged anyone that night. There is one point she makes here, that is not under dispute, and it’s the second point of interest of this sex tape: the video consists entirely of footage with Peniche, Dane, and Gayheart, when abruptly we shift to an entirely different moment. Where the footage with Dane and Gayheart in the bed has candles lit on a side table, this brief scene features no candles or inside lights on, which suggests it’s taking place during the day. Peniche is lying on the bed, topless, reading someone’s credit card numbers into the phone while somone films her, and an open suitcase is on the bed. Dane and Gayheart are neither seen nor heard here, again suggesting that this is shot at an entirely different time. The footage seems to serve no purpose at all – Peniche is topless in the other parts of the video as well – except to serve as possible proof that Peniche is paid for her services.

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In the bedroom.

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Gawker sex tape table night and day split screen - URL if gif doesn't load:

A split screen of the isolated fragments with the bedside table, one section showing a lit candle during the night when Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart were there, and another without light from the table, during the day when Kara Ann Peniche was reading someone’s credit card information over the phone.

Later in the Stern interview, McCready’s version of events would be brought up12:

HS: Now, the girl who…Mindy McCready…the one who you feel went in and got your hard drive. And released it, so you’re accusing her of that. She says about you, listen to this, this is what she says about you. “Kari Ann is the one that stole my hard drive, and copied it to two mini drives. She also stole money from me. I think she probably wanted to sell my music. I was the one trying to keep Kari Ann out of trouble, steering her away from drugs during the taping of the show.”

KAP: (laughs)

HS: But you’re saying, she was the-

KAP: We came home and did drugs the second we walked in the door, from her hotel. She was like, “I have to lose this weight. Give me those drugs that we were on celebrity rehab for.” I relapsed with, because of her. Not because of her, but she definitely influenced me, and, from after rehab…and then, um…why would I…she was in my house! How would I steal money from her? She’s a guest in my home.

RQ: How does anybody know how to get these download to mini drives…

KAP: No, they were just external hard drives sitting on my desk. You know, when I left for Sober House, I didn’t think someone was going to steal them off my desk, you know, in my house.

McCready and Peniche in happier times

McCready and Peniche goofing around in happier times; image taken from “Kari Ann Peniche Part 2: ‘I Know’ Mindy Released The McSteamy Nude Tape”.

Lee Ann Peniche, Kari’s mother, would back the version of events where McCready was staying at Peniche’s house and had to be forced out, in “EXCLUSIVE: Mindy McCready Wouldn’t Leave My Daughter’s House Says Kari Ann’s Mom”:

“Kari opened up doors and welcomed her when she had no place to stay and that’s a typical Kari Ann,” Lee Ann said. “The only thing I knew about Mindy McCready was that there was a problem and that she’s had to have her removed from her house.”

Lee Ann also revealed that McCready did not pay rent and “was only supposed to stay a few days but weeks went by and [Kari Ann] couldn’t get [McCready] out of her house.” Visiting her daughter last week, Lee Ann was already well aware of some tension: “I knew something was up when I was down there. As much as I knew she had some problems, not this, but problems with Mindy McCready, getting her out of her house.”

Over the course of two Access Hollywood segments, Mindy McCready would give her own perspective of what took place, one crosscut with a Kari Ann Peniche interview that provided her narrative. The first segment, “Kari Ann Peniche Part 1: ‘I’ve Never Been A Prostitute,’ Mindy McCready Is ‘Insane'”:

SHAUN ROBINSON, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD HOST[SR]: Did she tell you that she was a madam?


SR: She did?

MM: Absolutely.

SR: Did she tell you that she was a prostitute?

MM: Yes she did.

SR: Did she tell you that there were celebrities that she employed to work for her?

MM: Yes she did.

SR: Are you now, or have you ever been, a madam?

KARI ANN PENICHE [KAP]: I’ve never been a madam. I’ve never been a prostitute. Mindy is the craziest person I’ve ever met in my life, like, she’s insane.

SR (Voiceover): From the mouth of Kari Ann herself, the twenty five year old made infamous after appearing as a third player in the naked Rebecca Gayheart-Eric Dane video, maintains that the married couple were not her clients in a prostitution ring, as Mindy McCready alleged to me.

SR: Who did she say were her celebrity clients?

MM: She talked about Eric Dane. And his wife Rebecca. So um-

SR: She said both Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart were clients of hers?

MM: Absolutely.

KAP: It’s almost funny…I don’t know where she gets this shit.

SR: So, she, Mindy McCready is lying?

KAP: Flat out lying. Okay, flat out lying. She stole my hard drive.

SR: You think Mindy actually put it on the internet?

McCready and Peniche confrontation

Image taken from “Kari Ann Peniche Part 1: ‘I’ve Never Been A Prostitute,’ Mindy McCready Is ‘Insane'”.

This hanging question would receive an answer in the second segment, “Kari Ann Peniche Part 2: ‘I Know’ Mindy Released The McSteamy Nude Tape”:

KAP: I know Mindy, for a fact, is the reason that’s out on the internet.

SR (Voiceover): Keri Ann alleges Mindy McCready stole the video from her computer and brokered a deal for it to be released. According to Keri Ann, the theft occurred inside her home, where Mindy was a guest after VH-1’s Celebrity Rehab, Mindy denies the allegations but still claims that Keri Ann told her she was a prostitute.

SR: To say somebody a prostitute is libelous.

KAP: Yeah.

SR: If you say that about somebody, you’re in jeopardy of being sued.

KAP: Yes.

SR: But nobody’s suing Mindy for saying these things, these libelous, horrible things. Why? Why is that not happening?

KAP: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know.

SR: But that’s one way to shut her up.

KAP: I might look into that. I’m just, uh, not really into that. What am I going to save?

SR: Your reputation?

KAP: Yeah okay, how does that fix my reputation?

SR: Because if she’s proven to be a liar, doesn’t that vindicate you?

KAP: Yeah, I guess…I just think the truth is the truth, karma is good enough. You know, if it continues, maybe I’ll have to do something about that.

Kari Ann Peniche on Access Hollywood

Image taken from “Kari Ann Peniche Part 1: ‘I’ve Never Been A Prostitute,’ Mindy McCready Is ‘Insane'”.

In a third Access Hollywood segment, “Did Mindy McCready Poison Kari Ann Peniche’s Puppy With Crystal Meth?”, Peniche would accuse McCready of poisoning her dog with crystal meth, allegations which McCready would deny: “That’s insanity. That could not be further from the truth. I’ve never used crystal meth in my life. This is just another out and out lie.”13 McCready would in turn allege that Peniche had poisoned her dog herself in order to gain sympathy from the producers of Celebrity Rehab, a program from which she would eventually be kicked off due to misbehavior. Stacy Kaiser, a body language expert amd author of How to be a Grown-Up: Ten Secret Skills Everyone Should Know, would be brought in at the end of the third segment to analyze the two women:

What I’m seeing over and over in this interview [Kari Ann’s] is that this is a person who is protecting herself. Her body language is tight, her shoulders are slightly raised, she’s nervous, she’s licking her lips. This is someone who’s uncomfortable with the conversation, and could be avoiding the truth. One of the things I notice when Mindy speaks, in contrast to Keri Ann, is that Mindy is calm and cool and relaxed. And that is very common in a person who is relaxed. You don’t have anything to be nervous about. In addition, I’ve noticed, under some of the more uncomfortable questioning, Mindy is getting reserved, as if she is uncomfortable to share that information, as if she’s revealing too much about someone.

In an interview conducted by Gayle Thompson a year after these tumultuous events, “Mindy McCready ‘Still Here’ After Weathering Scandalous Storms”, McCready would reiterate her version of events:

Your ‘Celebrity Rehab’ roommate, Kari Ann Peniche, blamed you for leaking her provocative homemade video with Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart. What’s your response to that accusation?

She is an extremely disturbed and very sick individual. The thing that she craves the most — to be famous, is also the worst thing for her, because she is such a sick person. I do want people to understand what happened in that situation is not at all the story that she’s told, and everything that comes out of her mouth is complete and utter bull. I did nothing to her but try to help her, and all she did was steal from me and lie and try to use every situation she possibly could to be more famous and get more attention … I hope that she does get help, and I hope that she does get better.

Do you want to tell us your side of the story?

Kari Ann had copied my computer on her hard drive. She stole all my information. Not only did she steal every bit of my new record coming out, my phone, my bank account information … she also stole thousands of dollars from me. When I took those hard drives, I took them because my stuff was all over them. Never in a million years was I going to leave my entire life from my computer and everything personal to me at her house on those hard drives. I didn’t even know what else was on there.

I went back to Florida and got a phone call a few days later from Eric Dane saying, “I understand you have a video that belongs to me,” and I said, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” I didn’t know it was on there. He said, “How can we work this situation out?” I said, “I have no problem giving you whatever you want. You can have the hard drives back. I just want to get my information erased off of them.”

Of course, you can never really erase anything. So I sent my computer person the hard drive and went to Eric Dane’s lawyer’s office. What they did was take the information that belonged to Eric and put it on his hard drive. They took Kari Ann’s information on a separate hard drive. Those two hard drives that had information of mine were destroyed. We all signed the confidentiality agreement that said none of us would talk about what was on there, none of us had any other copies of it. Except, the day that Kari Ann was supposed to sign the agreement, she didn’t show up. And the next day the video was on And to this day, she still has not signed the confidentiality agreement. Eric Dane and I both know very much beyond any shadow of a doubt that I didn’t have anything to do with that.

If I were to try to dissect the truth of both narratives, my opinion would be that both women were lying, but about different things. Whether or not Kari Ann Peniche was working the night recorded in the tape with Dane and Gayheart, she had worked as an escort and she did work as a madam, and this forms what is the most fascinating part of the story. For proof that Peniche worked as an escort and madam, we have the various confirming statements in the Rush & Malloy piece, as well as Gayheart’s quotes on the tape. But it was McCready who took the drive with the tape on it, and she was instrumental in getting it to the police. McCready’s account in the Thompson interview makes no sense to me: she apparently was at Peniche’s house, had access to drives on which Peniche had copied her personal information, and her course of action was to take these drives out of the house. She did not call a technical person to the house to erase the drives there, nor did she check Peniche’s own laptop or take that – even though copies of the same personal information might have been stored there as well.

The statement quoted by Howard Stern offers a further entanglement: “Kari Ann is the one that stole my hard drive, and copied it to two mini drives.” Peniche stole McCready’s hard drive, presumably while she was staying at Peniche’s house, copied the valuable material to two mini drives while Peniche was still staying at her house, after which Peniche left for Sober House, and while alone in the house, McCready discoverd the data theft, after whcih she left the house and took the mini drives with her. I go with what seems like a far simpler explanation than this, that McCready was kicked out of Peniche’s house, McCready took Peniche’s mini-drives with the sex tape, and made sure they got passed to law enforcement. Everything that Peniche says about her friendship with McCready in the Howard Stern interview rings true for me; I do not doubt that they became quite close and Peniche told McCready about her secret life, about working as an escort. McCready leaked the sex tape not just to humiliate Peniche with footage of her naked, but over the secret that she was a prostitute. This is why you have the abrupt scene of Peniche topless on her bed reading someone’s credit card numbers into the phone, to establish clearly to the outside world what Peniche’s line of work is. Peniche’s explanation for this moment on the Stern show, “I had an assistant who used to videotape me doing everything, and I was actually buying a plane ticket to go to Hawaii. You see the suitcases on the edge of my bed too. And it was a completely different day, you could totally see it,” rings slightly false to me. You see the suitcases, yes, and yes, it looks like a completely different day, but it doesn’t feel like the camera holder is a personal assistant, but a man she is comfortable and physically intimate with, someone who she has no problem filming her topless on her bed.

McCready would begin her career with an extraordinary burst of success, her debut album Ten Thousand Angels selling two million copies, and “Guys Do It All the Time” a #1 Country single. This first album was the peak of her career, with her second record selling half as much, and her third a commercial failure. In 2005, her ex-boyfriend, another country singer, would be charged with trying to choke her to death. “With her eyes still showing injury, McCready testified in horrifying detail the beatings she says she received Sunday morning at the hands of this man, 38-year-old William Patrick McKnight,” was the clip that played on her interview with Larry King (“Interview With Mindy McCready”). “So you tried to commit suicide by doing what?” was one question (anwer: “I took a bunch of pills and drank a bottle of wine and went to sleep.”) Other questions: “And when did you attempt the second suicide?” and “You were how long pregnant then?” (answer #1: beginning of September, answer #2: a month and a half). Larry King: “Do you ever look in the mirror and say “I’m a train wreck”?” Mindy McCready: “Yes, yes I do, yes, all the time. I have got to be more careful about everything I do.” McCready would get arrested for an illegal OxyContin prescription in 2004, a DUI in 2005, and by 2007, the headline was “Mindy Mccready arrested again” [archive link]: “She was arrested last week in Fort Myers when she scratched up her mom’s face and then resisted [arrest], leading to three violations: being charged with a new offense, not reporting those charges to her officer and assaulting someone.” She would admit to an affair with baseball player Roger Clemens that started when she was fifteen14, and it was after all this that she met Kari Ann Peniche and they were on Celebrity Rehab together. She would go on to overdose again in 2010, the same year in which her own sex tape, one called Baseball Mistress which capitalized on her affair with Clemens, would be released by Vivid Entertainment. The next year she would abduct her son with Billy McKnight, after which both McCready and her child were declared missing persons and a nationwide search was launched, the two eventually found hiding in a closet. Two years later, her record producer boyfriend, David Wilson, would kill himself with a gunshot to the head. A month later, February 17, McCready killed herself with a gunshot to the head as well15.

Those who believe that this post considers Kari Ann Peniche more truthful than Mindy McCready on some details out of arbitrary bias should consider some of McCready’s accounts of well-publicized incidents which appear to be very much at variance with actual established facts. There is, for instance, her charge of prescription drug fraud, for which she pleaded guilty16, and which she explained on Larry King Live this way:

KING: So you were addicted to prescription drugs?

MCCREADY: No, I was not buying that medication for myself. That’s why it’s prescription fraud. I was buying it for my doctor.

KING: Explain that.

MCCREADY: The doctor that wrote me the prescription I was buying the medication for my doctor and had been for several years. I mean I didn’t always buy him a pain…

KING: This was the doctor who gave various patients prescriptions for them so that he…

MCCREADY: Yes, he saw my band. He saw my parents. He saw my family, you know, Josh and T.J. my brothers on a regular basis and he would call me and say, you know, “Can you get me some cough medicine? Can I write you the prescription and you go get it for me” and I would.

KING: What happened to him?

MCCREADY: I don’t know. I don’t think anything. I think he lost his…

KING: He’s never been charged?

MCCREADY: No, I think he lost his license.

KING: When you were arrested did you tell them that you were filing this for a doctor?

MCCREADY: Absolutely, yes. I told them the whole thing. It never came out[,] unfortunately for me.

In 2005, McCready would be charged with identity theft and hindering prosecution because of her involvement with a con artist named Jonathan Roda. Supposedly, Roda would openly brag about his con schemes to McCready. Shortly after these charges, McCready would make one of her suicide attempts17. She would give this version of events on Larry King Live:

KING: And you were also this year charged in Arizona with identity theft, unlawful use of transportation and hindering prosecution, what was that?

MCCREADY: Those were all false charges. I never did any of that. I was never involved in any of that. I met a con artist earlier this year and this con artist was gallivanting all around the country pretending to be someone else and I met up with him and traveled with him for over a week.

I was going to Los Angeles and he was — he had a tour bus. He misrepresented himself that he was a record label owner and just unbelievable con artist. The guy spoke five languages. He was amazing.

KING: Where is he now?

MCCREADY: I hope in jail.

After McCready kidnapped her son and both went missing for two days, authorities would report to the press that they found both hiding in a closet at home she shared with her then boyfriend, David Wilson. From “Mindy McCready’s son found in Arkansas”:

Country music singer Mindy McCready was hiding in the closet with her son when authorities took the 5-year-old boy into custody in Arkansas, officials said early Saturday.

Authorities found Zander McCready and his mother in a home in Heber Springs, Arkansas, according to David Rahbany, the chief deputy U.S. Marshal in eastern Arkansas.

“The child appeared to be in good condition when we found him … he was in the closet with his mother,” Rahbany said.

Local sheriffs and marshals had placed the home — believed to belong to the singer’s boyfriend — under surveillance for hours before they found the boy late Friday, he said.

McCready would deny this basic fact, that she was found hiding in a closet in an interview for ABC’s “20/20” (on Youtube, “Mindy McCready Tells Her Story”, excerpt runs from 2:36 to 2:56):

ANDREA CANNING (V.O.): The U.S. marshals tell 20/20 McCready was hiding in a closet with Zander [her son] in a neighboring house. McCready tells a different story.

CANNING: Were you hiding out in a closet, like everyone has said?


CANNING: Where were you?

MCCREADY: We were sitting on a couch.

CANNING: Where did this come from that you were hiding in the closet?

MCCREADY: I think that…it just makes a better story.

In the days before her last suicide attempt, McCready would tell a close friend, “[The] point of me living is waiting to die so I can be with him,” a reference to David Wilson, the boyfriend who killed himself just two months earlier. A part of this audio of a phone call to a close friend was handed over by this close friend to Radar Online. This friend was Danno Hanks18, and Danno Hanks was a private detective. Hanks, along with his late partner Fred “Mad Dog” Valis, were two fascinating characters who somehow remained on the fringes of the press, while far more banal types took up space. They had worked decades doing paid undercover and surveillance work, for mundane workers compensation cases where they’d check in to see if an employee was actually sick or injured, as well as paid work for the DEA and tabloids. Their long career was written up in “Watching the Detectives” by Paul Cullum [archive link: ], and their involvement in the bust of Ron Sacco, who ran a billion dollar a year off-shore gambling operation, got them a prominent appearance on 60 Minutes, which can be found on Youtube under “Fred Valis & Danno Hanks On 60 Minutes”. Hanks had also been involved with the federal investigation of another prostitution ring, that of bygone Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. Hanks had been paid by Fleiss’s competition, pimp Ivan Nagy, to tape her phone calls in order to acquire her client list. Hanks would play the tapes for the producer of Hard Copy who had him on retainer, as well as Shawn Hubler, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times; the phone calls were especially noteworthy for the top name Hollywood people among the clients. “That whole story was filled with this whole Hollywood demimonde that trades in gossip, intrigue and information gathering,” said Hubler. “This league of rogues They were just two in a cast of hundreds of people who lived in that gray area.” Hanks would end up selling the tapes to Fleiss, and after her bodyguard threatened him, he would hand them over to the FBI as well19.

There was another profile of Hanks and Valis, also headlined “Watching the Detectives”, and this one was by Mark Ebner, an excellent old school shoe leather reporter, and the man who provided the Rebecca Gayheart sex tape to Gawker. The piece would discuss how the detectives helped Ebner out in dealing with a stalker. It would also go into deeper, grittier detail than Callum’s “Detectives” when exploring the careers of Hanks and Valis; how Hanks scaled a telephone poll to install the recorder that would tape Fleiss’s phone calls and how they got booked to record a sex tape with O.J. Simpson. In the account given here of the Fleiss tapes, however, they never hand them over to the FBI, only to Ebner and his then writing partner, Andrew Breitbart:

When the Feds turned Hanks’ apartment upside down on a mistaken identity drug-search, comically, they missed the Heidi tapes. They were sitting in full view on his bookshelf the whole time – secreted in the video box from the 1937 Shirley Temple classic, Heidi. And, in August 2003 – right when the statute of limitations had expired on his wiretap crime – Danno turned the tapes and transcripts over to me and my partner Andrew Breitbart, for inclusion in our tell-all best-seller, Hollywood, Interrupted. Verbatim, we published a sampling of septuagenarian sybarite Evans [producer and former Paramount head Robert Evans] arranging liaisons with an underage girl he affectionately called “the little one.” Heidi was not happy.

The book by Breitbart and Ebner which dealt with Heidi Fleiss, alongside many other episodes of Hollywood tawdriness, was Hollywood Interrupted. This blog had previously written on this book in a profile of its co-author, Andrew Breitbart, and it had many nasty things to say about the book, Breitbart, and maybe Ebner as well20. A few relevant excerpts from Interrupted featuring Fleiss’s recordings, of Fleiss and mogul Robert Evans:

In August 2003, private eye Dan Hanks of Backstreet Detectives [the detective agency of Hanks and Valis] gave us the transcripts and tapes. And he did it for free. Though burglars and police turned Hanks’ home upside down in their futile attempts to find the tapes, Hollywood, Interrupted got hold of them the old-fashioned way. We asked for them. The tapes, recorded over the soundtrack portion of two videotapes, had been sitting on Hanks’ living room bookshelf with his movie collection all along. In full view, the video box containing the tapes was from the 1937 Shirley Temple classic, Heidi…

Evans: “What did that little girl think of me? Did she like me?”
Heidi: “How could she not like you?”
Evans: “No, no. I’m curious.”

Heidi: “The first thousand dollars she made I think is the first thousand dollars she’s ever seen in her life.”
Evans: “I knew it. And she’s a good girl basically. I don’t think she could—I can be so wrong and naive, but I don’t [think] she wants to be a full-time hooker.”

Evans: “Here’s a 17-year-old vagrant who’s a fairly attractive girl, who could be very attractive . . . because she has presence and she’s not afraid. And she’s attractive in an interesting way, and she’s sort of sensual too, by the way. That’s a good combination. But she has to be able to open her mouth.”

On an episode of Crime Time, hosted by another solid journalist, Allison Hope Weiner, Ebner would bring up the fact that he worked as a private investigator under another detective’s license (presumably that of Hanks), that he sometimes worked for the Backstreet Investigations agency in collaboration with Hanks, and the modus operandi of detectives – all part of a discussion of another fascinating case, that of the shooting of Kameron Segal (which would be talked about more fully in another episode of Crime Time, “Ponzi Scheme Ensnared Hollywood Shooting Victim Kameron Segal”). From the Crime Time episode “Scientology Secrets, Bill Cosby Rape Conspiracy + Hollywood Murder” 21:

As you may or may not know, during my downtime, as a result of writing crime stories, I got myself godfathered into private investigative work. And I work under a guy’s license, Backstreet Investigations, my buddy Danno Hanks, and I found a little side industry to do during my downtime in-between writing projects. Well. I was introduced to Kameron Segal about two years ago. And I became his in-house P.I.

Two days later, I was sitting with my wife having dinner, I get a call from Danno. “Hey,” [Danno says] “weren’t we at this office, about two days ago, collecting money?” I was like, “What office?” And he said, “Sunset and Gardner. The guy in the rolls royce. Helicopters.” I said, “Danno, come pick me up.” He came, picked me up, we went to the crime scene. Now, in respect to Danno’s P.I. license, anytime we’re aware of a crime, it’s like being a journalist. It’s a license to be a rat. In other words, we took our files, on the guys that owed him money, gave them right to the cops. Said, detectives: this is where this is coming from.

One might focus first on what Ebner says here: “Now, in respect to Danno’s P.I. license,” Mark Ebner says in reference to the separate case of Kameron Segal, “anytime we’re aware of a crime, it’s like being a journalist. It’s a license to be a rat.” After which, Ebner and Hanks then gathered the documents they had, and handed them over to the police. Now I return again to “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has alleged madam past”, and this sentence with my bolds: “Ebner says he was present on July 30 at an L.A. Starbucks when an unnamed informant gave LAPD vice cops the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche tape.” Fred Valis, as Ebner’s “Watching the Detectives” tells us, died in 2005. Who could this unnamed informant be? Someone who perhaps knew both Mindy McCready and Mark Ebner, who had done past work in breaking a prostitution ring, who worked several sides at once, and had in the past leaked taped evidence to tabloids? My guess, plausible, I think, given all that has just been shared with you, is: Danno Hanks.

All this, however, was far less interesting than what Kari Ann Peniche may have been part of. “Author Mark Ebner says Peniche told him she used to “subcontract” for big-time madam Michelle (Nici) Braun,” wrote Rush & Malloy in “Nude video pal of Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has madam past, claim sources”, “who pleaded guilty this year to money laundering and prostitution.” A post made after #TheFappening by a Gawker commenter aliased “Magister”, “Recapping McSteamy v. Gawker from 2009”, was Gawker Media’s sole look back on the Dane-Gayheart-Peniche sex tape episode, one which would give none of Peniche’s perspective and only McCready’s voice, with the overriding implication that Peniche leaked the tape for publicity. Mark Ebner would comment there: “[B]elieve me, that video would never have been proffered to Gawker without me being sure that it had been bagged and tagged as evidence in an investigation by the LAPD vice squad.”22 This investigation, no doubt, was not just one looking into Peniche’s sex work activities, but that of the woman she used to work for, Michelle Braun. Who was Braun? Well, in “Charlie Sheen’s War” by Mark Seal, about the actor and well-known client of Heidi Fleiss’s services, this is her introduction: “I called Michelle Braun, the former Hollywood madam who became Fleiss’s chief successor on the strength of landing Sheen as her first client. She said Sheen had contacted her three months after Fleiss’s sentencing, in 1997.” “I show up with three girls,” is Braun’s opening line, “and he’s in this amazing condo…laid out on the floor in silk pajamas embroidered C. MA SHEEN on the pocket with some girl sitting on his face.” For a solid decade after, Braun ran a legendary escort service, before it was finally taken down by the FBI in 2007. Rush & Malloy’s “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies up to federal agents” would tell their readers about one person who’d been very helpful to the Bureau in their investigation of Braun’s escort ring, a name unsurprising to anyone who’s read this post so far: “Investigators obtained evidence from private investigator Dan Hanks, who got to know Braun while working for “Fox Undercover.” “Michelle would ask me to do background checks on potential clients and girls, which I did in order to find out more about her,” Hanks tells us.”

Braun’s escort ring was, as said, legendary, eclipsing that of her infamous predecessor. Mark Ebner, in “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies”, would say, “The things she knows make Heidi Fleiss look like Mary Poppins.” Braun was “planning to write a tell-all about her 11-year career hooking up centerfolds and porn stars with the men who could afford the $10,000 minimum for a date,” threatened Page Six23, but that book was never published, if it was even ever written. Whatever secrets Braun held appeared to be radioactive; no one touched the story of Michelle Braun. Even TMZ, the famously sleazy and well conntected gossip site which had the financial backing of colossus Time Warner24, only ponied up one Michelle Braun related story, “Madam: Two Alleged Tiger Mistresses Are Escorts”. “According to multiple sources, the only coverage TMZ steered clear of was anyone, like Ellen DeGeneres, involved in Telepictures productions,” reported the definitive history of the site, Anne Helen Petersen’s “The Down And Dirty History Of TMZ”, “other Time Warner properties were, however, fair game.” Whether the executives and properties of Time Warner fell within or without the bounds of fair game territory is an unanswered question, and along with all other questions related to Braun, one which the Hollywood and entertainment press had no interest in.

In the series “E! Hollywood Secret Societies”, focusing on the hidden prvileged worlds of the holy niche of Tinseltown famous, one episode was devoted to the subject of secret clubs accessible only to the elect, detailed with a few choice memorable and picturesque images, which conveyed well the idea of a hidden decadent world just out of plain sight25:

The Sayers Club, you actually go through a, what used to be a hot dog stand, it’s an indiscriminate front entrance, no signs, and you’re either in, or you’re out. There’s no line. There is a club in Hollywood Boulevard, where they open three different doors, and only one door actually opens, once you get inside, the girl on the bed asks you a question, and if you answer it right, a hydraulic system pulls pulls the bed away, with the girl on it, and it reveals a stairs that takes you down into the bar. So elitist, you don’t even do a red rope. You don’t even know where it is.

Michelle Braun and her ring, for a few years, were very much part of that hidden decadent world. One of the few to pierce its veil was the very good reporter Vanessa Grigoriadis, who profiled Braun in “The Sex Queen of L.A.”, which revealed why Braun’s prostitute ring was such an astonishing thing. Her stable of girls didn’t resemble, or were carved into resembling, fashion models, Playboy cover girls, actresses, and other coveted women – they were top models, centerfolds, actresses…the coveted women themselves. Playboy had its tentacles in beauty pageants throughout the country, according to Miss USA 2004, Shandi Finnessey, and Michelle Braun had her tentacles in Playboy, according to Braun. “I only worked with famous girls, mostly Playmates,” said the former madam. “At one time, seven of the eight girls living in the Mansion were working for me. I had one of [Hugh Hefner’s] girlfriends in the Mansion just to recruit for me.”26

Michelle “Nici” Braun grew up middle class in Bakersfield, California, the daughter of parents who owned a Baskin-Robbins franchise, but Braun had no plans to hang out in her small town for long. “I wasn’t going to stay in Bakersfield,” she made clear. “No way.” She was a popular, confident girl who knew how to build a computer on her own but also won hundreds of dollars in a wet t-shirt contest. Her way out of Bakersfield didn’t come through San Diego State University, where she dropped out, but through her work at the Century Club, where she’d pick out the pretty girls at the velvet rope, and seat them with the big spenders inside. “We’re really busy tonight,” she’d tell the couples trying to make it inside, “I don’t know if we have room for all of you, but the girls can come in.” After one man inside tipped her over eight thousand dollars to be set up with one of Braun’s girlfriends, she figured out quickly how you could make a lot of money quickly in Los Angeles27.

Her ring would end up consisting of over seventy girls, including at various times, 1999 Playboy Playmate Tishara Cousino, WWE wrestler Ashley Massaro, 2002 Playmate Tina Jordan, porn star Krystal Steal, 2003 Penthouse Pet Lanny Barby, porn star McKenzie Lee, Playboy model Patricia Ford, Maxim model Jody Palmer, porn star Angelique, porn star Taryn Thomas, porn star Victoria Paris, porn star Naomi, and Playmates Christi Shake, Alexandra Karlsen, and Victoria Silverstedt28. Anna David, another solid journalist, and the only one along with Mark Ebner and Vanessa Grigoriadis to really investigate this milieu, would provide the following revelation of another of Braun’s escorts in “My Time With Less-Than-Hip Hookers”, where she discusses the laptop contents of an unnamed associate (though those with some familiarity with the surrounding characters will figure it out easily) of a “well-established madam who’s since been busted” AKA Braun, I bold the relevant part:

Another bit of data that sent me reeling came about because I ended up getting a hold of a disc that contained the contents of a laptop which belonged to a pimp who’s now serving time in a Cuban jail. This disc contained many juicy elements, including IM conversations between the incarcerated guy and a well-established madam who’s since been busted and lists of clients and girl. While I expected to see Charlie Sheen and his ilk on there, instead I was privy to names I was unfamiliar with but which were all highly Google-able: the biggest car dealer in a Midwestern city, for example, and successful attorneys and bankers from across the country. Still, the most interesting piece of information was a list of his girls — for smack in the middle of the porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playmates was the name of an actress who still works regularly and whose romantic travails are considered relevant enough to be covered in the tabloids. [for context, this piece was published in 2010] If she was willing to delve into such side work, I could only imagine how much the Cuban jail dwelling guy had been able to get [for] her.

That this was a world without clean borders, that it was not the muck in the pool of a shabby hotel, but flowed in the currents of the tippity top of the wealthy and famous is there in another anecdote from David’s “Less-Than-Hip Hookers”:

A guy who called himself a photographer but had served time for pandering (and was well-known in the community for supplying Hollywood’s highest rollers with women) [again, for context, this piece was published in 2010] invited me over to see the many portraits he had taken of one of the world’s most beautiful women, a multi-Academy Award nominated actress, when she was just starting out.

“Okay,” I said. “But what does this prove? And how do I even know you took them?”

He shrugged. Then I noticed, among his photos, an old issue of a now-defunct women’s magazine, this beauty on its cover. I turned the page and saw that he had the photo credit.

“How did this come about?” I asked, knowing that I knew there was no way he’d ever been established enough to have been handed such a high-profile assignment. “Did she request you for the shoot in exchange for you keeping quiet about her previous career? Was it a pre-condition for her appearing in the magazine?” He only shrugged again and I finally understood that the shrug wasn’t a proclamation that he was telling the truth but an indication that he would let the photos do the talking.

“Sex Queen” would make the allegation that “Nici even claims she once spoke with a teenage Paris Hilton, who offered to meet any client who paid $10,000 a night.” Hilton would call this charge “completely false and totally absurd.” An enforcer who collected debts for various madams would describe the essence of what was sought after in Anna David’s “The State Of Hookers in Hollywood”: the escorts are “right out of high school, with plastic surgery on whatever body parts aren’t already perfect.” How many famous women were part of this industry, and whether Hilton was one of them was an open mystery, but it was without question that this was a playground in which many of the topmost sheiks of the industry played. “State Of Hookers” mentioned a roving “strip club and brothel that requires a constantly changing password for entry and is attended by big players such as a top action-movie director and his producer.” Sometimes it was at someone’s house in the Hollywood Hills, sometimes it was in a Valley restaurant closed for the night, but it always featured women who could be paid to play. “You can get lap dances, blow jobs, or whatever,” said one participant. “It’s an unspoken law-no one will say anything about what goes on there.” And the escorts would be open to things to which a regular, open-minded girlfriend might not. “These girls will get with each other, stuff things up their asses, or put a dog collar on the guy and drag him around his house,” said one pimp. One player invited a group of men over to a party, then went missing for hours. “Finally we found him in the corner of his front yard, naked, on all fours, with a collar around his neck and a hooker standing over him, lifting her leg and peeing on him,” said one guest.

It was a not-so-secret business that overlapped with that other not-so-secret business, the porno world of San Fernando Valley. From an interview with Anna David on “Red Eye”, hosted by Greg Gutfeld (“Anna David Bought Interview on Red Eye”, this segment runs from 1:50 to 2:19):

Don’t all porn stars do this? They always say it’s an overlap between these call girls and porn stars, but the fact is, once you’re being paid for sex on camera, this is no different?

I mean, they call it side work in the industry, you know, and it is, I mean, we can’t say a 100%, every single porn star is doing it, but I think we can say 99.999 are doing it.

There can’t be any difference between…the only difference is, there’s no camera there. And they’re probably getting paid more.

A lot more.

“Many companies in the adult-entertainment industry, estimated at $13 billion annually, have seen their fortunes plummet by a third,” Grigoriadis would write in “Sex Queen”, “with video rentals and sales down nearly 50 percent over the past decade.” The decline in the industry would force more adult performers into escort work, which in turn made porno work riskier. Despite the image, women in the adult industry work with a relatively small circle of men, having sex with the same partners over and over, with everyone tested for STDs before their scenes. “It used to be that [performers] who escorted, if that was known, weren’t hired, because they were considered a higher risk factor w/ STDs,” Kayden Kross said in E.J. Dickson’s “When porn stars become escorts: Lucrative new trend could also be risky”, about the intersection of the two industries. That, however, was before the porno business completely fell apart, with piracy and tubing. “When the bottom started falling out of the porn industry, work started drying up, and you had an oversaturation of girls who wanted work,” says Mike South, a former producer and reporter of the scene. “You had people who were shooting 25 percent of what they were the previous year, so what you had was a lot of hungry girls who needed to pay the rent.” When you did escort work, you were now having sex with a larger circle of men, with some escorts offering the comdomless bareback full service (BBFS). This would lead to the greater possibility of an infection being brought into the closed porno industry. “What Porn Stars Do When The Porn Industry Shuts Down” by Susannah Brelin would report on what took place when the industry went on hiatus over an STD scare in December 2013, the third time that year. “Despite the amount of money that performers make, most still live paycheck-to-paycheck, so having your income cut off for a few weeks is a huge damper financially,” said one adult perfomrer, Chanel Preston. “Most successful adult film stars understand that financial success is a result of cultivating multiple revenue streams,” said Donia Love, head of Slixa, an on-line escort site which included adult performers in its stable. You had to escort in order to supplement the smaller paycheques of the porn industry, but that meant the possibility of more STDs, which shut down the industry, which meant you had to spend more time escorting, which meant increased risk in your porn scenes, and a greater likelihood that things would shut down again, and it was an obvious vicious circle.

Retired porn star Mariah Milano would write the following editorial, “Mariah Milano on Porn Stars Escorting, A Double Standard” (linked page features very NSFW ads) at porn blog Luke is Back, on September 4, 2011:

With the recent HIV scares and the big controversy over cross over talent there is one subject that seems to be constantly ignored that is a very serious double standard.

Porn stars escorting. I have been over this before and taken quite a beating for speaking out but I don’t fucking care. It needs to be said. If a girl goes and fucks some random guy in a hotel room and then continues to show up to sets to shoot how is that not being addressed as high risk for the rest of the industry? If a girl gets her test on August 20 and fucks strangers in hotel rooms and does movies until September 19 when she tests again how is that not a very serious concern for OSHA and all the people screaming about the recent HIV crisis? It’s almost as if it isn’t really happening.

The reality is there are very few “Porn Stars” anymore. The huge majority are escorts who shoot some movies on the side to keep their per hourrates high. And please try and tell me that these girls who are being flown to Dubai for weekends for $50,000 are using condoms and tests are being provided by sheiks and princes!

One commenter on Mark Ebner’s “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” would link to an ad on the site of Luke Ford, a gadfly and reporter who covered the industry, an ad which featured a long list of girls available as dates for the 2006 Adult Video News awards (the adult equivalent to the Oscars), including Chasey Lain and Krystal Steal, who were mentioned in “Sex Queen” by Grigoriadis, but other name performers as well, such as Kendra Jade, Monica Mayhem, Puma Swede, and Sativa Rose. They all worked for Bella Models. And who was behind Bella Models? From “Sex Queen” by Vanessa Grigoriadis:

In 2005, when one of the largest escort agencies for porn stars, Exotica 2000, was shut down by authorities in New York, Nici quickly maneuvered to fill the open niche with a new agency. She named it Bella Models, a dig against a madam in London named Bella with whom she had fallen out.

A screenshot from “Looking for an AVN Date??” (ads on page are very NSFW):

Ad for porn stars as escorts at Luke Ford

The following is an excerpt from an interview with the adult performer known as Gauge, conducted by Billy Watson, a porn director (see his AMA: “I am Billy Watson. I’ve shot porn for the last decade, a lot of which is interracial porn for Blacks on Blondes.”), in 2013. Gauge had returned to porn that year after several years of civilian life, and this portion of the interview dealt with what had changed with regard to escorting and the industry (though this interview was once on youtube, it’s now been taken down; the excerpt in the original runs from 9:5 to 11:56):

Now, your big years were ’98 to 2005, about.


Plus or minus.


Okay. Try to be honest with me here.


Your contemporaries, your peers. From ’98 to 2000, the girls that you were working with, or around, how many of them were escorts, as opposed to just being porn stars? What would the percentage be?

You know, honestly, I really don’t know. I’m gonna just do a guesstimate here…maybe only a few. One of the girls that I just knew for sure was Brittany Andrews [listed in the roster of “Bella Models”, in their “Looking for an AVN date?”], but she’s always been open about that, her own website advertising it, and everything.

A few, is the point. Because here’s my point now. You just jumped back into this game. Let me tell you what the brutal news is now. Because this business is getting so crushed by piracy, by people stealing content and stuff, most of the girls now are escorts as well as porn stars.


The escort[ing] is their primary work, almost, because they can’t make enough money shooting scenes.

Yeah. Well.

Which wasn’t the case when you were involved.


Like, you could be a porn star and make plenty of money and not have to escort or do anything.

Right. Right. Well, you know, yeah, I didn’t really know anybody’s personal business and I don’t ever recall talking to anybody about their escorting deals. I know it’s pretty more open now…I think what it is, is that now that…through the internet, and gentlemen with money are able to, you know, buy their time with a porn star, a lady of their choice, if they’re escorting. You know, I would hope that…I’m not going to judge anybody, but I hope that if they’re doing that, then they’re careful because then the gentlemen who can afford I’m sure a porn star, can also afford to be tested just like we are…and still keep in mind, to keep the business safe. Whether it’s your personal life, escorting, in the business…

Gauge interviewed by Billy Watson

Though “side work” must be as prevalent now, if not more so, than it was in late 2013 when “What Porn Stars Do” was posted and early 2014 when “Lucrative new trend” was put up, the topic appears to still be largely verboten. Molly Lambert’s “Porntopia”, for instance, a lengthy account of this year’s AVN awards and an adult industry beleaguered by piracy and falling DVD sales, would not mention escorting or prostitution a single time. The focus of the piece is Carter Cruise, who goes on to win the AVN award for Best New Starlet; the 2007 winner of the very same award, Naomi, would work for Braun.

Though she never got around to publishing a book naming names, Michelle Braun was open and proud of the prestige of her girls. From an interview with CBS Correspondent Peter Van Sant, “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam” (beginning of video to 1:12):

So, you’re a nice little Jewish girl, if I may say, from Bakersfield, California…

Yes. Nice Jewish girl from Bakersfield, California.

…who rose to become the most influential, wealthy madam on planet Earth.

Right. My business was called Nici’s Girls, and I operated Nici’s Girls for eight years.

And what kind of girls were available through your service?

I only worked with famous women. Penthouse Pets, Playboy Playmates, porn stars, actresses, models…unless a girl had a title or, I used to say, if she was “googleable”, then…if she wasn’t, then I wouldn’t work with her.

How did you convince these girls, who’d been in the pages of Playboy magazine, Penthouse, to become one of Nici’s Girls?

Well, I offered them a lot of money. [laughs] And then I would tell them about some of my clients. You know, some of my clients were very famous, others were, you know, very famous in the business world. I would encourage them, “Look, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, this guy could really like you, could really fall for you, you know you could have a real Cinderella story. And if not, I have a hundred others just like him.”

So for some men, this [holds up a copy of Playboy magazine] was like a shopping catalog?


Peter Van Sant interviewing Michelle Braun

Michelle Braun interview

Peter Van Sant and Michelle Braun, taken from “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”.

The ring may have been known as “Nici’s Girls”, but it was run under the corporate title, “Global Travel Network, Inc.” The escort ring was “disguised as a travel and security business and was used to facilitate the laundering of Braun’s prostitution proceeds,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank D. Kortum29. “I never discussed sex with the girls or the clients,” Braun would tell Van Sant. “What I was being paid for was an introduction…I never considered it prostitution. I thought these people were very fortunate to have somebody to put them together and naturally, there would be an attraction, and sex would occur.”30

Braun’s ring laid bare the illusion, that the modes of Playboy were the girls next door, that they were within reach of the average ordinary man. Yes, these fantasy women were available, yes, they were accessible, but for a very, very steep price. Clients were charged $50K or more for a night. Despite Michelle Braun’s talk of introduction services and attraction, Braun’s lawyer was more blunt about the arrangement: “I’m not sure people would pay money to meet a porn star and talk about Stephen Hawking’s newest book,” said Marc Nurik31. The other side of the equation was a con as well: the illusion was of woodland nymphs embraced by new industrial barons, the molten steel of dynamic, vital capital, the marriage of guileless beauty and the astonishingly efficient engine of business. But the women were paid beautires, pricey delicacies like rare oxen or squid, commissioned artwork for a skyscraper office, and many of the men weren’t prophets of capital who owed their fortune to innovation, effectiveness, or genius, but were simple keepers of delicate, ephemeral trophies of hollow wealth, the loomwork of simple frauds, cons, and theives.

There was small fry like one name in Braun’s black book32, Gregory Turville Harry, who would be involved in a classic pump and dump scheme, issuing millions of shares of two shell companies, Austin Chalk Oil & Gas Ltd. and Amtex Oil & Gas, then boosting the share price by getting buys from investors for whom they promised returns like 500% on their investment in Amtex. In 2012, Harry would plead guilty, admitting that the shell companies had asset of less than $130K and that he’d sold his shares at peak price for millions33.

At the other end of the scale was Hakan Uzan, brother of Cem Uzan, son of Kemal Uzan, a wealthy Turkish family that had its hands on an extraordinary range of assests, including the country’s Telsim mobile network and the Imar Bank. Hakan Uzan would be Braun’s whale, a man who wanted a harem ready for him at an Istanbul hotel every week, a harem thick with Playmates, porn stars, and others of the distaff sexual elect. What was even better, this guy didn’t even necessarily fuck them every week, or even see them; he was willing to throw down to cash just to know that the harem was there34. Braun had at least one connection in the Playboy mansion, with a Hef “girlfriend” (those quotes were always a safe bet) willing to bring over other girls from the mansion to Braun for work opportunities. When they heard they could make $25K by flying to Turkey, the pussy literally started to fly. “Hakan would send me an instant message at 3 a.m., and I would have to get four Playmates ready right away,” Braun was quoted in “Sex Queen”. “The first flight to Istanbul was around 6 a.m. through Paris, and sometimes I’d wake them up in the middle of the night for that flight.” Again, from “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”, which starts off on Braun’s success as a madam before seguing into her work for her Turkish client (1:53-2:41):

And you became a millionaire from this?

Yes. I made over twenty million dollars.

And so, the girls who worked for you, did they become millionaires?

Oh absolutely. I had one girl make a million dollars in one month.

And would they sometimes provide transportation, a private jet to fly them wherever-

Yeah. They’d fly them on their private jets, I had a tobacco billionaire who had a private 747, he would pick the girls up and fly them. You know, he would spend minimum hundred thousand dollars on a weekend. Every time. Then I had, you know, my Arabic clients, my client in Turkey. He would fly five Playboy playmates a week out to Turkey. I mean, it got to a point that I had almost every playmate in L.A. on standby 24-7 with a suitcase packed, ready to fly off to either Abu Dabai or Istanbul.

Grigoriadis gives us a picture of escorts who are overall happy with their madam. “It was like a paid vacation,” says porn star Angelica, “There were eight girls there, and I was doing the math: like, at least $200,000 is being spent here, and these guys don’t even care.” Another escort in “Sex Queen”, would concur. “Nici was the least shady of all agents,” is a quote from an unnamed Penthouse Pet who made over $200K a year working for Braun. “Other people made me feel like I was a product, and she treated me like a buddy. We would gossip for hours on the phone. She made me feel like it was us against them. She tooled her clients, and most agents tool their girls. That’s the difference.” Anna David, who would cover Braun’s ring as part of an investigative piece into Hollywood prostitution for Details magazine, “The State of Hookers in Hollywood”, would pick up a different sentiment. “How’d you do it?” Caleb Bacon would ask her about how she managed to write about this secretive milieu, in the bluntly titled “Anna David Knows A Lot About Prostitutes”. “I ended up sort of infiltrating this world, and spending about six months in it. Luckily everybody in this world hated this madam, so all these people talked to me for this story.” There are only two madams mentioned by name in “State of Hookers”, and one of them is the retired Heidi Fleiss; the other is Michelle Braun. The section from David’s “Less-Than-Hip Hookers” iterating the list of prominent Braun girls – “the porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playmates” – found in the files of an associate stuck in a Cuban jail, has already been excerpted; afterwards, David writes of meeting them in person and the story of one madam’s callous treatment of girls she’d sent to Turkey, and the identity of this unnamed madam can be guessed as falling on the same co-ordinates as the madam which everyone hated, which may well be the same x-y of, as CBS’s Peter Van Sant puts it, “the most influential, wealthy madam on planet Earth”, and that noteworthy section receives bolds:

But these girls looked a lot different up close than they did in documents. Once I was sitting across the table from them, looking into their eyes, I didn’t see seductresses who, with their bodies, wielded power over the world’s elite. I saw fear, confusion, a ridiculous amount of plastic surgery, and a strong desire to do something — anything — else. I saw people who spent outrageously, at least in part to dispose of income they were ashamed to have earned, and who would thus have nothing to show once their years of hard living caught up to them and their looks were gone. I saw women blotting themselves out with chemicals and constantly chasing the next thing so they wouldn’t have to examine too closely what they were doing.

It wasn’t only the men they needed to forget about, either. I heard tales of madams that treated the girls far worse than any client ever could. One in particular would send girls on jobs to places like Turkey and then shut off her phone so that if they ran into trouble, they’d have no one to call. Girls would have to literally beg her for the money they were owed (one told me about having to “send someone” — a guy you didn’t want to mess with — to collect) and deal with a series of lies, shady excuses and threats. “If you were unavailable when she wanted you, she’d threaten to tell your boyfriend that you were a hooker,” a girl told me over the phone.

In an interview with Marty Beckerman, “The Complex Lives of Escorts”, David would emphasize the point made in this excerpt, on the damage done to the women by their work, despite the high pay and them being in the high end of their profession:

Did the hookers you interviewed have hearts of gold, or were they drugged-up pains?

Every girl was extremely damaged and doing a lot of drugs to numb themselves. You can see the damage in their eyes, and you can see how in denial they are. I’m not saying every hooker is like that, but I wouldn’t say they had hearts of gold.

Though this is a fascinating byway of a major business, which bisects the entertainment capital of the United States, it remains almost entirely unspoken of. For one of the few accounts of such overseas escorts who are flown to Dubai, we again have to rely on the investigative work of Howard Stern, who would discuss the subject in-depth with porn star Kacey Jordan. This interview is on youtube (“kacey jordan 2 1 11”) with a transcript on pastebin (“Howard Stern Interviews Kacey Jordan Full Transcript”), and it’s of interest not just because of the details that Jordan provides, but because her client in this case was the crown prince of Dubai, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum34, and so she provides some major insights about a rather important figure. The reason for Jordan’s interview here is her cameo in the breakdown of another of her clients, Charlie Sheen, with her making appearances in such profiles of that fiasco like “Charlie Sheen’s War” by Mark Seal and “Coke, Hookers, Hospital, Repeat” by Amy Wallace. What follows are two lengthy excerpts from the interview dealing with Jordan’s experiences as an escort in Dubai. First excerpt runs from 8:02 to 15:28 in the interview, second excerpt is from 24:53 to 28:44:

Key: KJ=Kacey Jordan, HS=Howard Stern, RQ=Robin Quivers

So, at the AVN, AVN Vegas, okay. See, I had a ton of money.

Right. Where’d you get it all?

[laughs, knowingly]

You blew some guy or something?

[laughs, a “correctumundo!” laugh] No, I got, uh, I got a gripload of money, just as much as Charlie Sheen [just as much as she was paid by Charlie Sheen].

You had about thirty grand on you?

Like, thirty five thousand.

Where’d you get that?

I got it…overseas.

Somebody paid you to party?

It was just a gift.

Do you ever go overseas, to these rich arab dudes, who, like, you go over and they make you put you part of their sheik-


-harem, or whatever you call that?

I dunno. [said this way: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, officer.”]

Was it Hosni Mubarak, that guy?


No. [laughs] No, it’s-

Or that Italian prime minister. [Silvio Berlusconi]

What’s the deal on that? They hire you to go over there…

They just hire me to go over there35 and then I-

And then you fuck the prince, right?

Who was saying- Who is saying this? [trying not to laugh]

I’m saying it. Because I had a girl on here who told us this whole story.

Okay. It’s true, and he’s under investigation now, he’s in a lot of trouble now, he’s a pill popper, because it’s against their religion to drink?



-and he gets three girls to go over there, and yeah.

Do you ever get nervous, they’re going to kidnap you and keep you there? When you go over to these arab countries?

No, I was really freaked out by all their turbans and stuff. I was like, oh my god.

They were fucking you with a turban on?


Does that freak you out?

Do they keep their turban on?

No, but they have this thing, where like, when you go into the room, it has the AC on, like you’re in a freezer. Because it’s against their religion to have me sweat onto them.

You know what? This is what this girl said. Remember that girl we had in, who wrote a book about this. [I think this is Jillian Lauren, who wrote Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, about her experience as a member of the harem of the Sultan of Brunei]

Who wrote the book, yeah.

She said it’s so cold, she said she would shiver the whole time. And that’s because, when you fuck a prince or something, you’re not allowed to sweat on them?

I’m not allowed to sweat on him. I’m like, why do you have the AC on, he wouldn’t turn the AC off, and I’m sitting there, shaking. And I’m like, what the hell, can you just turn it off for a second?

What’s the whole deal on that? So, in other words, somebody hooks you up, you fly over to this arab country, they fly you, what, on a private jet?

Uh, well, he owns the airlines.

He owned the airline.


So, you go over…

First class.

How long you gotta stay there?

Uh, I was supposed to stay there for three days…and he wouldn’t let me leave till eight days.

He kept you over.

Kept me over. Wouldn’t let us leave. And it was okay, we just stayed at one of his hotels, that he owned, and I sat there, let’s room service this up, let’s start ordering shit we don’t eat…I went to the spa, like twelve times…

So when they fly you, first class accommodations too, right? I mean, gorgeous rooms, the whole thing?


Sometimes they even give you shopping sprees.

We stayed at the world’s only seven star hotel.


I forget what it was called. [Burj Al Arab] It’s some…lalalala, whatever arabic jabber or whatever. But it’s seven stars, that’s all I know.

So, you go to the seven star hotel. You’re there with two other chicks, right? Are you all in the same room, or different rooms?

We get…it’s like, two chicks per room. It was four girls…

Are the chicks hot? Or are you like the hottest one? Honestly. It’s okay, you don’t have to be humble.

Are you ever going to see these girls again?

One girl, uh, is a cunt, so…

Cunt, or smelly pussy.

She just has too much plastic surgery. She’s just like…

You were not attracted to her at all.



But the other girl, she was really nice, but she’s kinda shady, kinda, she’ll still screw you over for money.


But I ended up hooking up with her, like the first night we got drunk and I was like, I don’t know, I’m straight, but once in a while, how about some random lesbian fling, I’m like, the fuck’s wrong with me? It’s the alcohol.

Yeah. Absolutely. So you mean she ate you out and everything?


So, wait, let me understand, back up. So you go over there, the prince or whoever the hell he is, he flies you over, you don’t even meet him the first night, right?

Uh, no. No, we didn’t meet him for like three days.

Alright. So you’re there, you’re like, hey, this is a cush gig, because-

Yeah, but we have to be back by eight pm.


Because, in case he calls.

Right. You’re on call.

You’re on call. During the day I went out, I went to Atlantis [Atlantis The Palm Hotel & Resort], and, you know, we got to go do…I went to a mosque, where I wore those robes and stuff. I did cutesy stuff during the day, but I had to be back at eight at night.

So were you bored out of your skull?

Nah, I just drank.

So, you started drinking in the morning. So, the chick that you’re in the room with, she was the good looking one who maybe would screw you over, but that’s the one you had lesbian sex with?

Yeah, she’s alright, you know.

You went out drinking, and you’re slutting around, you’re having a good time, and then suddenly, you say, hey fuck it, I’m drunk, I’ll have some sex with her.

Yeah, we were just in the room, and fucking drinking, and just sitting there, like, we’re all taking little pictures of each other, trying to tweet the photos, and because we had to keep hushhush while we were over there, we’re still trying to sneak photos.

Did you girls just run around naked in the room the whole time? Or, like, what’s the fun?

Yeah, we’re all walking around naked.

Getting all comfortable with your bodies, and you’re all naked…


She’s naked, and you’re naked, and you’re talking on the bed, and taking pictures, and you’re tweeting, drunk out of your mind.

I’m always just like naked, I’ll always rock the robe. I always have a drink in my hand, I’d have a robe that’d be open, and not even shut. I always sit on the couch, with my legs wide open, like this, like the Al Bundy.

Are you doing it? Like that. Because you’re totally comfortable in your body.

Yeah, I’m just like, just, I’m always…

What are you wearing today? Let me see.

Well, actually, I put on a dress. But because it’s so fucking cold outside…I don’t know how you guys deal with this weather.

We don’t deal well with it. Look at us. [laughter]

We’re falling apart.

I have a dress on, but I was like, I’m going to put on pants, and then put on jacket, so I’m all bundled up.

Yeah, it’s hard to tell what’s doing there.


So, wait a second, so when you’re over there, I want to get to Charlie Sheen, but this is fascinating to me. So, you’re over there, you’re hanging out for three days, you don’t see this guy, you don’t even know what he looks like, right? I mean, you don’t even know who you have to fuck?

Well, I googled him.

You did? Is he gross?

No, he’s hot.

He’s a good looking guy?

He’s hot. He has a huge dick.

He does?

Yeah, and he’s really aggressive during sex.

This prince?


So, you’re waiting around, nobody’s allowed to fuck you, because you’re for the prince, or for some party or something. So, what happens in the three days that you meet the prince? Like, where do you meet him?

He has, like, a secret house.


Like a little secret hidden house.

Does he bring you there alone, or with the other two?

I was thinking I was going to go the palace and stuff, but of course, he has to keep it on the low, and so he has this like, hang out spot. And he’s obsessed with America, he has MTV…each girl was like, we’re comparing our stories, he does the same routine with each girl. He makes us play games to test to see how smart we are. He like, makes us do crosswords, he wants to prove that his english is better than us.

Wait a sec. He walks into the room, he’s dressed…are you naked? What do you have to wear to prepare for the prince?

I just wore, I dunno, I wore, like, we have to cover up over there? So I wore this dress, but then I wore one of their weird arabic shawls over, and I come over, and the first thing he does is, alright, we’re going to play a game.


And he makes us play games. And I’m like, this is so weird, this is, I thought I was just come over-

And what is the game?

It’s like school!

Play the game with me. What is it?

It’s like- He has like a machine, from like a casino-looking, and it has these optional games, and he’s like, okay, we’re going to play this, and he’s like, compare the photo, and figure out which one’s missing, or which one’s different than the other.

It’s an IQ test.


And what, what, aren’t guys weird like that? Why doesn’t he just fuck you, and get it over with?

It’s because he has so much. He has so much, and he’s so fucked up.

So, get back to the prince, and then we’ll get to Charlie that night. So, just finishing up with the prince, so you finally get in there, he gives you the IQ test, where he’s testing you out.


Are you there with the other girls, or are you all alone?

We all go individually.

Individually. So you’re there alone, and finally, does he put a move on you, and say, hey honey, take your clothes off and let’s get to it?

No, he just goes, “Okay,” he’s like, he’s always “I promise you I beat you in anything. I beat you in any game. I love MTV, I love America,” he just tries to prove, he just wants to be cool. Like, I wanna be like Eminem. And then he gives this spiel, and he brings me upstairs to the room, where it’s freezing cold, and I’m like, “Can you turn it up, can you turn that down, please?”

And he says, “No I can’t because you can’t sweat on me.”

I didn’t know that. He’s like, oh no, I don’t want to get too hot.


And I didn’t figure it out until someone later told me, why.


And uh, so anyways, so, you know, we fuck, and he’s, he’s really aggressive, fucking my throat, and everything-

Jesus. Did he see some of your movies, or he didn’t know who you were?

He’s just get sent photos, and he says pass or no pass.

Right. And so, did he undress you, is there anything romantic about it?

No…it was really like, he was like, and after we were like having sex, we had sex a total of three times-

When you have sex with this guy, and he’s fucking your throat, do you to moan like he’s the greatest ever-

I’m gagging, I’m not moaning. I’m like [gagging sounds].

And are you like, hey dude, could you back off a little?

Uh…I was just trying to do the best I could…

Right. So, when he’s fucking you, do you fake an orgasm, do you go “oh my god, this is so good, ohoh”-

I did come with him. I didn’t have to fake with him.

Oh, you did come?

Yeah, he’s, like I said, he’s-


-and they’re really aggressive, and after you’re done, he’d just hold me down, like, on the bed, where I was like, can you kinda just not put me in a headlock. He would do that. He kept putting me in a headlock.

What’s that about?

I don’t know.

Does he use condoms?

He did that with every girl.

Did he use condoms?



No condoms with him!

And you wouldn’t mind getting pregnant with him, right, because that’s a pay fucking day like you wouldn’t-

I dunno, because matter of fact, if they found out I got pregnant, the guy would probably get assassinated.

I was going to say, you might never show up again.

Take the baby, and kill him.

Yeah. I was thinking you could own Dubai, but maybe you’re right. They could take the baby and kill ya.

Women have no power there, Howard.

Yeah, right.

I would be, like…it would be…

There’s no court to go to.

I would not wanna be in some robe, stuck in a room…

Isn’t it weird that these guys don’t use condoms? They don’t know you, they don’t know what you’ve done, they don’t know anything. They don’t know if you’re clean…

I should’ve used a condom because…of how many girls he sees?


I can’t believe you didn’t, yeah. I can’t believe you didn’t make him put one on.

I was a little drunk.

You were drunk, that drinking’s going to do you in, I’m telling you, you’ve gotta back off a little bit. You think of ever going into rehab, or just, fuck that? You would never do that. Because you don’t want to stop, right?

Well, what’s the point?

What do you mean?

I mean, it’s not like it’s ruining my life.

You’re enjoying it.


And you’re not going through your money, you’re saving some money and stuff.

I dunno…I’m blowing some of my money.

You are?


What are you blowing it on?

Uh, well, that’s what Vegas, I blew a lot in Vegas. I went to Christian Louboutin, I bought the thirty two hundred all diamond shoe. I blew all my money from Dubai and I was like, after AVN-

So, Dubai, you get the thirty grand, does he just give it to you there?

Yeah. Cash.


Yeah. I had to wire it.

No shit. Thirty grand.

Thirty five.

Nice money.


And you only fucked him that once?

Right, that’s it. And then I had a free vacation, spa…I just raped the spa. I was like, I need, I got every treatment that they offered…

Women would rub you down, or men? You get a massage from men?

They’re not allowed to…men are allowed to only do facials. [tries not to laugh]

Do you ever get massages from guys-

Did you do some of those guys over there that were giving you a facial-

Yeah. [laughs]

You did?

Well, that’s part of the facial, right?

The money for Braun’s women to be flown, kept, and fucked in Turkey came from Hakan Uzan, and though the thievery of the Uzans went almost entirely unreported in the American press, it was a heist on a scale that placed them in the same infamous league as Bernie Madoff or Jeff Skilling. Their fortunes began with father Kemal’s construction company, which won contracts for soccer stadiums and dams thanks to Kemal Uzan’s friendship with Turgot Ozal, first the country’s prime minister and then the country’s president. The Uzans would go on to buy Imar Bank, founded another bank, Adabank, and set up a news empire of radio, TV, and newspapers called Star TV. In 1992, they bought 11% of the shares of Cukurova Elektrik, a Turkish hydroelectric and gas utility, after Franklin Templeton’s Emerging Markets Fund had bought up a big investment stake. They then managed to gain a majority stake in the utility, replaced the board members with their own proxies, and put the utility’s cash balances with their Imar bank. Cukurova Elektrik shares went from fifty cents to $3.50 after the Uzan share buy, then hit a low of eighteen cents after the cash balance transfer. Cukurova Elektrik went from $41 million net to an $18 million loss after the cash transfer, and Franklin Temleton was hit with an $18 million dollar loss36. It was a variation on Gregory Turville Harry’s pump and dump, on a much larger scale.

Cukurova Elektrik was a preview of the next scam by the Uzans. They were given the license to set up a private cell phone network in the country, through a company they set up called Telsim Mobil Telekomunikasyon Hizmetleri [Telsim Mobile Telecommunications Services]. In order to gain access to the market, Motorola loaned Telsim over two billion in equipment, services, and cash, with Nokia loaning a little under a billion in equipment, services, and cash as well. The Uzans pledged 66% of Telsim shares to Motorola, and 7.5% to Nokia as loan collateral. And after that, Telsim missed the loan payments. The collateral of Telsim shares were transferred to a private Turkish foundation, out of reach of creditors. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by Motorola and Nokia afterwards, would reveal that over two hundred million in cash and assets from Telsim was transferred to entities controlled by the Uzans, to pay for apartments in the Trump Tower, several aircraft, and four yachts. And though the report was perhaps too discrete to mention it, a reader could make the obvious additional inference: and Michelle Braun’s women. The Uzans must have thought that with their connections, they could somehow outsmart or outlast the suits brought by Motorola and Nokia against them; but their empire would collapse before Michelle Braun’s37.

Kemal Uzan, son Hakan Uzan, and son Cem Uzan

Kemal Uzan, son Hakan Uzan, and son Cem Uzan.

Cem Uzan, Hakan’s brother, would set up a new political party with a nationalist appeal, The Youth Party, and ran in the 2002 election. There he would pitch the scandal as a story where the Uzans were Robin Hoods, using the family’s Star TV network to promote his campaign. “Everyone steals from Turkey, the people think,” said one Turkish Foreign Ministry official. “But here is a guy who steals from rich Americans. And they admire that.” Cem Uzan hoped to gain ten percent of the vote and a seat in Parliament, which meant immunity from prosecution. Cem Uzan got neither. The Turkish government would first cancel the licenses of Uzan utilities Cukurova Elektrik and Kepez Elektrik, then seize them. The seizure would have a devastating impact on the Uzans’ Imar Bank, which relied on these utilities for raising capital. About a month after cancelling the utility licenses, Turkey seized control of Imar Bank, after which they discovered an astonishing level of widespread theft, with dummy accounts created in order to transfer over $5 billion dollars out of the bank and over to the Uzans. Account information was distorted to keep the fraud going. Retrospective invoices were created and real invoices were deleted. A raid at the bank’s hub would discover hard drives detached and stolen, back-ups deleted, and computers that were empty shells, the damning hardware circuits inside taken away. A July 31, 2003 cable from the American embassy in Turkey would give some idea of the problem; from “BRSA PRESIDENT ON IMAR BANK PROBLEMS (ACTION REQUEST)” at Wikileaks:

Summary: Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BRSA) President Engin Akcakoca confirmed to us July 30 that the agency is facing serious difficulties trying to address the problems resulting from the discovery of massive fraud in the Uzan family-owned Imar Bank. The fundamental problem is that BRSA is being beseiged by bank depositors waiving their bank books and demanding their money back (to the tune of billions of dollars), but the agency has no ability to verify accounts because Imar Bank owners/managers destroyed virtually all of the bank’s records during and immediately after the takeover. Akcakoca believes perhaps 50 percent of the accounts are fictitious — bank books with no corresponding account — and speculated that the Uzans may have handed out bank deposit books (not backed by any account) to would-be voters.

On July 30, BRSA President Engin Akcakoca provided us with his views on the problems associated with the agency’s recent take over of Uzan-family owned Imar Bank. As reported in reftels, BRSA took over management of the bank and responsibility for its $800 million in deposit liabilities early this month. However, it has subsequently learned that the bank was keeping a second set of books and that total deposit liabilities were many times greater than officially reported, perhaps as high as $5 billion.

That same July, a judge would find in favor of Motorola and Nokia in their fraud suit seeking $5 billion dollars against Telsim and the Uzans38.

The Turkish government would seize all two hundred businseses of the Uzan empire and all the company’s assets within the country in the wake of the outstanding five billion dollars in debt of the Iman Bank after its collapse39. All three men connected to the fraud – Cem, Hakan, and Kemal Uzan – would go into exile. Cem Uzan would flee Turkey in one of his yachts. He would eventually be granted temporary residency in France, while being sentenced to three and a half years in abasentia in Turkey for fraud. In July 2012, the Turkish paper Today’s Zaman would note that “Wanted Turkish tycoon spotted on Jordanian king’s boat”, after Hakan Uzan was spied amongst those in a speedboat alongside his good friend, King Abdullah of Jordan. Hakan Uzan was piloting the speedboat40. A diplomatic cable on January 27, 2006, “TURKEY/JORDAN: JORDANIAN PM BAKHIT FINDS BROAD AGREEMENT IN ANKARA” (again, at Wikileaks), from the American embassy in Turkey would contain the following item when Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit visited the country:

Bakhit was reportedly asked at a press availability about the rumored presence in Jordan of fugitive Hakan Uzan and members of his family. The Uzan family is sought for corrupt financial dealings that led to the collapse of the Imar bank and the loss of billions of dollars. According to Turkish press reports, Bakhit acknowledged the Uzans came to Jordan as investors and received some kind of residence documents, which the Jordanian government has since revoked. Bakhit told the press he had no information on the Uzans’ current whereabouts. The MFA [Minister of Foreign Affairs] told us the Uzan affair was not discussed officially with the Jordanian delegation.

At the time of this writing, these three members of the Uzan family are still wanted in Turkey for prosecution, and all three are still at large.

The Uzans were the largest fraudsters who were also customers of Michelle Braun; but it was Mark Yagalla who was the fruadster discovered first, who was part of the most noteworthy plot, whose theft was the start of a path that led to murder and stolen rubies. It was the arrest of Yagalla which first brought the Michelle Braun ring into bright light, and it might give some hint of the disinterest, wariness, or fear about the possible consequences of shutting down an escort ring patronized by so many wealthy and powerful men, that even years after her exposure in the Mark Yagalla case, Michelle Braun was able to continue operations, with her business pulling reportedly pulling in over eight million dollars before she was finally stopped, far from L.A.41

It was all there in the best account of the Yagalla affair, published in 2001, six years before Braun’s arrest, “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace. Yagalla was an isolated Pennsylvania kid who stopped growing at 5’3″, who insistently wore khakis, button down shirts, thick glasses in high school, and who other kids called “Urkel”. He watched movies about the corruption of the eighties, Wall Street and Other People’s Money, over and over again, not as polemics, but heroic narratives. “Most young boys dream of being a professional athlete, or something like that. What were your dreams?” asked Peter Van Sant of Yagalla. “I wanted to be Gordon Gekko,” he replied. “He seemed to possess a Disney-manufactured filter that transformed every story into a fairy tale,” Wallace would write in “The Prodigy and the Playmate”. “Even when he watched morality plays like Wall Street, what he took away was the glamorous premise, not the unhappy ending.” Indecent Proposal was a love story, and so was the movie that was even closer to his heart, Pretty Woman. A love story involved making a fortune in business, finding a beautiful woman, then spending heaps of cash on her, after which she fell in love with you. “I had sortof developed this fairy tale from movies,” Yagalla said, “that if you get money, you get the girl.”42 And if you cut a few corners in business, if you maybe engaged in outright fraud, if you built a ponzi scheme that robbed people of their savings, that was part of the love story, too. Yagalla didn’t go to his high school prom. He stayed home, and made $23,000 trading stocks.

After graduating from the prestige Wharton business program, Yagalla would go on to found two hedge funds, Apex Investments and Ashbury Capital, with a focus on tech stocks and a goal of over a billion dollars in assets. Yagalla took the profits he got from these funds, and spent it on prostitutes. From “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”, an interview with Yagalla by CBS’s Peter Van Sant (segment runs from 1:06 to 1:54):

And how old are you at this time?

Twenty one.

And were you having a good time?

I was having a great time…it started with prostitutes.

How often did you do this?

Daily. Sometimes three, four girls a day. I was spending anywhere between six hundred to a thousand an hour at this time, for the girls. It was one day when I was on the internet, I came across a website that linked me to I had a conversation with a girl [Michelle Braun43], and she had a pin-up model available, and I said, “Well, I’m going to Puerto Rico this weekend, I’d like for her to come with me.” And she said, “That’ll be $28,000 dollars.” And I looked at the girl’s picture, and I was like, “OK.”

Mark Yagalla on Forty Eight Hours

Mark Yagalla, from “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”.

Yagalla put down a $5000 admission fee for the prvilege of paying another $10,000 to $20,000 to “Nici”, openly identified in “The Prodigy and the Playmate” as a madam, and openly identified by her actual name: “Nici was fast becoming the new Heidi Fleiss, L.A.’s reigning madam, and Yagalla, as a preferred (and relentless) customer, ended up befriending her and learning her real name: Michelle Braun.” “She was the first person to really use the Internet to offer prostitutes,” said Yagalla. One of the women he was set up with is a woman identified nowhere else as part of Braun’s harem, though it is a very big name that Yagalla drops here: “Eventually, he started flying to L.A. to rendezvous with Nici’s “specials,” including porn megastar Jenna Jameson.” This, however, was just a prelude to even more expensive merchandise44.

For $40,000, Yagalla got a weekend with May 1999 Playboy Playmate Tishara Cousino, a candidate for what Yagalla called “The Program”, which was something like the plot of Pretty Woman, which meant it was something like Pygmalion, where a young woman would be styled into something greater through the power of money. On her Playboy form, Cousino had put down that her ambitions were “To see how far I can go as a model and actress, while studying naturopathic medicine,” and that her turn-ons were “Intellect, a big heart, sensitivity and passionate energy.” On their first weekend together, in a 125-foot yacht sailing through the Florida Keys, Cousino reclined on the bed of this yacht leased by Yagalla, and asked, “Do you want to do anything with me?” Yagalla was repulsed. He wanted a fairy tale, not a business transaction. He wanted her only when she wanted him. That weekend, he bought her a new Mercedes anyway. “When I was dealing with the playmates,” Yagalla would tell Van Sant, “I was giving out Mercedes like they were tennis bracelets.”45 Cousino would deny that she met Yagalla through a madam or that Yagalla put her through “a program”.

Tishara Cousino, photo by Arny Freitag

Excerpt of a photo of Tishara Cousino from her May 1999 Playboy shoot, photo by Arny Freitag.

Tishara Cousino's Playboy form

An excerpt from Cousino’s form in Playboy.

It was through Cousino that Yagalla met Sandy Bentley, one half of the Bentley twins, both of whom were supposedly Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends. In the pictures and talk show appearances where the wizened satyr and the nymph duo appeared, it was a relationship that was romantic, but in the raw fact, the relationship appeared entirely contractual. Neither woman were supposed to have other boyfriends, though both did, each had to call in and touch base with the “old man” (as they called him) every day, and both were contractually required to appear with him at the mansion on Christmas and New Year’s. “Won’t Hef mind?,” Yagalla asked Cousino. “He wishes,” said Sandy. “The Prodigy and the Playmate” was cold in the details of the nocturnal rituals of Hef and the twins: “The heterosexual icon, Sandy had told Yagalla, had trouble finding satisfaction through intercourse; instead, he liked the girls to pleasure each other while he masturbated and watched gay porn.” The last detail made no sense to me until I read “The Playboy After Dark” by Sharon Waxman, where Carrie Leigh, a long-term girlfriend of Hefner’s from the ’80s, would say that she and other Hef girlfriends were “disturbed by Hefner’s propensity for sexual encounters with men. Leigh says she interrupted Hefner’s liaisons with men a couple of times.” And: “The irony that this symbol of heterosexual male virility was involved homosexually was not lost on her.” Hefner would deny that he was gay, while acknowledging that he’d slept with men. “There was some bisexuality in the heterosexual, swinging part of my life,” he said in Waxman’s piece. Yagalla would go with Bentley and Cousino to a Cher concert at the Las Vegas MGM. After, they went to The Crazy Horse Too, a strip club where Bentley used to dance, and Yagalla sat between Bentley and Cousino, the object of their affection, the gentle target for their kisses. A stripper at The Crazy Horse Too wondered what Yagalla’s secret was. “I’m fucking loaded,” said Yagalla. Sandy Bentley was a willing subject for “The Program.”

Sandy Bentley

Sandy Bentley, with Hugh Hefner. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

Sandy Bentley grew up in Vegas, with the various surgeries that helped make her a Playboy cover girl and Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend paid for by Herbie Blitzstein, a one-time mob enforcer who worked alongside mafioso Tony Spilotro, who was the basis for the figure of reckless menace played by Joe Pesci in Casino. After time in prison over federal income tax and credit card fraud charges, Blitzstein would die a used car salesman, shot in the head in his own home. “Blitzstein, 63, might have been robbed by someone he knew,” said an obituary. “Property was missing from his townhouse and there were no obvious signs of forced entry,” said Las Vegas Metro Police homicide Lieutenant Wayne Petersen46. This, is what’s referred to as dramatic foreshadowing.

Herbie Blitzstein

A photo of Herbie Blitzstein, taken from a 1980 arrest. Photo was found at the page “The Mob in Vegas: Fat Herbie Blitzen”, a site promoting the book The Mob Files: The Illustrated Guide to the Mob in Vegas by John William Tuohy.

Yagalla would get Bentley and Cousino Platinum American Express cards and a monthly allowance of $20,000 to $25,000. He would buy Cousino a house worth close to half a million. He bought Sandy Bentley a six thousand square foot plus two floor Spanish Villa in Vegas for over a million and a half. He bought her a Mercedes SL 500, a red Ferrari FL 355 Spyder, a Range Rover, a black Cadillac Escalade SUV, a pair of fur coats from Bloomingdale’s, and two Rolexes. He bought her $190,000 worth of jewelry from Venetzia in Vegas. He bought her more furs, a shaved mink and a monogrammed chinchilla. Possessions meant nothing to me, Sandy Bentley told Yagalla. On one of their first dates, they watched Pretty Woman together at his Delaware home. She flew up from Vegas, though she refused to fly commercial; he chartered a jet. When they were in Vegas, they’d walk into a high roller room accompanied by two bodyguards, Sandy Bentley decked in furs and blinding jewels, and the croupier would casually say, “Mr. Y’s here,” sliding a million dollars in chips toward his place on the table. They’d met in August 1999. In December, they were already talking marriage. That month, Yagalla bought his girlfriend a white Bentley Azure convertible. On a piece of stationary at the dealership, Bentley wrote out: S. Yagalla. S. Bentley-Yagalla. That Christmas, Yagalla bought Bentley a necklace of rubies and diamonds modeled after that worn by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Fairy tales, sometimes, do come true. That fall, Yagalla told some Apex investors that their portfolio had grown by more than fifty percent in one month. Ashbury also showed extraordinary growth, with a return of more than seventy percent over the course of half of 199947. “And where was all this money coming from?,” asked Peter Van Sant of Yagalla about the millions of dollars of gifts spent on Bentley and Cousino. “I was robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Yagalla. “I was taking client money to fuel my addiction,” said Yagalla. “I was running one big Ponzi scheme.” Van Sant: “How much money are we talking about…that you scammed people out of?” Tagalla: “All together, debt wise, I’m probably fifty, sixty million in debt,” Yagalla answered, years after the fact, years after Sandy Bentley left him and two people were killed48.

Close-up of the reproduction of the ruby necklace that was in Pretty Woman

Close-up of the reproduction of the ruby necklace that was in Pretty Woman. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

One of the only flaws of Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate”, is that it understated the length and breadth of corruption in Yagalla’s career. It was left to something like Armstrong v. Collins, a suit by Michael Armstrong, receiver for Apex and Ashbury against investors Ronald Collins and his family over assets transferred by Yaglla to Collins as part of his ponzi scheme, which laid out a life of fraud which didn’t spin out of any later moment of desperation, but began with the very start of his obsession with investing. “Prodigy” has Yagalla start out at fifteen getting a chunk of money from his mom that he’d made helping his dad, who drove a truck for a tree nursery. Yaglla would lose half, then decided to do more research before his next investment. He got five thousand from his cousin, and sunk it all into Dell. After that paid off, his cousin gave him more money, which he put into Microsoft and Intel. His investing streak presumably continued, with Yagalla buying a Corvette and a Chevy Blazer while in high school, his high school success capped by his prom day trading when he made over $23,000. That is all accoring to “Prodigy”. Armstrong v. Collins gives us a different picture.

“Carl and Pat Dias, the owners of a business near Weatherly, had the misfortune of being Yagalla’s first clients,” is the second paragraph under Armstrong v. Collins‘s “History of the Yagalla Scheme”, and the first devoted to his sorry investment history. “and in 1995, they invested approximately $15,000 with Yagalla.” The whole 15K was a wash. “Responding to a Canadian telemarketer’s pitch, Yagalla used the money to purchase what he believed were rubies. But the purported rubies turned out to be nearly worthless and Yagalla lost virtually all of the Dias’ money.” This all was according to Yagalla’s own trial depositions. He told the Diases that they’d actually made a profit, gave them a false statement, and then used money from other investors to give the Diases a fake return on their investment. That same year, according to Armstrong v. Collins, Yagalla got $15,000 from the same cousin mentioned in “Prodigy” who gave Yagalla the money for Dell, Intel, and Microsoft, a man named Francis Dolinsky. Yagalla invested the money in worthless rubies and worthless baseball memorabilia. Yagalla told Dolinsky that the investment was profitable, and paid him back with money from other investors. He invested $50K in Kentucky oil and gas leases, and lost it all. He invested $150K in stocks, and pulled in a $120K loss. He told the lucky investors that the investment was sucessful, and gave them fake profits, again taken from others.

All these investments were done at his hedge fund, Apex, and since the perception of Apex as a sound, financial success was so different from the fund’s actual performance, Yagalla founded another hedge fund, Ashbury Capital. Though Yagalla said that he intended to run Ashbury separately from Apex, and as an actual legitimate investment fund, Ashbury Capital investors ended up subsidizing the fraud at Apex. No effort was made by Yagalla to keep the funds of Apex and Ashbury Capital – or his personal funds – separate from each other. Again, this is all according to Yagalla’s own depositions, cited in Armstrong v. Collins. At some point, Yagalla would discover that the brokerage Kensington Wells was manipulating stocks. Armstrong v. Collins would explain what happened next (citations indicating that all statements come from Yagalla’s trial depositions have been removed):

After meeting the individuals he was told were manipulating stock, and until his arrest in October, 2000, other than some sporadic and minor day trading, Yagalla traded exclusively in stocks that he testified were manipulated. The manipulated stocks included: United Energy Group, Franklin Opthalmic, Delsoft Consulting, Logpoint Technologies, Page International, Hydrogiene, Intelliworxx and Yagalla explained that in each case he and his criminal partners would identify new private companies, merge them with public shells, and by controlling the float and paying off brokers, manipulate the price of the securities. According to Yagalla, he broke even on the United Energy Group and Franklin Opthalmic manipulations; made $500,000 on the Delsoft Consulting manipulation; made $250,000 on the Logpoint Technologies manipulation; lost $750,000 on the Page International manipulation; made $450,000 on the Hydrogiene manipulation; and lost a “substantial amount” of the $500,000 to $750,000 he invested in the manipulation. On his most profitable manipulation, (“TravelNow”), Yagalla made over $6 million between August, 1999, and January, 2000. Yagalla, however, spent the money “[o]n airplane travel, . . . [his] former girlfriend Sandra Bently [sic], jewelry, cars, houses, [and] gambling.”

Yagalla was planning on asking Sandy Bentley to marry him that Christmas, the first Christmas of the millenium. He was going to have a connection shut the Eiffel Tower down, and propose to her at the top. They were going to have the biggest wedding New York had ever seen. In late July, he’d promised investors in Ashbury Capital that they could expect a fifty percent return, around the same time of the Republican Convention at Philadelphia, where he’d been the second largest donor from Delaware, right after MBNA, a regional bank that specialized in credit card debt, which would soon be bought up by Bank of America. The stock market was collapsing because of the dot com implosion, but no worries. “We have invested in stocks that have explosive growth potential and aren’t too heavily tied to the slowing growth of the economy,” Yaglla wrote to Ashbury Capital investors in a newsletter of that summer. His investment letter of September sounded an equally confident and sagacious note. “The days of the individual investor buying stocks blindly and making money are gone,” he wrote. “Our strategy has faired [sic] well during the markets’ topsy-turvy ride this year, and we think it will serve us well going into 2001.” September was the month he lost over half a million in the failed Intelliworxx manipulation. He bought the Intelliworxx shares through a margin account at Lehman Brothers. Three days after he promised to wire the funds, he showed up with a personal check of four and a half million dollars. That check didn’t clear. He then showed up with a check for over a million dollars. That check didn’t clear either49.

He flew to Bentley’s home in Vegas and told her he was in serious trouble. “As long as it’s just fines,” she said. He tried to make some money to keep investors happy by playing baccarat and blackjack. He lost another $800K. He had an emergency phone call with his right hand man, Frank Luppo. “Were all the statements phony?” asked Luppo. “Ah, last year was not,” said Yagalla. “This year was the problem.” Luppo: “So they were all phony this year?” No, said Yagalla, it’s just “within the last three or four months.” Before they ended the conversation, Yagalla said, “It’s a shame all this happened, because I really think six months from now we’re goin’ to be rockin’ and rollin’ with big money…I just got myself in a jam. I made a lot of mistakes.” It didn’t really matter what Yagalla believed and what he actually did, and it didn’t really matter here if he was lying or telling the truth about when the fraud and the phony statements began, because he’d already admitted to fraud and phony statements over the phone to Frank Luppo, and Luppo was an FBI informant, and this call was being taped. Yagalla was arrested five days later50. “Sandy stayed loyal to Yagalla,” wrote Benjamin Wallace in “The Prodigy and the Playmate”, “until she learned the government was going to take away all the things he gave her.”

Sandy Bentley would leave Yagalla, but she would hold on to all the jewelry he gave her, including the Pretty Woman necklace. After they broke up, she went to the Garden of Eden, a nightclub she’d gone to before, with Yagalla, with Hefner, where every celebrity and semi-celebrity went, and where she met her next boyfriend, the Garden of Eden’s doorman, Michael Tardio. She was with Tardio when she started to lose everything, when everything she had was being confiscated as proceeds of Yagalla’s ponzi scheme. “The judge ordered Sandy Bentley to hand over the house, the jewelry, the cars,” said Eugne Licker, the attorney in charge of hunting down where Yagalla had stuck his ill gotten millions51. “Playing With Fire” (transcript is at “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”), an episode of 48 Hours devoted to the murder of Michael Tardio, would explain what happened next:

Faced with losing everything, a desperate Sandy Bentley went to her new boyfriend, Michael Tardio, for help.

“So, Sandy literally had nothing now. They were kicking her out of her house,” Cox explains. “So, at this point, Michael says to her, ‘Well, why don’t you just take a little bit of the jewelry. Could sell it.'”

And that’s just what happened according to surveillance video a private investigator shot at Sandy Bentley’s Las Vegas mansion the week those two allegedly took those jewels.

It’s estimated that Michael Tardio and Sandy Bentley made off with nearly $1 million in jewels and furs.

“He was doing it for his girlfriend,” [Los Angeles Times crime reporter Andrew] Blankstein says. “He wanted to sell the stuff off, give her money, and obviously satisfy her.”

“Now, Sandy Bentley claims this was Tardio’s idea… but Tardio, of course, is dead,” notes [CBS reporter Peter] Van Sant. “Do we really know the ultimate truth there?”

“No, we don’t know the ultimate truth,” says [LAPD Detective Bill] Cox.

Eugene Licker was videotaped taking inventory of the jewels that were left behind after Sandy was evicted.

“The ‘Pretty Woman’ necklace wasn’t there. It was definitely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Licker says. The Canary diamond ring wasn’t there and I know [it] was at least invoiced at a half a million dollars.”

Police inventory of Benton's jewelry

Police inventory of Sandy Bentley’s jewelry box. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

Missing jewelry

Police videotape of the evidence after Yagalla’s arrest, which shows missing jewelry. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

Bentley would originally tell Licker that the jewels must have been stolen by someone else, or were lost. “Sandy Bentley not only lied to us about what had happened to the so called missing jewelry, but she took it. She stole it,” said Licker. Bentley would eventually co-operate with police in the murder investigation of Michael Tardio, after being granted immunity on charges related to the theft of the jewels. Bentley said that Tardio had found a buyer for the jewels at the Garden of Eden. “Michael Tardio had been talking to a guy at the nightclub and the person said he knew someone was interested in the jewelry. So Michael Tardio asked to set up a meeting,” said LAPD Detective Bill Cox. September 1, 2002, nearly two years after the arrest of Mark Yagalla, was the night of the meeting, and the last day Michael Tardio was alive52.

Before he left for the meeting, Tardio gave Sandy Bentley a phone number. “If anything happens, call this number,” he told Bentley, according to Cox. The phone number belonged to a convicted felon named Michael Jacobs, and it’s believed that Jacobs was the man who introduced Tardio to a potential buyer, a man whose name remains unknown at this time, and who Tardio, along with his close friend Christopher Monson, travelled to meet on September 1, 2002. The closest we get to Jacobs is the attempt by CBS 48 Hours to interview him about the Monson-Tardio murders for their program, “Playing With Fire”. Jacobs would refuse to give a public interview to 48 Hours, or allow them to use his voice. From “Playing With Fire” (transcript is at “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”):

Jacobs confirmed that Sandy Bentley called him that night looking for Tardio, but refused an on camera interview. He also refused to answer any questions about the jewelry deal, except to say he had nothing to do with the murders and that he “sleeps well at night.”

“He’s the one who can actually, I feel, blow this case open,” Cox says. “But he just doesn’t wanna be cooperative.”

At the time of the murders, Jacobs was questioned extensively by police, but they never had evidence to charge him. For now, this investigation has hit a wall.

Michael Jacobs

Michael Jacobs, who told Michael Tardio about the fence for the rubies. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

For the meet, Tardio would rent a black Mercedes SUV and a cash counter machine. Detective Cox thought he had no idea of what he was doing. “Like, the guy you’re gonna sell this stuff to is gonna sit in the car while you feed money through the cash machine to count it?” he said. “I think Michael just either was a victim of too much television or too much reading.” Tardio and Monson left for the meeting at 9:30 PM, Sunday, September 1, 2002, the night before Labor Day. They met the buyer at a restaurant at Sunset Boulevard, an unidentified man, referred to on “Playing With Fire” as “Mr. Big”. “Do you have a sense of who this ‘Mr. Big’ is based on your own investigation?” Peter Van Sant asked Detective Cox. “No, not a clue,” said Cox. At 11:30 PM, Michael Tardio would call his girlfriend, Sandy Bentley. “Hey we’re driving through the Mount Olympus area,” he told her, and that was the last thing she ever heard him say. Less than two hours later, Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were in the Hollywood Hills, where they were shot dead in the black Mercedes SUV. “I think it was a surprise attack. These guys were caught completely off guard,” said Cox on 48 Hours. “And then the car is driven down to the North Hollywood area where it’s set afire.” What was left of the car after an attempt to set it on fire was found in the early morning of that Labor Day. “There was no identifiable fingerprints found on there – there was no really useable evidence,” said Cox. The necklace was, no doubt, cut up for its jewels. “It’s long gone. You can’t even trace it,” said Cox.

Re-creation of the burning Mercedes in which Tardio and Monson were found

Re-creation of burning Mercedes in which Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were found.

Burnt out car after murder from CBS 48 Hours

The burnt out remains of the Mercedes in which the bodies of Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson were found. From CBS’s “Playing With Fire”.

Without any arrests a year after the double murder, police would release new information and announce a $25,000 reward, as described in “Police Revisit 2002 Homicide Case” by Richard Fausset and Andrew Blankstein. Nearly a decade after the murder, police would again seek leads to the unsolved double murder, through the broadcast of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to the Monson-Tardio murders and the posting of a $75,000 reward53. From “Police seek help solving 2002 LA double killing” by Thomas Watkins:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Almost a decade after the bodies of two men were found in a burned Mercedes SUV, police detectives said Friday they need the public’s help in cracking the case, which has ties to designer jewelry, a Wall Street Ponzi scheme and a former Playboy cover girl.

The case dates back to the early morning of Sept. 2, 2002, when firefighters doused a vehicle that was ablaze in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. In the SUV, they found the bodies of nightclub doorman Michael Tardio, 35, and his close friend Christopher Monson, 31.

Both had been shot to death.

The men were well-known in the Hollywood club scene. Detectives said Friday they hoped former customers of the Garden of Eden nightclub, where Tardio worked, would come forward with information. A $75,000 reward was being offered in the case.

“We believe the nucleus of this case is around the Garden of Eden,” Detective Dennis English said.

The jewelry had been in the possession of Sandy Bentley, Tardio’s girlfriend at the time, who became a minor celebrity after appearing on the cover of the May 2000 Playboy with her twin sister.

Bentley previously dated Mark Yagalla, a Wall Street wonder kid who in 2002 pleaded guilty to securities fraud and was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for stealing $50 million from clients.

Yagalla lavished the money on girlfriends and expensive living, including spending more than $6 million on Bentley, buying her six cars, three Rolex watches, a ruby and platinum necklace, other jewelry, furs and a Las Vegas mansion.

English said Tardio persuaded Bentley to try to sell off her jewels, even though a court-appointed receiver seeking to recoup some losses for Yagalla’s victims had demanded that Bentley turn over the gifts.

It was not known how Tardio was trying to find buyers for the jewelry, but “word of mouth would go around, especially at a place like the Garden of Eden,” English said.

Sandy Bentley, said Detective Dennis English, has “moved on with her life”. At the time that this sentence is written, April 4th, 2015, the Monson-Tardio case remains open. “The case is definitely solvable,” said Detective Cox in “Playing With Fire”. “I would love more than anything to just have one little lead. It’s amazing what we can do with one little lead.”

Christopher Monson and Michael Tardio

Christopher Monson and Michael Tardio, taken from the 48 Hours episode “Playing With Fire”.

Christopher Monson Michael Tardio Information Wanted Poster

A poster advertising the $25,000 reward for information on the double murder, issued February 17, 2011.

The Braun escort ring wasn’t broken in Los Angeles, and it might never have been broken at all if Braun hadn’t expanded outside of the city. Anna David’s “The State Of Hookers in Hollywood”, published in 2004, would report that two different sources, “one of whom is an FBI informant, said that the agency is investigating Braun.” David’s “My Time With Less-Than-Hip Hookers” referenced a disc containing the “contents of a laptop which belonged to a pimp who’s now serving time in a Cuban jail,” and this sounded a lot like information taken from a laptop that only one other person seemed to have access to, and that was Mark Ebner, who wrote about the contents of the laptop and its owner, Dillon Jordan, an associate of Michelle Braun who served time in a Cuban jail, and who would end up suing Ebner over a chapter devoted to him in Ebner’s book about Hollywood’s sleazy underside, Six Degrees of Paris Hilton. The person who provided Ebner access to the information on Jordan’s laptop was Danno Hanks, who provided information to investigators related to Michelle Braun, and who might be the “unnamed informant” who handed over the Dane-Gayheart sex tape to investigators and Mark Ebner, and who might also be the unnamed informant in David’s piece54. Benjamin Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate” would explicitly state in 2001 that Michelle Braun ran a call girl ring, whose girls had been paid with the proceeds of a fraud scheme, while David’s piece in 2004 would mention that the FBI had an interest in Braun, but only in 2006 did things fall apart, far from L.A., perhaps because no one in L.A. actually wanted to break such a ring.

First, there was Braun’s sister, Mandy Gray, who Braun brought in to help her run the operation. When Gray left her husband, he went to the FBI and told them that Braun had a safe full of cash from her business buried eight feet deep in her garage. But it was in 2006, at the “Nici’s Girls” satellite operation in New York City, “Bella Models”, where things fell apart. An FBI Agent using the name George Tarpinsky paid the $2,500 fee to join the Bella premium club. In October of 2007, “George Tarpinsky” booked a Playboy cover model and a model in Boca Raton. The FBI raided Braun’s house, arrested her, and brought her in for questioning. “What do you do for a living?”, an agent asked Braun. “I think I’m here because you know what I do,” Braun answered. In 2009, Braun would end up pleading guilty to two prostitution related counts55.

Michelle Braun would forfeit her millions, and at the time of this writing, would never know such great fortune again. After the end of the escort ring, she seemed unable to make much money at all. A year after her arrest, she busted a boyfriend’s Rolls Royce, which cost over ten grand to fix. She paid for the repairs with a cheque, and the cheque bounced. The next year, she deposited a cheque in her account at a Boca Raton bank, and the cheque bounced. She ordered $16K in furniture from a furnishing company, putting it on her plastic, and her plastic was rejected. “We don’t deal with Ms. Braun anymore for obvious reasons,” said a spokesperson for the furnishing company. She had a bill for a little over five hundred dollars for moving and storing her possessions. She didn’t pay that. In 2010, Braun declared herself flat broke, unemployed, and in debt for over $700K56.

In February 2011, CBS would air “Playing With Fire”, on the Monson-Tardio murders, and featuring interview segments with Braun. Five months later, she was charged with the kind of stock fraud her past clients had engaged in. She was alleged to have run a company called Sterling Capital Trust, which was a boiler room that sold non-existent shares in an energy company. Braun and another Sterling Capital executive went to the energy company about selling shares to raise capital, the energy company declined the offer, but Braun and Sterling Capital sold shares in the energy company anyway, taking in over $400K. Marc Nurik, Braun’s lawyer for the prostitution charges, was her lawyer for this as well. “The amount of money she received is totally inflated,” said Nurik. “I’m confident once we get to the bottom of this, it will all be cleared up, at least as far as Michelle is concerned. This is not something she bears responsibility for.”57 In March 2013, Braun would plead guilty to operating a boiler room, and would be sentenced to a year of house arrest, plus four years probation58. Braun, listed as vice president of Sterling Capital, was facing twenty years in prison for the felony, but she might have gotten leniency by paying over $100K in restitution. Brian Dunlevy, another defendant in the scam, who had no money to pay any such restitution, got fifteen years. “Everyone else in the case who was able to provide restitution was given straight probation,” said Dunlevy’s lawyer. “You look at this and you say these people bought their way out of prison,” asked reporter Bob Norman. “It certainly looks that way,” said Dunlevy’s lawyer59. Terrence McCoy, the author of “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure”, a 2013 article which detailed Braun’s difficulties after her prostitution arrest, tried to contact Braun for the story. “Do not call me again, seriously. Don’t call me again.”60

Though Braun’s escort ring was broken, what looked like another elite escort ring had taken place its place in Los Angeles, and was stll in existence at the time that this sentence is written, May 8, 2015. Like Braun’s ring, it is another invisible colossus, one I would never have heard about were it not for research into links between Dubai and escorts, prompted by the convincing stories told by Kacey Jordan61. The Luxury Companion featured a harem filled with various name girls of the porn elite – Anna Bell Peaks, Jynx Maze, Abby Brooks, Brittany Banxxx, Puma Swede, Dana Vespoli, Helly Hellfire, Jada Fire, Sara Jay, Angelica Taylor – many of these names are unfamiliar to my virgin eyes, but those stood out. Though Molly Lambert’s “Porntopia” gives no mention to escorting, a brief mention of the banners hanging everywhere at the AVN Awards, “The banners for the AVN Awards hanging all over the premises feature promo shots of Alexis Texas and Tommy Pistol…along with life-size posters of starlets Mia Malkova, Tori Black, Riley Steele, and Veronica Rodriguez clad in red spandex hot pants, tube socks,” mention one woman, Veronica Rodriguez, who is also one of The Luxury Companions. Kacey Jordan, whose fascinating stories prompted this search, and Melanie Rios, the girl who invited Jordan to Charlie Sheen’s house, are part of the harem as well.

From their page “See The Companions” (archive today link), both links contain NSFW content without blurring:

The Luxury Companion roster

The Luxury Companion roster

The Luxury Companion roster

The Luxury Companion roster

The Luxury Companion roster

“What I was being paid for was an introduction…I never considered it prostitution,” Michelle Braun firmly emphasized, and the About page (archive today link) of The Luxury Companion was equally careful in the distinction.

An infusion of luxury and companionship begins here with T.L.C. where fantasies become your reality.

Meet your favorite adult star up close and personal. For those with a discriminating taste for Adventure, Beauty, Passion and Companionships will find themselves friends of The Luxury Companion. Whether it may be a night out on the town with one or more of our beautiful companions around your arms or spending a weekend or an extended evening stay with a true companion will surely make a difference and bring about memories of a life time.

All adult models and Adult performers are Independent contractors. All independent contractors understands they are not employees Of The Luxury Companion, TLC. Independent Contractors are responsible for paying any taxes earned as a Independent Contractor of The Luxury Companion, TLC. All Independent Contractors Makes their own schedules of availability. The Luxury Companion does not schedule specific days and Hours of availability.

The Luxury Companion About page

Kari Ann Peniche would record a song, “You and me and Tiger makes three” (lyrics on pastebin), which made fun of the fact that she worked as an escort and her sex tape and Miss America scandals with a playfulness that seemed perfunctory. Her voice was autotuned, and her joyful mischief was autotuned as well. Her life since the videotape scandal has been a dispiriting series of TMZ headlines. Like “VH1 Star Checks into Non-Celebrity Rehab” (9/10/2010) and “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Bails on Real Rehab After 3 Days” (9/19/2010). “You keep on saying that it’s time for my therapy / All this sobriety is really freaking scaring me” sang Peniche in “You and me and Tiger makes three”. “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Preggo — Hubby Doubts Paternity” (7/7/2011): “TMZ has obtained the divorce papers, in which Justin Williams states that Kari Ann is pregnant — and wants a judge to order genetic testing to determine if “this is a child of the marriage.”” “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Exposed Baby to Meth … Says Husband” (7/25/2012): “Justin Williams has filed documents in L.A. County Superior Court…claiming he took his 10 month old son for a hair follicle drug test earlier this month after he began to suspect Kari Ann had fallen off the wagon and was using drugs around the kid…Williams says he was initially concerned because the baby “has a habit of sucking on Kari Ann’s hair and clothes and I became concerned that he could be affected by drug residue.”” “Hey doctor doctor / Think I need some help,” sang Peniche, “Sometimes I can’t seem to control myself”. “‘Celeb Rehab’ Star Cheating Drug Tests with Bogus Urine” (12/4/2012): “TMZ has learned…Peniche’s friend filed a declaration in which he claims he accompanied the former Miss United States Teen winner to a drug-testing facility in July and witnessed her injecting the urine into her genital area…so she would “secrete the purchased urine” in the event a staffer at the facility followed her into the bathroom.” “When I say I’m ready, you don’t really want to help this girl,” sang Peniche, “I’m good for ratings in your made-up make-up TV world”. This story was about three women. It began with ridiculous dreams. It’s now over. “You are one interesting girl,” said Howard Stern when he interviewed Kari Ann Peniche.



(On April 2, 2015, additional material about Michelle Braun’s escort ring and the Uzan scandal was added. On April 4, 2015, material on the Mark Yagalla ponzi scheme, as well as the Michael Tardio-Christopher Monson murders was added. On April 5, 2015, additional material on Michelle Braun and the Sterling Capital Trust scam was added; some details were tweaked in the last paragraph of “Three Women”, devoted to to Kari Ann Peniche. On April 5, 2015, this post underwent a badly needed session of copy editing. On April 6, 2015, the interview excerpt with Gauge was added. On May 5, 2015, the excerpts from Howard Stern’s interview with Kacey Jordan were added. On May 6, 2015, footnote #34, explaining the certainty of the identification of “Fazza” Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum as the prince refered to by Kacey Jordan, was added. On that same day, the gif featuring excerpts from the sex tape which supplemented explanations of the tape being made up of segments shot at different times was added. May 6, 2015 was also the day that footnote #35, on Jordan denying that she worked with Braun, was added, and the footnote was expaned on May 7, with material from the Howard Stern Porn Star pageant. On May 7, 2015, the gif with the split screen comparison of the bedside table was added. On May 8, 2015, the excerpt from Mariah Milano’s editorial was added. On that same day, the material on The Luxury Companion was added. On July 10, 2015, the additional material about Peniche’s rape allegations was added to footnote #7.)


1 All five parts of the Kari Ann Peniche interview with Howard Stern are: “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 35 [part 3 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 45 [part 4 of 5]”, “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 55 [part 5 of 5]”. Transcript for selected portions of this interview is on pastebin: “Kari Ann Peniche on Howard Stern Selected Transcript”.

From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, fragment runs from 0:56 to 1:35.

2 From “Kari Ann Peniche on Beauty Queens gone wrong”, from 3:08 to 3:18.

3 From “Kari Ann Peniche on Beauty Queens gone wrong”, from 3:20 to 3:36, from 3:43 to 3:50, and from 4:02 to 4:07.

4 From “#25 – Kari Ann Peniche Returns”, relevant fragment runs from 21:26 to 21:58.

5 From “#25 – Kari Ann Peniche Returns”, relevant fragment runs from 19:59 to 20:23.

6 For example: “I don’t regret outing Anderson Cooper”, “James Corden’s Late, Late Show: winning debut with room for improvement”, “Community’s sixth season: still smugly self-referential”, and more.

7 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, first fragment runs from 2:36 to 3:36, second runs from 3:50 to 4:43.

I find the allegations which Peniche makes here to be very believable based on the extent of her details, and her emotions throughout the interview; she does not collapse into tears, but tries to put a happy face on so many things, and then will suddenly become very withdrawn, as if she suddenly feels the pain again and doesn’t want to go on. All of this, to my mind, rings true. There’s also the fact that Peniche relates the same cases of molestation and rape in a December 2008 interview, a few months before this one, “Kari Ann Peniche talks about her rape: A steppin out interview” (archive today link) on the site Times Square Gossip:


I’m currently writing a book about my life called “Beautifully Abused.” I’ve been though a lot of sexual abuse in my life. I was raped twice before I turned 18. It happened while I was modeling. The first time I was raped I was just 13. I was living in Texas and it happened on by a stranger [sic]. The second time was by a Military guy while I was modeling in Korea. I woke up in a dumpster and I was just 14 years old. But I wouldn’t take any of it back because it’s made me who I am. My book is about empowerment. I’ve moved ahead in my life. I’m not a victim.

I was also molested by my next door neighbor from the time I was four to seven years old. I was living on Tasman Ave in San Diego. I’ve never shared this with anyone before. But I want to talk about it. I want to deal with it. All of these people are still walking around but what can I do about it now?

8 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, fragment runs from 5:41 to 6:03.

9 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, first fragment runs from 6:12 to 8:44, second fragment runs from 9:05 to the end, continues onto “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, from beginning to 0:16.

10 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 15 [part 1 of 5]”, 1:35 to 2:10.

11 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 25 [part 2 of 5]”, fragment runs from 1:25 to 4:36.

12 From “Kari Ann Peniche Interviewed on Howard Stern Show Part 35 [part 3 of 5]”, from 2:26 to 3:32.

13 A full transcript of this third episode, as well as the other two, is on pastebin: “Mindy McCready Kari Ann Peniche Interview Transcripts”.

14 The main source for this revelation is “Mindy McCready weeps as she confirms affair with Roger Clemens” by Teri Thompson, Michael O’Keeffe, Nathaniel Vinton, and Christian Red.

15 Overviews of the life of Mindy McCready that were useful for this paragraph were her obituaries in the New York Times, “Mindy McCready, a Singer Long Troubled, Dies at 37” by N.R. Kleinfeld, and CNN, “The long, tortured journey of Mindy McCready” by Chelsea J. Carter.

16 Her guilty plea is noted in Country Weekly’s brief news item, “Mindy McCready Pleads Guilty”: “Nashville’s The Tennesseean reported that Mindy McCready pleaded guilty to prescription drug fraud in a local court on Monday. In exchange for her plea, Mindy will serve three years of supervised probation, perform 200 hours of community service and pay a $4,000 fine.”.

17 From “Mindy McCready’s Downward Spiral” by Jill Smolowe:

During the spring the singer, once engaged to Lois & Clark actor Dean Cain, became involved with a suspected scam artist named Jonathan Roda, 32. “He came to me under the guise of being some kind of record label owner-producer,” she says from Florida. “I didn’t realize he was a con man until they took him out in handcuffs.” But a witness told the police that Roda openly bragged about his schemes in McCready’s presence. Roda was arrested for identity theft and attempted fraud on June 24 in Tucson, and McCready was charged with hindering prosecution. “I am confident I will be exonerated 100 percent,” she says, adding that she actually supplied Arizona authorities with evidence against Roda. While the arrest warrant has since been downgraded to a subpoena, Arizona police say the charges stand.

From “Mindy McCready Leaves Hospital after OD” by Todd Peterson:

Country singer Mindy McCready was released Tuesday from a Florida hospital, four days after she was found unconscious in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in a reported suicide attempt.

The country singer was discovered in the Holiday Inn Harborside in Indian Rocks Beach on July 22. With her was her on-again, off-again boyfriend, William McKnight, who told the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office that McCready had consumed “large amounts of two unidentified substances” and drank a lot of alcohol, the Associated Press reports. McCready also left behind a four-page suicide note, the contents of which were not released.

18 From “Mindy McCready’s Heartbreak Over Death Of Her Soul Mate: ‘The Point Of Me Living Is Waiting To Die’ – Hear Her Tragic Call To A Friend” (no author):

Just days before she killed herself, country singer Mindy McCready called a friend and told him she couldn’t bear to live without her boyfriend David Wilson – who had died just weeks earlier after shooting himself in the head – and has exclusive audio of their heartbreaking conversation.

The grieving mother-of-two reached out to her longtime friend Danno Hanks shortly before she committed suicide herself on Sunday — and the level of pain and suffering she was attempting to deal with following her tragic loss is all too apparent.

“[The] point of me living is waiting to die so I can be with him,” Mindy admitted, in a chilling admission.

“Danno, this is a real love story. It is… I have been with people before. I have loved. I have done all kinds of things where I could say that I was in ‘something’ with that person.

19 From “Watching the Detectives” [archive link: ] by Paul Cullum:

But probably the local story they had the most to do with was Heidi Fleiss. Because Hanks was the man behind the infamous Heidi Fleiss tapes.

“On the Heidi Fleiss thing, [Brennan] came to me, and he said, ‘You know, there’s talk about this Hollywood Madam,'” says Hanks. “I started putting Heidi under surveillance, and I saw all these celebrities coming and going. And then I decided to tap Heidi’s phone. The wiretapping was not for Hard Copy. Heidi’s competition had come to me — Ivan Nagy [Fleiss’ former lover and ongoing nemesis] — and he said he’d pay me to get tapes of her telephone activity. But he didn’t want it for anything other than he wanted her client list.”

When Hard Copy‘s parent company, Paramount, ordered them off the story, Brennan continued paying Hanks out of his own pocket. The story was finally broken in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Shawn Hubler, who later identified Hanks in an accompanying sidebar as “The Man With the Tape.” Hanks claims the Times paid him $2,000 to listen to all 13 hours and promised not to identify him in print.

“That whole story was filled with this whole Hollywood demimonde that trades in gossip, intrigue and information gathering. This league of rogues. They were just two in a cast of hundreds of people who lived in that gray area. But they were a hoot.”

Hanks later sold the tapes to Fleiss herself — for $5,000 — before turning them over to the FBI, after she subsequently threatened him as well.

“She called me up and said, ‘I’m going to cut your throat and shit down your neck.'”

Fleiss also had her enforcer — the mysterious Cookie, who director Nick Broomfield had been famously unable to identify in his documentary Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam — call Hanks and threaten him. He gleefully recounts his response:

“I said, ‘Is this the same Cookie whose real name is Jacob Orgad, who lives at 1311 whatever, whose Social Security number is et cetera? Because if this is the same Cookie, try to remember: I ain’t one of Heidi’s girls that you’ve beaten up.’ And I basically advised him that I’d been threatened by professionals. But just to cover my ass, I decided that just in case the guy did have the balls, I wanted to have a backup plan.” Hence, the FBI.

Hanks shows up in Heidi’s Arrest Is the Talk of Tinseltown : Vice: Celebrities are rushing to help or distance themselves from alleged madam to the stars. by Shawn Hubler and James Bates, on page four of that story, as well as in “Amid a Media Crush, Fleiss Pleads Not Guilty”, where he shows up on page three, where he is “THE MAN WITH THE TAPE”.

20 Hollywood Interrupted is brought up in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Two”, and Breitbart is discussed at great length in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part One”, and to a lesser extent in “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Three” and “Andrew Breitbart: Psychosis in a Political Mask Part Four”.

21 From “Scientology Secrets, Bill Cosby Rape Conspiracy + Hollywood Murder”, first fragment runs from 33:02 to 33:31, second fragment runs from 34:50 to 35:34.

22 Taken from “Recapping McSteamy v. Gawker from 2009” (direct link to the comment), the following is a screenshot:

Mark Ebner Gawker comment

23 See “Madam bares Playboy links”, credited to Page Six Staff.

24 Why a gossip blog backed by the massive resources of a corporate behemoth like Time Warner was such a game changer is well explained in Anne Helen Petersen’s “The Down And Dirty History Of TMZ”.

When Time Warner merged with AOL in 2000, the idea was to use AOL’s internet muscle to exploit Time Warner’s media holdings. But the two companies had very different corporate climates, and struggled to foster the originally imagined cross-platform synergies. According to Jim Bankoff, then president of AOL (and current CEO of Vox Media), Bankoff hit it off with Paratore at a 2005 meeting between AOL and Warner Bros. executives designed to kindle increased collaboration. Paratore regaled him with stories of thousands of hours of unused Extra footage — the perfect candidate for an AOL collaboration. Neither Bankoff nor Paratore knew what, exactly, they wanted to do with that footage, save put it on AOL and establish a brand that was something other than “AOL Celebrity.” That vague, amorphous idea was enough to pique Levin’s interest.

Plus, following the historic summer of 2005, gossip was percolating at an alarming rate. A cottage industry of blogs, almost entirely run by women and queer men wholly outside the industry, were exploiting that interest — most visibly Perez Hilton, but also D-Listed, Lainey Gossip, Pink Is the New Blog, Just Jared — all of which were proving, to the somewhat startled old guard of gossipmongers, that the future wasn’t in syndicated television or print, but online. Constantly updated, dynamic, with a strong authorial voice; snarky, immediate, and originating outside the carefully cultivated celebrity sphere.

These bloggers were defined by their outsider status — and their very lack of access — but that outsider status (and lack of capital) also proved problematic. Hilton, for example, was sued multiple times — more than once for copyright infringement. What these bloggers lacked was infrastructure and capital to expand and bolster their operations, all while keeping the same all-important outsider ethic.

Which is precisely what an operation housed at Telepictures, with the larger launching pad of AOL (which, in 2005, still boasted an amplifying power of 22 million subscribers), could achieve.

25 The full series can be seen in a single video on youtube, “Secret Societies of Hollywood (All 3 Episodes)”, and this fragment devoted to elusive club entrances runs from 4:11 to 4:45.

26 Taken from “Madam bares Playboy links”, credited to Page Six Staff:

Braun, who now lives in Florida with her two daughters, won’t name names yet. Of one very single TV personality, she said, “If I dropped his name to Page Six, I certainly wouldn’t be his idol.

“I only worked with famous girls, mostly Playmates. Hef couldn’t keep any of his girlfriends in the [Playboy] Mansion,” she said. “At one time, seven of the eight girls living in the Mansion were working for me. I had one of his girlfriends in the Mansion just to recruit for me.”

27 From “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis:

As a kid, Nici enjoyed the privileged lifestyle of a small-town California girl. Her Jewish parents owned a Baskin- Robbins franchise in Bakersfield, an oil and agriculture town, and showered her with gifts, like a purple Chevy truck that sported pink flames along its sides and the license plate YOOSEXY. After school, she worked at a gym and a tanning salon, hanging out in the apple fields at night to drink beer with her friends. A popular girl who loved wielding power over a clique of friends, she plastered her bedroom with posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and dreamed of moving to Hollywood. “I wasn’t going to stay in Bakersfield,” she says. “No way.” As a freshman at San Diego State University, Nici spent most of her time partying at frats. Her roommate got on her case for not having a job, but she never wanted for money: On one trip to Rosarito, Mexico, she entered a wet T-shirt contest and won hundreds of dollars. Her primary skill involved the computer – her father, an electrical engineer, taught her to build one for a school project. “From the beginning of the Internet, I was obsessed with communicating over the Web,” she says. “I was a computer geek with a party-girl persona.”

One day, while she was window-shopping for sequined miniskirts on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, Nici was picked up by a handsome fashion designer 14 years her senior. She soon dropped out of school and moved to L.A. to be with him full time. When he dumped her, she took a job working the door at the Century Club, where a manager offered her extra money to find pretty girls to sit at the tables with the big spenders. Nici quickly proved to have a knack for separating girls from their dates. “We’re really busy tonight,” she’d tell people straining at the velvet rope. “I don’t know if we have room for all of you, but the girls can come in.” Eager to get into the club, the women would ditch their boyfriends without a thought. Then one night, a big spender asked Nici to set him up on a date with a girl she had befriended – and tipped her $500 for the privilege.

“That,” she says, “is when I realized this was a business.”

28 This partial list of women who worked for Nici Braun is compiled from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis and “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” by Mark Ebner. The names Ashley Massaro, Tina Jordan, Krystal Steal, Lanny Barby, McKenzie Lee, Naomi, Jody Palmer, Taryn Thomas and Angelique are taken from Grigoriadis; Patricia Ford, Christi Shake, Alexander Karlsen, Victoria Silverstedt, and Victoria Paris are taken from Ebner.

An accompanying picture from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis:

Lani's Girls taken from Vanessa Grigoriadis Sex Queen of L.A.

29 From “Woman accused of $8.5 million porn star prostitution business” by Rachanee Srisavasdi:

Braun allegedly operated an online business through her corporation, Global Travel Network, Inc., with the assistance of her husband and sister, according to court records in a separate money-forfeiture case involving Braun.

The company was “disguised as a travel and security business and was used to facilitate the laundering of Braun’s prostitution proceeds,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank D. Kortum.

30 From “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”, fragment runs from 1:31 to 1:51.

31 From “A-listers nervous as woman admits running Hollywood prostitution ring” by Helen Pidd:

Braun’s lawyer admitted the men who used Braun’s service did so to get sex. “I’m not sure people would pay money to meet a porn star and talk about Stephen Hawking’s newest book,” Nurik told the Daily Mail.

32 This name is taken from the excerpts of this black book featured at “A Brief History of a Hollywood Madam: Nici’s Girls, Clients and the Sting that Stung Her” by Mark Ebner.

33 Information on Gregory Turville Harry, his associate Daniel Sifford, and their pump and dump scheme is discussed in “2 accused of `pump-dump’ stock scheme” by Bloomberg News and “Man pleads guilty to inflated-stock scheme” by Salvador Hernandez.

34 We can make the identification that the prince Kacey Jordan refers to is Dubai’s crown prince, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, popularly known as “Fazza”, (wikipedia entry) without difficulty and great confidence. “We stayed at the world’s only seven star hotel,” says Jordan, and there is only one seven star hotel in the world, it’s in Dubai, and it’s the Burj Al Arab. This extraordinary hotel is owned by the Jumeirah Group, which is a subset of Dubai Holding (Jumeirah Group page on Dubai Holding site, link), whose majority shareholder is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Hamdan’s father (information taken from Dubai Holding FAQ page: “Who owns Dubai Holding?” “The major shareholder in Dubai Holding is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.”, link). “And it was okay, we just stayed at one of his hotels, that he owned,” says Jordan. “So, in other words, somebody hooks you up, you fly over to this arab country, they fly you, what, on a private jet?” asks Stern. Jordan: “Uh, well, he owns the airlines.” Though Hamdan does not personally own the airlines, his family does – from “A tale of two desert dynasties” by Christopher M Davidson references Ahmed bin Said Al-Maktoum, Hamdan’s uncle as the head of Emirates Airlines, and this is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is one of the emirates, owned by the Dubai royal family. In “Charlie Sheen’s War”, Mark Seal would also state openly that the country of this prince – never explicitly said by Jordan in the Stern interview – was Dubai. The most relevant portion from the article is bolded:

“They call me the Whore Whisperer, because I’m really good at talking to these girls,” says the Bizzle, who went by his real name, Kevin Blatt, before Snoop Dogg crowned him K-Bizzle at a porn convention. Balding, with a soul-patch goatee, he is wearing a blazer over an open shirt when I meet him for lunch in February. He says he has hardly eaten since he met Kacey Jordan less than a week ago. “I really care about these chicks,” he continues, devouring oysters. “Most people consider them throwaway sperm receptacles, but these girls have a place in the world.”

Best known for peddling the sex tape of Paris Hilton and for representing Capri Anderson when she went public about her torrid night with Sheen, the Bizzle says he got wind of Jordan from “underbelly sources.” On January 27, she had barely unlocked the door of the house she shares with a friend in the environs of Los Angeles, which she calls “the sticks, Bumfuck, Egypt,” when her cell phone rang. It was the Bizzle, who said, “I know you were at Charlie’s house last night.”

He would also soon know that she was supplementing her work in standard porn films such as Rocco’s Bitch Party 2 with low-budget, non-titled segments for the Internet. Furthermore, he would learn that she was eking out an income by escorting, that she had just returned from eight days in Dubai, and that she had already blown through the $35,000 she had been paid by her client there, a prince. More important, he knew that the $30,000 check Sheen had written that night—which she had already cashed—was chump change compared with the bonanza she now had to sell.

“Is he gross?” asks Stern of the prince. “No, he’s hot,” answers Jordan, and Hamdan fully matches Jordan’s description of a very good looking man. A Fangirls Guide to Fazza, for example, is a tumblr that is a tribute to the man’s doe eyed beauty. The U.S. embassy cable from February 12, 2008 on Wikileaks, “Dubai Designates Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler” carries the information on the appointment:

Summary: On February 1, 2008, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MbR), Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, appointed his second eldest son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad Al Maktoum (HbM), Crown Prince of Dubai. The appointment of the 25-year-old heir apparent was not a surprise; MbR had been increasing his son’s visibility through high level government assignments and unofficial publicity campaigns over the past several years. Consolidating the Dubai government’s succession planning, MbR also appointed another son, Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammad Al Maktoum (MbM), as Deputy Ruler of Dubai. For now, MbM will share responsibilities as Deputy Ruler with Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. (Hamdan bin Rashid is MbR’s older brother who was named Deputy Ruler of Dubai in 1995, the same year MbR assumed his role of Crown Prince. Sheikh Hamden [sic] also serves as the UAE Minister of Finance and Industry). End summary.

That Hamdan was made crown prince, rather than his older brother and the oldest son, Rashid, is given an unsettling explanation in the same cable. I bold the significant detail:

MbR’s oldest son, Rashid, does not play a public role in Dubai affairs. (Note: It is alleged that Rashid killed an assistant in the Ruler’s office, thereby forfeiting his opportunity to be heir. Post believes MbR has a total of 20 children from both his official and unofficial wives. End note).

35 In a later interview with Stern, Jordan would claim that she had no connection with Michelle Braun or her escort ring. From “Howard Stern – Pageant”, part of a 2011 show devoted to a porn star contest pageant (11:40-12:54):

Weren’t you sent over by that lady pimp who was in the, who was coming forward also, or you have a different person who puts you in charge with these parties?

I take care…it’s all through like, mutual acquaintances, like one guy, and then it’s their friend, and then it’s the doctor, and then it’s the dentist. Which…I fucked my dentist. Which is so hot.

You fucked your dentist?

My biggest fantasy when I was growing up, getting my teeth cleaned, I just wanted to fuck my dentist. And finally I have a dentist I can fuck. And-

How does that work? In other words, you-

Oh, I’m going to get a complete set, it’s like, forty grand worth of veneers for free.

Let me ask you, are those your real teeth?


Your teeth are gorgeous! Don’t put those veneers on, they always end up looking fake.

Nonono, this guy is amazing. And he’s-

Let me see, move to the side, and give me a smile. [JORDAN does so] Don’t touch those teeth!

What do you want!

Why would you do that!

I can’t achieve the whiteness.

Listen to me. These girls who get these veneers. They make these white chiclets, and they never look hot anymore. Don’t touch your teeth.

You’ll look so fake. You look so natural.

So what is it, the dentist agrees to give you veneers if you fuck him?

Yeah. Well, he had to fuck me in my ass the other day, because I couldn’t have sex yet.

Because of your abortion?

Yeah. It was a big fat load. I always see how long I can keep it in for.

This pageant was a contest between three women who’d known Charlie Sheen – Jordan, Amanda Rios, and Capri Anderson. Most of the hilarity comes from the hatred between Anderson and Jordan; Anderson had been invited to Sheen’s hotel room in 2011 when he wrecked it and allegedly threw a lamp at her, and it was this hotel room wrecking incident which prompted a call to the police and brought a spotlight to Sheen’s excesses. Jordan felt that Anderson was playing the card of a helpless victim, and she wasn’t buying it. Jordan was especially hostile to the idea that Anderson was suing Sheen after he apologized, which led to Jordan, one of those people a writer loves because they’re an endless fountain of quotables, coming up with one of the best lines I’ve heard in a while. From 39:12 to 40:28.

…as soon as he [Sheen] started getting physical with me, I got really nervous, I resisted, I started to get off the bed, and weasel my way away, and he picked up the lamp next to the bed and just tossed it, like baseball style…

Question for Capri.

…smashing everything around the room.

Go ahead, Kacey.

So, if he apologized and everything, why do you want to sue him?

He apologized two days later. Because people have to suffer the consequences and the repercussions of their bad actions.

He even offered you money, and you still want to sue him?

Yeah, I’m suing him to make a point.

Okay. That’s kind of mean.

Yeah, it is kind of mean. Somebody was kind of mean to me. A lot of people have been kind of mean to me. The paparazzi have been mean to my family-

[repulsed sigh]

What have they been doing?

So people have been mean to me too! That’s what comes along with this. It’s just-

I’m not complaining about people being mean to you. You asked me, so I’m answering.


But this is the problem, Howard. A lot of the girls don’t like the way Capri has handled all this. They say it’s part of the job.

Kacey, you think this is unprofessional of her, even though she was attacked physically, she claims.

Yeah. Well. Okay. I don’t blame him.

You think she’s in it just for the money.


Attacked physically, emotionally. My entire life. I mean, they went to Philly, to my sister’s, where she’s doing her internship-

You suck dick for a living. You’re afraid of a lamp getting thrown at you?

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36 The details in this paragraph on the Uzan family’s beginnings and their involvement with Cukurova Elektrik are taken from “Dial ‘D’ For Dummies” by Matthew Swibel.

37 Details in this paragraph are taken from “Dial ‘D’ For Dummies” by Matthew Swibel, “Turkey’s Berlusconi?” by The Economist staff, and “Motorola’s fraud lawsuit a story of global intrigue” by Barbara Rose and Catherine Collins.

38 Information in this paragraph on Cem Uzan’s attempts at election are taken from “Turkey’s Berlusconi?” by The Economist staff, “Motorola’s fraud lawsuit a story of global intrigue” by Barbara Rose and Catherine Collins, “Neophyte status a plus for hopeful” by Catherine Collins; I found the best source for information on the fall of the Imar Bank to be the Hurriyet Daily News, among them “$5 billion lost in Imar Bank” (no author credit fro Hurriyet Daily News stories), “Share sale reminds of a dark chapter in Turkish banking”. A PR release on the judgement was released by Motorola on July 31, 2003, and published on PR News Wire: “U.S. District Court Issues $4.26 Billion Judgment Against Uzan Family of Turkey for Perpetrating Massive Global Fraud, According to Motorola”. Further information on this initial verdict can be found at “Uzan says he sought deals” by Catherine Collins and David Greising.

39 Information on this seizure is taken from “Turks take over 219 companies of family” by Catherine Collins.

40 Except for the cited article from Today’s Zadan, all information on the exile of the Uzans here is taken entirely from Hurriyet Daily News: “PM accuses France on Uzan move”, “Uzan row may worsen Turkey-France ties, reports say”, “Turkish court issues another warrant for former media mogul” (a reference to Cem Uzan), “President Gül to ask Jordan to cooperate over Uzan case”.

41 The figure of over eight million is taken from “Woman accused of $8.5 million porn star prostitution business” by Rachanee Srisavasdi; in “Extra: Michelle Braun on the life of a madam”, her interview with Peter Van Sant, we get a slightly different answer, that she made over twenty million dollars.

42 The quotes from Yagalla in this paragraph are all taken from his interview with Peter Van Sant, “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”.

43 We are told it was Michelle “Nici” Braun that he talked to, via the account of the phone call from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace:

He churned through strippers as if sheer numbers could fill the hole in him. But again he grew bored, and this time he turned to the Internet. It was there that he stumbled on Nici’s Girls, a website that was just then taking the online escort business to a new level. Men willing to pay a $5,000 “admission fee” could gain entrée to Nici’s “Millionaires Club,” billed simply and mysteriously as a harem of unnamed porn stars, Penthouse Pets and Playboy Playmates. That was enough for Yagalla. He called Nici, who was herself just 21, and said he was young and had a lot of money. She matched him with a pin-up girl who came to his home and flew with him to Puerto Rico. The four days only cost him $28,000 plus airfare.

44 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace, except for the quote “She was the first person to really use the Internet to offer prostitutes,” which is taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.

45 Taken out of “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”, fragment runs from 2:28 to 2:32.

46 Details on “Fat” Herbie Blitzstein’s life and death are taken from “Slaying of ‘Fat Herbie’ Evokes Mob’s Heyday” by Robert Macy. The association between Bitzstein and Bentley is taken from Benjamin Wallace’s “The Prodigy and the Playmate”: “Sandy, close to five-foot-nine, had hair extensions and breast implants (the latter paid for by a pre-Hefner boyfriend, slain Vegas mobster Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein), and ambitions centered on fame and fun and wealth.”

47 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace.

48 Taken out of “Extra Interview – Mark Yagalla on Ponzi Schemes”, fragment runs from 2:33 to 2:58.

49 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace.

50 The details in this paragraph are all taken from “The Prodigy and the Playmate” by Benjamin Wallace.

51 Details in this paragraph are taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.

52 Details in this paragraph are taken from the transcript of “Playing With Fire”, the 48 Hours episode devoted to Marc Yagalla, Michelle Braun, and the aftermath; transcript is here: “A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder”. “Playing With Fire” was produced by Chris O’Connell, Ira Sutow and Greg Fisher.

53 Information on the reward was taken from “Police hope new show, $75,000 reward will solve cold double slay case linked to pinup’s jewelry” by Nancy Dillon.

54 For legal reasons, information on Dillon Jordan is left out of this post. However, I have read the missing chapter of Ebner’s Six Degrees of Paris Hilton devoted to him. An account of the lawsuit can be found at Courthouse News, “Hollywood Blogger Accused of Defamation” by Che Akiba, and the effect can be found in a “Archive Note” (published April 1st, 2012) reprinted on Ebner’s site, Hollywood Interrupted: “All publications concerning Dillon Jordan have been removed due to a legal settlement agreement (with prejudice) reached in litigation with Plaintiff.” The detail that Danno Hanks provided investigators with information can be found at “Hollywood madam Michelle Braun cozies up to federal agents” by Rush & Malloy: “Investigators obtained evidence from private investigator Dan Hanks, who got to know Braun while working for “Fox Undercover.” “Michelle would ask me to do background checks on potential clients and girls, which I did in order to find out more about her,” Hanks tells us.”

55 The details of the end of Braun’s ring and her arrest are taken from “The Sex Queen of L.A.” by Vanessa Grigoriadis; the plea by Braun can be found at United States of America v. Michelle Louise Braun.

56 Details of Michelle Braun’s difficult post-madam life in this paragraph are taken from “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure” by Terrence McCoy.

57 Details on Sterling Capital and Braun’s arrest for fraud are taken from “Former California madam charged in South Florida stock fraud” by Peter Franceschina.

58 Details on Braun’s plea in the Sterling Capital fraud can be found in “Former Hollywood madam sentenced in Fort Lauderdale stock scam” by Jon Burnstein:

A Boca Raton woman who once ran Southern California’s most exclusive escort service was sentenced Friday to one year of house arrest for her role in a Fort Lauderdale scam that bilked investors out of more than $200,000.

Michelle Braun cut a deal with state prosecutors in January to avoid prison time in exchange for paying a sizable chunk of money in restitution and pleading no contest to a felony charge. She had served as vice president of a company, Sterling Capital Trust, that sold nonexistent stock to investors, according to court records.

She pleaded no contest in January to unlawfully operating a boiler room operation, a first-degree felony under Florida law punishable by up to 30 years in prison. A boiler room typically is a fraud operation in which telemarketers use high-pressure sales tactics to lure the gullible and the greedy into purported investment opportunities.

As part of her plea deal, Braun agreed to house arrest followed by four years’ probation. She already has handed over $100,000 in restitution for the victims and will be on the hook for more if her co-defendants don’t cover the rest.

59 Details on the disparity between Michelle Braun’s sentencing and that of Brian Dunlevy are taken from “Did high-priced madam bought her way out of prison” by the great reporter Bob Norman.

60 Quote is obviously taken from “Michelle Braun: Notorious L.A. Madam’s South Florida Adventure” by Terrence McCoy.

61 I was prompted into looking at The Luxury Companion from the sentence, “Jessie seems an odd choice to talk about the dangers of unprotected porn sex, when it’s well known Derek and Adonia sent her on the sheik tour of Dubai for unprotected prostitution sex,” a line I came across in a long thread devoted to retired adult performer Jessie St. Rogers (“Jessie Rogers Official Thread. New 18yo brazilian (page 43)”, thread content and ads are very NSFW). It was porn veteran Rob Black (see “Extreme Porn, Xtreme Wrestling and Solitary Confinement: The Life and Times of Rob Black” by Daniel Dylan Wray) who alleged the owner of The Luxury Companion was Karen Adonia on his podcast, “The Rob Black Show (2013/07/02)” (he makes the allegation at 1h52m, both the show and time I got from XXXpornTalk‘s “The Pornarium (page 8)” thread, contents and ads very NSFW). Derek is presumably Derek Hays of the porn talent agency, LA Direct Models.

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Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club: The Fappening Part One



This post, like many others, was intended as a short book review and grew into an epic that will end up touching at least two continents. It is currently unfinished, and ends abruptly. It is my ardent hope that it will be completed by Monday, March 9th. The empty subheads will eventually have content. Though it is does not appear so at the moment, it will eventually return to the material of “The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings: Gawking at the Wreckage”, with this post serving as a kind of sequel to that one.

“Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves a dark house and a whip as madmen do: and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love, too.”

As You Like It, William Shakespeare

“Charisma dazzles, and flashbulbs woo the lightning bolt.”
The Kennedy Imprisonment, Garry Wills

“This is the game that moves as you play”
“The Have Nots”, X


“I had removed you from the frame of your special existence. I had forgotten who you were and where you belonged. I had demeaned you by treating you as an ordinary woman,” says Adam Malone to Sharon Fields. “Then, seeing you in the movie, seeing you where you belonged, seeing you in your proper frame again, well, it shocked me. Yes, it shocked me, made me realize you were something special, a work of art, a temple, an object meant to be worshipped from afar, a rare embodiment of Eve held aloft to inspire all men.” In Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club, Sharon Fields is the biggest star in the world, and Adam Malone is one of a group of four men who kidnap the actress so they can have sex with her.

Wallace’s book teaches us yet again how popular art, a pulpy sensational novel, can touch a subject with a razor where others use soft down. The Fan Club takes the idea of celebrity worship to its shocking, obvious end. I was lucky enough to hear about the book in The Projection Booth‘s excellent podcat about Caligula (“Episode 178: Caligula”)1, and when I looked up the synopsis, I couldn’t believe it was real; but it’s very, very real. The men are enraptured by this woman but they also have contempt for her, and here we have the two obvious poles of celebrity culture. This book, however, goes beyond abstract polite ideas to brutal reality. They see her as an idol, but also wish to reduce her to something less. “The greatest leveller on earth, the greatest equality maker in the world, was a man’s cock,” are the thoughts of Kyle Shiveley, the most brutal of the four. “A good stiff eight inches did more to promote social justice than all the big brains in the world.”

Malone is a writer, Shiveley is a mechanic and ex-soldier, Leo Brunner a tweedy accountant, and Howard Yost an ex-football player who now sells insurance. Together they form The Fan Club, a group whose objective is to kidnap Fields, and afterwards persuade her to have sex with them. They implement the kidnapping as if it were a heist or an assault on a castle. “I was an assistant to our platoon leader, infantry, in Vietnam,” says Shiveley during a discussion of the plan. “Every assault or raid our task force ever made was figured out in advance…What we’re talking about now is ten times easier.” In the diary of Malone which records the pinpointing of security gaps and the mapping out of the logistics of the abduction, Sharon Fields is always refered to as The Object.

Sharon Fields carries the mark of the divine in her extraodinary beauty, a beauty so great that it permeates their dreams, like those of Kyle Shiveley: “his mind was filled with a full-length image of a naked Sharon Fields, the sexiest broad in the world, whom he’d seen on television last night and in a thousand magazines and newspapers so many times before. There she was, stretched out, lying across his mind, and not a goddam stitch on.” There is something magical, something holy to her beauty. The bed in the cabin where they hope for their great conjoining is refered to by Adam Malone as “The Celestial Bed”. “I have never believed in Heaven,” are the thoughts of Malone. “I think that bed will convert me.” She is a divine whose presence is a worldwide abstraction which supercedes all physical existence. These men are failures who feel themselves invisible men. The thoughts of Leo Brunner while at the strip club for which he does accounting work: “Those girls, that good life out there, all that was for real people, visible people with identities, the achievers, the some bodies. He was the total nobody. The zero.” When the men finally kidnap Fields, they are joyful in their discovery that she is tangible, she is real, she is mortal. “I can’t get over the way she felt in my arms when I slapped the chloroform on her,” says Shiveley. “She just caved in, and me trying to hold her, my one hand got a grab on one of her tits. I tell you, it was for real, no falsies, and you know, I bet my palm didn’t cover even half of her boob.”

That this scheme might actually work, that Sharon Fields could be persuaded into having sex with these men after being kidnapped, is pollen from the hothouse brain of Adam Malone, a man possessed by a hermetic madness where the obsessiveness of the writer crisscrosses with that of the fanatic. This isn’t a brutal act, but a romantic quest2. Malone’s knowledge of her is encyclopedic, yet entirely severed from reality. He is convinced that this knowledge itself will be the sufficient secret key to give them access. “If you had my knowledge of her, it would be quite clear to you,” he tells Howard Yost during a meeting of the group:

Picking her up is incidental, a minor means to an end. Once it were done, and we had rapport with her, she’d go along with it. You must believe me. And once she went along with it that would make the whole aftermath voluntary on her part. Whatever followed would be because she wanted it. You could sleep with her. I could. We probably all could. Knowing her, I know she’d be happy to cooperate. She has a different, freer attitude about such things than most women. Believe me, Mr. Yost, there would be no crime involved once it was done. She’d be flattered. She’d like it.

The Object, also known as Sharon Fields, gets handed the narrative baton shortly before the abduction, and her perspective then interweaves with that of her abductors for the rest of the book. She is a woman of great cunning and drive, hidden behind a mask, who sometimes is only a mask, and this mask is all that people ever want. “Trying to listen, to respond, to the endless superficial nonsense from these jet-set sillies…she was wilting,” are her thoughts in her first scene, a party at her mansion where she’s utterly bored while perfectly imitating interest. “She wondered whether it showed. But then she knew, from past experience, it never showed on her. What was inside her was never revealed or reflected on the outside. The theatrical mask, so long worn, had become her outer skin, and it let nothing out, it never betrayed.” Like a camera that travels beneath a gorgeous landscape to subterranean machinery beneath, we move past her sensual beauty and kindly eyes to the sharp stiletto mind within, as it records each partygoer like an actuary at a rest home:

Her green eyes still betrayed nothing of her inner feelings, revealed only gracious interest, as they scanned the dramatis personae readying to exit from the stage. Her gaze froze each in a frame for an instant, while her mind added a caption, then photographed and categorized the next.

Hank Lenhardt, the most successful publicist in town, with his boring and stupid anecdotes and endless pitch and slick gossip. Justin Rhodes, the producer of her current film, a gentleman from the legitimate theatre, but another phony on the make, not for her (he was surely a fag or a neuter) but on the make for her dependence upon him and for her name to use as another steppingstone on his non-stop power trip. Tina Alpert, the widely syndicated movie columnist, a smiler with a knife, a twenty four hour bitch you never turned your back on or ignored or ever forgot to woo with expensive birthday or Christmas presents.

Sy Yaeger, the hot new filmmaker, euphemism for director, who rewrote writers on the set and had the arrogance to make a cult of the kitsch peddlers of the past like Busby Berkeley, Preston Sturges, Raoul Walsh. Sky Hubbard, the radio and television network news commentator, a dumb lip reader and foghorn, a face out of a shirt ad, whom that idiot Lenhardt had insisted that she invite as an investment in goodwill. Nadine Robertson, whose only claim to fame was that she had once played opposite Charles Chaplin (no small thing) and who was now a silicone smooth old socialite and giver of charity balls, a grand dame who whined clichés and somehow had escaped interment in the Movie land Wax Museum.

And the rest of them they were going out of focus now all Xeroxes of some earlier true original, all the same, the same shrill brightness, the low-keyed come-on, the wits with their warmed-over Wilson Miznerisms, the insiders with their Luis Bunuel, Sergei Eisenstein, Satyajit Ray talk, the put oners and put downers, the casual withit dressers, the practiced amusers, users, freeloaders, name in the papers people of an evening, so chic, so predictable, so exhausting, so utterly unreal and nothing.

Bodies milling. Bodies leaving.

Though these men are outside the fantastic world of the movies – “people like us, plain people, we don’t get the chance to meet someone like you” – they are suddenly in the heightened kinetic world we associate with the cinema when they pull off their carefully planned abduction: Shiveley presses open the mansion’s gate when Fields goes for her routine stroll with her dog, where she meets the men posing as part of an insect extermination company, after which they chloroform her and pull Fields into a delivery van. The perfect woman of the fantastic movie world is suddenly astonished to find herself in a suspense movie that’s not a movie at all. She keenly sees reality, while the men are high on the ether of fantasy. “Through reading about you, studying you, meditating on your psyche,” Malone tells Fields when she gains consciousness in The Fan Club’s hideaway, “I’m acquainted with your whole psychological makeup as a woman, your deepest inner feelings as a human being, your hidden spiritual values.” She’ll no doubt be able to see this all as a romantic parley, once she sees them as reasonable, well-intentioned men, Malone says:

And since we never had any intent to hurt or harm you, we were sure that once you realized our good intentions and appreciated our motives, well, you’d be sympathetic in the end. I mean, even if our means of introducing ourselves to you was unconventional, we figured you might admire us for being adventurous and romantic enough to take such a risk just to see you and have an opportunity to talk to you and become acquainted.

Her reaction is simple, an anguished exasperation that these men have taken the fantasy to be real. “Oh, God, oh, God, God no,” she says. “I can’t believe it. Oh, God help us. That-that some one that you could possibly believe it believe all that drivel, that garbage and do this. The world is insane, and you’re the most insane.” The sexually avaricious woman that these men know so well, isn’t her at all, but a phantom creature conceived in an ad department. “It’s all a pack of lies, every word of it, lies,” she tells them, “I’ve never once spoken any of the things you were reading to me. Those interviews were all made up by imaginative publicists, canned interviews put out in my name.”

When Adam Malone records the progress of the abduction plan, he refers to each man by a protective name defined by their profession: The Accountant, The Insurance Person, The Mechanic. When we shift to Sharon Fields’ perspective after the kidnapping, she gives each man, whose names are unknown to her, a descriptive label that conveys their essence: The Salesman, for the false suffocating gladhandedness of Yost; The Milquetoast, for the pathetically weak and self-pitying Leo Brunner; The Dreamer, for the delusional fantasist Malone; and The Evil One, for the cold-eyed sociopath Kyle Shiveley. It’s The Evil One who shifts the narrative into its next phase. “Well, honey, have you changed your mind?” he asks the captive woman. “No. Not now and not tomorrow and not ever,” she answers, and Shiveley then goes after her with a squire’s wrath3. He puts a gag in her mouth and rapes her. “So that was Sharon Fields,” he says afterwards.

The other men fear the cruelty and instability of Shiveley4, but they are also enthralled by his bullying strength. He becomes the clear leader of the group, supplanting Adam Malone. This world in which they live after the abduction is one where they might do what they wish, and make whatever rules serve their purpose. “The worst is behind us. The most dangerous part is done,” Shiveley instructs them. “Now we’re safe. It’s our world. We’re running it. Like God himself, we can do whatever we want, make new rules, laws, whatever you want to call them.” After Shiveley rapes Fields, the other man rape her as well, each finding some excuse for their despicable action. “With the temptation at hand, and the first rape committed,” reflects Malone, “civilization in the traditional sense had been swept aside. Since they had to answer to no one, they could redefine decency and had done so. A wrong had been revised, by a majority, to be viewed in the guise of right.” After Leo Brunner rapes her, we are given his half apologies and excuses, and her silent reply, poisoned with loathing for this weakling that dominated her:

Hurriedly dressing, he babbled on and on pedantically about the thin line that distinguished seduction and rape, finally satisfying himself (that old, old male ego trip) that there could be no such thing as rape once there was consummation. Real rape would be as impossible as threading a swinging needle, right? Once you threaded the needle, it meant there had been cooperation, right? Therefore, it could not be forcible rape, right?

Wrong, you silly bastard.

“Of them all, he, Adam Malone, was the human being who deserved Sharon most,” are the thoughts of The Dreamer before he rapes The Object, “He, and only he, had made what had happened happen. Of them all, he, and only he, respected and cared for her as a person.” This isn’t a rape, but an act of consideration on the part of Adam Malone: “It was not right that she should suffer only those stupid, unfeeling, uncaring animals, and never know that under this very roof there was one who truly loved her for herself, loved her with a tenderness, a giving, a warmth that she would surely welcome at this time.” If nothing else, this act can be justified by this being the natural order of the world, whether the anthropology of Margaret Mead or a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “The Mayfly is torn by the swallow, the sparrow speared by the shrike, / And the whole little wood where I sit is a world of plunder and prey.” But Sharon Fields doesn’t want him at all. “Go away,” she says. “Don’t do any more. I’m so weak, sick please.” The Dreamer: “In a little while, darling. In a little while you will sleep. We’ve known each other too well to stop now.”

The Fan Club was described as sordid in one Wallace obituary5, and the sordidness does not arise simply from the situation or the vileness of the men, but that we are sunk eyebrow deep in this swamp without fresh oxygen, as these men are essentially static. They are nothing beyond the essences of the labels bestowed by Fields, each one a separate and distinct contemptible attribute of man, whether it be brutality (Shiveley), insincerity (Yost), weakness (Brunner), or delusion (Malone). Their victim remains static as well, a very resourceful woman whose gifts as an actress she also employs in life, either to acquire wealth and power in Hollywood or to get out of this scrape alive. She pretends that she actually enjoys being with these men, to put them at ease, that they trust her, talk with greater ease around her, so she can get their names and find out where she’s being held. “She must become the hot, acrobatic, erotic sexpot and nymphomaniac that each of these yahoos fancied and desired,” she tells herself. “Could she do it?” In one brilliant moment, Fields imagines a dutiful interviewer asking her questions about the terrifying place she finds herself in and the task before her. The binding contract of the studio intertwines with the binding ropes of the bed, the unending appetite of the movie audience melds with the demands of The Fan Club:

Miss Fields, at twenty-eight, are you pleased with your present situation?

No one is ever pleased, all things considered. I would say my situation today is better than it was before. But that’s not good enough for me. Essentially, I’m a free soul. I cherish freedom. But I’m still under contract, you know. It is binding, you know. I won’t be happy until I’ve cut free.

Miss Fields, do you find anything else standing between you and total freedom?

Yes. The Fan Club gambit. Catering to The Fan Club, that’s the most dangerous pitfall of all. You find yourself doing what they want, to survive, but you know, in the end they can tire of you, turn on you, kill you.

Not really, Miss Fields?

You bet your ass really, I’m really afraid.

Thank you, Miss Fields.

You’re welcome.

The men themselves start to tire of her. “What do you get from a superstar that’s any different from any of the others?” asks Shiveley. “You’re getting the same tits, same bouncing ass, same snapping pussy, same hand jobs and Frenching, same squealing nothing different from a couple hundred other broads I’ve banged from secretaries and waitresses to finishing school birds.” Leo Brunner agrees: “once the mystery and novelty are over with, and you’ve been back to the well enough times, you have to tell yourself that she’s no better or more unusual than at least a dozen good lookers you’ve had before.” For Malone, sex with Fields makes her an ordinary woman, and when he watches one of her old movies, he realizes that her power exists in not being physical, not being intimate. “You were something special, a work of art, a temple,” he tells her, “an object meant to be worshipped from afar, a rare embodiment of Eve held aloft to inspire all men.” Instead of wasting more time on sex, the men decide to ransom her, except for Malone, the persistent dreamer: “If we’d done this for money, we’d be common criminals, which we aren’t. We did what we did because we were decent human beings who wanted to achieve something romantic.”

While the ravaging of The Fan Club takes place, the police move in to try to find the missing woman, and here we have one of the book’s many flashes of brilliance. There is a lengthy section given over to the police computer database, the California Law Enforcement Teletype System (CLETS), described as a “magical machine” attended by Marion Owen, “an introvert with superior mechanical skills”. Owen is just about the only other female character in the book other than Fields and her assistant, and though in some future she would be a successful engineer, here she is supposed to be a figure of pity, a wallflower with poor complexion “doomed” to be a spinster until a man “rescues” her. Her marginality is a tragedy (and one unnoticed by this book), but which serves the purpose of making her as a kind of attendant for the CLETS machine which will help to locate Sharon Fields. The screen goddess and her attendant are mirrored in the magical machine and its attendant, a mechanical colossus whose divining power approaches that of Merlin’s tools. The California police speak in a clipped, precise language with almost no reference to personal life, a kind of nest of drones that share the machine qualities of the CLETS. We have a juxtaposition of chiming and discordant notes which we struggle to fully hear, of an organization which derives its power from being more machine like, which is in alliance with a magical machine in a search for a missing woman on whom society has directed the vestiges of religious belief, briefly making her a creature of divine substance.

Fields puts The Fan Club at sufficient ease that they buy her supplies, including distinctive french perfume and breath mints. “She had given off a beep from an unknown planet,” Fields hopes, “trying to tell someone somewhere in the universe that there was life on another planet.” She writes a ransom note in her own hand as proof of life, and manages to insert a code in it, one known to her and her assistant from one of her past movies. The police are slowly able to isolate her location via the drugstore where the supplies were bought and the code in the ransom note. Howard Yost goes to pick up the ransom and he’s confronted by a police chopper, killing himself before he can be captured. The other men at the hideaway soon realize that their scheme has fallen apart. Brunner tries to flee, but Shiveley kills him first. Shiveley moves on to kill Sharon Fields as well, but Malone stabs him in the back. Yet Malone is unable to kill Shiveley, overcome instead by a vomiting attack, a physical revulsion at this violence. Sharon Fields picks up Shiveley’s gun. “Lemme-lemme-lemme live,” Shiveley begs. “Tell me again, you pig. Beg for your life. Beg the way I did. Beg the way I begged,” Fields demands, but this is just to see the man beg some more, before she kills him by shooting him in his privates. She then moves out to meet the descending police chopper with the regal elegance of a living statue. We are now in the sharp lines of the action movie, and Fields is very much the star again. “Well, what do you say?” she asks Malone, as she nods towards the helicopter. “The marines always come, don’t they, sonny boy?” Malone: “You-you led them here, somehow, didn’t you, Sharon?” Fields: “You’re sharper than I thought.” They have one final moment before Malone flees the hideaway, and she meets the detectives.

“You lied about caring for me, didn’t you?” He hesitated. “You-you care only for yourself, for yourself and nobody else, and you always have, isn’t that right?”

The smile was colder than ever. “You’re about ready to graduate, I see. I’ll tell you something. I’ve known lots of men, buster, lots. I’ve never known one, not one, who wasn’t a pig. Including you. You were just one more that happened along.” She paused. “I learned one thing long, long ago. This. Who’s going to care for me more than me, myself, and I?”

This bizarre, forgotten book ends in an appropriately strange note, with Malone returning to his house, as if none of the tumultuous events have even taken place. And we, the reader, realize that the experience is very much like going to a movie, where we are engulfed by vivid, violent experience, yet which then disappears, and we go back to ordinary life. Sharon Fields cannot be brought into this ordinary life without destroying the mask that is the coveted fantasy, the eternally sensual pliant gaze, and we are left to wonder if she ever did pass into ordinary life, or whether we’ve briefly fallen into the imagination of a fevered obsessive.

Now, walking alone on the deserted street to his pad, he had finally ceased wondering why she had spared him.

He had ceased wondering because he had the answer, at last. As a movie buff, he knew, just as Sharon Fields knew, that if she was to fulfil her role as a heroine, and transform this dark interlude in her life into a credibly romantic and plausible story that she could live with, the story must have a hero, even an antihero.

He understood.

He and she, they had not been so different, after all.

Nearing his destination, he knew he had to resolve something else, face up to it, admit it. His experiment in alchemy had not worked. The gold dust of fantasy could not be transmuted into the gold brick required by reality. It was too fragile; the stuff of dreams, and it evaporated and was no more.

We see in The Fan Club the ways in which a popular novel might clasp a crucial subject with both hands, a subject which more “serious” books might consider beneath them as being too squalid or sordid. Were this novel written by a more “serious” writer, some prestigious bold face name, it would no doubt find some praise as a daring piece of horror dealing with modern idolatry – though it might also work up a little too much flop sweat condescending to the low brow material, and be encrusted with a little too much pretension to protect its dignity during the wallow. The Fan Club, by talking about what everyone wants to talk about without constraint or protection, gives us a necessary view of the world that often eludes more highbrow literature. At the same time, it has faults that would not be found (or should not be found) in the work of a more gifted high brow writer. The dialogue is often wretchedly functional, the characters expressing ideas and intent unshaped by anything like intricate character. More crucially, the men who abduct Sharon Fields each embody only the qualities we find most wretched in others and…ourselves, yet nothing in ourselves passes into these men. Women as well as men will be aligned entirely with Fields, and thereby the reader is allowed the pleasure of a sordid novel, but also of superiority over these wretches: I am nothing like these men. There is no possibility, I think, for any man to have any uncomfortable sense that their lust for someone like Scarlett Johansson or Rihanna crosses over with the lust of The Fan Club, and the book avoids the way celebrity culture toys with the feelings of women, where you are roused to despise some delicate creature impossibly more beautiful than you, how you are driven to take joy in seeing her humiliated, and how you become something contemptible in wanting this. We might imagine a book where Sharon Fields is a typical villain celebrity – rich, pretentious, cruel, beautiful – where we want her to suffer, and where our sympathies suddenly shift, and we see our own vile feelings reflected in the four men. The transformation which great literature performs with pulp subjects, not simply re-telling the stories with a larger vocabulary, but giving archetypes unknown depths and twisting the reader’s certainties, is absent in this novel.

“I was all alone in the club car, and then we stopped at this junction and some railroad men got aboard. There was a newspaper, and they saw a headline about Burton buying Taylor the world’s biggest diamond,” Irving Wallace would tell Roger Ebert about the beginnings of the book. “That started them talking about Elizabeth Taylor, and one guy said he’d trade his house, his wife, big car, everything, for one night with her.”6 This kind of stuff is a commonplace, and Wallace knows so: “I’d heard that kind of talk all my life. I didn’t make a note about it in my journal as a possible story idea; I thought I’d forgotten it.” Yet the complicity of the majority in celebrity culture is not the subject of The Fan Club; it’s made into a problem of a few sociopath miscreants. Perhaps because Wallace knew women like Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner first-hand, Sharon Fields is more real to us than the men, and this a necessary element in the book’s engine, the human female versus the four monsters. The issue of larger complicity is not, I think, an idle or abstract one, because even though her roles and her persona don’t mesh with those of Fields, I could only cast one woman in my mind for Sharon Fields, and that was Jennifer Lawrence, because I read The Fan Club last September, a few weeks after #TheFappening.

We might think of that event as something like a colossal storm, containing two phenomena, a subterranean roar which quaked through the earth far from the storm center as if from a multi-megaton blast, and a counterpoint to the noise in a smaller burst of pious blue light. The quake was loud and distant, yet without a visible gleam: these images never appeared on mainstream sites. The pious lightning were the various think pieces which flashed out during this storm, and of those I read, even “The Great 2014 Celebrity Nude Photos Leak is only the beginning” by the gifted writer Roxane Gay, I found to be frustratingly banal for being so unrooted in the event itself. A look at this very specific context, I think, is necessary for why people felt no compunction in hacking these photos and linking to them, and it is not answered by the fact that every woman expects misogyny on-line, that every woman on-line (or any woman on-line who presents herself as female), can expect to deal at least once with a rape threat.

Despite the extraordinary flurry of interest about this story, and despite the fact that the fear that your nude photos might be leaked out of vengeance is a fear almost everyone knows, the focus on the story soon dissipated, to re-form around some other point of noise. Six months later, the perpetrators are still uncaught and unknown. Only one major piece was published after the cloud of attention had atomised, and that was “What Kind Of Creep Sells A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” by Charlie Warzel. It centered on the one actual name affiliated with the Fappening ring, Bryan Hamade, who, under the name of BluntMastermind, may well have been the one who first leaked the nude pictures of Lawrence, Kate Upton and others to the image board AnonIB and 4chan on Labor Day 20147, and therefore the only tangible individual who might be a link to the phantom ring. “Creep” is a good piece of journalism, though its subject is as frustratingly ephemeral as any other part of the story. Warzel speaks to Hamade only once, in a phone call where Hamade insists he only re-posted the photos from somewhere else. Warzel travels to Hamade’s hometown of Lawrenceville, Georgia, where he finds the leftover remains of an isolated, anti-social life. The most indelible details of this life don’t come from the main piece, but in the comments, from someone who claims to have known him: “We both worked as servers at The Local Jam, a now closed restaurant in Athens GA…He’d say things like “I bet you can’t touch your elbows behind your back”. None of this surprises me in the least. He just used to piss me off because he’d always crop dust everybody (plus the perv stuff, but mainly the crop dusting).”8 Warzel has a single meeting with Bryan’s brother, Andrew, who denies Bryan had anything to do with the leak, after which Andrew is arrested for trespass and assault. Andrew’s girlfriend describes Bryan in a Facebook message: “creep, weird, very childish, and immature.” And: “The only reason I’ve even come In contact with Brian[sic] is because I have a child with his deadbeat egotistical brother Andrew.” And: “Yeah he bought them,” meaning the pictures, but refused any comment beyond that.

“I am just an idiot who tried to pull one over on 4chan and lost big time and stupidly left this identifying information,” insisted Hamade in an earlier interview with BuzzFeed, but Warzel speaks to several people, including two anonymous sources close to the Hamade family, that give a picture of someone whose computer skills may have been quite formidable. “He is downplaying his knowledge. He can’t claim to not know how to guess a password and also be a systems administrator and a developer, says one anonymous source. A screenshot put up by BluntMastermind shows a folder full of McKayla Maroney pictures that appeared nowhere else. Nearby neighbor: “My general impression is that he’s very, very intelligent. He built a PC for my husband and helped my son build computers.” Anonymous source: “[H]is knowledge of computers is unfathomable. He was like the Banksy of the cyber world.” Anonymour source #2: “I can tell you this for a fact, Bryan personally did not hack the iCloud but he has a bunch of other friends who did. Bryan is nothing short of a computer genius but he didn’t hack it,” however: “Bryan didn’t hack it but he did make money from the majority of the pictures.” Though Warzel does greater shoe leather investigative work than just about anyone who reported on the story, everything solid appears to dissolve into air. The most tangible evidence are some bitcoin donations that might be traced to Hamade, but other than that:

Much of the other circumstantial evidence aimed against Bryan came from anonymous tipsters with burner email accounts claiming to have new screenshots of Bryan’s desktop. Compelling, but seemingly unreliable, like nearly all the evidence of Bryan Hamade’s involvement and possible connection to the original hackers, which is tenuous at best and conspiratorial at the very least.

We appear to be surrounded by certainties, of ever present mechanical genius in our phones that make the abilities of the 1974 CLETS network laughable, and yet this attention getting crime remains unresolved. “Filth, bullshit, and fluff aside, the internet is uniquely built for solving mysteries,” writes Warzel. But: “I’ve convinced myself of Bryan’s guilt and innocence time and time again, and yet the answer to my initial question – is Bryan Hamade responsible for the biggest celebrity photo hack in recent history? – is as unclear now as it was on the morning of Sept. 1.”

It is perhaps impossible at this time for us to deduce the identities of those in this ring, but what can be done – and which, for whatever reason, does not seem to have been done before – is look at the larger background of similar hacks and the psychology behind them. With regard to Warzel’s question, “Is Bryan Hamade responsible for the biggest celebrity photo hack in recent history?”, I think precedent tells us the answer can be emphatically said that it must be a multitude of hackers, rather than a single individual. Again, by precedent, we know there is some psychological necessity, some male desire to share such photos and in a restricted group. The initial purpose of this ring was not to share these pictures with the wider world, but to keep them within this small circle: to have the pleasure of seeing what few others had seen, and yet to be part of a group which shared in this knowledge that you had glimpsed this rare vision. In the occasional cases of a solo hacker, they are compelled to experience this phenomenon by sharing these pictures with someone, and it’s this act, which often leads them to ultimately being exposed and caught.

“Why Kids Sext” by Hanna Rosin looks at the wake of an investigation into a ring in Louisa County, Virginia, which traded pictures of girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, and girls who’d sent pics to flirt or impress, which would lead to a larger paradoxical child porn investigation9; since those who’d taken the pics were under eighteen, they were considered child porn and so those who took the pics and their recipients could be indicted for creation and distribution of child pornography. Though the focus of the article is on this issue, on how the law should deal with nude pictures of the underaged when such pictures are now an indisputable part of relationships, we are also given some details into how this ring which traded in non-celebrity nudes operated and the psychology of the group.

A related insight here, though unverified, involves the fappening ring which came from an anonymous 4chan account at the time of the scandal10:

>there’s been a small, underground celeb n00d-trading ring that’s existed for years
>why wasn’t it revealed earlier? the only way to join the ring is by ‘buying in’ with original pics(“wins”, as they call them) you, acquired by yourself
>(also, these guys are greedy fuckers: if you were the only person in the world in possession of jlaw nudes, would you really give them out? for free??)

We have a similar structure in the Louisa County ring, of a closed circle where pictures get you entry. In that ring, suspicion centered on two brothers who solicited pictures from boys in the Louisa County high school (along with some girls) which would be put up on an Instagram account, “LC [Louisa County] Hos & THOTs”. “The organizers had apparently spent weeks gathering photos,” writes Rosin. “They said they would open the accounts only when they had a lot of pictures in hand, and that anyone who sent one in would be guaranteed access.” Nor was such a ring an aberration or an exceptional phenomenon: “Several boys, in an effort to convince Lowe that they hadn’t been doing anything rare or deviant, showed him that he could type the hashtag symbol (#) into Instagram followed by the name of pretty much any nearby county and then thots, and find a similar account.” As with #TheFappening ring, investigations into the Louisa County ring are unfinished, with the IP address for the Instagram uploader never successfully determined. The process, and the people at its center, are all known, but cannot be proven definitely, as Rosin related in an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”11:

TERRY GROSS [FRESH AIR HOST]: Do you know, do the authorities know, exactly how these photos ended up in this Instagram page?

ROSIN: They know, but they can’t prove it. So, basically, they know that there’s a couple of guys who solicited photos, there may have been a middle man or not. We’re talking about teenagers here. I don’t know if they’re all under eighteen, but teenagers. And they got the guys in the school, and again, some girls, just send me pictures…and by the way, this is common, this is not a freak occurence…the guys say this happens in lots of towns. And they say, “Okay, when we reach about a hundred pictures, we’ll open the page…which again, is a common dynamic. So they collect all the pictures, and once they have enough to create what they consider a good page, they open up the page, and everybody looks at the page really quickly, although if someone is on it, a parent or law enforcement, it also gets shut down real quickly.

What should be emphasized is that the primary purpose of these pictures was not erotic, nor humiliation, though the eventual outcome was that many of the girls did feel humiliated about the pictures and the focus from the investigation. “Guess who ??? wht do u think?” writes one boy to another, when he sends him a close-up of the bare breasts of a fellow student, a picture that was part of the Instagram collection. The recipient can’t stop thinking about the actual girl, and that here is a photo of her, so intimate, so he finally looks. “He suddenly felt guilty,” writes Rosin, “and also – because he’d heard about some boys collecting photos for an Instagram account – a little afraid. He hesitated, and then deleted the picture and got up to retrieve his laptop.” He then looks up MILF pics, though he’s unsure later (or too embarrassed) to tell Rosin specifically what: somebody with long brown hair and big boobs. And though the girl in the sent pic had these qualities, this was not what he wanted. Rosin writes that “the high-school boys I spoke with barely glance at the sexts they receive. They gloat inwardly or brag to friends; they store them in special apps or count them. But actual fantasies come from porn, freely and widely available on the Internet.” On “Fresh Air”, Rosin emphasizes an earlier point, that the importance of these pictures was the ideal of seeing what others had not seen, and doing so in a community – it’s not enough to see this, but you wish others to witness that you are one of the elect, and a community gives a shared sense of the elect12:

GROSS: One of the things you learned is that these sexts that the boys received from girls, um, they weren’t using those pictures for their fantasy lives, they were turning to porn for their fantasy. So, what are the implications of that for you?

ROSIN: The sexts are just their currency, like, the girls describe it to me, “Oh, it’s [like] the guys are collecting baseball cards or Pokemon cards.” They don’t actually take them that seriously. They’re not a huge part of their sex life. They’re just something you collect, and you tell your boys that you have it, and you know, it’s like it’s cool to have one that nobody else has…it’s kindof a social currency, more than it is, you know, a springboard for fantasy, which is kindof surprising. There’s so much free porn out there that these pictures serve a different role. I mean, these guys look at these pictures for five seconds, you know? (laughs) They’re just not that big a deal to them, and so, sending them along is kindof fun…it’s like, oh yeah, that’s what’s going on in school today, we’re all sending our pictures to x person, it seems like a prank.

That the Louisa County pictures leaked out and became a larger scandal was unintended, just as the leak of #TheFappening pictures was supposedly unintended as well. Again, from the anonymous 4chan comment:

>circle hardly ever widens to include more people – wry few people even find out about this ring. and fewer still have nOOds to buy in with (bitcoin purchases probably rare)
>… except for self-styled “rich kid” in original /b/ thread
>it appears he bought a few sample pix and blew the lid on this whole operation by sharing them with outsiders for the first time

The necessity of such hacking events becoming a wider story required the complicity of the press, and this was a point seemingly avoided by every thought piece, and which rendered them so toothless. We see the convergence of the two in what was probably the first celebrity hacking scandal, that of Paris Hilton’s T-Mobile in 2005. The psychology on display here is very different from that of either #TheFappening or Louisa County rings, where the rings wish to remain small and exclusive, that to look on the photos means you belong to the elect; here, the hackers wanted these photos to be published widely, so they themselves would achieve recognition and fame.

In 2005, a group of six hackers discovered a glitch in the T-Mobile phone service which allowed them to reset the password of any account for which they knew the phone number. Though they were able to prank friends whose numbers they knew, they soon grew bored, and wanted to try to access celebrity accounts13. How would they get a celebrity’s phone number? Well, there was the Accurint database (owned by LexisNexus) which allowed one to look up personal data, including social security numbers and phone numbers, by inputing a name. The database was used by police stations around the country, including one in Port Orange, Florida. The six man crew sent an email with an explicit image and a message urging the recipient to click a link to see pornographic images of children. The link activitated a virus program which allowed for remote key capture, letting the team create new accounts for themselves at Port Orange to access the Accurint database14. The names of those accessed are hidden behind initials in the criminal complaint: “On or about January 21, 2005, TIMOTHY C. McKEAGE fraudulently obtained an Accurint report of an individual, J.P., containing J.P.’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, and other identification information.”, “…an individual, D.G., containing D.G.’s name, address, date ofbirth, social security number…”, “…an individual, J.B., containing J.B.’s name, address, date of birth, social security number…”, etc. There is, however, one set of initials we can guess at: “On or about January 23, 2005, JEFFREY ROBERT WEINBERG fraudulently obtained an Accurint report of an individual, P.H., containing P.H.’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, and other identification information.”15

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Cameron LaCroix on “NBC Today”, image is from “Ex-teen hacker tells Paris Hilton he’s sorry [WARNING: autoplay video]” by Tom Winter, Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington.

They were now able to reset Paris Hilton’s password, shutting her out of her account, and allowing them to download all files from her storage space. We might note the reaction of Cameron “cam0” LaCroix to what he saw there. “As soon as I went into her camera and saw nudes my head went JACKPOT,” LaCroix would relate, about now forgotten pictures of a nude Hilton kissing another woman. “I was like, HOLY [expletive] DUDE … SHES GOT NUDES. THIS [expletive]’s GONNA HIT THE PRESS SO [expletive] QUICK.”16 LaCroix did not expect to keep this picture to himself, but instead that he would share these nude pics with the press, and the press would certainly publish them. “We see hacking a computer as a crime but viewing the hacked image as a misdemeanor rather as an act of sexual violence. We absolve ourselves of the crime,” wrote Reut Amit in “That Type of Girl Deserves It”. Knowingly or unknowingly, she absolved the very platform on which that essay was published, Gawker, of the very sin that it had committed in the past. “Every young woman I know was violated when the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and other successful women were posted on the internet for public consumption against their will,” Amit’s essay began, and presumably every young woman she knew was violated when Gawker published the nude photos hacked from Paris Hilton’s T-Mobile in the post “Paris Hilton: Hacked” by “Mark” (Mark Lisanti), and though pictures from old Gawker pages are now gone, they are very much there in the archived version of the site, “Paris Hilton: Hacked (archive link)”, with follow-up posts combing through the data of the hack, “The Collected Works Of Paris Hilton’s Hacked Sidekick” (by “Jessica”, Jessica Coen) and “Paris Hilton Hacked: Decoding The Celebutante Rosetta Stone” (by Lisanti), which lets us know the other girl in the kissing photo was Eglantina Zingg, MTV VJ.

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

(Screenshots from, respectively, “Paris Hilton: Hacked”, “The Collected Works Of Paris Hilton’s Hacked Sidekick”, “Paris Hilton Hacked: Decoding The Celebutante Rosetta Stone”, and “That Type of Girl Deserves It”.)

The society of our time values fame above all else, even infamy, yet even though #TheFappening ring is connected to one of the most notable events of last year, not a single member has made claim to their work, avoiding any attempt at recognition, and thereby remaining safe. “I wanted to be a celebrity,” said LaCroix a decade after the event, about why he dumped Hilton’s pics and info on-line. When the stolen pile pulled a buzz of attention, a small scale #Fappening, “it was mind-blowing for me…I felt famous.”17 LaCroix liked the high of fame, he liked the high of drugs, and he liked the high of hacking, which was a lot like the high of drugs. He’d gotten eleven months of juvenile detention after he was caught for the Hilton hack, then was sent back for more after he violated the terms of his release by using an electronic device, cellphone, or computer. When he got out after that, he bought gift cards with stolen credit card numbers, got into more local police databases, briefly managed to take over Burger King’s twitter account, and did more credit card thefts18. Two months after #TheFappening, nearly a decade after the Hilton hack, he got four years for credit card theft19.

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

Screenshot of the hacked Burger King twitter account, image taken from “Burger King Twitter Account Hacked” by Annie Colbert.

The teenager involved in the next celebrity hack was, if possible, even more reckless. From an interview by JPhilla and Joeyboy with Josh “Trainreq” Holly on KKFR Power 98.3 FM in mid 200820:

JPhilla: Tell us what you did.

TrainReq: Basically, I was the guy that ended up getting access to Miley Cyrus’s email…and ended up placing the pictures on my hard drive, and later leaking them.

JPhilla: So, those pictures of Miley Cyrus in the shower, and with her shirt lifted…all those pictures you’re responsible for?

TrainReq: Pretty much, yeah.

Joeyboy: So, are you basically a hacker?

TrainReq: Uh…yeah, I guess…I guess I’d be considered a hack, yes.

Holly had obtained a list of instant message buddies for a MySpace worker, after which he contacted another MySpace employee on this list, posing as a MySpace administrator. He told the employee that he was having trouble accessing the MySpace administrative panel. Could he maybe use his fellow administrator’s username and password? Yes, he could. Holly found the passwords for MySpace pages stored in clear text, including one for Cyrus’s page: “Loco92”, her dog’s name plus her year of birth. Holly then tried to see if Cyrus used the same password for her gmail account,, and yes, she did21. From a second interview with KKFR Power 98.3 FM, on August 6, 2008, with JPhilla and Lady La22:

JPhilla: How long did you hold onto this Miley Cyrus hack?

TrainReq: For about a few months. ‘Cause the reason I got these…she wasn’t that famous, but then I saw a bunch of her photo scandals, you know, and I’m like, woah, they’re saying those photos are bad…wait until you see the ones I have a hold of.

JPhilla: How come people still don’t believe you, TrainReq?

TrainReq: I really don’t know…because there’s rumors saying I photoshopped them…

Lady La: We had someone tell us that that picture that you gave us…”Oh, I had that picture a long time ago, look at my photo reel,” and this and the other.

TrainReq: Yeah, I don’t know…I think it might have been released, because that picture wasn’t that bad, I didn’t look who it was sent to. So I probably downloaded it…it was probably sent to her publicist or something…as I say, that photo was from her email…I like, leaked those, I don’t know how people think those are fake, because the photos that I leaked had never been seen anywhere else.

The pictures had been obtained illegally through a hack, and therefore they couldn’t be published, but people sure wanted to publish them. Holly would try to sell the pictures to TMZ and other outlets, but nobody bought them for legal reasons. Holly would then publish the pictures on rogue site, after which the various outlets re-published the pics for free23. We have here something analogous to what takes place with many tabloid stories, where the mainstream press is unwilling or unable to print toxic or controversial material, but once a tabloid does so, they can report the story or the controversy surrounding the story. The phenomenon is described in “Taming the hydra-headed carnivorous beast” by Ann Louise Bardach, specific page is “Taming the hydra-headed carnivorous beast (page 93)”, about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful attempt to constrain the tabloids during his run for governor:

The tabloids posed another problem. One of the less ennobling secrets of the mainstream media is its reliance on the tabs to launder seedy but irresistible stories about celebrities and politicians. Once the story appears in the tabloids, it’s not long before it’s fodder for TV talking heads and late-night comics. Then, more often than not, it’s regarded as fair game for the mainstream media. In the last 15 years, the tabs have earned a reputation for nailing down hard-to-get stories for the simple reason that, unlike the mainstream media, they often pay sources and hire private investigators. The meshing of the tabs and the mainstream media went into high gear during the O.J. Simpson trial and was standard practice by the time of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

That such photos fell into a grey market of “not quite legal, but somehow permissible”, is clear in the next part of the KKFR Power 98.3 FM session:

JPhilla: Well, let us issue you another celebrity hack challenge.

Lady La: Uh oh.

TrainReq: Okay.

JPhilla: I was thinking, like, [redacted from audio]24.

TrainReq: I have [redacted from audio]’s screen name, so…

JPhilla: You have her screen name, like…?

TrainReq: Yeah, her AIM…

JPhilla: I wonder if it still works.

TrainReq: Yeah, I’ve actually added it to my buddy list, see it sign on, sign off.

JPhilla: She on?

TrainReq: I don’t think she’s on right now…

JPhilla: Okay. So how long do you think it would take you to hack [redacted from audio] and what kind of information do you think you can get?

TrainReq: It’d probably take me, I could probably have it done by the end of this week, earliest. That just depends on how smart she is on the internet.

Lady La: You could hack Nick Jonas too, you know. That’d be a cool one.

TrainReq: I didn’t really find anything interesting on Nick Jonas. I got his screen name and his email, though.

Holly didn’t express any feelings toward Cyrus one way or another, did not show any sensual excitement when talking about these pictures she’d sent a boyfriend (even a hint of excitement, that would have to be repressed out of legal necessity, given that she was fifteen), only seemed to look at her pictures the way a tabloid publisher might: a Disney icon in a wet shirt will sell a million papers. The only problem is that though a media outlet would have no problem publishing illegally obtained materials, or even buying illegally obtained materials, it was another thing to buy illegally obtained materials knowing that they had been illegally obtained. On October 20, 2008, he wrote on a message board that he might be a known hacker, but the FBI would never find him. A few hours later, they raided his apartment. Holly had “been acting like an attention starved 8-year-old,” wrote one hacker to Wired. “The problem is that TrainReq truly believed he was untouchable, and unfortunately for him, in 2008, it’s that type of reckless thinking that gets people raided.”25. Holly had been using hacked MySpace celebrity accounts for spamming campaigns, since people are more likely to click on an email sent by a celebrity, and had also ended up with over 200 stolen credit card numbers. He was arrested, and in late 2011 he got three years probation, with no charge against him for the Cyrus hack26.

Four years later after the Cyrus hack, we would have the closest precedent to #TheFappening, a large scale hack of private pictures, including many nudes, of multiple celebrities. Chris Chaney was another marginal figure, though older than either LaCroix or Holly when they did their hacks, a loner in his early thirties. “Two years unemployed,” writes David Kushner in, “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood”, his superb profile of Chaney, “he lived in a rundown brick house in a middle-class neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida, where the streets are named for fairy tales: Cinderella Road, Peter Pan Place.” He wasn’t a hacker, hadn’t owned a computer till his late twenties, and couldn’t code. In 2008, he ran into the ubiquitous wave of coverage about the Miley Cyrus photos which TrainReq had leaked, and thought: how hard could it be? He used no social engineering, only hours of monotonous diligence. First, you found an actual celebrity email account. Then it was a case of figuring out the answers for the challenge questions when your password was lost. For his first account, he needed to give their pet’s name as an answer, and he found it on IMDb. There was a flood of email in this first celebrity’s inbox from other celebrities, and the new email addresses which he got from each inbox were the fuel which sustained his cycle of break-ins. He always made sure to change the settings on the victim’s account so that every email would be forwarded to him as insurance in case he lost access to the mail account. His strategy was always the same: answering the lost password challenge questions, whether it be favorite colors, hometown school, best friends, etc. All of which could be researched on-line27.

The pictures that especially beguiled him weren’t the nudes, but those of possible filming locations sent by location scouts to directors. It was part of the whole hidden world of film-making no one usually sees. He got access to the email account of one of the producers of In Time, and saw the entire edifice built up, inch by inch. There was script draft after script draft, there were lengthy negotiations about how much skin one of the stars, Amanda Seyfried, would show. “It seemed a fairly convoluted process just to show a butt crack,” said Chaney. He had no interest in gossip, but it was impossible not to be inundated with it. “Everyone dated everyone eventually,” he said. And not always who you’d expect: he came across explicit emails that leading men sent their secret male partners. “I’m trying to figure out how to say it without names,” he said to Kushner. “There were some that, you know, their public persona is they’re kind of a player, and their private persona is they’re batting for the other team…. They may have been batting for both teams, I don’t know.” And there were of course, hundreds of nude and explicit images, many of which would never leak out. Chaney would express the very sentiment that’s been mentioned before, of feeling that one is of the elect, seeing a rare vision. “You feel like you’ve seen something that the rest of the world wanted to see,” he says. “But you’re the only one that’s seen it.”28 It was accompanied by a second feeling, also mentioned here: that it is not enough to see, but you wish to have witnesses that you are part of the rare select that have seen this. “The farther Chaney plunged into the Hollywood rabbit hole,” writes Kushner, “the more he wanted to tell someone, anyone, what he was finding.” A small group of trusted associates like #TheFappening ring allows for both feelings without the necessity of relying on the honor of strangers, but this wasn’t possible in the case of loner Chris Chaney, and what he did next may have helped doom him.

Going through the inbox of a Hollywood stylist, Chaney found semi-nude pictures of Christina Aguilera. He sent an email to a random someone on a message board: there was “someone” he knew, who’d gotten a hold of hacked pictures of Aguilera. Did he want to look at them? Reply: Sure. A month later, TMZ had the headline: “Christina Aguilera: My Private Sexy Pics Were Hacked”. When Chaney saw the Aguilera photos everywhere on-line, “it was like a gut punch,” but he now felt the exhilaration of recognition, of fame, which Holly and LaCroix actively pursued29. “We find the actions of the hackers and the press who purchased and/or obtained these photos to be irresponsible and actionable,” Aguilera’s rep made clear, and they were “attempting to determine the identity of the hackers and will pursue them aggressively.” Chaney was a man who lived alone with his grandmother until his grandmother died, and then lived entirely alone, a man who lived an insect speck of a life, who had now broken through the ether. “Those girls, that good life out there, all that was for real people, visible people with identities, the achievers, the some bodies. He was the total nobody. The zero,” says Leo Brunner in The Fan Club. Chaney was a zero who’d suddenly intruded in the world of the visible people.

Christina Aguilera TMZ Headline

Chaney may not have been a social engineer, but another hacker, TrainReqSucks (a play on Josh Holly’s nom de guerre), most certainly was. He praised Chaney’s abilities, but he wanted to be sure that he actually had the skills: did he have anything else to show? Chris Chaney did. Chris Chaney had the Inverted Jenny of hacked pics: Scarlett Johansson nudes. He sent over a picture of Johansson showing off her behind. It ended up a little while later on-line with some protective squiggles added by TrainReqSucks, but no one paid any attention to it: everyone knew it had to be fake30.

There are several points in the Chris Chaney story that were mere footnotes then, but assume far greater prominence now with #TheFappening ring still extant. At this juncture, TrainReqSucks, a hacker whose actual name remains unknown, was able to give a warning to Chaney: “You really need to cover your ass better, ’cause they’re all over you,” he wrote. “There’s heat on you.” When I read this, I wonder: was this just a social engineer playing more head games, or did this hacker actually have inside information, and, if so, how did he get it? Notable footnote number two comes after Chaney sends explicit Renee Olstead pics to the anonymous blogger Deep at Sea. The blogger had a thing for Olstead, and Chaney craved more recognition. At 6 A.M. the next morning, February 11, 2011, Federal agents rammed down his door and drew their guns, but didn’t arrest him – not yet. “I’m glad you did this,” Chaney said, “because I wasn’t going to be able to stop this on my own.” They confiscated his computer, but they wanted his help to find the others. “They constantly repeated, ‘We’re after the big fish; you’re just the little fish’,” Chaney said, and I italicize the next part for its importance, “They were after a ring of celebrity hackers.” They asked: “Would you be willing to work with us to bring other hackers down?” Chaney: “Yeah, whatever you want.”31 There may have been others, either #TheFappening ring, a variation, or a predecessor, but: Chaney didn’t know them. Footnote three comes months after the confiscation of Chaney’s computer, after Chaney had gotten a data entry job at a trucking company, in September, when someone sent Nik Richie, proprietor of gossip website TheDirty, three nudes of Johansson. Fake, Richie thought. No, his Photoshop people told him: these are real. A five-timer, according to Ritchie, are those exceptional celebrity pictures that amp your site traffic five times. These pics were a ten-timer, Richie said, “it meant a million people coming to the site.” The footnote is here: these were three nudes of Johansson, and Chaney claims to have sent only one, to TrainReqSucks32. The only people who’d seen these pics were Chaney, Johansson, the original recipient of the pics, Ryan Reynolds, and the FBI. So maybe Chaney is lying. Or maybe someone in the FBI leaked them. Or maybe there was a hacker ring, that might also have been #TheFappening ring, that also hacked the pics. Again, an excerpt from the helpful anonymous 4chan comment, my bolds: “>there’s been a small, underground celeb n00d-trading ring that’s existed for years“. The actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose photos were among those leaked by #TheFappening ring would confirm that this had been going on for years:

Chaney would be sentenced to ten years in prison, and one account included a detail absent from David Kushner’s profile that suggested a malice that wasn’t just incidental, but deliberate: the prosecutors alleged that he hacked the accounts of two women he knew, and sent the pictures of one woman to her father. Chaney denied this. “I have been truly humiliated and embarrassed,” said Johansson in a videotaped statement. “I find Christopher Chaney’s actions to be perverted and reprehensible.” Renee Olstead said that she attempted to kill herself after Chaney leaked her pictures. “I just really hope this doesn’t happen to someone else,” Olstead said. During her testimony, Olstead spoke through tears; Johansson had broken down in tears as well. “You can lose everything because of the actions of a stranger,” Olstead said. “That feeling of security can never be given back and there is no compensation that can restore the feeling one has from such a large invasion of privacy,” said Christina Aguilera, in a statement before the sentencing. “I don’t know what else to say other than I’m sorry,” said Chaney. “I could be sentenced to never use a computer again and I wouldn’t care.” Chaney got some advice from a predecessor. “I personally think what he did was pretty idiotic,” said Josh Holly, the man who went on the radio after his high profile hack. “Hacking celebrities is for the kids, and 35? I mean, I personally think he was too old for that.”33

An earlier post on this site explored the intersection of celebrity and primitive ideas of sacredness34, and I think these same connections naturally recur here, and are crucial for understanding this sense of a coveted vision that surrounds these photos and documents that is not there for similar files outside Hollywood life. There is inherent importance in Snowden’s leaked NSA documents, and there is none in Paris Hilton’s agenda for a banal day in 2005 – yet her celebrity imbued it with a magnetism separate from its content. This same investment of the sacred, at the very same time that you treat the possessor of sacredness with indifference or callousness, is also found in the thefts described in The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales, about the eponymous gang of Rachel Lee, Nick Prugo, Courtney Ames, and Alexis Neiers. The book serves as a useful mirror, as #TheFappening ring was often spoken of in the context of crimes by men against women, yet here we have many of the same attitudes surface where the perpetrators were almost entirely young women, as were their victims.

There is the addiction to the break-in itself, described by LaCroix: “[You get] the same pleasure. The same reward,” LaCroix says of drugs and hacking in “Ex-teen hacker [WARNING: autoplay video]”. “That challenge of getting in. It’s just like, ‘Wow.'” The Bling Ring, on Nick Prugo and Rachel Lee: “They went back and back, he [Prugo] said, becoming addicted in a way that mirrored their addiction to cocaine and to each other. He said that Rachel’s boldness grew despite the fact that once they were almost discovered.” The very fact that a piece of clothing was associated with a celebrity was enough: “Sometimes the things they took were intimately mundane, like a pair of sneakers that belonged to Benji Madden, Paris’ boyfriend. Nick wore them around.” There is even the unspoken complicity of the press, that yes, they would buy stolen nudes. Hilton had a “safe room and in her safe it was completely unlocked she had a thing of, like, maybe eighteen pictures of herself topless and rubbed with, like, some tanning color all over her body.” They wanted to sell the pics, but they couldn’t. “We thought we might be able to sell them to a tabloid,” said Prugo. “We thought it would be profitable at the time, but after looking into it we were told everyone has seen Paris Hilton naked so it didn’t really matter.” There is the disconnect in the act itself and the lives it affects. Sales: “Robbing Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan hardly registered on the same horror level as those acts of violence. In fact, I was surprised, as I started talking to people about this story by how many seemed to find what the Bling Ring did amusing or even kind of marvelous.” That the victims might feel genuine fear afterwards, the sense of violation we all do after we’ve been robbed, is outside the imagination. Rachel Bilson, one of the victims: “It took me a while to feel comfortable staying there [in the house that was robbed]. I wouldn’t sleep in my bedroom for about a month. I would stay in…a downstairs room. And I was convinced [for a time] that I needed to sell my house and get out of there, because I was very scared.” Another robbery victim: “You are suddenly second-guessing everything,” says Orlando Bloom, “You are like, ‘Who has been in my house?’ The value of things kind of fades away. It’s really about who is it? Who am I starting to question? You wind up looking around at people who are [your] friends [and asking]…who it is that could have been involved in this?”

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The Bling Ring: Paris Hilton's closet.

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There was also the subconscious or conscious desire to profane the sacred. Only when there is a belief in the sacred is this profanation possible: pornography which features nuns and priests has a frisson only in a sincerely Catholic society, otherwise they’re just fetish costumes. In the middle of robbing Rachel Bilson’s house, Rachel Lee took a shit in Bilson’s toilet. “We were in Rachel [Bilson’s] bathroom and Rachel just had to go, so she just…yeah. I remember the incident so well. I can recall the smell, which is really nasty, disgusting. I know I would never, like…When you’re in there,” said Prugo, “you have a rush, like I’ve had to pee when I’ve been in there, but I would never use their bathroom, just in fear of that maybe some type of evidence would be left there. I think that’s weird, personally. But yeah, she did.” Though press like Gawker had solicited stolen pics and videos in the past, they now adopted a pious stance of refusing to even acknowledge the content of a single one of the pictures. So none of their think pieces could mention the fascinating tumult over one of the photos, a close-up of a woman with her eyes closed, her face covered in semen. There was a great deal of back-and-forth conversation about whether this woman was Jennifer Lawrence. When it became obvious that, despite some similarities, this was another woman – “The girl with cum on her face IS NOT Jennifer Lawrence. To the blind morons here you have a proof [sic]” etc. – all interest was lost. A picture of a girl with cum on her face is a commonplace on the internet; this was something different, a violation of something that had been invested with holy magic.

The various elements that constituted #TheFappening ring we can already find in precedents. A closed circle where entry is gained through coveted pics was part of the Louisa County ring. Though “The Police Tool That Pervs Use to Steal Nude Pics From Apple’s iCloud” (by Andy Greenberg) argued that the password breaking tool, iBrute, was used to gain access to accounts, the best in-depth analysis of the hack, “Notes on the Celebrity Data Theft” by Nik Cubrilovic, argued more convincingly, to my mind, that access was gained through methods similar to Chaney’s, of using personal information to answer password reset and recovery questions, as well as some phishing techniques, like the email sent to the Port Orange police department which allowed LaCroix’s gang access to Accurint35. An example of the instructions scanned from AnonIB on how to crack an iCloud account where answering security questions and victim’s birthday is mentioned, but without any reference to a password cracker36:

To rip an Icloud you first need the email and password for the acct. How do you get the email/pass? well thats pretty easy actually. You just need some very basic info that can usually be found on FB, Twitter, Instagram, Myspace, etc. and follow these 7 steps.

Step 1: you need an email address (preferably a hot girl or guy with a hot gf) choose anyone you want to see naked or know their business
Tip: If you sync FB with your cell phone or email it will add all of your friends email address to your contacts.
Step 2: go to
Step 3: enter the email address in the box that says apple id
Step 4: click enter and it will take you to a new page that has 2 options.
First option: is to send an email to that acct to get a new password (Dont do this unless you have access to that email address)
2nd option: is to go to thier [sic] Security questions. (Click this one) it will refresh and take you to a new page.

Step 5: Verify the birthday of the girl/guy’s acct you are trying to access (Remember Facebook is your Friend) If you can get a message in red that says it can’t verify the information you provided. (You either entered it wrong or they have no Apple acct. You have 3 attempts to get the Birthday correct)
Tip: if you know the month an day are correct try a different yr.
Tip: if you have an email address like Princess88 @ whatever. Well their [sic] is a good chance that she was born in 88 lol
Step 6: If enter [sic] the correct birthday you will be redirected to a page with 2 security questions (you need to answer both correctly) You have 3 attempts [b]efore you need to start the process over again (Warning [t]he 3rd time you start the process over, if you answer again incorrectly Apple will lock the acct for 8 hrs)
Step 7: If you answer the questions correctly, it will ask you to create a new password.

Password must be at least eight characters long.
It must contain at least one number and two letters, one upper case and one lower case.
It cannot include more than two consecutive and identical characters.

Tip: This reset process is best done at night. [S]o you have all night to rip and go thru it without them knowing. If done during the day there is a higher chance of them being reset by the owner while ripping.

#TheFappening ring weren’t able to download the account contents as easily as LaCroix did with the T-Mobile hack; as Greenberg’s “Police Tool” describes, they used EPPB (Elcomsoft Phone Password Breaker), since “EPPB lets anyone impersonate a victim’s iPhone and download its full backup rather than the more limited data accessible on” Though the image board on which they posted pics and traded tips, AnonIB, almost immediately erased all traces of the gang from their site, we have very visible evidence of the vestiges of another pic trading ring, which, like #TheFappening ring, managed to simultaneously have a large public impact and remain entirely in the shadows. #TheFappening ring stored their images on the /stol/ board of AnonIB (/stol/ is short for stolen, of course) and this ring used AnonIB for photo storage as well.

It’s been mentioned previously the recurring sense of seeing coveted photos and feeling oneself part of the elect and wishing to have someone witness that you are part of the elect. On the assumption that someone out there had passing knowledge of the history of this gang and wanted to be seen as part of the elect who possessed secret knowledge – that gang nobody knows about, that everyone’s trying to catch, I saw them at work for years – would want to be seen as such, and make some comment somewhere. The best instance of this I found at the DeadSpin post, “This Guy Was Sharing The Hacked Celeb Nudes Weeks Before They Leaked” by Timothy Burke & Tim Marchman, about either a ring member or someone who’d gotten their hands on photos posted by the gang on AnonIB, trying to trade them with someone for pics of their girlfriend. This was the only comment for the account “VetAnon”, and it passed unnoticed, unreplied to, and grayed out (unapproved by post writers and select commenters), but the tone is precise, confidently knowledgeable, and correct in what I’ve looked into so far (direct link to comment on page):

Dead Spin comment: look at the Daily Capper

Hackers were offering to hack iClouds via Anonib in exchange for money for at least a year. Your information that it isn’t an iCloud hack is incorrect. In addition, research the shady history of Anonib. It’s always been about blackmail and money. Former owner had to shut it down when he was hacked and it was proved he was blackmailing in exchange for getting stolen pits and video uploads pulled from site. Finally, for a glimpse into the twisted logic of that site and others, and insight into how hacker rings work, track the Daily Capper youtube videos. Hackers, cappers, stalkers, blackmailers didn’t just go after celebrities. It was all about any pretty face that could be found. then all content was shared internally through the hacker circle rather than posted to public boards. It is simply first meeting that happened on boards.

The Daily Capper refered to here, was a program that was uploaded every few weeks to youtube which covered the exploits of a ring which traded photos of girls who were on cam sites such as Stickam and Tinychat. The girls were all underage, and The Daily Capper made this explicit many times. For example, from “ – Week of June 20,2010” (0:11-0:57):

We are halfway through the year and what better way to spend 365 days then on your computer screen, looking for camera whores. The week of June 14 to 20 has been an incredible week for capping. It is summertime. Despite what others think, summer is not the time to go outdoors, swimming, being with friends. Rather it is a time for girls and boys to turn their computers on and get dirty. School is out, and stripping is in. What has this week had to deliver to the capping world? Here is what. Let’s start with this past Thursday. Epic win was delivered in the form of four thirteen year old girls from blogTV Jr. “candybitchez” a cutie age bitch came to tinychat and stripped it all for a room of 300.

These girls were simply talking to the wider world, or singing, or joking, a more interactive version of someone’s vlog on youtube. The cappers would flatter the girl on her looks, on her talent, and slowly persuade her into lifting her shirt or taking off her clothes. They would then “cap” (take a screenshot) of this, which they could then use to extort the girl into further acts, threatening to send the picture to their friends and family. The pictures were then stored on AnonIB to be shared with others in the ring. Just as #TheFappening ring referred to scoring celeb pics as a “win”, so did this capping ring. The Daily Capper would report on the various events related to the community, on who had extorted who, how long it took Stickam to close a room after underage girls started flashing, whether AnonIB was cracking down on underage pics, and who had been arrested. Each program is made using animation taken from the Crashbox segment “Distracting News”, with newscaster Dora Sammy’s voice dubbed over with an electronically generated one37. The episode almost always opens with the portentous “NBC Nightly News” theme, the newscaster’s intro of “Welcome cappers and camwhores…”, and ends with the newscaster’s chilling sign-off: “Happy hunting.”

“Happy Hunting”, the sign off of almost all Daily Capper broadcasts.

From the episode “The Daily Capper – Week of July 11,2010” on Metacafe, which reports that AnonIB now allows underage pictures.

Possible blackmail for some win - URL if gif doesn't load:

“Possible blackmail for some win,” recreation of extortion strategies on a message board. Taken from “Stalking Amanda Todd : The Man in the Shadows” by The Fifth Estate, between
17:04 and 17:11.

Several cappers would achieve a kind of infamous prominence on the program for their ruthless persuasion and extortion techniques, almost all of whom would end up as nominees for the Daily Capper‘s “Blackmailer of the Year” award, part of a set of awards which also included “Capper of the Year”, “Camwhore of the Year”, “Cam Site of the Year”, and “Shocker of the Year”. There was “Aussie”, whose voice was heard in a call gleefully telling someone that he was about to drop a girl’s pics on-line and you heard the girl call out in agony as she realized what was happening, “Wait…WHAT. WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO!”

The Capper would relate that Aussie himself would end up being extorted by a hacker with the alias of “XXXTreme” who forced Aussie to appear on camera and say that he’d been the one extorting various underage girls after denying it, with XXXTreme’s extortion itself nominated for the Capper‘s “2010 Lulz Moment of the Year” award.

There was also “Perso”, who was supposedly merciless in his extortions: “Meanwhile, Perso is continuing with the blackmail on blogTV. By the way, we recently found out from sources that he used a website like Chatzppl, to bring girls to himself…[and] blackmailed the girl to drink her own pee on this site.”38. There was the over-forty “Viper2323”, where the running joke was his obsession with getting caps of a girl named “Verica”39. The Daily Capper of September 5, 2010, would mention again, that “apparently, Perso finds it natural to blackmail girls to drink out of the toilet. Then call her his sex slave,” and then asked, “So, for our poll of the week: who do you think is a bigger sociopath? Out of Aussie, Perso, and Viper, who’s a bigger sociopath?”40 Other cappers included “m0d”, who used photos of young swains for his profile pic to put his victims at ease41, “r0r44” or “r0ra”, winner of the 2010 “Capper of the Year” award42, “Coke”, so named because he always seemed to be drinking a can of it. There was also “Swan”, who stole Coke’s girlfriend43, and “Klanackle”, supposedly one of the earliest and most influential members of the cappers, the man who Dora Sammy says, “changed capping as we know it”44.

Photo of the capper known as Perso

Photo of the capper known as “Perso”.

Photos of the capper known as Viper2323

Photos of the capper known as “Viper2323”.

Aussie on The Daily Capper

A still of “Aussie”, from a gif made from an extended clip of him on The Daily Capper. The full gif can be found here.

Coke and Aussie on cam

Cappers known as “Coke” and “Aussie” on cam.

In 2009, AnonIB would win by a very large vote margin the Daily Capper award for “Public Site of the Year”. From “Public Site of the Year – 2009 Capper Awards”:

AnonIB Top Voted Public Site at Daily Capper Awards

The Daily Capper broadcast had an erratic schedule, broadcasting at sometimes frequent, sometimes infrequent intervals through 2010 and a single show in early January 2011, before disappearing, then re-appearing for a broadcast on Halloween 2011, after which it stopped entirely – except for a single episode of great importance. The Capper ring would probably have remained in the shadows, entirely forgotten and unnoticed, if it hadn’t been for the death of a Canadian teenager named Amanda Todd on October 10, 2012, nearly a year after the penultimate broadcast of The Daily Capper. Easily the best account of the case was on a Canadian national affairs program, The Fifth Estate, and their episode “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”. Todd was a teenager with ADD who also had difficulty fitting in at school. “Kids would laugh at her, so she’d compensate in other ways,” said her mother, Carol Todd. “By making jokes, or…she would just compensate. But it wasn’t always to her benefit, ’cause kids would laugh at what she said.” She would try for more of a social life on blogTV and other cam sites, often singing songs for the audience. At one point during one of those sessions, she lifted up her top and flashed the audience in her cam room. There are various places where one can find an explanation for why she did this, including a video Amanda Todd made before she died, “Amanda Todd’s Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm”. From a transcript of the video at the blog Piglet’s Hut: “In 7th grade I would go with friends on webcam, meet and talk to new people. Then got called stunning, beautiful, perfect, etc…Then wanted me to flash…So I did…”

Mark Kelley of The Fifth Estate would interview two of Amanda Todd’s friends, Shyla and Tessa45:

KELLEY: Was she happy on-line?

SHYLA: Yeah.

TESSA: People would watch her and she’d get a lot of views.

KELLEY: But that is part of the appeal, isn’t it? People watching, and…it’s like a new group of friends?

SHYLA: Yeah, and not…them only knowing what you’re telling them.

KELLEY: You can sortof give a different version of yourself?

TESSA: Yeah.

SHYLA: You can edit yourself.

Shyla and Tessa on why some girls flash46:

TESSA: For most girls, it’s like, the attention. And wanting to feel important. In a way, I guess.

KELLEY: And how does the flattery work? Where is that coming from?

SHYLA: Well, probably, like, he’s encouraging you to flash though he’s being nice. And like…talking to you.

KELLEY: But at the time…does it seem like flattery, or does it seem like someone who’s really trying to trick you into doing something?

SHYLA: I think, at the time, it feels like flattery.

TESSA: Yeah.

Another explanation can be found in Rosin’s “Why Kids Sext”, on the difference between teen girls who sext and “pressured sexters”:

Most girls (70 percent) reported feeling some pressure to sext, but Englander singles out a distinct minority (12 percent) she calls the pressured sexters, who say they sexted only because they felt pressure. These girls are more vulnerable. They tend to start sexting at a younger age, and to sext because they think they can get a boyfriend, as opposed to because they already have one. They have a fantasy that if they sext, the popular people will see them as daring and self-confident, and they could get a boyfriend they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten, Englander says. But generally that doesn’t work out. Pressured sexters are much more apt to feel worse after sexting than other teens are her interviews reveal them to be less self-confident about their bodies and less assured about their place in the social hierarchy after sending a sext.

Rosin would describe a mother with two very different daughters in her Fresh Air interview about the story47:

She has two daughters, around the same age, and she treated them both completely differently. She said, “Look, if one of my daughters ended up on an Instagram page, or sent a sext, it’s because she wanted to. She’s really stubborn and hardheaded, and no boy can convince her that she can do anything that she doesn’t want to do, and if some boy tried, he’d really get it. But my other daughter’s a total pushover.” She’s the one who did end up on the Instagram page [of the Louisa County picture sharing ring]. “You ask her to do anything, even fold my laundry and it’s my turn to fold the laundry, and she’ll say yes.” That daughter’s the one she gave the lecture to. You know, don’t do what the guys tell you to do, just because they ask you to. Nothing’s going to happen if you say no. Be strong enough to say no. So, it was an interesting example in know your child, don’t just look at the sext and be alarmed, know what that sext means in the context of your child, who they are, what their life is like, and who the person on the other end receiving it is.

After Amanda lifted her shirt, “someone captured a freeze frame of her topless,” Mark Kelley would report in “Sextortion”, “and posted a picture on a porn site. Then a link to that picture was sent to all of her Facebook friends, including her mother.”48 Carol Todd, Amanda Todd’s mother, would receive an unsettling anonymous Facebook message after this all took place, on Christmas Eve 2010, which warned her that Amanda was being extorted: “She needs to be stopped [her blogTV sessions], because most of them are old guys who record her and blackmail her into doing more.” Carol Todd would reply: “Who are you? Also, where did you get your information from? This is now a police matter.”49 Amanda Todd would describe what happened next on Christmas eve in her video “Amanda Todd’s Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm”; from a transcript of the video at the blog Piglet’s Hut: “Knock at my door at 4am…It was the police… my photo was sent to everyone. I then got really sick and got… anxiety, major depression and panic disorder.”

Carol Todd remembered what happened to Amanda when she went back to school after everyone was sent the picture: “Embarrassment…anxiety…depression. She got, uh, I guess the name is slut-shamed. So…nicknames like “camwhore” and questions like, uh, “So are you doing this on a regular basis?” And porn star, and it just…for a child that’s in grade seven…it was very, um, it killed her.” Amanda herself would relate what it was like in a chat found on her laptop after her death: “There are people out there that can’t talk to me. Or they will be hated. I never got the chance to go out of my house, and be a real normal person, instead, now all I do is hide, I’m always scared of what’s going to happen.”50

Amanda Todd would change schools, but her blackmailer would follow her there, too: the staff at the new school had been sent her nude picture. From “Struggling, Bullying, Suicide”: “I then moved and got into drugs + alcohol.” Though her parents had twice contacted Canada’s federal police, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), there was nothing they could do for the moment. Her isolation at school led to her spending more time on-line and on cam, where she continued to receive reactions that frightened her. From the chat logs retrieved from her computer after her death51:

OMG I'm scared - URL if gif doesn't load:

Taken from The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, fragment runs from 28:49 to 29:04.

Amanda Todd’s nude had already been sent to the teachers at her new school; in November of 2011, a Facebook account was created under the name “Tyler Boo”, which sent a message to Amanda Todd: “lol, u already forgot who I am? the guy who last year made you change school, got your door kicked in by the cops?” Then: “give me three shows, and I will disappear forever. you know I won’t stop until you give me those three shows. if u go to a new school, new bf, new friends, new whatever, I will be there again, I am crazy, yes, xD” Then: “so your answer?” Carol Todd would bring the Facebook message to the RCMP, asking them for help. The RCMP recommended that Amanda Todd stay off the internet: “if Amanda does not stay off the internet and/or take steps to protect herself online, there is only so much we as the police can do.” Norm Todd, Amanda’s father: “As a parent, you absolutely feel helpless. And when the police can’t accomplish anything, what does that tell you? It’s very difficult because how can you comfort your daughter or anybody when you’ve got something you can’t control yourself, and they can see that you can’t stop it or control it.” On November 12, 2011, a new Facebook account was created under the name “Austin Collins” posing as a new student at Amanda Todd’s school, who then made their profile picture the cap of Amanda Todd lifting her shirt. He posts this message, accompanied by the picture: “sent to about 280 peeps, enjoy the shitfest”52.

Tyler Boo Facebook Screenshot #1

Tyler Boo Facebook Screenshot #2

Taken from The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, fragment runs from 29:36 to 29:59.

The year of continued harassment was taking its toll on Amanda Todd. “It was creating anxiety, knowing that everyone has seen your photo,” said Shya. “No one can let go, so she was feeling sick and she didn’t want to be around people, because…she just stayed inside a lot. And like…she just wasn’t herself…” From a message sent by Amanda Todd to her friends, retrieved after her death: “You know how many times I’ve head, ‘Nobody likes you’ or wants you here, go back to where you came from, or if you died, I would throw a party? Ever since all this happened, I just cry myself to sleep, because it hurts no matter what. Please please just help me.”53

Please please just help me. - URL if gif doesn't load:

Taken from The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, fragment runs from 34:59 to 35:20.

In the video which would eventually get over ten million plays that she recorded shortly before her death, “Amanda Todd’s Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide, Self Harm”, she describes an intense beating and a suicide attempt. Again, from a transcript of the video at the blog Piglet’s Hut, with slight alterations to make it a set of paragraphs:

Everything was better even though I sat still alone at lunch in the library everyday. After a month later I started talking to an old guy friend. We back and forth texted and he started to say he liked me…[he led] me on. He had a girlfriend. Then he said come over my girlfriend’s on vacation. So I did…huge mistake. He hooked up with me. I thought he liked me. One week later I get a text, “Get out of your school…” [He and his] girlfriend and 15 others came. [His girlfriend] and two others just said, “look around nobody likes you” in front of my new school, [in front of] fifty people. A guy then yelled “just punch her already.” So she did… She threw me to the ground and punched me several times. Kids filmed it. I was all alone and left on the ground. I felt like a joke in this world…I thought nobody deserve this :/ [uneasy emoticon] I was alone. I lied and said it was my fault and my idea.

I didn’t want him getting hurt. I thought he really liked me but he just wanted the sex. Someone yelled “punch her already.” Teachers ran over but I just went and laid in a ditch and my dad found me. I wanted to die so bad. When [my father] brought me home I drank bleach. It killed me inside and I thought I was gonna actually die. [The] ambulance came and brought me to the hospital and flushed [the bleach out]. After I got home all I saw was an facebook: “She deserved it, did you wash the mud out of your hair? – I hope she’s dead.”

A month after she made this video, Todd couldn’t take it anymore, and killed herself at the age of fifteen.

Amanda Todd

Amanda Todd, taken from the program The Fifth Estate, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”.

Amanda Todd's room, after her death

Amanda Todd’s room, two years after her death. Still is taken from an animated gif, which can be found here. Gif is made from a clip taken from “Stalking Amanda Todd : The Man in the Shadows” by The Fifth Estate, between 36:21 and 36:36.

The capper who harassed Todd until her death would remain an unresolved mystery for years. Suspicion originally would fall on someone named Kody Maxson, who would be outed by a New Jersey branch of Anonymous, giving out the man’s name, age, and address, along with the identifying details of other cappers. Maxson’s age would turn out to be wrong – he was nineteen, not thirty two – and the address would turn out to be wrong as well. Five days after Amanda Todd took her life, Maxson was at a Surrey, B.C.54 courthouse where he faced charges of sexual assault and sexual interference with a minor in a case unrelated to Todd. Maxson would admit that he knew Amanda Todd on-line, but insisted that he helped identify the man who did harass her and gave the information to the RCMP. The RCMP would emphatically declare him “a person of no interest” in the case55. The best account of the court appearance, with quotes from Maxson, came from the Vancouver Sun‘s “B.C. man denies harassing Amanda Todd; RCMP say allegations are ‘unfounded'” by Gillian Shaw and Kelly Sinoski. I boldface one point which stands out:

The Lower Mainland man, who appeared in court in a black hoodie emblazoned with the words ‘Stompdown Killaz,’ said he got some sketchy information about the blackmailer, who he says was 26, lived in New York and goes by an alias of Viper. The man said he passed this information to the RCMP and NYPD, but he couldn’t remember whom he spoke with.

I tried to help, to do everything I could, he told The Sun.

He said he only knew Amanda in a sense, but denied he was one of her cyber-bullies.

If I was a tormentor I’d be in police custody, he said, adding he’s really pissed off and annoyed that people are pointing the finger at him. None of it’s true. I’m feeling betrayed.

He told The Sun that he has received more than 50 death threats via email and thousands over Facebook.

The man’s mother said Tuesday her family has been subjected to a lynch mob mentality and urged the public to let the police do their investigation.

It’s really dangerous to throw out names when you don’t know, she told Postmedia News. This is doing more harm than good.

The background for Maxson blaming the suicide of Amanda Todd on Viper (or Viper2323) was perhaps explained by the very last broadcast of The Daily Capper, which suddenly re-emerged after a year of hiatus for a single episode devoted entirely to the Amanda Todd suicide, an episode which did its best to afix blame on Maxson. Where the tone of The Daily Capper was previously one of casual contempt for everybody – cappers, their victims, everybody – the tone of “The Daily Capper – Information on Amanda Todd, Kody Maxson, & Viper” is without humor or mockery, instead taking up a risibly earnest manner. The program opens with a criticism of press coverage of the case and the on-going investigation:

Welcome to another edition of The Daily Capper. We just wanted to help provide a few more details to the recent Amanda Todd tragedy. The majority of people seem misinformed. The media tends to miss out on a lot of key information. Others have no idea what they’re talking about. And police investigators have no understanding of the internet at all. While people have made Amanda Todd’s case into an example of bullying, what they tend to overlook is the capping and blackmail aspect of the story. Contrary to what the media believes, this wasn’t just a case of cyberbullying. For them to continue to get the capping community mixed up with cases such as sexting, is just insulting.

Yet somehow, despite this newfound commitment to truth and justice, The Daily Capper still holds onto its chilling sign-off: “Happy hunting.”

After spending some time placing suspicison on Maxson, the program would bring up Maxson’s statements to the police that he was just trying to help Amanda Todd and Viper was to blame (5:37-7:28):

One thing is for sure: whether Kody was the blackmailer, or the good guy he claims to be, he was involved in some way. In his defense, Kody says he was only trying to help Amanda, and that the real blackmailer was fellow capper, Viper2323. Those who lack knowledge of the capping world will instantly buy into this claim. Since we knew both these individuals personally, allow us to share more insights into this story and why this adds to evidence of Kody being the bad guy. For one, he put the blame on a man who he was good friends with at the time. Viper and Kody worked alongside each other in groups. They trawled rooms together and even shared videos with each other. You are looking at a conversation we had with Viper in December 2010. Viper states here that he did in fact receive a video from Kody.

Daily Capper in a chat with Kody

They continued working with each other until mid-2011 when Viper revealed in an Omegle chat room that he had gotten into an argument with Kody and they’ve hated each other ever since. But, once again, Kody was directly connected to Amanda in December [screenshot of a friend request from one of Amanda Todd’s alleged screen names] while he and Viper were still friends that shared videos with each other. Even if what Kody said were true, that would mean he knew Viper was blackmailing her the whole time, and he did nothing to stop him. Because they continued to share videos with each other for another six months after. Which would mean…if Viper really was the culprit, Kody wa obviously still involved. And more than likely, assisting him. That’s assuming what Kody said was true; however, we don’t buy into his story. While Viper may have been a pedophile, a troll, a psycho, among many other things, one thing Viper was not, was a blackmailer.

The brief, strange revival of The Daily Capper was discussed by Patrick McGuire in “The Suspicious Return of The Daily Capper”, and McGuire was one of the best reporters on the Amanda Todd story, diligently looking at the connections between Kody Maxson and The Daily Capper in a series of articles for Vice: “A Jailbait Loving Perv Destroyed Amanda Todd’s Life” (October 15 2012), “Tracing Kody Maxson, the Online Blackmailer Alleged to Have Tormented Amanda Todd” (October 17, 2012), “The Disgusting Rivalries of Webcam Extortionists: Kody Maxson, Viper, and r0 [AKA r0ra or r0r44]” (October 19, 2012), “The Suspicious Return of The Daily Capper” (November 12 2012), “Cowards Are Blackmailing Young Women to Death on the Internet” (December 21 2012), and “Kody Maxson, Amanda Todd’s Alleged Tormenter, Has Reemerged Online” (January 11, 2013). My feelings about Vice are, at best, ambivalent; but perhaps because Vice was still not yet considered “mainstream” in 2012, it was able to delve into the world of The Daily Capper. It was through McGuire’s articles that I first learned about the Capper, and I consider his work on the Amanda Todd case an invaluable resource. “Cowards Are Blackmailing Young Women to Death on the Internet”, for instance, would detail the information sharing involved in manipulating a girl to take off her clothes on cam so you could cap her, and the connection between The Daily Capper and AnonIB, both of which parallel the information sharing and reliance on AnonIB of #TheFappening ring:

The predatory scumbags who monitor these mainstream sites [cam sites like blogTV and Stickam] share the links with fellow pedophiles in chat rooms on smaller sites like Chateen and Vichatter. There are dozens of users who lurk in these chat rooms, waiting for someone to link to a girl streaming live via webcam. I have seen several screen captures that show users describing these girls as targets.

Once these lurkers identify a target on blogTV or a similar site, they all jump into the chat room in hopes that one of them can persuade her to get naked. If they can persuade her to show some skin, it’s referred to as a win, and images of the girl are screen-captured or recorded without her consent or awareness. Those who log these images call themselves cappers.

As mentioned above, this operation is a group effort, and a huge part of it revolves around sharing screencaps taken during these public webcam sessions. At the moment, the most popular medium for distributing these images is a message board called AnonIB, or Anonymous Image Board.

On these forums, predators post their personal screencaps and ask the community whether any other images of the girl in question exist. Usually if they don’t already possess nude screencaps of the girl they will also ask whether anyone has been successful in obtaining some from a previous webcam session. Often, they discuss or argue over whether a specific girl is likely to masturbate on camera. It’s a public market where images of naked minors are swapped like trading cards.

There is even a subforum for blackmail on AnonIB. It has been hidden since Amanda’s suicide, only accessible to those who knew its URL beforehand. Judging by the limited number of posts on the blackmail board, it’s fair to say that the majority of cappers are not outspoken blackmailers. Those who are, however, use the board like a grotesque Craigslist. When a user acquires an image of a girl he’d like to see more of, he will post this picture and then scout the forum for the blackmailer best suited for the job. In one post, a desperate user vented his displeasure: Why are all blackmailers so fucking unreliable? I’ve used at least 6 different blackmailers now And every fucking single one has ended up standing me up Ignoring my mails, and not giving me my share of the deal I have at least 10 fresh girls ready for blackmail, with facebook, pictures, etc. But I can’t find a reliable blackmailer.

McGuire refers to the blackmail subforum as a kind of grotesque Craigslist where users would give leads on women for whom they wanted more pics, and this is how the /stol/ subforum worked as well, as reported in “Inside The Internet’s Secret Marketplace For Hacked Photos Of Naked Celebrities” by James Cook, with users giving up email accounts to others that they wanted ripped. Here is one user offering up ripping services from Cook’s piece:

AnonIB stol user offering services

Hack or Rip Icloud Account Perfectrioper 09/01/14 (Mon) 21:36:33 No. 8396 (Reply)

Guess who’s back? PERFECTRIPPER! I know nombers [numbers] [sic] of you know who I am…
I was offline for a time and now I’m back and ready to rip all icloud accounts you want!
-Send me email + pass
-Send me just email (if you want me to hack the account for you) 100% safe and noone except you will see what I got!

Maxson was not a person of interest in the Amanda Todd suicide, but he was most definitely part of the Daily Capper world. He was in a relationship with a girl named “Peyton”. Peyton was nominated for Daily Capper‘s “2010 Camwhore of the Year”, Kody was nominated under the alias Kody1206 for Capper‘s “2010 Blackmailer of the Year”, and together they were nominated as “2010 Couple of the Year”, along with the couple of capper Coke and “Kristen”, and the couple of capper Swan and Coke’s then ex-girlfriend, “Kristen”. Kody and Peyton would win the category. “It is truly shocking,” the newscaster would say afterwards, “that all these relationships seem to be over.”56. In two videos, “Peyton 1” (transcript on pastebin: “Peyton Video #1 Transcript”) and “Peyton Admits It All” (transcript on pastebin: “Peyton Video #2 Transcript”), Peyton would talk about her relationship with Kody1206 and make clear that Kody1206 was Kody Maxson. These videos make obvious (if such an emphasis were necessary) why men were able to manipulate girls in their early teens so easily, that they had a vulnerability and a pliancy which an older girl would lack. “There’s a video of me…showing…leaning over the bed,” Peyton would say in the second video, “and I was in a dress…and my friend lifted up my dress…and showed the whole world my…panties. Yup. Not the whole world. Everybody on blog tv. Just makes me like…sad, like, once you recorded, it’s on the internet forever.” Then she spoke of wanting to forgive Maxson for this betryal while knowing she shouldn’t, wanting to be able to continue to feel affection for him, impressed with the small gestures of affection that an older girl would consider inconsequential, unable to move on from a paltry affair the way an older girl might, and Peyton here reflects all of us at that age:

I found out, like, a month ago he recorded me for the first time, and then I was stupid enough to keep doing it…’cause he said he was never going to do it again. And that he was stupid, and he didn’t want to ruin our relationship. And they just used me, and he stopped calling me, and he stopped talking to me…and he just used me, and then he stopped calling me, and he stopped talking to me, and he just wanted me out of his life…because I gave him what he got. I gave him what he wanted. Yup. And what’s sad is, I would still talk to him now if he tried to talk to me…because I’m stupid. Because…he like sweet talks me, like…you know how you can like…songs to listen to…that are sweet. He’d give me…he’d make a website for me, that said “I love Peyton,” and then at the end it said, “Just the way you are,” and there was a link to the Bruno Mars song, and then he would um, call me beautiful and he’d talk to me on the phone every night. Yeah, he pretended to love me. And I was like…not living a fairy talke, but I was in love with the fact that…I never had a guy treat me like that before…so it was different. I fell in love with the fact of being in love with him.

Peyton on blogTV

Peyton on blogTV, in the session recorded in the youtube clip, “Peyton Admits It All”. Note a viewer’s mention of AnonIB as the place where her capped video can be found.

In her first, shorter video, Peyton would repeat the point. “I want to talk to him, I want to be with Kody, the one that he used to be before he was a…pedophile. I don’t want to be with Kody, I want to be with someone that treated me like Kody did. At the beginning. Life sucks big gorilla…pickles.” Sephanie Morgan, part of Ontario’s57 Integrated Child Exploitation Unit, would be asked on “Sextortion” of another predator, “What do you think he was getting out of this?” Morgan: “My impression was, that he was getting a sense of power, that he maybe didn’t experience in his own personal life, and power over other people. And some sexual satisfaction.”58 We can see here the attraction of these men toward these very young girls was not simply physical, but the asymmetry of power. That humiliation and powerlessness is an integral part of capping, of humiliating the victim and making the victim feel as if they had no choice except to follow the blackmailer’s commands, is made throughout the episodes of The Daily Capper, including a cartoon which re-creates the tactics of Perso, nominated for the “2010 Blackmailer of the Year”, with Perso played, incongruously, by an animation of John McCain: “Blocking Perso”.

Perso makes all the girls cry - URL if gif doesn't load:

A clip from “Blocking Perso”.

The only interview with Kody Maxson is a very brief one, conducted by a figure on Youtube known as “EngimaHood”, whose videos often feature him speaking to the camera, always wearing a hood that conceals his identity. “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW” (transcript on pastebin: “Transcript of Enigma Hood Interview W/ Kody Maxson and Gei”), would be an interview with Maxson and Geissell “Gei” Morall, a teenage girl who was at the time Maxson’s close friend. The interview was conducted over Skype. From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”59:

Enigma Hood: Okay. So, you said you wanted to tell me your side of the story?

Kody Maxson: Not really. More pissed off at the fact that you talking all this shit and you don’t know anything, just listening to the media.

EH: Okay, I mean…if you want to tell me anything I don’t know, then…tell me. I mean, all I know right now is what the media says. So, if you have something…

KM: What I’m saying, what the cops are saying is, I’m not even been a suspect. Yet people are stilllllllllllllll…jumping on the giant bandwagon, so to speak. On the whooooooooole “let’s all kill Kody Maxson” and yadda yadda yadda, and shit like that, you know what I mean?

EH: Did you know Amanda Todd?

KM: (Unintelligible.)

EH: Did you know Amanda Todd?

KM: I knew her, for a bit.

EH: What was your relationship?

KM: Just a friend.

EH: So you knew Amanda Todd, she was a friend…and what did you guys talk about?

KM: Just her Youtube videos and shit.

Enigma Hood would ask about Maxson’s pending charges and whether he’d ever received nude pictures from Todd. Maxson would deny having such pictures60:

EH: Did the prosecutor choose to press charges against you?

KM: For what?

EH: For revealing Amanda Todd’s pictures. Did you have pictures of Amanda Todd topless?

KM: One, I wasn’t charged in the first place, I wasn’t even a suspect…cops gave a public…

EH: I missed the last part.

KM: Oooooooooh, about a month ago, saying I’m not a suspect, not a person of interest. I’m not facing any charges.

EH: Okay. Do you have, or did you have photos of Amanda Todd topless?

KM: Uh…never did, never wanted them, ever really knew about them, to be honest with you.

There was some question of where Maxson was when the chat was conducted (no date is given during the chat)61:

EH: What, like, where are you right now? Are you in Florida?

KM: Nope.

EH: Are you in Canada?

KM: No.

EH: Where are you?

KM: I’m in Cuba.

Maxson would leave the interview early on, and Enigma Hood would continue the interview with Morall alone, with Morall occasionally relaying Kody’s answers62.

EH: Uh…his behavior is very suspicious. He admitted that he at least knows Amanda Todd. He knew her. I mean…

GEISSELL: Yeah. He did know her. But he didn’t know her personally.

EH: Well, the allegation wasn’t even that. It was, the allegation was, the guy who only knew her through the internet, and through…he somehow got her photos.

G: Here we go.

EH: Mmmmhmmm.

G: Kody’s saying that he knew her for a while, about for a year…he started helping her on-line. Because she was getting blackmailed by other people that aren’t Kody. That were on Youtube, and et cetera.

EH: So she knew these guys through Youtube?

G: Yeah. She knew them through Youtube.

EH: Okay. So he’s not coming back, I mean, are you just talking to him over the phone?

G: Yeah, yes. He’s not…Kody, are you coming back? To the call? He said, “I don’t know.” (laughs) I don’t think he is, though.

EH: I mean, tell him to come back, you know, I mean, if he’s innocent, let’s get this squared away. I mean, I want to understand.

G: He wants you to come back, to declare your innocence or whatever. (pause) Kody, I’m not telling him that. (pause) No. (pause) He says he doesn’t have to prove his innocence to anyone.

A little later, Morall would give a curious answer, that with regard to the Amanda Todd case, “Kody would blackmail, but not to that extent.”63

EH: Yeah, absolutely, I mean, he contacted me, he said I was saying things that weren’t true, I’m actually more suspicious than I was before, and I…

G: Because you actually got to speak to Kody, and, you know…Kody is actually like I said before, when you spoke to me…I said he was a caring, nice person…but he does have his moments where he is…it could turn sour, but it wouldn’t be like that, and like I said before, if Kody were to do something like this…he wouldn’t do it, for someone to commit harm. At the same time, he wouldn’t do something like that. It’s very complicated. Kody would blackmail, but not to that extent.

A year later, Enigma Hood would conduct another interview with Morall alone, “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later” (transcript on pastebin: “Transcript of Enigma Hood Interview W/ Gei”). They would speak about why they had stopped talking, her stalking by someone named “Phillip Rose”, FBI involvement in the case, and when their on-line relationship had started64.

EH: When was the last time that you talked to him?

G: Uh…a few months ago. He deleted me on Facebook, and I was like, “What’s up with that?” Uh…he was like…I dunno, we just didn’t talk anymore, so what’s the point of having me on, so at that point, I was like, “Oh, well, okay.” I see where that is going. So, it’s like we don’t really care for each other, so…the relationship isn’t there. There’s no friendship or anything.

EH: But I guess after, um, after the interview that we did…uh, you guys were still friends for a few months?

G: Yeah, yeah. We were, we talked here and there. But nothing else really. I dunno, it was mostly…when we talked, we talked just about that subject. And ended up going back to that subject.

EH: About Amanda Todd or the interview?

G: In general. We were talking about how he was getting threats and messages…and how a lot of things happened to me afterwards. After that interview, a whole bunch of things happened. And…we just started engaging kindof like our experience with the whole, after the interview and what…

EH: So what kind of things happened after?

G: Well…soon after the video and…I guess about, less than a week later, there was a guy named Philip Rose, whom I’m sure you know…

EH: Yeah.

G: He came along and he started to legitimately start to stalk me under multiple accounts on Facebook, on Youtube, and multiple people started commenting on my Youtube. Which my email blew up. I was at school and I was checking my email, and all I saw was comment after comment after comment after comment, saying really bad things. That’s what ended up for me to delete my Youtube account…the FBI, the FBI was involved during the whole process, and they found out about that…my Youtube got out and they were harrassing me on Youtube. So they were either going to a) take, like confiscate it, like change my password, but keep it up, or b) I decided to delete it before they could get the password. And, I was…I really didn’t like them in my business, but I had no choice. They took away my computer, they took away a bunch of things, that were personal to me…

EH: So, the FBI actually took away all of your stuff…why did they do that?

G: Because they wanted to know if there was more. They thought that I wasn’t telling the absolute truth, in my…when they interviewed me. And I said, “I am telling the truth,” and they wanted to know if I had exchanged any uh…pictures, intimate pictures of myself…and I said, “No, I didn’t,” and I don’t think it was the FBI at that point, it was another woman who spoke to me…I think it was something with Child Protective Services, or something, she…in my face, told me she didn’t believe me, that there was more going on, that I was lying her, telling her that I didn’t send pictures when in fact I did…well, you guys took my computer, my phone, my facebook, my youtube…I’m sure if something like that happened, you’d know.

EH: So…the one thing that I probably wasn’t clear about when we first talked…how old were you…back then when we first talked?

G: I’m actually going to be sixteen in a month…

EH: Okay. So, even back then…you were…

G: When we first started [she and Kody started talking a lot on-line], I was late fourteen.

With regard to the Philip Rose mentioned here, Glenn Canning in the blog post “Philip Rose is Christopher Rowe” would allege that this “Philip Rose”, who trolled various capper victims including Carol Todd, was also known as perso365, or the capper known as “Perso”. Canning was the father of Rehtaeh Parsons, another Canadian teenager who committed suicide after on-line bullying.

Later in the interview, Enigma Hood and Morall discuss how sexual the relationship was, and how old she was when the relationship started. In the earlier part of the interview, she stated their relationship started when she was late fourteen, but now she said it started when she was mid-thirteen, though they first knew each other when he was sixteen and she was late twelve65.

EH: Did Kody initiate any sexual conversation?

G: Not like…how do I put it…it was very, it was very…teasing, in a joking way. It was never too serious, or something that made me uncomfortable. If I ever told Kody, “I don’t feel comfortable,” he would be fine with that. He would respect that I wasn’t comfortable with whatever you were talking about. (Unintelligible.)

EH: Did he ever ask for any nude photos or anything like that?

G: Ummmm…I barely, I…I don’t remember for nude photos, but I do remember for…compromising photos.

EH: Like photos of you in a bikini or something like that?

G: Something like that. But…I don’t remember any nude photos being requested. Never.

EH: So you guys never met, right?

G: No.

EH: Okay. So he was still in high school when you first met…and how old were you, okay, so he was sixteen and then how old would you be, at that time?

G: Uuuuuuh, I was about thirteen, twelve, late twelve.

EH: Okay.

G: Yeah. But we knew each other when I was that age…we didn’t have any sort of relationship until it was sortof, late, or mid-thirteen, about that age.

EH: Mmmhmm. I see. So…you had a relationship of some kind at some point, then it just turned into a friendship, and…

G: It was really on and off. Kody is a very…he’s…he goes on and off on things. Really. One minute Kody will be the nicest, sweetest, kindest person, he’ll give all your attention to you, and the next minute he’ll disappear like he was never there, and then he’ll come back at other times saying, well, this and this happened…or I’m sorry, or something like that. But we’d always…I’d either run back to him, or he’d run back to me, it was very…toxic, it was. Like, we’d fight and it would be just really horrible.

EH: Right. So, uh, did you guys have a fight about what was going on with the, you know, the interview and then the FBI stuff…

G: Uuuuuuh, we never fought about that, we never had fights after that. What happened was that Kody, Kody needed…why I kept talking to Kody at that time, was Kody needed someone.

EH: Right.

G: He was in desperate need of someone. And that’s why a lot of people, they continue to follow the whole story after the interview, they were well, she’s being, she’s obviously being blackmailed blahblahblah…no (laughs). I wasn’t, it’s just…I felt like he really needed someone, because…he was being pushed away by so many people.

EH: Right.

G: And nobody knows whether he did it or not.

Morall on how Kody Maxson first met Amanda Todd, and whether he had her nude photos66:

EH: Okay, so you’re prepared now, so…how would you like, answer some of those questions, like…like how did Kody Maxson first meet Amanda Todd? That’s what I wanna know.

G: He met her…from what I know…off of some kind of on-line chat room. From what I know. And they didn’t talk very much, apparently she…had some issue, and he tried to help her, and they spoke. That’s when they started talking.

EH: So Kody had an issue…

G: Nonono, Amanda had an issue.

EH: Amanda had an issue, and Kody tried to help.

G: From what I know…I can’t remember where I know this from (laughs) but I just know…

EH: Sure sure.

G: …I forgot. But, then she…I don’t know, he didn’t ask for the pictures, she sent it on her own, which I…I have difficulties believing that. But…

EH: Oh wait a minute, wait a minute. So she did send nude photographs of herself to Kody?

G: From what I know. I don’t remember exactly where…I can’t remember who told me, I have a problem with really that. Not meaning to sound sketchy, but, from what I hear, there were nudes or something sent. But…Kody didn’t send them. To anyone.

EH: Okay, so you’re saying that Kody got some nude Amanda Todd photos, but he didn’t disseminate them on the internet.

G: I don’t remember if it was sent to someone else. Like someone else that was involved in the case, or if it was to Kody. I can’t remember that part.

EH: Well…how many other guys would be involved in this, though?

G: Well, then there was a rumor saying that Viper was Kody, Kody was [Viper]…it’s a mix-up, so that’s where it really gets confusing. You don’t know who’s who, and who sent what.

EH: Okay.

G: I don’t know if Kody sent it or not. In reality, I don’t know. There is no proof that he didn’t, and there’s no proof that he did.

EH: But the real revelation here is that he had those photos. That means he lied to me. He told me that he met her on youtube, and then I asked him if he had nude photographs of Amanda Todd, and he said no.

G: See, that’s where I don’t know. That’s where I really don’t know, because…I was…I was told differently, so…

EH: Did Kody tell you that?

G: That’s the part…I don’t remember I read it, or if I heard it, or if I saw it…it was a…it was…when I ask Kody, “Did you do it? Did you have them? Did you…”, uh, because believe me I was just on him as anybody else would be.

Enigma Hood would ask about Kody’s relationship with Peyton. Morall did not like Peyton at all67:

EH: Okay, okay. What about Peyton? You know who Peyton [is]…right?

G: (laughs) Yeah, I know Peyton.

EH: Okay.

G: I know about her, I don’t know her personally.

EH: So what’s the deal with her?

G: (laughs) Oh god, I do not like her. She…she…is trying so hard…to get Kody in trouble. She…her and Kody had a…relationship. And she tried to paint Kody as this guy who was…monstrous. Like, he was horrible, he would make her do things…that she didn’t want to do. Peyton, Peyton is a liar…she was just looking for attention…I did it for Kody. Everything I did wasn’t for attention…and it’s still not for attention. It’s because I don’t want people to think…the second…the first interview I did for Kody…the second one I’m doing it for myself. Because I don’t want people to think I was blackmailed by Kody to do the interview or anything like that. But, the reason why she wanted to get attention, was all about her…and it was for the wrong reasons. And…I just don’t like her. She didn’t try to save Kody. She tried to put him down, make him look worse. And lie about it. She had no proof that he did any of that.

EH: But then…why would she…okay, so she just did it for attention? But Peyton and Kody were they a couple, or anything like that?

G: I believe so.

EH: Okay.

G: I believe so. From what I know Kody didn’t want…Kody didn’t want anything to do with her anymore, and out of spite, she did that.

EH: Do you know the circumstance under which they broke up?

G: No.

EH: Okay.

G: I don’t…I think it’s because she was messing around with too many other people.

EH: Was this before or after Amanda Todd?

G: This was before.

EH: Okay.

G: And um…I don’t know Peyton and I would never want to speak to her…I just…when I read the things…and I saw a little clip of her interview, or whatever…with whomever…I was pissed. I was so mad. Because all the things she was saying about Kody…I mean, sure, he has his really bad moments. But…the way she was making him sound…was, it just wasn’t Kody.

Finally, Enigma Hood would ask her about the death of Amanda Todd68:

EH: So how do you feel about her suicide?

G: Um…

EH: Like now. Or at least now. When you first heard about it, that’s different. How do you feel about it now. Because no one was arrested and punished in connection to that. To this day.

G: I feel like…Amanda Todd did a lot of actions prior to meeting Kody. From articles, I don’t know if they’re true or not…that were wrong. And that isn’t to justify the way people treated the way they treated her, but…her actions that led to…her wanting to kill herself…were wrong. And I think if…let’s just look at it this way. If she didn’t kill herself, if she was still alive today…and this was just a girl on the internet…posting about all the things she did…and talking about them, in explicit detail…what would people on the internet call that girl?

EH: Are you asking me?

G: Yeah. What would you think that people would call her?

EH: If she did what?

G: If she told…if she put herself out there, made a video or even if she didn’t make a video…if you just knew Amanda Todd personally, and you knew all the actions that she’s done…what would people call her?

EH: Well…what actions did she do?

G: Well, from what I know, she would send, she would send pictures to multiple people, she would uh, she would be with other people’s boyfriends and blahblahblah, and there’s even pictures, a picture of her on the internet, I saw one time with a bra and underwear. And she was sending that picture, someone let that out. So, I mean, people would of course call her, you know, a whore, slut, blahblahblah. But since she killed herself over someone who sent the pictures…all of a sudden she’s not that. She’s…she’s…she was a normal girl. She was this and that. And it’s like, I don’t like it when people do that because…you know, damn well, if she didn’t kill herself, the people would be like, that’s what you get for sending pictures of yourself. You can’t send nudes, blahblahblah. But since she killed herself over it, and made a video on youtube, all of a sudden, she’s an angel for someone like that. It’s…you can’t forget what she did. It was still wrongful actions, just because you kill yourself over it doesn’t justify it. And that’s how people treated the situation. And that made me kind of upset, because it’s like people forgot the reason she committed suicide.

EH: But the reason she committed suicide…was because she was bullied.

G: But why was she bullied?

EH: Does it matter? I mean, it’s…

G: It does matter! It does matter. Why was she bullied? She was bullied because of that picture. And who sent the picture?

EH: But…I mean, you…okay. I get what you’re saying. I’ve heard it before. Do you think that bullying is ever justified?

G: No, I don’t think bullying is justified. But, I just want to say…if she was being bullied, as bad as it says she was, as the internet says she was, she could have a) deleted her facebook, b) started going to school far elsewhere, or she could have been homeschooled if she was bullied really that bad. And see, she could have done, she could have set herself away from all these people. But she didn’t.

We see a similar division between the women in Hanna Rosin’s “Why Kids Sext” on how other girls saw those on the Louisa County Instagram account:

To the elite girls, the girls on Instagram were sluts not necessarily because they were sleeping around but because of what they looked like or how they acted. Let’s just say people have different body types, one girl told me. Others, speaking about girls in the photos, said, “You obviously have a little too much confidence”, or just “Butter face” (as in: nice body, but her face…). In their college study, Armstrong and her team identify this brand of sniping as a way girls police one another and establish a sort of moral superiority without denying themselves actual sex, and something similar seemed to be happening here. Well-off, popular girls were most certainly in the Instagram photos, but none would admit as much unless I knew otherwise.

Though both Amanda Todd and Geissell Morall were part of the cam community and both were interacting with older men, Morall looked down on Todd, and I don’t see the divison having anything to do with class or status lines, but something like the division between the two daughters discussed in Rosin’s article. Morall has contempt for Amanda Todd because of what she perceives as her insecurity, her weakness, her ability to be manipulated by these men. It’s a source of strength and pride for Morall that she is part of the same milieu as Todd, yet she would never lose control like Amanda Todd did.

On December 28, 2014, Morall would comment again, with a far sharper, more critical take of Maxson on her Google+ blog, Thoughts By Gei, “Almost three years later….” ( link). “I stand behind everything I’ve said thus far,” she wrote about his involvement with the Amanda Todd suicide, but she also now openly accused Maxson of pedophilic tendencies. “I realized how much of a pig he was.”

It’s been three years since the suicide of Amanda Todd, and every year I do something stupid huh? Either participate in interviews, or talk openly about my views. Even though the topic has still died, no one really understands how this has impacted my life. I want to update anyone who Googles this eventually one day, on what I think to this day.

Since I last spoke openly about my experience with the whole “internet scandal” or whatnot, and my relationship with Kody a year ago, I realized something. I realized that he truly disgusts me. No, not because he had anything to do with Amanda Todd (I stand behind everything I’ve said thus far, regarding his involvement.) Just simply because I realized how much of a pig he was. I found him once again, behind girls on the internet after he found someone in person. Although that isn’t any of my concern, you’d think someone who went through this wouldn’t once again pursue any involvement with a GIRL (not a woman, a GIRL.) I am truly disgusted and appalled that I ever stood that closely by his side. Although I am disgusted by Kody Maxson, I cannot say I change my opinions on his involvement in the case. We don’t know what happened, we can only judge by the evidence we have and quite frankly, there isn’t anything against Kody. I just wanted to share that, not for anyone else, but for myself. I wanted to be at peace with the fact I released my thoughts and opinions.

I’ll end it here, and this will be the last update I ever make on this case but lets all remember… We can’t always trust what the eye can see, because that’d make us blind to justice.

This was the only post for Thoughts By Gei and it featured only a single comment, by a “Philip Rose”: “Ha ha! Isn’t it time for you to move on?”

Philip Rose comment

In January 2014, an entirely different suspect would be arrested for the harassment of Amanda Todd, a Dutch citizen named Aydin Coban. “On the trail of Amanda Todd’s alleged tormentor” by Patrick White would outline the lengthy investigative process, which would eventually benefit greatly from the co-operation of Facebook, and would link Coban with the “Tyler Boo” Facebook profile which harassed Amanda Todd. The length and difficulty of the case gave some sense of why an investigation into #TheFappening ring would be even more difficult. Where Chris Chaney traveled openly about on-line without a proxy and Josh Holly appeared on the radio to brag about his achievements, Coban was very discrete, knowing the severe penalties for his acts, and made sure to use proxies to hide his identity. “The suspect [Coban] is highly skilled in identity obfuscation and consistently uses proxy IP addresses, clean session cookies, and disposable email addresses and online handles to make contact with his victims and their friends,” was the observation of the Dutch report on the investigation69. “Dutch police used controversial software in Amanda Todd case”, another piece on the case by Patrick White, would note that the Dutch ultimately had to enter Coban’s residence surreptitiously and install a keystroke logger on his computer in order to gather evidence for their arrest.

The Fifth Estate would produce a follow-up episode to “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, about the capture of Aydin Coban, “Stalking Amanda Todd : The Man in the Shadows”. At one point they would list the massive number of aliases and IPs used by Coban, and there among them was one that definitely stood out: “Kody Maxson”.

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The Sextortion of Amanda Todd: aliases.

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Alleged alternative accounts of Aydin Coban, Amanda Todd’s persecutor. The first alias is “Kody Maxson”. Taken from “Stalking Amanda Todd : The Man in the Shadows” by The Fifth Estate, between 30:48 and 30:54.

We might return to this moment in The Fifth Estate‘s previous episode, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd” (segment runs from 13:44 to 14:09):

It was Christmas Eve 2010, and Carol received an eerie anonymous Facebook message, warning her that Amanda was being extorted. [The message read:] “She needs to be stopped [her blogTV sessions], because most of them are old guys who record her and blackmail her into doing more.” Carol replied, “Who are you? Also, where did you get your information from? This is now a police matter.”

This might be placed in juxtaposition with something in the last episode of The Daily Capper. From “The Daily Capper – Information on Amanda Todd, Kody Maxson, & Viper” (4:06-5:34). I bold a particularly important detail:

Is Kody really as innocent as he claims? Well, it is difficult to imagine how he went from streaming Peyton’s videos to suddenly being a white knight next week. On top of that, he has openly expressed his hatred for internet heroes. But aside from the obvious assumptions, we’ve been able to find informationt that directly ties Kody to Amanda during the time of her blackmail. Allow us to share with you a message we received on December 23, 2010, just five days after Amanda’s blog show. This user shares with us Kody’s personal information. The same information that was leaked by Anonymous two years later. He mentions the names of Kody’s victims. One of whom is Amanda. This email was sent to us a week before Amanda confirmed the blackmail herself [in a comment on a Daily Capper video]. Unless this guy had a time machine, this information more than confirms Kody’s ties to Amanda. The screnshot he [the unknown informant] sent us is very similar to the one posted by Anonymous. Only with a bit more information. It includes Amanda Michelle Todd’s full name, along with detailed information including her Skype names, and the video that Kody used to blackmail her, and Kody’s email, which was given to this user by Amanda herself. Even more confirmation that Amanda was connected to Kody in December of 2010. Is it still all just one big coincidence?

It does not take, I think, much imagination to consider the possibility that the same person who sent Carol Todd the warning message on December 24, 2010, was also the same person who sent The Daily Capper Maxson’s information on December 23, 2010. That this person may well have been Amanda’s persecutor, and may well have been Coban, and that’s why they had so much information on Amanda. That her persecutor would have access to Carol Todd’s email, but would also be familiar with the capping community, and be able to contact the Capper. This person may have gotten into conflict with Maxson, and that’s why they singled him out to be blamed for this. Finally, there is one moment in the Enigma Hood interview, “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, that might be of significance (14:00-14:55), when Morall speaks of Maxson being accused of provoking Amanda Todd’s suicide:

G: When everyone else was talking to him, I would ask him “Did you do it, did you do it, did you do it,” and he denied it every single time…I said, “Kody, if you’re lying to me…please let me know, no one’s going to know.” And he said “No, of course I didn’t do it.” And he’s like, no I didn’t. And he’s being very…I felt he was being very sincere with me…but you could tell something else was bothering Kody. Kody’s not the one to get really humble and quiet…and uh, when we spoke in private, he’s very timid, and…it was, it was, it wasn’t odd, but it was something that Kody wouldn’t be.

EH: So you think he was probably lying?

G: No, I think he was hiding something from me. I don’t think Kody…

EH: What do you think he was hiding?

G: I don’t know…I don’t know if he knows who did it, or…

The most disturbing aspect of The Daily Capper, of course, was that here was a program which tracked the news of a community where older men exploited and abused underage girls. That it was all transmitted through a retrofitted children’s show only made it ickier, much as the insistent buoyancy of a clown’s make-up only accentuates menace. Easily the second most disturbing aspect, for me, however, was that they were far superior at information collection and distribution about this community than any news source I’ve come across. When it came to researching others who had perpetrated extortion and harassment similar to what Aydin Coban had allegedly perpetrated, The Daily Capper was an unparalelled resource. The community of perpetrators was far better organized and informed than any news organization or resource group, just as the best insights on #TheFappening ring came not from outside analysts, but from those deep within or very familiar with such underground rings, whether it was the anonymous 4chan poster or the anonymous commenter on DeadSpin.

“Welcome cappers and camwhores, to The Daily Capper, the one and only entertainment source for everything capping,” went the Capper‘s standard opening for their August 15, 2010 program, “The Daily Capper – Week of August 15,2010”. “Let’s kick things off with a segment I like to call: “Ride the Party Van”.” And then there was an image of flashing police lights. “It was reported yesterday that this fag was arrested yesterday for blackmail.”

Trevor Shea on The Daily Capper

Trevor Shea Close-up

Trevor Shea on The Daily Capper and a close-up.

Though no name was given, it was easy to find out through an image search that this was Maryland resident Trevor Shea. “Teen ‘sextortion’ victim regrets not seeking immediate help” by Emily Longnecker, an article published a year after Shea’s arrest would relate the story of one victim that was eerily similar to that of Todd’s. The victim was then fifteen and on cam with her friends, talking to a group of strangers on-line when “they all chimed in and were like, ‘Just flash us once,'” and the victim flashed, after which Shea capped her pic, and used it to exploit her. Shea threatened to send the picture to her family and friends, unless she did as told. “He just kept messaging me and the threats got worse and worse and he just said, ‘If you do this and this for me then it will all go away,'” she said. Just like Amanda Todd’s persecutor, he was able to track down who her family was and where she lived. “I was really scared. For my life, I was scared,” she said. The victim would finally tell her mother and the police, regretting that she didn’t tell them sooner. “Don’t be driven by fear and don’t let that person control you. You need to go and tell any adult, tell a parent so it doesn’t go on,” she said. Shea had been charged with the sexual extortion of ten women, including this victim, and in 2012 he pleaded guilty to seven counts of production of child pornography, of producing “images and videos of themselves engaging in sadistic and masochistic abuse and other sexually explicit conduct.” He got thirty three years in prison70.

A week before the broadcast referencing the Trevor Shea arrest, “The Daily Capper – Week of August 8,2010” opened with this story:

So much action this past week and so little time. How’s this to start off the show? What happens when a thirteen-year-old babysitter goes on blogTV Junior with an eleven-year-old girl? They go to Ustream and end up having oral sex while three hundred people watch. Because Tinychat mods have cracked down so much in the last couple of weeks, it was hard to find a place where these kids could have sex where they wouldn’t get banned. They got banned on UStream and soon were blackmailed by Perso Pete into deleting their account. If you want to know where you can get the video, just message the person who blackmailed them: Luvyashawty [love ya, shawty or shortie] on youtube.

Luvyashawty mention on Daily Capper

Luvyashawty mentioned on The Daily Capper as a place where you can get a video of a thirteen year old having sex.

Then a month and a half later, on “ – Week of September 26,2010”, they had another announcement with regard to “Luvyashawty”. “We were planning on taking a break, but when news like this comes up, we just have to talk about it,” announced the newscaster. And then they went to a local newscast. “A man is behind bars after three states worked to stop him. The investigation began back in August. That’s when a police officer in Indiana got a tip that a man by the name of Jimmy Cook had gone on-line and had asked a girl to make sexually explicit videos and post them on youtube.”

Luvyashawty arrest mentioned on The Daily Capper

Luvyashawty arrest mentioned on The Daily Capper.

The Capper newscaster then returned: “That’s right. Luvyashawty from youtube has been arrested.” Then they went back to the local newscast: “Court records claim it all started on youtube, when Cook convinced a fourteen-year-old girl to post videos of herself undressing. A police department in New Jersey also joined the investigation with a potential victim there.” From “Jimmy Cook aka Luvyashawty justaguyk hotguyplays luvyababy1oo GoOrDieTroll” (transcript on pastebin: “WDBJ-7 Clip of Jimmy Lee Cook’s Arrest”), a clip of Virginia’s WDBJ-7 broadcast of Cook’s arrest:

The search for one of the nation’s most wanted child predators ended in the woods behind a Campbell County church. Jimmy Lee Cook is in jail, facing federal charges of sexually exploiting minors. Cook is homeless, but authorities say that did not keep him from using the internet to entice minors. News-7’s Tim Saunders in our Lynchburg newsroom with the details.

Keith and Natasha [Ryan], Cook is accused of using a resource that’s now available in many public places. Free wireless internet. Down a short path, just behind a church on Timberlake Road, sits a campsite. Investigators say this was home to Jimmy Lee Cook.

I can say this is the first time I ever searched a tent, in the woods, for child pornography.

Robert New and the Central Virginia Computer Crimes Task Force got a tip from federal authorities. They heard Cook was contacting young girls in chat rooms designed for children, like Tiny Chat. New says investigators found more than thirty explicit videos in Cook’s campsite, stored in a Cheerio’s box.

He had a lot of child porn. He had a very detailed process on how he collected it.

Investigators say Cook’s location played a big part in his crime. His campsite was just feet away from a library and three restaurants that offer free wireless internet.

All you got to do is pull up, in his case on his bicycle, open his laptop, and hook up to the internet.

Smith believes Cook used free wi-fi to contact more than twenty-five victims in the US, Canada, and possibly Europe. In court documents, a twelve year old girl reports that Cook asked her, repeatedly, to upload pornographic videos of herself on youtube.

Jimmy Cook aka Luvyashawty from a WDBJ-7 newscast - URL if gif doesn't load:

The part in the forest where Jimmy Cook aka “Luvyashawty” was found and arrested, along with Cook’s mugshot, from the youtube clip “Jimmy Cook aka Luvyashawty justaguyk hotguyplays luvyababy1oo GoOrDieTroll”, between 0:36-0:43. Clips is taken from a WDBJ-7 newscast, clip is not on their site.

The arrest of “Luvyashawty” was the nominee for the 2010 “Shocker of the Year” at The Daily Capper awards, while the arrest of Lawrence Joseph Silipigni Jr. was a nominee for “Shocker of the Year” for 2009. Silipigni was an over forty man who took pictures from a seventeen year old boy’s MySpace account, posed as the boy, then befriended girls on-line and recorded them when they would dance and strip naked on cam. Eventually, one thirteen year old who’d fallen for the scam contacted another girl who’d also been tricked, a fourteen year old, and they in turn would come across a third victim. This victim confronted Silipigni over what he’d done. “I’m the same person, just older,” Silipigni wrote back. “I’m not as hot and I’m chubby. I’m lonely and hate being old.” Silipigni had managed to collect over a hundred videos of various girls. This is all taken from The Register article by Dan Goodin, “Feds: bald man posing as 17-year-old secretly taped teens”, which contains this allegation, about what took place after months of soliciting the thirteen year old to get naked on cam: “Silipigni then used a program called Camtasia to record the session. He later posted the video to a section of Stickam called “Anonib-Teens No Rules.”” A Stickam representative would deny the allegation, saying “Silipigni’s video of the victim was never posted on, contrary to what an FBI agent wrote in a criminal complaint.” From our comfortable pose in the far future, we know what perhaps was the mistake: Silipigni didn’t post it to Stickam, but to a section of the image sharing board AnonIB.

Lawrence Joseph Silipigni Jr

A frame from the Fox News-11 report, “Internet Heroes”, fragment devoted to Silipigni runs from 2:31 to 2:54.

There was “The Daily Capper – Week of November 7,2010”, which flipped over to clips of local stations dealing with the arrest of another extortionist in Auburn, Alabama, a man named Jonathan Vance. He was an Auburn University graduate and member of the church choir, who was charged with coercing over fifty girls and young women between 2006 and 2008 to send him nude photos. Vance would contact the women and pretend to be a friend or relative who’d gotten locked out of their Facebook or email account. Could he have their pass and use theirs? Or he did what Chris Chaney did, and reset the passwords to their accounts by answering the challenge questions, whose answers he knew by researching the victims. Vance threatened to expose embarrassing details he learned about the victims if he didn’t get nude photos. He told them he’d relinquish the accounts once he got what he wanted. Almost no one agreed to this, but one adult and two minors did. He plead guilty to his charges and got eighteen years.71

Jonathan Vance on a newscast featured on The Daily Capper

There were the Fox News reports dealing with sextortion, “Sextortion: What You Need to Know”, “Internet Heroes” (“heroes” were those who tried to warn girls against flashing), and “Fox 11 news reports on online predators”, all of which dealt with people and incidents well known in the capping world, and they got frequent mention on The Daily Capper. “The Daily Capper – Week of July 11,2010” and “The Daily Capper – Week of July 25,2010” would feature an opening montage of clips from these reports, over which the song “We Are One” by 12 Stones played, whose lyrics could be heard as a kind of capper anthem: “We walk alone / In the unknown / We live to win another victory…We live to change the face of history so be afraid/It’s the price we pay”72.

In the context of the Amanda Todd case there was one other incident, one more victim, that made your jaw drop at the coincidence, the kind of coincidence that was laughable melodrama in fiction, but which were oodled out casually in every day life. Yet it had been forgotten, completely unnoticed in the brief frenzy of coverage of the Amanda Todd case. It was toward the end of the Daily Capper‘s penultimate broadcast, “The Daily Capper – Week of October 31,2010” (no longer on-line) that they had a big announcement: “…and perhaps the biggest shocker of all of them: enjoyflirtplay AKA Aurora Eller made a special appearance on an episode of The View to talk about the one and only guy she ever showed for in her life. I’m talking, of course, about Coke.” It was a skeptical, nasty take on what Eller had said on The View, a program where she talked about an encounter not unlike what Amanda Todd had dealt with as well. From “The View – June 6th 2011 – Aurora Eller” (transcript is on pastebin: “Aurora Eller on The View Transcript”):

Aurora, thank you for being here. I know this is a difficult time for you. At thirteen, I want you to take us back. You are sixteen now…at thirteen, you were on a social network of sorts, where you began talking and streaming video on-line. Correct me if I’m wrong, a man entered the chat room and started asking you to start doing…sexual, having sexual activity of some sort with your friends…and then started threatening you if you didn’t continue. Correct?


What was happening?

Um…it was just a chat room where…it seems like you’re just talking to regular people, but…um, like…there’s creepers on-line, and then…they started asking us to do things, and um…after the first time, they used it to threaten me. And if I didn’t do it, they would tell my parents, or tell…my school. And I was afraid.

You must be afraid now, aren’t you?


When you did these sexual things with your friends…did you just think it was fun, to do the kinds of things you were doing?

Um…I don’t really know.

You were thirteen, and they said do it, and you did it.

You felt pressure, this person was pressuring you to perform or have these acts, and then using the one time you said yes, to do this and did it, as a threat to get more from you?



You know, as a father you must be frightened yourself and obviously heartbroken. Did you know any of this, did you monitor what she was doing? Did you have any idea of what was going on, Simon?

I always monitored what they were doing on-line, using different softwares, and they…I had no idea. Mainly because of Aurora…she had cystic fibrosis, and…

She has cystic fibrosis?

She does. Yeah. She’s homebound, so she has to do all of her schoolwork from home. She’s always on the computer. I had no idea.

And schools require work on the computer, so it’s very difficult and challenging for a parent to say “You can’t be on it.” That’s almost a non-reality at this point. Uh, Aurora were you drinking at the time?


Okay. So…under the influence, being persuaded by this man who is yet to be identified, correct?

Nobody’s found him.

Nobody’s found him.

PARRY AFTAB [found of Wiredsafety, child protection group]
No one’s even looking, and that’s the problem. No one’s looking. She’s the one that’s being blamed for all of this.

The segment would then move on to the police involvement of the case, and the fact that Aurora Eller might have to register as a sex offender:

I want to…they need more protection than ever, I’d say. But it doesn’t seem as if you’re getting the kind of protection you deserve at this point. I want to go back even more. Erica, you’re Aurora’s stepmom, three years from the time she was thirteen, and till just recently, nothing had happened, okay. Someone anonymously tipped off the police just recently. And they then show up at your home…

ERICA MCLEAN [stepmom]

…and begin to question Aurora. And your brother.

If the charges are brought, does she go to trial?

The charges have been brought. And she’s now being charged with two counts of child pornography.

And she could go to prison?

She could go to prison, but in all likelihood, if she’s found guilty, she will become a registered sex offender.

For the rest of her life, there is this mark.

She will not be able to live near a school, she won’t be able to take certain jobs, she has to notify everybody as to what’s she doing. They’re going to treat her the way they would treat some creep who’s molesting two-year-olds.

What do you think should happen? What is the status of the case, what do you think should happen?

Well, what I’m hoping to do, and I’ll reach out to the proescutor, is to offer WiredSafety’s help. She can do community service with us, we’re happy to do public service announcements with her so she warns other kids that sexting is just a dead end, and that you might actually be on the wrong side of the law. And end up being a registered sex offender.

Can you explain sextortion? This is a new term that’s coming out. There’s sexting, which is what we’re hearing about, and sextortion is indeed what this unidentified male, possibly did do? He’s trying to get-

And sextortion is very complicated. And what it is, is blackmail using the images. So this guy, or there’s several men, we understand, saw the sexual images, and they said “If you don’t do more, or engage in sex with us, we are going to make it public.” So a lot of the kids now are being sextorted. We’ve seen so many cases around the country.

I want to talk to Aurora. So, when this has happened, you’re home, alone, because you’re home schooled…you’re drinking, which…you shouldn’t have been doing at thirteen, okay…and you’re going to whatever, for whatever reasons at that time…now, you’re older. And there are other kids who are also talking on chat rooms. In chat rooms and so forth. Talk to these other kids and tell them what you think they should do.

I think they should be careful who they talk to on-line, um, because you never know who you’re really talking to. And that they should watch what they do. Watch what they say. Um…just be careful.

Aurora Eller on The View

The issue of teens being charged as sex offenders for taking pictures of their own bodies is, of course, a central theme of Hanna Rosin’s “Why Kids Sext”. “If a girl sends a photo to a boy that she likes…has the girl done something wrong?” asked Terri Gross of Rosin on Fresh Air. “But if the boy then sends the photo to other people without the girl’s permission, that seems to be where you really draw the line, right?” Rosin: “Terri, everything you just described is a crime in most states.” Rosin, elsewhere in the interview: “A picture of a minor, wherever it is, is a dangerous thing. It’s considered child pornography, even if the kid made the picture themselves. And so, on the one hand, you’re dealing with one of the most heinous crimes, and on the other hand, you have common sense.” 73 We see here a central paradox of the law. “Don’t be driven by fear and don’t let that person control you,” said one of the victims in the Trevor Shea case. “You need to go and tell any adult, tell a parent so it doesn’t go on,”74 and yet when you tell the police, there’s the possibility you’ll be charged as a sex offender. In August 2011, Aurora Eller was found not guilty of producing child pornography, reported Virginia’s Daily Press. Matt Sabo would write in “Gloucester teen cleared of child pornography charge” that “Eller’s father, Simon Eller, and stepmother, Erika McLean, said on The View that Aurora Eller was taken advantage of by an online predator who coerced her to produce more images by threatening to make public her previous ones,” after which he would add: “But none of that came out at trial.”

The Daily Capper would cite a message from the iChan message board allegedly left by Aurora Eller as a refutation of what was said on The View, but it only made obvious the complicated feelings of most of these women on cam, and how easily they could be exploited. Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller were isolated, Todd because of social ostracism and Eller because of cystic fibrosis, they were lonely, and camming was their only social byway. They were younger, often much younger than the men they were interacting with, and the extent of the control they had, and the lack of awareness of a thirteen-year-old’s implications of their consent are there in the message board post. So too is the fact that their consent in some cases appears to have made others think they had license to extort, blackmail, or use them however they might wish. This post may not be by Aurora Eller, but there’s nothing to suggest that it’s by a stooge or dupe, but very much the voice of a girl talking about her difficult experiences.

“The story in the view is not the complete truth” this “Aurora” writes. “As you all know, but I mentioned the word blackmail and bam that’s what it turned into.” The post would continue:

Everyone should agree that sometimes we can all become ‘attention whores’ and that’s what happened. I thought by having the room be my own and control how and when the recordings happened that it made me in control but it did not. I [continued] to do it because I thought it’s happened once, what harm could more times do? But that is where I was young and naive. I got drunk everytime because I really did not like doing those things, but being drunk made it easier, what I liked was the attention and doing those things got me attention. As far as asking who I was blackmailed by, well I have been blackmailed by m0d and Aussie. He contacted me just last month actually. Trying to threaten me. The difference between my story of blackmail and the truth is I wasn’t stupid enough to fall for their (almost) empty threats. My guess is that a blackmailer or somebody that I pissed off, decided to go to the cops. Neither I nor anyone that I have spoken to know who it was, probably never But they were accusing the wrong people of this crime. Yes, those who cap, and watch are guilty. But those who blackmail are the worst. And young girls are targeted because you all know they are naive and [if] they’re getting attention, they do feel special. My life is not ruined because of this, it was not great, but by going on The View and hopefully other shows/PSAs I can spread the word to somebody. and that somebody will spread it to a young girl, and that young girl will not make the mistake I did.

iChan post allegedly by Aurora Eller

Posting on iChan by “Aurora”.

There are the obvious similarities to Amanda Todd’s story, such as the isolation and the extortion threats. There’s also the anonymous call to the police, which “Aurora” on the message board alleges was made by someone who wasn’t looking out for her, but trying to use the law in revenge: “My guess is that a blackmailer or somebody that I pissed off, decided to go to the cops.” The police also arrive at Amanda Todd’s house, and though no piece I’ve seen explains exactly what spurs them on, we have the unusual note in the threats made by Tyler Boo, the identity traced to Aydin Coban. I bold the relevant part: “You already forgot who I am? the guy who last year made you change school, got your door kicked in by the cops.”

Amanda Todd on The Daily Capper

Aurora Eller on The Daily Capper

Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller on The Daily Capper.

There is the final eerie coincidence of these two girls who did not know each other, who may never have even heard of each other. Todd’s video, where she tells her story through text written on a series of cards, was not something sui generis, but part of a tradition of videos on youtube where you relate something difficult, that you migh lack the strength to speak about, but which you want to say to the world. Examples would include “My Index card Confessions”, “Tumblr Confession Video.”, “My Tumblr Confessions Video”, all of which were recorded a year before Todd’s, in 2011. There was another such video from that year, and it was by Aurora Eller: “My Confessions” (transcript on pastebin: “My Confessions by x65Rosesx”). It told of her anguish and difficulties dealing with Cystic Fibrosis: “All the time I struggle with my CF (cystic fibrosis). I HATE my treatment and rarely do it. It’s hard to think about my future when I may die young. My mother’s cousin with CF had a lung transplant at sixteen. I get sick often because I hate doing my treatment. I hate doing it because it reminds me that I have CF. Being sick means I miss A LOT of school.” And it dealt with the same things Amanda Todd dealt with, over her capped nudes:

I have been diagnosed with depression. I have cut, but it didn’t help much. I feel as though I acted like a whore to help my insecurities. EVERY DAY, I regret what I have done. I wonder who/what made me think it was okay. I’ve been to therapists and will probably take anti-depressants for the rest of my life. Depression almost NEVER goes away. Sometimes I am strong, sometimes I cry like a baby. My family isn’t exactly perfect. But I love them all to DEATH.

When she turned to the everyday plights of teenage girls, it was a relief. “I REALLY wish I had boobs. I hate to admit it but I wear push-up bras every day…I just want to be any size but XS [extra small],” but right after, there was again that echo of the past: “As far as guys go…I have been used. And I think I’ve started to use guys now. I feel like a whore.” Your choices and actions were so quick and fleeting when you were thirteen, but the pictures remained, like Polonium, and their influence remained as well. “I did not do this for you to feel sorry for me so please don’t say that I did. Thank you for watching :D” You could feel a pang of sympathy, without pity, a regret that this story somehow had vanished only a year later, without being able to offer consolation or warning to others, and the necessity to see the savagery that engulfed Eller not as something separate or alien, but part of a vaster world, interconnected with your own, like fangs from a dragon’s mouth.

Aurora Eller - Diagnosed with depression

Amanda Todd - Anxiety Major Depression

Amanda Todd - anxiety is horrible

Amanda Todd - cried every night

Aurora Eller - ill take anti-depressants rest of my life

Amanda Todd - I'm on anti-depressants now

Aurora Eller - I have cut

Amanda Todd - depressed, cutting

Amanda Todd - started cutting

Aurora Eller - Every day I regret what I've done

Aurora Eller - I feel as if I acted like a whore

Aurora Eller - still feel as if it's my fault

Amanda Todd - All from my past

never get that photo back

Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller - URL if gif doesn't load:

That we are able to illuminate such points of connection, that the alleged tormentor of Amanda Todd is now in custody might give us the illusion of a majority of mysterious space rendered visible when we have nothing of the kind. Despite our magicians’ tools, the great mass of this landscape remains in shadow, and will most likely remain so until the girls involved tell their stories, many years after these incidents took place. We ended up at this path because of a mysterious message of unknown provenance, and we might leave it with an equally mysterious creation I came across on my research. For whatever reason, someone created twitter profiles of most of the major players in this capping ring. Whoever did this was also very familiar with the ring, with the profiles often accompanied by photos of the actual individual and what one presumes to be their names in actual life. There is @Viper_2323 (archive today link), @Coke_Caps (archive today link), @i_r_m0d (archive today link) (m0d), @StickamSwan (archive today link) (Swan), @r0r44 (archive today link), @PersoPete (archive today link) (Perso). There are lesser known cappers like @BruceWhiskey (archive today link) and @DocHoliday151 (archive today link), who carries the description, “Head blackmailer of Tinychat”. There’s the @WHITER00MLEGION (archive today link), a supposedly legendrary group of troublemakers founded by Klanackle, before falling apart due to in-fighting75.

Neither Kody Maxson, nor Amanda Todd, nor “Aussie” were there, but Aurora Eller was, under her old chat name, @Enjoy_FlirtPlay, as were various other girls mentioned in The Daily Capper. Most of the cappers included the places where they did their work among those they followed: @tinychat, @blogTV, @Stickam, @icanhazchat. Someone had gone through a great deal of trouble to set up these interconnected profiles, each part of the others’ followers. Yet they were perfunctory as well, with almost none of them tweeting anything, and each profile including the same artists over and over among those they followed: Pink (@pink), Jaden Smith (@officialjaden), Demi Lovato (@ddlovato), Justin Bieber (@justinbieber), Emma Watson (@EmWatson), etc. And every single one followed @mtomareviews, a twitter feed devoted to wrestling.

What purpose someone had to create this elaborate network at some unknown past date, a network which would have no significance whatsoever to anyone unfamiliar to this group, I have no idea, and I offer no answers or guesses.

Perso Pete twitter

White Room Legion twitter

m0d twitter

Aurora Eller twitter

From @PersoPete‘s following page:

Perso Pete following

With the exception of two episodes in 2011, and a final broadcast devoted to Amanda Todd, the remainder of Daily Capper episodes that I’ve found on-line have all come from 2010, a particularly fertile period for dysfunctional feeling on the internet. There was Jessi Slaughter, who would be nominated at the “2010 Capper Awards Results” for the Daily Capper‘s 2010 Attention Whore award (the roll call of nominees accompanied by DeadMau5’s “Attention Whore”), getting enough votes to finish behind Peyton, the underage girlfriend of Kody Maxson76. Slaughter was the nom de guerre of Jessica Leonhardt, and another example of how intensely the press lights would burn before the filament shattered and the shine fell somewhere else. She is entirely forgotten now, yet briefly she once held the attention of millions. When she was ten someone on an internet board would allege that Dahvie Vanity, the lead singer of her beloved band, Blood on the Dance Floor, had had a sexual relationship with the ten year old, which Leonhardt would deny, and which would trigger a broad and nasty reaction77. Slaughter would reply with a video where she tauntingly declared, “I’m just a normal girl, who’s absolutely perfect in every way, and you’re just jealous,” which would provoke another reaction, after which the infamous “You dun goofed” video (“Jessi slaughter You dun goofed REAL ORIGINAL”) was recorded, which featured her weeping while her father, Gene Leonhardt, screamed at the camera. “Who said you could beat my daughter up? You are going to have to deal with the police. Because you done goofed,” he started out relatively quietly before launching into a screaming attack. “YOU BUNCH OF LYING NO-GOOD PUNKS! I KNOW WHERE THIS IS COMING FROM BECAUSE I’VE BACKTRACED IT!”

On an episode of Good Morning, America made in the wake of the incident (“Jessi Slaughter (kerligirl13) on Good Morning America”), Gene Leonhardt would say, “As a father I was just trying to support my daughter, and try to get the people to stop hating.”78 Her family would receive multiple death threats after the videos. The police would be called in numerous times in the aftermath; when a large cardboard box was delivered to her school and it was thought to be a bomb (it just had more postal boxes inside); when two thousand dollars worth of pizzas were ordered to the Leonhardts’ house79; when nude pictures of ten-year-old Jessi Slaughter supposedly showed up on-line. The following is a police report from that visit; blank spaces represent redactions and I bold the most noteworthy moment80:

On 071610 [Auugust 16, 2010], writer was working at the         and made contact with the department of children and families (DCF) investigator Tarliece Chavers, who was responding to a residence in         in reference to an         year old girl posting inappropriate things on the internet. Writer assisted the investigator at the residence and made contact with         and her parents,         writer stood by as the investigator conducted her interviews, and at one point, the juvenile subject threw a temper tantrum after both the investigator and writer requested the computer be unplugged and the juvenile not to have access to the internet, which the juvenile became irate and advised she will lose her fame, and that she will get to the internet one way or another. Writer observed the juvenile state that if she does not get on the internet, she has nothing else to live for, at which time, she got up from the dining room table, stormed out of the room, stating she does not “give a fuck”, and that she will stick a butcher knife in the DCF worker’s “ass”. Writer observed the juvenile state she does not wish to live anymore, and made other statements in that aspect.

The parents of the juvenile subject were catering to the juvenile as if she had done nothing wrong. It did come out that the juvenile was posing herself in provocative positions and posting the pictures on the internet. The juvenile did state that the most important thing in her life at this time is to make number one on some list on which she is currently 67 out of 100, and that her main goal is to be famous on the internet, and for her name to be a household name throughout the country. Writer did advise the juvenile and reminded her she is only         years old, which the juvenile stated she did not “give a fuck” and that age is not important. The juvenile did show writer her internet page, which writer did observe postings from other people stating what the juvenile was doing was wrong, and just to the left side of the screen, writer observed in plain view pornography, pictures of oral sex, which the parents stated they were unaware their daughter was on such a page.

The DCF investigator did take photographs of the screen, which she stated will contribute to the decision making in this case. The father did become combative when writer told him his daughter was under a Baker act [The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, allowing for involuntary institutionalization, see the Wikipedia entry], at which time, he stepped in front of writer to block his path to get to the juvenile, which writer explained to the father that he will be arrested for obstruction if he obstructs writer’s investigation in any way.

This concludes writer’s involvement in this case.

Case remains pending active.

In October, Blood on the Dance Floor would release their album Epic, which featured “You Done Goofed”, a reply to Jessica Leonhardt: “You’re just a pawn of stupidity / You’re a living mistake / I’m the king of the chessboard, so mother fucker / Checkmate”81. The police would return to the Leonhardt house on February 9th, 2011, when Jessica Leonhardt posted to her Facebook that she’d overdosed and wanted to die. From the incident report82:

Writer arrived at the incident location and was met by the subject’s father at the front door. Writer asked if the subject lived at the location when         began screaming and yelling at writer stating “I was told by your supervisors you guys would not be out here anymore investigating anonymous complaints.”

Writer asked dispatch for an additional deputy when         opened the front door and stated “You have no right being here and you have an attitude. My daughter is fine and I don’t know why you’re here.” Writer again tried to explain to her that the subject posted comments on her facebook page and writer was trying to check on her. Then came back to the door yelling. The subject came to the door and stated 1 put on there that I wanted to overdose, but then I went back on and deleted it. I put two comments that everyone can disregard my last comments. I was feeling suicidal at the time and depressed but I’m not now.”         stated “See it was a mistake and you’re out here for no reason.” They again shut the door.

A week later, Gene Leonhardt would be arrested for striking Jessica hard enough that it caused her mouth to swell and her lips to bleed. A few months later, August 14, 2011, her father would die of a heart attack83. That same day, Jessica Leonhardt would upload a video (“Jessi Slaughter Lied To A Nation”) in which she apologized to the band whose lead singer she’d accused of rape.

Hi Dahvie, hi Jay [Von Monroe, other member of BOTDF], hi Sally [Sally Stitches, Dahvie’s girlfriend], hi little BOTDF spectrum…it’s Jessica Rose AKA Jessie Slaughter here, saying sorry for everything I’ve ever done. I feel really bad about it now, I’m in foster care…I have been locked up in mental institutions…and just like “You Done Goofed” said, I do have to go to counseling now, but it’s not because of you. So…I’m really sorry for everything I’ve done, I’m sorry for accusing you of rape and everything, I know all that happened. Aaaaaand I’m having this recorded by Gloria, not because I…have no computer privileges now because of the foster care. And…why am I talking with my hands? I’m truly sorry for everything that I’ve done, and I love BOTDF, basically all the CDs that I have are BOTDF now, so…I’m saying I’m sorry and everything, and I love you guys, yeah…Jay’s my idol, Dahvie’s my idol, and Sally inspired this [strokes side of head]…I shaved it off my head. So. Yeah. [makes heart symbol with hands] Love you guys. [blows kiss] Sorry.

Nearly a year later, “Controversial cyberbully victim Jessica Leonhardt returns to YouTube” by Fruzsina Eördögh on The Daily Dot would announce that Leonhardt was back on youtube making videos. The piece “Leonhardt returns to YouTube” would describe the videos as follows: “Leonhardt laughs with her mother on camera, attends her school’s 8th grade dance, and professes her love for the band AFI.” They would get an overwhelming amount of dislikes, with a video of her playing with her dog receiving five likes and thirty eight dislikes. At the time of this writing, all videos mentioned in the article “Leonhardt returns to YouTube” have been deleted. In 2013, a New Media Rockstars piece on youtube, “Jessi Slaughter Interview”, would make clear that Leonhardt was transitioning from female to male, from the identity of “Jessi” to that of “Damien”. From that interview with Jeff Klima84:

Your life has had some crazy drama in it…and so, I was kindof like, checking into you…and I see now that you are Damien now…you used to be, your on-line handle was “Jessi Slaughter” and now you’re Damien. So, kindof, what’s that about?

Well…after I got out of foster care, last year, I started dating a guy, who I’d known during the “Jessi Slaughter” drama…and, what happened was I started noticing, not noticing, but figuring out more that I didn’t really feel like a girl. You know, it just…it didn’t really feel like that. So, I…after me and him broke up, last February, I ended up getting more into it, and finding out…well, not finding out, but, somehow, really noticing in myself that I am, I don’t know the correct term for it, but I am female to male. So. It’s just …it’s not, most people notice a thing…it’s kindof a gradual process. Which…a lot of people tend to say, “Oh, you’re not really a guy cuz you didn’t just all of a sudden say this, it just happened.” I’m not going to tell you guys before things happened.

Are you planning on going, like are you going to do a full surgery, or…are you just…?

Um…I’m probably going to do the top surgery, the bottom surgery is still questionable.

Okay, and the top surgery would be just, they remove breasts and that…?

Yeah. You know, making sure I don’t have tits anymore, which…they don’t look good on me anyways. My body was not made for it.

Oh, really? Okay.

I look like a guy, just with tits. And it’s weird.

Why not the bottom part, what’s uh…is it, having a penis would be too full-bore, or too weird, or…

It’s probably because I couldn’t afford it.


Yeah. Aaaaaand, I don’t want to directly say I am doing a bottom surgery, and not be able to do it. So, that’s why I am saying that’s still an if for me. Because I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m going to do this,” and then end up not doing it. So. That’s still iffy on that. Cuz I’m not well off. So…I have to kindof, work around with the money situation, and transitioning is kindof expensive…you know, I’ll work with it.

Okay, so as money comes in, then you maybe will be able to do a little more?


So, you still pretty well get harassed by the internet?

I wouldn’t call it harassment, per se, or call it, just…you see, I’m a convenient pit stop for the internet to come and attempt to be smart, and clever, and troll…but it ends up just being a major fail whenever I get raided by people on 4chan. I don’t know. They don’t know what to do with me now, apparently.

Yeah, what’s been the reaction from the public about you becoming Damien, a boy, essentially?

Um…a lot of people have been supportive, and a lot of people, it isn’t that they haven’t been supportive, but they’ve been doubtful of it. Especially…I’ve been getting a lot of hate within the trans community, because you know, they say “Oh, you’re not, you can’t, you know? It’s disgraceful.” Because of who I was. Back when I was eleven. They say I can’t transition, or that I can’t identify as female-to-male, because that was who I am, and I’d bring disgrace onto the community.

Okay, now that’s kindof an interesting…an oxymoron, that they would sit there, and be pining for acceptance, and not accepting you for who you are, yeah?

Yeah. I tended to see that a lot. Especially in the tumblr trans community. Just a lot of people say, “Yeah, I wanna be accepted, I want to be able to go to the boys’ bathroom, and be able to do this, and do that, but…” Yet, you know, they’ll send me a message saying, “Oh, you can’t be a boy, because…you wear eyeliner, and that’s not something a boy does, so…you can’t do this,” and it’s like, weren’t you just arguing for being accepted as you are? Like, two posts ago? And then you’re coming to my outbox, and telling me I can’t be accepted? There’s a lot of transphobia within the trans community on Tumblr, and it’s not just directed towards me, it’s directed towards a lot of other people. Which, it’s kindof sad, it’s like, “Why can’t everybody just do their own thing?”

Now you seem pretty grounded and like, smart, but there’s also, I kindof heard, or seen stories, like, you had a couple of suicide attempts in your past? Is that true?

Yeah, I’ve had a few…it was just a really bad time in my life…it was around this time last year, actually, that I had a lot of rough patches, and it didn’t…my life wasn’t going the way I wanted it too, and I got just really, really upset. And I ended up attempting suicide a few times. But…after a long recovery…I’m still recovering, but after a very long period of time, I’ve made a lot of progress. Hopefully.

So, you’re kindof over the suicide thing for now?


Good, good. I’m glad to hear that. So, how close did you come, do you think?

I dunno. I can’t really judge that. I mean, most of the times that I did, I can’t really remember that much. I just know that I did. I dunno. I have a horrible memory of things like that. Sometimes, somebody will ask, “What was it like being on Good Morning, America?” and it’s like, “I don’t remember.” I remember getting sunburned. I remember eating sushi.

That’s good, so…you seem to remember some other aspects of it, which is good. Now you, uh…like, you said you were kindof depressed around this time last year…is this, are we talking about your dad passing away and all that?

It wasn’t really that. Cuz, since when my dad died, I was in foster care…I guess I wasn’t as close to him…of course I wasn’t as close to him. And it didn’t really affect me as much. It still doesn’t register to me. That I even had a father. I know I did, for the first twelve years of my life, but…you know, now, that I’m here, it doesn’t feel like that. Certain things don’t feel like they existed before. But they did. It’s that weird feeling of distance, from the…my past, that I’m…I don’t know if anybody else feels it, but I feel extremely distant from it. To the point where I can’t remember really feelings or thoughts…around what happened with certain situations. I can only remember “Yeah, I got sunburn,” or “Yeah, I went to the mall.” That’s like the only things I can really remember, out of those…

Do you feel like you kindof blocked it out just because it was such bad stuff that happened around that time?

Uh…I didn’t purposely block it out if I did. It just kinda happened that way.

Now your dad…I know like you said, you had one of those crazy tragic lives. Like, I don’t envy you all the things you’ve had to go through.

It’s not crazy tragic. It’s…normal.


I see it as normal. Um, a lot of people are like, “Oh, you’re such a big inspiration, you’ve gone through so much,” and it’s like, no, it doesn’t feel like I’ve gone through a lot. The biggest thing it feels like I’ve went through is…when Adam Carson [the drummer for the band AFI] got engaged, and I threw a hissy fit. That was like a big thing to me, but that’s the only big thing that I feel like was big. Other than that, it’s just, you know, everybody seems to make a big deal out of things happening…things happen in everybody’s life. You know, you can’t really compare two lives next to each other, because, you know, it’s kinda all different.

Monica Lewinsky would write the following in “Shame and Survival”:

Yes, we’re all connected now. We can tweet a revolution in the streets or chronicle achievements large and small. But we’re also caught in a feedback loop of defame and shame, one in which we have become both perps and victims. We may not have become a crueler society although it sure feels as if we have but the Internet has seismically shifted the tone of our interactions. The ease, the speed, and the distance that our electronic devices afford us can also make us colder, more glib, and less concerned about the consequences of our pranks and prejudice. Having lived humiliation in the most intimate possible way, I marvel at how willingly we have all signed on to this new way of being

“I am, for better or for worse,” she would continue, “presumed to be a known quantity.”

Jessica Leonhardt

Images taken respectively from “Jessi Slaughter (kerligirl13) on Good Morning America” and “Jessi Slaughter Apologizes [2011]”.

The place where the allegation was made that Jessi Slaughter had hooked up with Dahvie Vanity was Sticy Drama, a site which also had a devastating effect on another briefly well known teenager, Kiki Ostrenga, who was better known by her alias as Kiki Kannibal. Easily the best account of this episode was “Kiki Kannibal: The Girl Who Played With Fire” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which told the story of a thirteen year old willowy white girl isolated and bullied by her latino and black classmates in a Florida high school who sought to reach out to the world through her Myspace site. We see again the theme of loneliness in actual life experienced by Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller, and the second half of her story repeats the themes of theirs as well. She would meet Danny Cespedes on-line, known as “Mr. Myspace” when, I guess, that meant something, an eighteen year old who said he was seventeen years old. He would charm her family, insist that he just wanted to be friends, accepted that she didn’t want to sleep with him, and then raped her. If your mom finds out, he’d tell her, we can’t be together. “If you don’t do this, you don’t love me,” Kiki says he told her. “I kind of pretend like it never happened.” Years later, in the video “Sexual Assault – Red Flags, Advice & My Experience”, Ostrenga would articulate well how predators are so effective at manipulating young, vulnerable and isolated girls85:

Those guys won’t save you from your situation, but they’ll use your situation…to make you feel like…that they will save you and they will be there for you. Whether the situation is low self-esteem, having problems with your family, bullying at school…these type of guys will pick up on that. And they’re really good at it. And then, they’ll make you feel safe and like, that someone understands you, and…that you can always go to them, and that they’re the only ones that get you, and when you’re a teenager, you often feel misunderstood…so, anyone that says “I understand you, I get you, I know…”, you automatically have an attachment to, or feel safe. And a lot of teenagers like to feel safe.

I know when I was first on-line, back in the MySpace days [Ostrenga would start on MySpace in 2006, according to “The Girl Who Played With Fire”], a lot of people didn’t know about…the internet dangers. And this was in regards to social networking. That was the first social networking site, that was out there and that people were joining, and no one talked about internet dangers, because it was so new. Sooooo…when it happened to me, n one, there was no guide, there was nothing in the news, no one was writing blogs about it, it was totally new. And so…I know a lot of people from the MySpace times, a lot of people were abused…a lot of underage girls were abused in that time, because there were a lot of older men, in that style, that were legal adults, that would go after, that were notorious for going after minors, within thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.

Kiki Kannibal

Kiki Kannibal AKA Kiki Ostrenga from her video, “Easy & Quick Floral Hair Style – Roses For Summer!”.

She would soon discover that Cespedes actively pursued underage girls on-line, some as young as twelve. Cespedes’ father had engaged in sexual abuse as well, deported back to Peru after being convicted of sexual battery of a twelve year old. Again, from “Sexual Assault – Red Flags, Advice & My Experience” (14:21-15:03):

The guy who sexually assaulted me, it ran in his family. And no helped him or his father. Being a pedophile ran in his family, so he violated all these girls in South Florida. And each girl came to me…there were eighteen other underage girls and they all came to me with their stories. And that was painful enough after being violated by him, having to hear what he did to other girls…after he got arrested for violating eighteenother underage girls, under the age of fifteen, he passed away, trying to run away from the police, and all the hate sites blamed me for his death, and blamed me for my own rape.

Ostrenga would break up with Cespedes after his increasingly eccentric behavior, after which authorities would go after Ostreanga for multiple counts of statutory rape. They found him in a Florida mall, arrested and handcuffed him, after which he tried to escape while they crossed a pedestrian bridge in the mall’s parking garage. Cespedes was probably trying to jump from the bridge onto the roof of a construction van below, but his foot caught on the bridge, and he ended up hitting the ground head first. He spent two months in a coma and then died.

Kiki Ostrenga was then on Stickam, the same cam site which was featured so often in The Daily Capper, and like Amanda Todd, she spent more time on-line as the turmoil in her real life got worse, turmoil that spun out of her on-line life. It was her popular presence on Stickam which made her the subject of stories on Sticky Drama (sticky as in Stickam), which would eventually culminate in the story, “MySpace Murder Mystery” headed by a photo of the coffin of Danny Cespedes, along with the allegation that Ostrenga had “cooperated or plotted with the police” as payback for Cespedes breaking up with her, and that Ostrenga was “responsible for his death.” This, of course, provoked a furious reaction against Ostrenga, not unlike what Jessica Leonhardt had faced, with people threatening to kill her and posting fake Craigslist ads offering up the then fifteen year old as a prostitute. A Sticky Drama article promised Ostrenga, “we really are going to destroy your reputation,” but Christopher Stone, the man who ran Sticky Drama, also saw this as just a game: he wanted to bring “Kiki Kannibal” on to Sticky House, his on-line reality series filmed in his own condo, where teens were invited in and would engage in drama, the more depraved the better. Stone would pay an ex of Ostrenga a grand to take a dump on a photo of her at the same time he was sending her sympathetic emails telling her what a terrible mother she had, and that she was better off living in his house. “I don’t understand what his obsession is,” Ostrenga said. “but he has this sick, twisted love-hate relationship with me.” All this took place in 2010, the same year that Amanda Todd lifted her shirt and was screencapped.

Christopher Stone, real name: Christopher Watermeier

Christopher Stone, real name: Christopher Watermeier.

The Daily Capper would often discuss heroes and “heroing”, which were people who interfered with underage girls taking their clothes off on-cam, either by warning them not to or interfering with those who were urging them on. But there were others who played at being such heroes only to take advantage of the girls themselves, getting them into a position of trust after which they would cap them. Christopher Stone, the man who ran Sticky Drama was that kind of hero. He was given a heroic mention in Fox 11’s “Sextortion: What You Need to Know”, a man looking out for the best interests of young girls on-line, but he was actually a manipulator, an opportunist, a bully, and a bottom feeding creep. A full transcript of “Sextortion”, featuring references to many cappers already mentioned here:

A new kind of on-line blackmail is trapping teenagers, especially those who send provocative pictures of themselves to friends. Hackers are stealing those photos and threatening the senders. It’s called “sextortion”. And now the police are beginning to crack down. Phil Shuman says they have some catching up to do.

For many teens, sending boyfriends sexy pictures has become an internet dating ritual.

It’s how people flirt. It’s the new…how people flirt in the digital age, in a way.

Christopher Stone runs the website Sticky Users of this and other sites say blackmailers are now getting a hold of these photos, getting them from men who trade photos on-line. From vengeful ex-lovers who post them, even hacking into the woman’s computer. The blackmailer then uses the embarrassing photos to extort the person, demanding that they perform sex acts on a webcam.

From one nude photograph, it goes from that to you have to [deleted] on camera.

If they refuse, he threatens to send the photo to their friends and family. The scheme even has a brand new name: it’s called “sextortion”.

Beware of m0d.

Concerned web users have begun posting videos identifying active blackmailers. It names m0d, Sean Savvy, Coke, and Swan. Shadowy figures who often use multiple photos, possibly of innocent people, to try and hide their identity. Police have begun to crack down, arresting this high school student last year on charges of extorting sex from classmates.

He knew the destructive power of what he was doing.

Just last month, another big sextortion case, this one in Orange County where prosecutors allege that a thirty-one year old paraplegic hacked into the computers of literally hundreds of people [this is Luis Mijangos, profiled in another excellent piece by David Kushner, “The Hacker is Watching”]. Almost fifty of them juveniles. A good example of the fact that prosecutors don’t really know how big sextortion has become.

It’s the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of these people out there.

The alleged blackmailer seemed to treat it like a joke. Here getting awards [from The Daily Capper‘s 2009 awards presentation, which can be found on youtube, “2009 Capper Awards Full Results”] like the 2009 “Blackmailer of the Year”.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.

This internet post says Aussie is amng the most brazen blackmailers…

Aussie. Known as Leasky or David.

Internet posts say Aussie sweet talks girls into exposing themselves. Extorts sex, then posts it.

It actually shows himself, on cam, while he’s having cybersex…

If it makes them laugh…to crush someone, they have no problem doing that.

A man Stone identifies as Router throws another twist on the sextortion scheme.

And Router is the only gay cyberstalker that I know of.

Stone says Router gets nude images of underage boys, then threatens to get them arrested for child porn. Unless they go on cam for him.

He forces them to do more and more and more, until they refuse, and then you take your massive collection and throw it out for everyone to see anyway.

Despite all the complaints, the men behind these possibly fake profile pictures – Router, Aussie, Sean Savvy, m0d, and Swan – all deny any wrongdoing.

I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain and suffering I have caused you, and your family.

This sextortionist got fifteen years in prison for his crimes, but Stone and others doubt it will stop others.

They can’t resist.

Unfortunately, there are always other innocent web users who haven’t heard the warnings. Or simply refused to listen.

All I can do is warn you about him. Whatever you want to do after watching this video, that’s up to you.

Phil Shuman, Fox-11 News.

Swan on Fox-11

Sean Savvy on Fox-11

m0d on Fox-11

Christopher Stone on Fox-11

Aussie blurred out on Fox-11

Footage and mentions of Swan, Sean Savvy, m0d, Christopher Stone, and Aussie (blurred out) on Fox-11’s “Sextortion: What You Need to Know”.

It would surprise a viewer of such a program that a hero like Christopher Stone, the man behind Sticky Drama, was also the man behind Stickynoodz, which compiled nudes of very young men and women from social network sites. There was another detail that might surprise someone who thought of Stone as a hero. A steady resident of the Sticky House was Amor Hilton, and part of the reason why there was such eagerness about Kiki Kannibal being a guest there was over the expectation of juicy conflict between the two women when they were stuck in the same space together. Hilton also cultivated an exotic and flamboyant look, and was another Stickam regular. In 2007, she would experience an episode of the kind already described here, to which David Kushner’s “Identity Crisis” is devoted. She lived in Los Angeles, and her boyfriend at the time was visiting his mother in Phoenix. He was going back to L.A. by bus when he received a message from Hilton’s MySpace account: she was coming to pick him up, she just needed his mother’s phone number and address. He was suspicious, but he sent the information over anyway, and then he got a call at his mom’s, a man telling him not to get on the bus. Hilton was at a mall with a friend when her boyfriend managed to reach her: “Where are you?” he said. “Your phone’s not working.” Someone with the alias of “VIP” had managed to hack her MySpace and Stickam accounts, then shut her out. He’d gained control by knowing the answer to challenge questions, which were the phone number and address of her boyfriend’s mother. He contacted Hilton and told her he knew Hilton’s home address and social security number. All he wanted was nude pictures of her. But Hilton instead filed a report with the police. When “VIP” called back the next day making the same deal, Hilton warned him: “You better watch what you say…because my detective is right here on the line.” VIP would reply: “Hey detective, catch me if you can, I’m a ghost.” A little while later, “VIP” was caught, and it turned out he was Jeffrey Robert Weinberg, a member of Cameron LaCroix’s crew that had hacked into Accurint and accessed Paris Hilton’s Sidekick phone. He was on three years probation from the earlier hack when he pulled this one, and he’d gotten into Amor Hilton’s MySpace account through some variety of the same method they’d gotten to Paris Hilton, by accessing the administrators page of MySpace86. This, however, was not the detail that conflicted with the idea of Stone as hero, but something to do with Amor Hilton’s then boyfriend, the one contacted in Phoenix at his mom’s, someone by the name of John Hock.

Amor Hilton

Amor Hilton, from “Personal With Amor Hilton: John Hock”.

John Hock

John Hock, from the short “Stickam: To Hell and Back”.

At one point in “ – Week of September 12,2010”, “The New John Hock?” was the question posed on-screen, a name likely unknown to most at the time and entirely forgotten now. “We all know Perso is a sick freak by now,” the newscaster would say. “Perhaps this turns him on. We nearly had a new John Hock this week on Stickam. This man went on cam with his iPhone and played with this girl while she was asleep. I’m sure many were disappointed when they came back and it turned out she was awake. Sorry, Perso. Maybe next time.”87

the new John Hock

“The New John Hock?”, The Daily Capper asked about a story that it expected would meet the approval of “Perso”, a capper and extortionist who enjoyed forcing girls to drink their pee out of a toilet.

“Sticky Drama’s Owner Recorded a Live-Streamed Rape and Blogged About It But Didn’t Report It” by Adrian Chen was one of the only mentions in the mainstream press of the incident, a year after it took place (a contemporary account is by CBS News, “Gone Too Far: Did Internet Star Johnathan Hock Rape Woman Live On Web?”, written by Ryan Smith). It came out on July 22, 2010, part of a series of articles by Chen devoted to Christopher Stone, Sticky Drama, and Jessi Slaughter, “Sticky Drama: The Teen Gossip Blog Run By a 31-Year-Old Pornographer”, published a day before “Live-Streamed Rape” and “How the Internet Beat Up an 11-Year-Old Girl”, devoted to Slaughter, published July 15, 2010. “Sticky Drama’s Owner Recorded a Live-Streamed Rape” would give the crux of the case:

On February 26, 2009, 20-year-old John Hock, a popular member of the webcam community Stickam, filmed himself sexually assaulting his 20-year-old girlfriend while she was passed out drunk. He was indicted last June and charged with two counts of sexual assault. (His case is still apparently pending.)

Stone would record the assault, stream it, and post a Sticky Drama article about it, “Here We Go Again: Another Hock Sexual Assault.”:

It’s well-established that John Hock can sexually assault girls and no one cares enough to arrest or prosecute him. And the victim, who is Hock’s girlfriend of 2 weeks, probably won’t even think it’s a big deal, although she might not appreciate being forwarded a bajillion screencaps of her pussy for the rest of her life.

He would not turn over evidence to the police until police got a warrant three months later to search his web server – though others in the Sticky Drama community did so immediately after the incident took place, according to one source in “Live-Streamed Rape”:

I saw that he was bragging on his website and twitter and formspring about how he was responsible for getting John Hock arrested, and talking about it as if he volunteered the evidence out of the kindness of his heart.

The truth was that when he found out about the rape, and obtained a recording of it, he just posted about it on his website. He didn’t report it to the police and even allowed other posts exposing the victim’s identity and calling her a slut.

Meanwhile, myself, and a few other members of the community I’m involved with alerted the pheonix [sic] police station immediately. We gave them all the information we could possibly find, and told them about Sticky Drama because Chris had mentioned having a video of what happened.

The police would have e-mailed him asking for the video, but at that time he didn’t have any contact information on his website. They wound up leaving a comment asking him to contact them, which he never did.

Three months later, after they had taken may witness statements, and spoken to the victim, they issued a search warrant for his server, thinking that he may have uploaded the video somewhere on the website. Once that happened, and he found out the reason why they were looking there, he then sent in the video.

Screenshot of the rape streamed on Sticky Drama

Screenshot of the rape streamed on Sticky Drama, from “Sticky Drama’s Owner Recorded a Live-Streamed Rape and Blogged About It But Didn’t Report It”.

Kiki Ostrenga screencap

Kiki Ostrenga’s printout of the Sticky Drama post that night, with her notes. Taken from “Christopher Stone AKA Christopher Watermeier posts rape video on his website” by Kiki Ostrenga.

I excerpt one of Stone’s comments after this woman was raped on cam: “And the victim, who is Hock’s girlfriend of 2 weeks, probably won’t even think it’s a big deal, although she might not appreciate being forwarded a bajillion screencaps of her pussy for the rest of her life.” I excerpt Stone’s quote from Fox-11’s “Sextortion”: “If it makes them laugh…to crush someone, they have no problem doing that.” In “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, we’re told that those who stay at the Sticky House do so for free, and that Stone, who is openly gay, will flagrantly exert his droit de seigneur: “I’m buttfucking a legit str8 boy tonight, or he’s homeless, lol.” He would tweet out a picture of himself lying next to another tenant: “I have seen paradise and [name witheld] gets to stay here another month.” Again: “If it makes them laugh…to crush someone, they have no problem doing that.” In November 2009, Stone would post a picture of a woman he said was Alyssa Backlund, saying that it “appears to depict Alyssa Marie Robertson [Backlund] masturbating next to an infant. Such an act, in addition to being morally repugnant, probably violates several statutes pertaining to exposing children to obscenity.” Backlund was not the person in the picture. Stone would also publish Backlund’s name, address, and a map to her home alongside the picture that was allegedly of Backlund, but wasn’t Backlund. Stone removed the post and offered to put up an apology with the headline, “Alyssa Marie Buckland [sic] is Not the Most Vile Camwhore Alive.” After Stone found out that Backlund was in communication with a Sticky House guest, Parker Tammen, he tweeted out a threat that he would post a topless picture of Backlund: “Message him again, and your floppy titties are spammed all over the place. Last warning.” Again, Chris Stone, sextortion expert: “If it makes them laugh…to crush someone, they have no problem doing that.” Backlund would sue Stone for this behavior, would lose, and eventually would win on appeal. All quotes with regard to her case in this paragraph are taken from Alyssa Backlund v. Christopher Stone.

Message him again Christopher Stone threatening tweet

The tweet Christopher Stone sent to Alyssa Backlund, taken from “StickyDrama’s Christopher Stone Is a ‘Sextortion’ Expert in More Ways Than One” by Adrian Chen.

Amor Hilton would say the following in “Personal With Amor Hilton: John Hock”, uploaded April 13, 2010 (2:39-4:47):

People are always asking me, “So you think that it’s okay what he did to that girl?” and blahblahblah, and no, I don’t necessarily think that it’s okay what he did to that girl. But it was his girlfriend at the time. And as his ex-fiancee, I know that he’s done, you know, other things that are…very John like. That was very John-like, for instance. And people who don’t know him, in person, and don’t know who the true person he is…like I do, seem to just let that fly over their head, you know. John is John. He kindof just is how he is, because that’s how he is. And that’s the only way you can kinda explain him. See, you know, he told me, “I fucked up, I fucked up,” he knows he fucked up. But he didn’t know that his girlfriend was going to be so offended by that. Like, no, it wasn’t right for him to have, you know…I don’t know how to say it, you know, I loved him very much, and we’re still friends and I will be there for him no matter what happens. I have yet to be in contact with him since June of…last year. Yeah. And he told me, he was turning himself and he said, “I’m gonna make it right,” and he said, “I’m gonna prove to you I’m a different person,” and I said, “Prove to me what you want, John.” And that’s what happened. So. *sighs* Mrs. Hock, the original Mrs. Hock, Jenna Hock, John’s mother, I would like to tell you that I had nothing to do with trying to put John in jail. I want him out of there just as much as you do, I really do, I want him out.

Comments were disabled on the video.

In October, 2010, Hock’s conviction would be reported by CBS News in “Johnathan Hock Pleads Guilty to Live-Streaming Sexual Assault of Girlfriend”. Years later, on December 12, 2014, after Stone, Hock, and the incident had been forgotten, Ostrenga would post on her site about the aftermath, now that Stone, whose actual name was Christopher Watermeier, was revealed to be the merciless opportunist that he was. From “Christopher Stone AKA Christopher Watermeier posts rape video on his website”:

Christopher Stone AKA Christopher Watermeier witnessed a live rape broadcasted on, recorded video, then posted the screen caps to his teen gossip website instead of reporting it to police.

He was also sued for harassment by a teen. He lost and had a judgement against him [this outcome is discussed in the appeal, Alyssa Backlund v. Christopher Stone]. After the judgement he went into hiding and sold off his L.A. condo for cash. He relocated out of California and is now hiding his assets so that he does not have to pay his judgement. These are print outs of his actual website that was shut down and he attempted to auction off for $25k after he received too much heat for harassing an 11 year old that was then placed into police custody. The victim discovered she was assaulted and her video was online after people sent her his website.

The wretchedness of those on The Daily Capper and the wretchedness of Christopher Stone give us the false comfort of distance, that whatever our sins, we are certainly not these people. It is the same reassurance that the men in The Fan Club give us; the book suffers as fiction by making each man an embodiment of one vile trait, yet this impairment of fictional achievement serves a commercial purpose: the reader always relates to the goddess ideal of Sharon Fields, and never sees themselves among the common rabble. The book is about the delusion of thinking oneself proximate to your idols, as Adam Malone does, and wishing to deny one’s insignificance, as Leo Brunner wishes, and the book is not a counterpoint to these fantasies, but their fulfillment. The reader, the insignifcant near nothing reader, is briefly Sharon Fields, superstar, one woman against the vile millions.

This is the same narrative which came to the forefront during #TheFappening. There were responsible, moral institutions like Gawker and BuzzFeed who would never violate the rights of women as Jennifer Lawrence’s had been violated, and then there were these creeps, these cowardly scum who thrived on 4chan and Reddit, who were primitive, half-human slime that were so amoral as to commit such misdeeds. This very long look into #TheFappening ring began with a question about Bryan Hamade, “What Kind Of Creep Sells A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” by Charlie Warzel. Given that we’ve now agreed that this act was utterly inhumane, unconscionably vile, we can agree that it’s not simply the sale of pictures that was an amoral act, but the purchase and distribution as well. Here is a germane fragment from the well praised essay “Say hello to men who hate NSA spying but blame women for being spied on” by T.C. Sottek:

Over the weekend someone released hundreds of revealing photos of celebrities that appear to have been stolen from private storage. In response to this, a bunch of anonymous guys on the internet copied them and posted them all over the town square, because the internet is written in ink and if you are ever a victim once in your life the internet will remind you of it forever.

These men are the detritus of human society for whom the internet provides a warm blanket, so let’s remove the warm blanket for a minute.

Sottek would then add: “It’s still not clear how the private photos were obtained, but there’s a good chance the victims were hacked – it’s happened before.” The essay would then go on to reveal the identities of some of the men on reddit who shared these photos and argued that it was the fault of the women for taking these nude photos that they got distributed everywhere. There was a pleasure that Sottek had in doing this, that, yes, the photos were permanent, they were never going away, but: neither would the association between these men and this vile act. “Fortunately, the internet is written in ink.” Yes, it is. There’s the old line that a loaded gun seen on the mantel in the first act has to go off by the third act, yet somehow a great many people who wrote about #TheFappening, far more educated and far more intelligent than this humble writer, seem to have ignored this fact. Given Sottek’s statements, “a bunch of anonymous guys on the internet copied them and posted them all over the town square” and “these men are the detritus of human society”, it would seem that anyone involved in the distribution of such photos is equally guilty, and that buying and publishing such photos are equal crimes. We might then ask with equal urgency, “What Kind Of Creep Buys A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” and “What Kind Of Creep Publishes A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” And were Charlie Warzel to ask such a question, “What Kind Of Creep Publishes A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?”, I think the answer is simple and easily available: you would, Mr. Warzel.

We might return to what Scarlett Johansson said in a taped statement at Chris Chaney’s sentencing. “I have been truly humiliated and embarrassed,” she said. “I find Christopher Chaney’s actions to be perverted and reprehensible.” Who published Johansson’s nude photos in 2011? BuzzFeed did: “Scarlett Johansson Nude Photos Leaked”. They had to take the photos down, because Johansson “copyrighted the pictures so that she could go after sites that displayed them,” according to the profile “A Study in Scarlett” by Peter Biskind and Jessica Diehl. That the photos were removed is something mentioned with regret in the BuzzFeed subhed: “Alas, at her lawyer’s request, we had to take them down.” It’s really astonishing that Warzel and BuzzFeed forgot entirely about this event; this post scored over five million views, making it easily one of the most popular things ever published on that site. Given how much of BuzzFeed‘s success is built on cats, one can only imagine what kind of views this post would have gotten if they’d shown a little pussy. I apologize for that: a sadistic glee, as we all know, always brings out the worst jokes.

BuzzFeed What kind of creep

Scarlett Johansson Leak at BuzzFeed

I have another question. What kind of creep hacks the phone of a missing girl, a missing dead girl, hacks their phone so her parents mistakenly hold out hope that their daughter is still alive? What kind of scumbag piece of shit creep would pay off a network of hackers to do such vile acts, to pay ex-police officers to cover up this hacking ring, and be utterly unapologetic about such a thing? I think all of us news consumers know the short answer to that question. The longer answer is: the kind of scumbag creep that Charlie Warzel’s boss enjoys hanging out with.

A day after the Sottek piece was published, Jezebel would publish “Behind Every Bullied Woman Is a Man Yelling About Free Speech” by Erin Gloria Ryan, which again dealt with the hypocrisy of reddit protecting the identiites of users who distributed the nudes and the blatant violation of the privacy of the women in the pictures:

And so, after naked images of female (and some collateral males who happened to be in the same shot as a naked female) celebrities began being distributed online by thirsty bitcoin whores, one would think that if Reddit had any moral consistency in its leadership, it would, as vanguards of privacy and brave soldiers against doxxing, instruct its moderators to scrub links to the images from its servers and ban users that continually broke the rules.

Nope! For awhile on Sunday, all of the top 10 stories on Reddit were links to images of naked female celebrities obtained without their consent. Today, subscribers to r/TheFappening are gleefully screenshotting news coverage of the leak, linking to the image gallery with abandon.

To distribute such pictures is something Ryan emphatically views as a punishable crime, in a sentence on the contrast between Jennifer Lawrence’s rights and those of the anonymous user: “A user’s right to remain unidentified and unpunished after they post an illegally obtained picture of Jennifer Lawrence’s nude body trumps Jennifer Lawrence’s right to not have illegally obtained photos of her nude body distributed to millions of strangers.” You would think that given how passionately Ryan feels about hypocrisy, blatant vile hypocrisy, and the unauthorized and illegal distribution of such private pictures, she would bring up all the times that Gawker Media did the very same thing. Nope!

There was the publication of Johansson’s nudes on Fleshbot which had to be withdrawn because of the actress’s copyright claims. “Are These Nude Photos Of Scarlett Johansson The Real Deal? [UPDATED 9/16/11]” (archive today link): “For years we’ve dreamed nay, prayed that one day we might be lucky enough to see the gorgeous Scarlett Johansson in the nude. And now our dreams may just have come true.” You see by that question in the title that they weren’t trying to violate Johansson’s privacy like those lowbrows at reddit; they were performing journalism. They were asking questions. But there were plenty of others. There was “First Cassie, Now Rihanna: It’s Naked R&B Star Week” (archive today link) on Fleshbot featuring leaked Rihanna nudes. “Ashley Greene: Naked on the Internet?”, again on Fleshbot (archive today link), featuring leaked pics of the Twilight star. There was “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee’s Heather Morris” (archive today link) by Leah Buckman, over at Gawker. “After a drought of leaked celebrity nudity, we now have (alleged!) pictures of both Jessica Alba and Kat Dennings,” was the introduction for “Double Whammy Celebrity Nudity: Kat Dennings and Jessica Alba Topless!” (archive today link) on Fleshbot. Back on Gawker, Christina Hendricks Says These Giant Naked Boobs Aren’t Hers, But Everything Else Is” (archive today link) by Maureen O’Coonor. There was “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” (archive today link) and “New Super Dirty Olivia Munn Pics: ‘I Want Your Big Dick Right Here'” (archive link today), both again by O’Connor at Gawker, which involved leaked pics of the actress that had dirty writing, presumably by her, scrawled over them. It really is astonishing that Gawker forgot about “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” since it got over 2.6 million views.

That they got such traffic from Munn’s hot body is especially interesting in the context of other posts about Munn, which ragged her for getting a job at The Daily Show based mostly on her looks (“According to Nielsen, the Daily Show’s audience does lean male about 60 percent,” wrote Irin Carmon in The Daily Show‘s Woman Problem”, “That’s who producers seemed to have in mind when they hired Olivia Munn.”), and for the fact that she ultimately served men’s desires more than women’s. From “Olivia Munn’s Geek Goddess Schtick” by Carmon, quoting an anonymous commenter: “I’ve always felt like she’s basically like a girl who tells horribly sexist jokes around guys to make them like her because she’s totally like them, not like all those other women that they have troubles with! Entertainment world, please stop trying to convince me that Olivia Munn is funny/awesome/Queen of the Nerds.” Gawker Media hated Munn for this, but they were more than happy to squeeze a few million clicks out of that hot body if they could. Why? To quote the title of the thinkpiece Gawker published about #TheFappening: “That Type of Girl Deserves It”. It was astonishing that Ryan couldn’t cite any of this in her essay, because not only was “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics” incredibly popular, but Ryan was commenting on Jezebel articles back in 2010, before Gawker‘s 2012 Olivia Munn celeb leak posts, making sure to make a point in “The Daily Show‘s Woman Problem” that I think should be taken to heart (direct link): “This is ridiculous. Anyone who has ever hung around liberal guys who think they’re funny knows that it’s impossible for them to be racist or sexist.” Absolutely. Just as the world knows that it’s impossible for anyone at Gawker Media to be a hypocritical, mendacious, self-righteous lowlife.

That type of girl

Olivia Munn Pics pt1

Olivia Munn Pics pt2

Christina Hendricks on Gawker

Heather Morris on Gawker

Johansson on Fleshbot

Rihanna on Fleshbot

Ashley Greene at Fleshbot

Alba and Dennings on Fleshbot

In order, excerpts from screenshots of “That Type of Girl Deserves It”, “Olivia Munn’s Super Dirty Alleged Naked Pics: ‘Lick My Tight Asshole and Choke Me'” (archive today link), “New Super Dirty Olivia Munn Pics: ‘I Want Your Big Dick Right Here'” (archive link today), “Christina Hendricks Says These Giant Naked Boobs Aren’t Hers, But Everything Else Is” (archive today link), “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee’s Heather Morris” (archive today link), “Are These Nude Photos Of Scarlett Johansson The Real Deal? [UPDATED 9/16/11]” (archive today link), “First Cassie, Now Rihanna: It’s Naked R&B Star Week” (archive today link), “Ashley Greene: Naked on the Internet?” (archive today link), and “Double Whammy Celebrity Nudity: Kat Dennings and Jessica Alba Topless!” (archive today link).

In “Search and Destroy”, a profile of Nick Denton by Ben McGrath, we are told that “Hypocrisy is the only modern sin” is one of Denton’s favorite sayings. This is confirmed in “The Playboy Interview: A Candid Conversation with Gawker’s Nick Denton”:

PLAYBOY: Do you ever have misgivings about exposing people’s private lives, their sex lives?

DENTON: If there’s a gap between your private behavior and your public status, that’s what makes the story for us. To my mind, the only real modern sin is hypocrisy.

You hate hypocrisy, Mr. Denton? What a coincidence. So do I.

Perhaps the best analysis I came across of the press’s reaction to #TheFappening pics was Ryan Holiday’s “Spare Us The Sanctimony: The Gross Hypocrisy of Online Media in the Nude Photo Leak”:

There’s no question that these photos constitute a flagrant violation of these women’s (and men’s) privacy. What’s less certain is where blogs like Gawker and Perez Hilton and others get off pretending to be shocked and appalled by it.

These sites which generally will publish anything for an extra thousand pageviews are suddenly leading the charge that these hackers are criminals, that the online horde who clicks the photos are perverts, and that justice must be done for the victims. It all may be true but guess who lost the ability to claim the moral high ground a long time ago?

The reality is that these sites just got scooped and disrupted by the photo-hosting sites that originally posted the images. Being pissed, being outraged is just the cleanest and most lucrative angle the reporters could take, particularly in the case of a beloved celebrity like Jennifer Lawrence. In a different news cycle, a different day, a different source, even different women, the same blogs would have gladly published these photos.

If anything Holiday gives Gawker too much credit here; they profited from their piety a little, but mainly they profited from Jennifer Lawrence as they had profited from Olivia Munn and Scarlett Johansson in the past. Gawker‘s top post of 2014 in terms of page views was “J-Law, Kate Upton Nudes Leak: Web Explodes Over Hacked Celeb Pics” by Dayna Evans, which pulled in close to 5.3 million clicks88, and that carried a helpful – just so you could see the crime you were supposed to be disgusted about – to the vile, wretched, inhumane 4chan thread which had all these pics. In contrast their piety was far less popular, with “Behind Every Bullied Woman Is a Man Yelling About Free Speech” pulling in over 140K clicks, “That Kind of Girl Deserves It” getting a little over 102K clicks, and Michelle Dean’s “What Was Celebrity-Nude-Gate? Or, An Adventure in Reddit Philosophy” getting a little over 23K clicks.

Gawker's Fappening page

Reddit Philosophy

Behind every woman

We also know that the nasty little trick of pulling in clicks from the 4chan link while condemning the vile scum who’d perpetrated this outrage was something they had been very critical of before – not when it came to themselves, though; only when it came to others. You could find this nasty skepticism in their posts on the Erin Andrews footage, video of the sportcaster nude in a hotel bathroom taken without her knowledge in 2009, in such posts as New York Post Outraged By These Hot Nude Pixxx” by Hamilton Nolan: “Words are simply not sufficient to express the New York Post‘s fury at this perverted, unnatural desecration, which was first reported by our jocky sibling Deadspin. No, it will take a slide show of images from the nude video for the Post to properly communicate how livid it is at this breakdown of all that is good and moral.” There were two critical pieces which took down TMZ for presenting itself as a kind of hero in the Erin Andrews affair after they held onto the footage for months without looking into who sent it to them: “TMZ’s Bamboozling Erin Andrews Coverage” and “The Continued Dissemination Of TMZ’s Erin Andrews Heroism”, both by A.J. Daulerio, with “The Continued Dissemination” featuring a long quote from a highly placed source questioning TMZ’s public stance. “Okay, if this was such an outrageous and invasive (and likely criminal) act on the part of the person trying to sell the videos,” asked the source, “why the fuck didn’t TMZ do a story back in January about the attempted sale of the videos?” Something similar could be asked of Gawker: if publishing such private nudes is such a reprenhensible act, then why the fuck did Gawker Media happily do so for most of its history?

Gawker on NY Post

From New York Post Outraged By These Hot Nude Pixxx” by Hamilton Nolan.

It’s unfortunate that a piece like Michelle Dean’s “What Was Celebrity-Nude-Gate? Or, An Adventure in Reddit Philosophy” didn’t turn to self-examination, didn’t link back to Gawker‘s earlier work in celeb nudes, because there was some valuable infomration back there. Dean has done some good journalism elsewhere (see “The boy who didn’t come back from heaven: inside a bestseller’s ‘deception'”) but this piece is a kind of platonic ideal of Gawker writing: self-important, self-righteous, self-serving, and yet still empty of much vital information. “You do not have to possess technical knowledge to figure out what is happening here,” she wrote in an essay which chastised others for their shallowness, lack of insight, and inability to search Google as ably as Dean did. “It’s all I had to look into this story when it broke last week and I quickly figured things out.” Though what exactly she figured out, compared to in-depth investigations like “Notes on the Celebrity Data Theft” by Nik Cubrilovic, I’m not sure. Had a single Gawker writer bothered to link back to their earlier coverage of the 2011 hacks, there would have been some insights – but of course, they couldn’t do that, because then there would be the links to the photos of Olivia Munn, Christina Hendricks, and Scarlett Johansson, that were a result of those leaks, and their shallow hypocrisy would be obvious.

A 2011 post from the time of this first major celeb leak, “A Peek Into the Celebrity Nude Pic Hacking Ring “ by Adrian Chen, focused on a blogger named DeepAtSea, the same blogger mentioned in the Chris Chaney story, and how he acquired some of the celeb nudes published on his site:

The infamous Parisian celebrity nude pic blogger DeepAtSea, who recently posted some of these pictures, tells us the person behind the spree is a hacker named “Gook.” DeepAtSea was browsing the message board 4chan when he came across Gook boasting about the celebrity hacks. He sent an email to Gook out of “stupid curiosity.” “I wanted to know what his motivation [was] and if he knew my blog,” DeepAtSea told us in an email. Gook “responded that he didn’t know my blog. I asked him if he was afraid to go to jail he said no.”

DeepAtSea says he wants to shoot down speculation that he’s in cahoots with the celebrity hacker, stirred up when The Daily wrote about [The Daily was Murdoch’s failed attempt at an electronic newspaper designed for the iPad, and it is now off-line, the link is broken, and the story does not seem archived anywhere] how he had posted the pictures, bragged about being in touch with the hacker, then mysteriously deleted his blog. “I’m just a blogger who loves celebrities who reposts pictures, mag scans and videos that i find on the net,” DeepatSea wrote in a blog post [his blog is now almost entirely deleted, with only a single post saying goodbye]. He told us that he found the nude pictures he posted of The Secret Life of the American Teenager actress Renee Olstead on 4chan, and the pictures of Disney star Vanessa Hudgens on a now-deleted Flickr account named “Sweetmelodies.” It seems the hacker is gradually distributing his pictures via the grass roots, rather than selling them to blogs.

As for why DeepatSea disappeared: “if someone like you, is accuse of being a criminal, what would you do?” (DeepatSea is back at a new address [again, it’s a blog that’s almost entirely deleted, with a single post saying goodbye].) Anyone know anything about Gook?

A link to this post might have let the reader know that such a hacking ring was not something new, but had existed before – to Gawker‘s benefit. That this was the ring which the FBI thought Chris Chaney was involved in when they came to arrest him. “They constantly repeated, ‘We’re after the big fish; you’re just the little fish,” says Chaney in David Kushner’s “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood”. “They were after a ring of celebrity hackers.” We also know why #TheFappening ring thought they could get away with it – because this ring had gotten away with it. Chaney, who lacked technical expertise, hadn’t even bothered to set up anything like proxies, but perhaps this ring had. Whether DeepAtSea is telling anything close to the truth in this interview with Chen is open to question, identifying only a single hacker whereas past examples cited here seem to require a ring, not just for resource sharing but out of psychological need. We have seen in the wake of the Amanda Todd suicide how Kody Maxson was first identified as Todd’s blackmailer, after which Maxson identified Viper as the culprit, and we may have something of a diversionary tactic here as well. DeepAtSea protects one or more people by identifying a single (possibly fictional) hacker, and perhaps even taking pleasure that this Asian American writer has to write “gook” repeatedly in a news story.

There are two points on which Chris Chaney might be lying in the GQ story which intersect with this account. The first has to do with the number of Johansson pics he says he acquired: “Chaney was stunned. He claims to have sent out only one shot. So how did the others get online?” There were three pics in the leak; either Chaney is lying or maybe this hacker ring was hitting the same inboxes Chaney was, and they got their hands on the other two. There is also this line in the DeepAtSea piece, “He told us that he found the nude pictures he posted of The Secret Life of the American Teenager actress Renee Olstead on 4chan” and this contradicts what Chaney says in GQ: “He reached out to the infamous blogger Deep at Sea. Deep was more of a fanboy than a hacker, posting photos he found across the Web. Chaney knew the guy had a thing for Renee Olstead, the redheaded star of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and Chaney had recently stumbled on a trove of her private pictures showering in a tight white shirt, using a baby blue vibrator. He decided to share them with Deep.” Chaney had already plead guilty at this point and was awaiting sentencing, so why would he take credit for an act he didn’t commit? “A Peek Into the Celebrity Nude Pic Hacking Ring” was published March 21, 2011, a month after police had entered Chaney’s house and said they were after the big fish – but they hadn’t arrested him yet. They only did so in October of that year, after the Johansson pictures were published – the Fleshbot post has a publication date of September 14, 2011. So, when DeepatSea says he found the Olstead pictures on 4chan, he might have been protecting Chaney as well.

Just as The Fan Club requires monsters, men who embody the traits we find so contemptible in ourselves, yet who are clearly not us, #TheFappening ring needed a monster as well, someone who was not ourselves. In the absence of catching the actual members of the ring, they got the next best thing, the reddit user “Johnsmcjohn” AKA John Menese, the man who set up and ran the subreddit “The Fappening” which contained the celeb nudes. “Meet the unashamed 33-year-old who brought the stolen celebrity nudes to the masses” by Caitlin Dewey gave us all the details which would allow us to properly despise him. It was a profile which made sure to make him someone who was not us, not a competent functional member of middle class life – or he was not, at least, the person we could ever admit to being. Manese worked briefly at a series of jobs, was now at a Las Vegas call center, had applied to be an Apple Genius (and failed! Aren’t you grateful that he failed?) He used cocaine, he was asexual, he might have Asperger’s, he was desperate for money. “$100 needed to keep utilities on,” he would post in the week before Dewey’s piece. “Thank you for any help you can give me.” That Menese had difficulty getting work, that he was a failure, was a central point of Dewey’s piece:

In 2011, after getting laid off from a YouTube tech video series for which he was working, John lost his car, his laptop, and his phone. He applied for a trade license and failed the background check over unspecified incidents in Colorado. Undeterred, John registered a new Web site and claimed to be working on a startup to monetize the common web. Whatever that means, it doesn’t seem to have worked out.

A day later, Manese would participate in a casualiama (AMAs are for celebrities and notable people, while casual ones are for ordinary folk), “On Sunday, I created /r/TheFappening, the fastest growing subreddit in history. Tonight, it was banned.” Given that reddit was portrayed as a cesspool of mysoginist cruelty, most emphatically by places like Gawker (though it also had no problem publishing hacked nudes in the past), there are two notable points in the AMA. “How do you feel about the washington post basically trying to dox you?” asks “immorta1” about the Post article. “CydeWeys” replies: “Small world … I went out on a date with the author of that blog post once.” “fourpac”: “Details, girlfriend!” CydeWeys would continue, and it’s the second paragraph that’s obviously the most notable89:

She was normal enough in person. The date did go terribly south though, and it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. I received a call from my mother during the date, which I immediately picked up because my mom was with my grandmother who was dying of senile dementia. My grandmother had returned to a lucid state after not being mentally “there” at all for at least a week, and so the last time I talked with her before she died was right in the middle of the date, outside the bar. As you can imagine, it completely wrecked the mood (I explained what the call was about to her), and neither of us tried to contact the other afterwards.

So you got a good story out of me about it, but it’s probably not the kind of saucy details about her you were looking for. But even if there were any I wouldn’t divulge them; it’s not nice to be mean about someone on the Internet like that, especially when they can’t defend themselves. I’ve been a target of that kind of stuff enough myself, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Again, given the idea that reddit exists in a permanent state of misogynist frenzy, this reply in turn from “FlatulentDirigible” is notable: “You sound like a good person. Keep being awesome.” Though this reply from “IBlessTheRainsInIowa” to “Details, girlfriend!” I thought cut to the quick like a hot knife: “Yeah, feel free to mention any financial difficulties she might have had so we can judge her off that. After all, it is the easiest way.” And the answer by Manese to the original question showed more wit than any of the monsters in The Fan Club had, and more wit than you’d find on any day of Gawker: “I don’t like it, but so be it. The Nixon Administration couldn’t stop the [Washington Post], so I didn’t try to stop them.”

Here was the other notable point in the AMA, with the answers from “wordedgewise” and “bublz” among the most upvoted in the session90:

rickbrody95 (112 points):
Where do you stand on the “Was this leaking event and our viewing of the pictures moral?” debate?

johnsmcjohn (96 points):
These pics would be posted regardless. Me and the mod team tried to ensure the content posted was in line with reddit’s rules.

wordedgewise (194 points):
You didn’t actually answer your question. It wasn’t whether you “followed the rules”, nor whether “someone else would have done it”.

The question is where you stand on whether leaking/viewing (and sharing by logical extension) the photos moral in your opinion?

Personally I have not looked at the photos because I think it’s incredibly fucked up to invade anyone’s privacy this way, even though I personally don’t think nudity is a big deal. I personally also don’t think “someone else would have done it” is a good reason to do something wrong.

bublz (154 points):

This is a copy/paste from a comment I made on the day after the photos were leaked:

I find it fascinating that people aren’t a bit pissed off by this. Sure, we get to see naked pics of people we see on TV, but this was a planned “attack” on these people. Someone coordinated the hacks and has been selling these pictures to people online. Isn’t that a little bit fucked up?

The world is outraged by the NSA and its actions, but nobody gives a shit when someone steals naked pictures and sells them to strangers on the Internet. Seriously? You want your own privacy to be secured, but if someone else’s privacy is invaded so you can jerk off, that’s okay, right?

I know, most of these actresses have shown skin in their movies, but this is totally different. When someone agrees to be shown naked in a movie, they do it of their own will for the sake of the movie (and money, I suppose). You can’t just say “Well, they’ve already shown us most of it. Might as well see the rest”. Most actors/actresses draw a line and this crosses that line. And now, they have to live with the fact that millions of people have seen those images. They will have to keep their head held high for PR reasons, but I’m sure that some of them feel incredibly violated. I know that I would feel violated if someone hacked into my Dropbox account and downloaded my schoolwork, which doesn’t even compare to what has happened to these people.

And don’t even give me that bullshit “She should have protected her data better”. I keep my TV in my living room. If someone breaks my window and takes my TV, should I have protected my TV better? Was I at fault for putting my TV in a place that is easy for me to get to? I locked my windows and doors but someone got to it anyway. Obviously, things like naked pictures should be kept more secure than a TV. I’m a tech-savvy guy and I know this. But to the standard individual, a password is like putting something into a lockbox. Don’t blame the victim when the perp is the one who committed the crime…I’m a 20 year old guy…and honestly I would have liked to see some revealing images of JLaw or Kate Upton. It’s human nature. But I honestly can’t be a part of this. The damage is done and it doesn’t help anything, but I find it sickening that people are okay with what happened.

What Manese did was to organize the subreddit, to make sure no underage content (like some McKayla Maroney pics) ended up there and no redundant threads were started. He was sortof like a web publisher, sortof like Nick Denton, the publisher of Gawker. Except, of course, Nick Denton was worth over $70 million dollars and Manese had trouble paying his utilities. Denton could publish hacked celeb nudes and he could also publish screeds attacking others for publishing hacked celeb nudes, attacks which never mentioned Gawker‘s own crimes. Seventy million dollars could do things like that: it could buy you journalism which might illuminate the world, and it could also buy you blindness. What Gawker had done in the past was not something like what Manese had done, but worse: they not only published hacked celeb nudes, but they welcomed and negotiated such submissions. We know this because they openly admit as much in two places.

“Did This Person Make a Michelle Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno Or Did I?” (archive today link) by Maureen O’Connor, is about the writer’s failed attempts to acquire footage of Trachtenberg nude on her balcony. “Welcome the virtual glory hole of online gossip,” writes O’Connor. “Here is my correspondence with Michelle Trachtenberg’s mysterious creeper.” The first email and O’Connor’s reply give an idea of Gawker‘s welcome attitude to such footage.

Trachtenberg header

Michelle Trachtenberg Leak

I give what might seem an elaborate prelude to the second example of Gawker not only welcoming such celeb nudes, but soliciting them, starting with some tweets by Adrian Chen, the very good reporter whose work has been cited several times here. That “very good” is sincere and without irony; I do not belive in simple villains. A reader might be mistaken that I wish less loathing for someone like John Manese but more loathing for someone like Maureen O’Connor, when I want nothing of the kind. O’Connor is a gifted journalist who writes about the messiness of sex amidst the messinesss of technology with an insight and openness that I envy91. She was ruthlessly honest about her role and what she did in “Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno” in ways that the later celeb nude essays on Gawker weren’t: “Even as my skin began to crawl, I kept up the correspondence…Was there some secret ring of private celebrity smut peddlers I didn’t know about? (As opposed to public celebrity smut peddlers like Rupert Murdoch and me.)” The world O’Connor gives us in “Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno” isn’t a laugh filled romp where a celebrity’s body and a celebrity’s life are just incidental objects of pleasure, but a horror movie; we are back again in The Fan Club, with a delusional obsessive like Adam Malone. “I found myself wondering more about the anonymous emailer than the contents of the purported video,” writes O’Connor, and she makes clear the dangerous fires that our fingers touch. “Rogue paparazzo? Maybe. Sexual predator? Possibly.” Whatever crime we observe, we are complicit. Like any horror film, there is an inevitable, unstoppable momentum, though the horror of it makes us wish to stop whatever our desires have set in motion. O’Connor: “Even as my skin began to crawl, I kept up the correspondence.” The promised videotape remains elusive, never delivered, while the image of the sender becomes more and more disturbing, a psychopath who follows an actress obsessively enough that he might have footage of her nude on a facing balcony. The post “Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno” is like a Michael Haneke movie, if Haneke had anything like an empathy to equal his gift for cruelty, and if Haneke ever considered himself as culpable as his viewers and his subjects.

The need to view those involved in #TheFappening as a contemptible, inhuman other came from publications like BuzzFeed and Gawker who perhaps felt the need to emphatically separate themselves from this animal rabble because their hands were very dirty from past leaks. “Celebrities began being distributed online by thirsty bitcoin whores,” writes Erin Gloria Ryan in “Behind Every Bullied Woman”. Well then, Nick Denton and staff like Maureen O’Connor, Leah Beckmann (author of “This Week’s Naked Celebrity Phone Pics: Glee‘s Heather Morris”) (archive today link), and Fleshbot editor Lux Alptraum are whores in whatever currency you choose. T.C. Sottek would describe those involved in distributing pictures of #TheFappening ring on reddit as the “detritus of human society”. Well then, Gawker’s publisher and its staff are detritus as well. “What Kind Of Creep Sells A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” asks Charlie Warzel. I dunno, Mr. Warzel. But if you asked me, “What Kind Of Creep Publishes A Celebrity’s Naked Photos On The Internet?” Well, then: you did. Anyway, so here are the tweets from Adrian Chen:

The first deals with Gabriel Snyder, a former colleague of Chen’s at Gawker, on becoming the new editor of The New Republic. This followed the mass departure of that magazine’s staff after the resignation of Franklin Foer, the magazine’s editor, in reaction to some of the decisions of the new owner, Chris Hughes. This post is already overly long without that subplot, and those curious can read the definitive piece on the controversy, “Inside the Collapse of The New Republic” by Ryan Lizza. The second tweet of importance is a sneering dismissal of Anonymous because of their supposed plans to humiliate Iggy Azalea for some transgression by releasing a sex tape. The release of this sex tape demonstrated to Chen the inherent, undeniable misogyny of the group, a point he emphasized in “The Truth About Anonymous’s Activism” a review of Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, and the thesis of the review was that the group was just a bunch of woman hating racist trolls, a fact about which there was much supposed denial on the part of Coleman and others. You could be unsentimental about Anonymous (I think I am) and still be appalled by the sloppiness of Chen’s work here. In effect, any action by an anonymous mob on the internet that Chen disapproves of is attributed to “Anonymous” while anything that might complicate this perception is left out.

“I first encountered the lulz,” Chen writes of what he calls the evil laugh at someone’s expense, “when I wrote a story for Gawker about how Anonymous had harassed an 11-year-old girl into police protection for the lulz after she had recorded a YouTube video that annoyed them.” Though he never gives her name, I assume this is Jessi Slaughter (Jessica Leonhardt), who was attacked on 4chan and other places, and the story is “How the Internet Beat Up an 11-Year-Old Girl”. Why he speaks of this as taking place under the rubric of “Anonymous”, what we think of as the later political group which would put out videos and manifestos under that name, I have no idea (the original “How the Internet” article makes no mention of Anonymous)92. The de facto leader of LulzSec, the group at the forefront of the hacks that gave the name “Anonymous” such prominence, was Hector “Sabu” Monsegur, a Puerto Rican American who grew up in the Bronx ghetto, and whose first major hack was spurred on by a desire to protest the bombing tests on Vieques93. Other members included Jeremy Hammond, possibly the most skilled hacker in the group, a man who had gone to jail for protesting a white supremacist rally and was a deeply committed socialist94; their informal press liaison Barrett Brown, who wrote numerous essays lampooning Confederate sympathizer Robert Stacey McCain95; and “Kayla”, a british infantryman whose persona on-line was always female, yet who was always treated as a full and equal partner by the other LulzSec members. Chen would shrug that Anonymous hadn’t really done much in the fight against Scientology, and longtime Scientology journalist Tony Ortega would disagree in his piece, “What Adrian Chen got wrong about Anonymous and Scientology”. Chen also leaves out Anonymous allying with Charlotte Laws when she went after revenge porn kingpin Hunter Moore, a story Laws relates in “I’ve Been Called the “Erin Brockovich” of Revenge Porn, and For the First Time Ever, Here is My Entire Uncensored Story of Death Threats, Anonymous and the FBI”, or the involvement of Anonymous in the Amanda Todd case. None of this requires you to see Anonymous in a sentimental light or to even look upon them, or their various chapters, as necessarily competent. But it is one thing to be harshly critical of the group; it is another to erase their political identities (and in the case of Sabu, his racial identity) so that you might impose your thesis. The review is as shallow and lazy indictment as any Gawker thinkpiece about #TheFappening, especially as there is one key point which Chen leaves out, one that had to be brought up by others.

It would be left to Andrew Blake and Daniel Stuckey to point out in The Daily Dot‘s “Gawker, Anonymous, an FBI informant, and the stolen emails that never existed” the negotiations by Chen with representatives of Anonymous to pay for NATO emails and other documents supposedly acquired by the group after they hacked News of the World. There were good reasons for why Blake and Stuckey wanted to reveal this; The Daily Dot would add a rather tardy post-script that the two had sometimes managed the Anonymous twitter account, @YourAnonNews, though not during the time of those events.

From “Gawker, Anonymous”:

Eager to expose further corruption at the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World (NoW)after a Guardian report revealing it for phone-hacking had recently caused the paper to fold—Chen pitched an offer to one of the most vocal and public proponents of the hacktivist movement Anonymous: “[W]hat if Gawker made a substantial donation to the topiary fund in exchange for the emails[?]”

Chen was referring to a legal defense trust launched days earlier for Jake Davis, a U.K. teen accused by authorities of being behind the alias Topiary, a member of the Anonymous offshoot LulzSec.

“[T]hat would be cool,” replied Monsegur, known by Chen and others at the time by his alias, Sabu. “I think we’re at 5btc right now,” he told Chen, referring to an amount of Bitcoin at the time worth only $60.25.

Chen would propose an information sharing arrangement something like what took place between Wikileaks and the Times; handing over the documents and letting Gawker go through them, so they might sort out the wheat, which Gawker would publish, giving Anonymous/LulzSec a higher profile, after which they could publish their entire cache of docs.

Again, from “Gawker, Anonymous”:

Adrian Chen and Sabu in chat

However, Sabu was just trolling. Sabu on chat a few hours earlier, again from “Gawker, Anonymous”:

Sabu Let's troll him

I don’t take any issue with Chen having to rely on Anonymous for such leaked information, as just about any journalist ends up obtaining some information from unsavoury, criminal, despicable sources. I take issue with the lack of any such reference in his review, because I do think such reference is crucial for understanding the momentary ascension of Anonymous. Chen blames the fetishization of technology for the unearned hosannas of Anonymous, technology as a magical tool which emancipates us from the strictures of reality, where real world hierarchy is destroyed through the creation of a virtual world on-line, the same snake oil panacea sold by every tech start-up. This avoids the fact that Anonymous did not earn many kudos from the Valley community, but got them mostly from journalists. Barrett Brown was championed by Glenn Greenwald and Michael Hastings. More importantly, at a place like Gawker where the budget for investigative reporting was close to zero, they had to rely almost entirely on hacker groups like Anonymous for any advantage in clicks. It was in their interest that Anonymous be anti-establishment warriors. We see something like the same process take place now, with their handling of their material from the Sony leaks. The information they got out of these leaks they could never have managed through traditional reporting, given that they have no presence in L.A. and a near zero investigative reporting budget. How would they deal with the fact that the group which hacked Sony may well have been backed by the regime of North Korea, infamous for the starvation of its people and utterly inhumane treatment of its citizens? Well, they would emphatically deny that the hacker group had anything to do with North Korea: “A Lot of Smart People Think North Korea Didn’t Hack Sony” by Sam Biddle. That it was in Gawker‘s interest that North Korea wasn’t behind the Sony hack wasn’t mentioned; nor was the fact that smart people like Brian Krebs made a very strong case for North Korean involvement, in “The Case for N. Korea’s Role in Sony Hack”.

For years, Gawker had happily posted hacked celeb nudes without compunction, and made no effort to depict those through whom they got the stolen pics as criminals, misogynists, or creeps. When #TheFappening took place, they make a sudden and astonishing swerve; these stolen photos, which they’d been publishing for years, were something akin to rape, and those who stole and distributed the photos were vile predators, which is the steady drumbeat of “What Was Celebrity-Nude-Gate? Or, An Adventure in Reddit Philosophy”, “Behind Every Bullied Woman Is a Man Yelling About Free Speech”, and “That Type of Girl Deserves It”. Ryan Holiday’s perceptive “Spare us the Sanctimony” argued that Gawker‘s sudden shift was due to social media reaction – “the people on Twitter seem to be against this–so we are too.” I think it had more to do with a small note in Holiday’s essay: “Gawker no longer owns Fleshbot, but did when the blog posted the Scarlett Johansson nudes.” It was Fleshbot, Gawker‘s porn division, where Gawker Media published much of their “barely legal” or plain illegal material, whether it be the Johansson nudes, the Rihanna nudes, the Ashley Greene nudes, and many others. It allowed them to collect clicks without tainting their parent brand with the vileness of their behavior. If they still owned Fleshbot, that’s where the J-Law nudes would have been put. This, in fact, is exactly what happened at the now independent Fleshbot, which ran multiple posts promoting the nudes from the hack: “(Alleged) Nude Photos Of Jennifer Lawrence and Other Celebrities Leaked” (archive today link) (this initial post linking to the leaked nudes was the most popular Fleshbot post of 2014), “The Fappening Round 2: Nude Celebrity Cell Phone Photos Leaked AGAIN” (archive today link), and “More Information On Those Leaked Celeb Pics” (archive today link). The text from “The Fappening Round 2” outlined their modus operandi:

There aren’t many people who will condone hacking. It’s an invasion of privacy, it leads to all kinds of legal issues, and the majority of us are very careful to take the right measures to avoid it at all costs. However, when hacking comes in the form of a plethora of leaked photos of some of the hottest celebs in Hollywood, it’s hard to hacker bash. Shh! That doesn’t mean that we condone hacking by any means. It just means that instead of speaking up about how wrong it is, we’re just going to sit back with our mouthss shut and watch as the debauchery unfolds!

Many of you know about “The Fappening” round one which involved the leak of several celebrity nude photo’s [sic] and occurred a couple of weeks ago. Well, the celebrity photo hackers that we hate to love are back at it again, and this time around they’ve given us even hotter nudes than before! We aren’t too sure how long they’ll stay up, so go get your fix now before it’s too late!

Again, the Reddit philosophy that “What Was Celebrity-Nude-Gate? Or, An Adventure in Reddit Philosophy” sneered at was from the company’s CEO Yishan Wong: “We uphold the ideal of free speech on reddit as much as possible not because we are legally bound to, but because we believe that you—the user—has the right to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and that it is your responsibility to do so.” I see little or no difference between that and the philosophy espoused by Fleshbot: “[W]hen hacking comes in the form of a plethora of leaked photos of some of the hottest celebs in Hollywood, it’s hard to hacker bash. Shh! That doesn’t mean that we condone hacking by any means. It just means that instead of speaking up about how wrong it is, we’re just going to sit back with our mouthss shut and watch as the debauchery unfolds!”

The Fappening Fleshbot Header

The Fappening Fleshbot links

The Fappening 2nd Round Header

Fappening 2nd Round Fleshbot Philosophy

I don’t see this as any kind of abrupt break from the approach of Gawker, or Fleshbot from when it was still under the aegis of Gawker Media. The Fleshbot posts on #TheFappening, complete with improvised justification for why they were permissible, are entirely consistent with past posts dealing with celeb nude hacks that appeared on both sites. The only change is on the side of the parent company; since they no longer owned Fleshbot, they really had nowhere on their sites to publish the pics. And when a source, whether it be Anonymous or a hacker of celeb nudes, ceased to have a purpose, Gawker Media would segregate themselves from the leaker, and make that leaker the judas goat. There was no symbiosis, there was no relationship, there was suddenly only the infidel, outside.

A reader may wonder what Gabriel Snyder, current editor of The New Republic, has to do with all this. Well, T.C. Sottek has bluntly stated that those involved in the illegal distribution of private material like this are the detrius of society, Amanda Hess has emphatically said in ““Don’t Take Nude Selfies,” Shrug It Off, and Other Gross Advice for Hacked Celebs” that the hack “is both a criminal act and a widespread attack on female sexual agency,” and no doubt Adrian Chen agrees with this assessment (at least now he does), judging a leaked sex tape as a culmination of the misogyny of Anonymous. It would turn out that Anonymous, in fact, had nothing to do with any such leaked sex tape; whether you read it at the Huffington Post‘s “Anonymous Account Suspended From Twitter After Threatening Iggy Azalea (UPDATE)” by Stephanie Marcus or Hack Read‘s “Don’t listen to Bullshit, Anonymous is NOT Leaking Iggy Azalea’s Sex Tape.”:

A news went viral yesterday claiming online hacktivists Anonymous have threatened to leak sex tape of Australian model Iggy Azalea unless she apologizes to American rapper, singer, and songwriter Azealia Banks on some racial issue.

Well based on our personal investigation and conversation with some of the most reliable Anonymous handles on Twitter, we found out that Anonymous has not made any such threat.

The Twitter account @TheAnonMessage, who was making these threat (has been deleted by Twitter) is nothing but a troll and home to lies and fake Tweets. (Probably a wannabe and an attention seeker).

The connection this has to Gabriel Snyder is that though Anonymous had never published someone’s sex tape against their wishes, Gabriel Snyder most certainly had. It was when he was at Gawker‘s Hollywood blog, Defamer, and it was a sex tape of Grey’s Anatomy star Eric Dane, his wife Rebecca Gayheart, and former Miss Teen USA Kari Ann Peniche. The original post has been deleted for reasons we’ll get to, but there is an archived version: “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome” ( link). There is a link to the video on Gawker‘s main site, carrying Snyder’s name: “All Your McSteamy Dreams Come True”. It’s astonishing that Gawker‘s staff have forgotten this post, because like their Olivia Munn post, it was one of their most popular, pulling in over 2.8 million views. We might excerpt what Gabriel Snyder wrote at “Dane’s Anatomy”, several paragraphs of jeering contempt for all three participants in the tape:

“How did these people end up here?” is the implied question of every sex tape. Especially with the druggy romp Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy’s “Dr. McSteamy”) and his wife Rebecca Gayheart filmed with beauty-queen-turned-Hollywood-madam Kari Ann Peniche.

In the video (which we edited down from a 12-minute original), we see the apparently inebriated threesome — at one point Gayheart says she needs to lay down because she’s so high — lounging au naturel in the fallen beauty queen’s Studio City apartment, passing around the camera and, for giggles, discussing what their porn names should be. Dane settles on “Tuff Hedemen” (his favorite champion bull rider). Soon the threesome move to the bathroom where the two ladies disrobe and get into a jacuzzi tub while Dane takes over the camera duties.

The line between Hollywood success and failure is razor thin. The acting couple (the married in 2004) may not be at the pinnacle of the Hollywood talent heap, but they’re about as successful as they could have hoped in their teenage years. Oh, and they’re hoping to start a family! Dane, 36, moved to L.A. in his teens, landing bit parts in early 1990s TV shows like Saved by the Bell and The Wonder Years, palling around the Hollywood club scene (once dated Lara Flynn Boyle!) before winning stardom in Grey’s Anatomy. Gayheart, 38, had her first big break in 1992 as the Noxzema Girl, and aside from accidentally killing a teenager crossing the street, she’s made a career of film and TV roles here and there.

Peniche, 25, probably had a similar future in mind when she was crowned Miss Teen USA in 2002, but it wasn’t to be. She was stripped of her crown for posing in Playboy (NSFW link). Peniche tried to leverage the controversy into a career, and knocked around on the Hollywood Z-list for a while. She got engaged to Backstreet Boy Nick Aaron Carter for a minute. There were a handful of TV and film roles, but lately, a source in Hollywood tells us, she’s ended up working as a madam, working the Hollywood club scene as “Tristan Bailey.” Her m.o.: When horny club dudes would hit on her, she’d tell them she was seeing someone…but, she could hook them up with someone who knew some smokin’ hotties-for-hire. The dudes would then be redirected back to her service, and she’d occasionally turn a trick herself.

Update: Dane and Gayheart’s adorable lawyer Marty Singer hasn’t sent us any legal threats yet, but he did get on the phone with TMZ to issue a threat against, well, us because the tape is “private, confidential.” I haven’t heard from him but you do have to chuckle when a man speaks of what he knows:

“From what I’ve seen it’s a naked tape, not a sex tape.” Singer added, “At most it’s 3 people maybe wanting to have sex.”

Oh, and look, his take-down request just arrived. Let me go read it.

Gawker made sure to squeeze as much juice as possible out of this tape, with several follow-up articles in Defamer (again: the blog run by Snyder): “Who’s Calling McSteamy Trio Participant Kari Ann Peniche A Hooker?” by Foster Kamer ( link), “McSteamy Sex Tape Stimulates Economies: The Mystery Smoking Product, Revealed?” by Kamer ( link), “More People Know Kari Ann Peniche’s Boobs Than Her Face” by Brian Moylan ( link), and “One Week Later, Where Are McSteamy, the Noxema Girl and the Fallen Beauty Queen Now?” by Moylan ( link). “Weblogs are way less alien if you come from a British journalism background,” says Nick Denton in Tom Scocca’s profile, “The Gawker King”. The echoes of that background, writes Scocca, “are most noticeable now at Sploid, his news site, which strips down all the world’s events to screaming tabloid-beyond-tabloid headlines.” If we were to boil down the Gabriel Snyder story into one nasty, pungent Sploid headline, I guess it might be: “‘PRESTIGE’ MAG RUN BY SEX CRIMINAL“.

Dane Gayheart Sex Tape Gabriel Snyder on Defamer

Dane Gayheart Sex Tape on Gawker

Who's Calling Kari Ann Peniche a Hooker?

More People Know Kari Ann Peniche's Boobs Than Her Face

Mystery Smoking Product Revealed

One week later

Dane and Gayheart most certainly did not want the tape to be published, and they filed suit against Gawker to take the video down, which became the subject of the post by John Cook, “McSteamy v. Gawker Media, LLC”.

John Cook, by the way, also was a champion of Snyder becoming the editor of The New Republic:

In the legal papers, Gawker concedes they had no permission from the plaintiffs to show the video: “the Gawker Defendants admit that Plaintiffs did not authorize the reproduction, adaptation, distribution, performance or other use of the short clip from the Video on or,” Furthermore, they needed no such permission: “the Gawker Defendants specifically deny that Plaintiffs’ authorization was needed to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform or otherwise use the short clip from the Video.”96 There is a straight line that runs through this sex tape incident, and the later one involving Scarlett Johansson, and the last one, #TheFappening. In all three episodes, the lawyer filing claims against those who published any images was Hollywood superlawyer Marty Singer. In all three cases, the basis for his takedown notice was over copyright, the issue which successfully forced both BuzzFeed and Fleshbot to remove their Johansson images97. In this case, however, Singer was a little late with his copyright registration and it was on this basis that Gawker fought him: “Because Plaintiffs’ own allegations and information from the face of their Copyright Registration Certificate establishes that Gawker’s alleged infringement of the tape commenced before they registered the tape with the Copyright Office, Plaintiffs are not entitled to recover either statutory damages or attorneys’ fees in this action.”98 Dane and Gayheart would eventually settle with Gawker out of court, and Gawker, after pulling in millions of views, would remove the tape from their site99.

We know what Gawker’s attitude was toward the plaintiffs at that time, from a profile of Gaby Darbyshire, “Nick Denton’s Secret Weapon: Gaby Darbyshire Is Gawker’s Chief Enforcer” by John Koblin100. Darbyshire was Gawker Media’s counsel, chief of operations, longtime friend of Nick Denton, and arguably the secondmost important figure at the company until her resignation in 2012101. Here is an excerpt of Darbyshire’s reaction to one person asking Gawker Media to take something down from their site. I bold a particularly striking section:

A couple of years ago, one spurned subject took a trip to Ms. Darbyshire’s office, broke into tears and collapsed on the floor while begging and pleading for a post to be removed.

She didn’t flinch. “Do I feel terrible for her?” said Ms. Darbyshire. “Yeah, of course I do. I have absolute sympathy for these people. Am I going to do what they want? No.”

She has very little tolerance for people who get angry at what Gawker writes, particularly when it has the right to do so. “It’s just dumb,” she continued. “People don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. I’m a moralist in that respect. Fucking take responsibility for your actions! I have plenty of sympathy, but this is the world you chose to live in.

This, presumably, would have been the fate of a woman who got her nude pics up on the site who lacked Marty Singer as a lawyer and the popular appeal of Jennifer Lawrence. Fucking take responsibility for your actions!

Now, I excerpt now two tweets which T.C. Sottek singled out in “Say hello to men who hate NSA spying but blame women for being spied on”:

This was the same attitude which Amanda Hess attacked in ““Don’t Take Nude Selfies,” Shrug It Off, and Other Gross Advice for Hacked Celebs”, that the onus was being placed on the victims, that if you ended up nude in a photo or video, fucking take responsibility for your actions!:

New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton tweeted Monday, “Put together a list of tips for celebs after latest leaks: 1. Don’t take nude selfies 2. Don’t take nude selfies 3. Don’t take nude selfies.” (He later apologized.) Ricky Gervais made a similar joke before deleting it from Twitter: “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” These messages instruct women that they are to blame for being sexually exploited because they dared to express themselves sexually in private and in consensual contexts. (When hackers steal credit card information, the public isn’t blamed for daring to shop.) As Lena Dunham succinctly put it, “The ‘don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online’ argument is the ‘she was wearing a short skirt’ of the web.”

Where would they actually get the vile idea to tweet out that it was the fault of the victim for appearing nude in the first place? Well, there are many things that I am grateful to David Carr for, and one of them is his piece, “Gawking at a Lawsuit”, which highlighted what Denton tweeted out in the aftermath of the suit by Dane and Gayheart (on tweetsave):

I wrote that Gawker did not simply welcome such videotapes, but solicited them, and this is exactly what Gabriel Snyder did in a piece on the aftereffect of the sex tape, “Who At Gawker Is Cashing In On The McSteamy Sex Video?” by Glynnis MacNicol. This sex tape post, according to “Who At Gawker”, was Gawker‘s most popular post of 2009 in August of that year, as well as their second most popular post of all time. Under the bonus system mentioned in “Who at Gawker” of five to seven dollars per thousand views, Snyder would have gotten over fourteen grand for this work, if he hadn’t been section editor. You can understand the incentive for writers to publish sex tapes and compromising photos. As part of the brief interview for “Who At Gawker”, Snyder would explicitly say he wanted to solicit sex tapes and other such coveted private materials:

I keep meaning to post a bounty list of the information, documents and videos we’d love to pay for. Sex tapes are certainly on it. As for this case, I worked with Mark Ebner [a solid reporter, despite his involvement in this], a writer and reporter who knows Hollywood seedy underworld about as well as anyone. He had a great story and we paid him. He’s got a reporting credit on the original post.

A recurring question in justice is the extent to which we are able to judge a crime independently of the man who committed it. Do we sentence the drug use or robbery of a poor man or a rich man equally? Do we weigh the same evidence equally in terms of wrongdoing when judging a black man or a white man? Amanda Hess has described these violations as crimes, and when they’re committed by Anonymous, Adrian Chen regards them as an expression of their deeply felt misogyny. I ask: is something a crime, is something a vile, infamous act only when 4chan does it, when Reddit does it, when Anonymous does it, but not when Gabriel Snyder commits the same act? This appears to be the case: we live in an era of inequality, and here we have an inequality of judgement, where some are condemned as pariahs, others are granted license to do what they wish, and millions buy amnesia. Now, John Manese can finally know what he did wrong: he did all that work on Reddit for free, instead of being in the pay of Nick Denton. Otherwise, maybe he’d now be editor of The New Republic.

Even the slender promise of Gawker, the very true axiom that serves as their fig leaf justification for every act of sadism and opportunism which they perpetuate, that “today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”, was not fulfilled here. There was a massive iceberg of a story connected with this sex tape which they had barely skimmed across, before moving on to other distractions. This epic post is already overstuffed and overlong, however, and that fascinating story will wait till part two.



(On March 7, 2015, footnotes were added which linked to the specific points in the Enigma Hood interviews for the transcript excerpts; discussion of the last episode of The Daily Capper dealing with the Amanda Todd case was added. On March 8th, all the material after “The most disturbing aspect of The Daily Capper…” was added. On March 9th, 2015, various copy edits were made – spelling, link, and grammar corrections. On March 10, 2015, the section on the mysterious Daily Capper twitter profiles was added. On March 12, 2015, the material about Jessica Leonhardt was added. On March 13, 2015, the material dealing with Kiki Ostrenga and Sticky Drama was added. On March 14, 2015, the material on the past involvement of Gawker and BuzzFeed with hacked celeb nudes was added. On March 15, 2015, the material dealing with Gabriel Snyder and the Dane-Gayheart sex tape was added. On March 16, 2015, the excerpt from Kiki Kannibal’ “Sexual Assault – Red Flags, Advice & My Experience” dealing with Danny Cespedes’ eighteen other victims was added, as were the lengthy excerpts with “Damien” AKA Jessi Slaughter with New Media Rockstars. On March 17, 2015, the material excerpted from Gabriel Snyder’s post, “Dane’s Anatomy: McSteamy, His Wife and a Fallen Beauty Queen’s Naked Threesome – Eric Dane – Gawker”, was added. On that same date, additional material was added to the paragraph devoted to Maureen O’Connor’s “Did This Person Make a Michelle Trachtenberg Soft-Core Porno Or Did I?” As with too many sites, we are lacking a copy editor, and copy editing on the text from the Jessi Slaughter section to the post’s end was only done on March 17, 2015. On that same day, additional material was added to the interview of “Damien” AKA Jessi Slaughter with New Media Rockstars. Again, on that same day, the material dealing with Fleshbot’s posts on #TheFappening was added. On March 19, 2015, the material about Lawrence Joseph Silipigni Jr. and AnonIB winning The Daily Capper’s Best Public Site of 2009 was added. The material on Amor Hilton was added on that day as well. On April 6th and 7th 2015, this post underwent another badly needed copy editing session. On April 10, 2015, additional links were added to the list of Barrett Brown’s work on Robert Stacy McCain. On April 14, 2015, the material on the way tabloids pre-vet material for the mainstream press, something like how leaked celeb nudes end up in the mainstream press, was added. On June 2, 2015, the split screen gif of Amanda Todd and Aurora Eller was added, and a shorter gif excerpt of Jimmy Cook on the WDBJ-7 newscast was substituted for the original. On June 11, 2015, a vine of The Daily Capper with a mention of Anon-IB was added.)


1 The book was brought up because Nicolas Roeg was given the offer to direct Caligula, but instead decided to direct The Fan Club, though the project ended up never being made. The detail comes up in “Episode 178: Caligula”, from 1:20:25 to 1:21:17, during an involved answer from Ranjit Sandhu on the attempt to find a director for Caligula, which at the time had a script by Gore Vidal, Paul Morrissey as a possible director, and Franco Rossellini as a producer, with Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione soon taking over as a superceding force:

ROB ST. MARY: So, Guccione comes in and he’s the one who ends up hiring Tinto Brass, right, or had there been other directors who’d been interested?

SANDHU: They approached a number of directors. Guccione did not want Paul Morrissey, because he did not like the Andy Warhol crowd…which is rather unusual because Franco Rossellini by that time was part of the Andy Warhol crowd. Guccione did not want Rossellini to have anything to do with the movie, he wanted Gore [Vidal] to come over, and just do the film with Gore. But of course that was illegal, because by then Franco Rosselini owned the project. They approached Nicolas Roeg, who was busy with other things, he was on a promotional tour for The Man Who Fell To Earth, and he was also in the midst of planning production for a movie version of The Fan Club, an Irving Wallace novel, which never happened.

2 From The Fan Club:

That they had rejected him, after a first hearing, was understandable. They were men, like most men, who were not used to believing an impossible dream could become a possible reality by direct action. On the other hand, if their desires to change their lives were strong enough, if their growing frustrations were at the bursting point, they might be ready to reconsider, to call on him at the bar tonight, to enlist in his cause and to undertake the adventurous mission side by side with him.

And if not, Malone told himself, no loss. He would still have his dream. He would wait, he would watch, and someday, somewhere, he would find another Byron romantic enough to join him in his quest for Sharon Fields.

3 I am indebted to the late Norman Mailer for the beautiful phrase “squire’s wrath”, which he used in his account of the 1992 Republican convention, “By Heaven Inspired”.

4 That this cruel sociopath has the name of Shiveley is no doubt a deliberate reference to a prison knife.

5 From “Irving Wallace; Prolific Writer Reached Billion Readers (page 3)” by Burt A. Folkart:

Wallace combined lust and Hollywood luminaries in “The Fan Club,” a sordid suspense novel in which a movie star is kidnaped by a group of working men who have made her the object of their sexual fantasies. They justify the action by saying only “fat cats” ever get what they want in life, a theme he began to expand upon after hearing some railroad workers discussing what they would give to spend a single evening with Elizabeth Taylor.

6 From “Irving Wallace: “The Fan Club”” by Roger Ebert:

He remembers precisely where the idea for The Fan Club came from, “and that’s unusual, because most of the time an idea will germinate over a period of months and years and you won’t know quite where it came from.

“But with this one, the inspiration came exactly five years ago last month, while I was on a train from Boston to New York. I was all alone in the club car, and then we stopped at this junction and some railroad men got aboard. There was a newspaper, and they saw a headline about Burton buying Taylor the world’s biggest diamond.

“That started them talking about Elizabeth Taylor, and one guy said he’d trade his house, his wife, big car, everything, for one night with her.

“I’d heard that kind of talk all my life. I didn’t make a note about it in my journal as a possible story idea; I thought I’d forgotten it. Then, a few days later in Los Angeles, I heard an item on the radio about Taylor flying in for the Oscars. That somehow started me thinking about an evening I’d spent at a party for Marilyn Monroe, and about another party where Lana Turner was my dinner partner and how she’d talked about men she’d known, and how she’d handled them.

“The moment I got home, I sat down at the typewriter and typed out a one page outline of The Fan Club. I had four different endings on that one page and I didn’t know if any of them would work. I knew I had a story. I’ve known a lot of these women, the so called sex symbols, and what they’re like, and how they think, and I thought it would be fascinating to create a character who tried to save her own life through manipulating the fantasies that her kidnappers had about her.”

7 From “Inside The Internet’s Secret Marketplace For Hacked Photos Of Naked Celebrities” by James Cook:

Some dealers say the celebrity photo trading industry died on the afternoon of Labor Day 2014. An anonymous pornography collector, “OriginalGuy,” did the unthinkable and set about uploading his entire collection of stolen photographs to notorious porn forum AnonIB – hundreds of images of 101 different actresses and singers. When users discovered what was happening, they swarmed the site. Eventually he was unable to load the forum to post any more images, so he took to 4chan, the anarchic discussion forum read by thousands.

That’s when people really started to notice what was going on.

8 The quotes are collated from two facebook comments to the original article, and though they’ve been re-ordered, I do not think this affects interpretation or context. A screenshot:

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club

9 Rosin was spurred on to write the story after spotting the piece “Deputies Bust Massive Teen Sexting Ring in Louisa County”, author credit: WRIC Newsroom staff.

10 The original comment on postimage:

Anonymous 4chan user talks about Fappening

This posting was re-circulated to many places, including “Everything We Know About the Alleged Celeb Nude “Trading Ring” and Leak” by Gabrielle Bluestone, where I most likely found it.

11 From “‘Why Kids Sext’ Describes Nude Photos As ‘Social Currency’ Among Teens” (October 15, 2014), excerpt is taken from 19:35 to 20:23 in the Rosin interview.

12 From “‘Why Kids Sext’ Describes Nude Photos As ‘Social Currency’ Among Teens” (October 15, 2014), excerpt is taken from 20:38 to 21:38 in the Rosin interview.

13 From “Paris Hilton Hack Started With Old-Fashioned Con” by Brian Krebs:

In the months leading up to the Hilton incident, the hacker group freely exploited a security glitch in the Web site of wireless phone giant T-Mobile, according to the hacker, who described himself as the youngest member of the group. The group had found that a tool on the T-Mobile site that allowed users to reset their account passwords contained a key programming flaw.

By exploiting the flaw, the group’s members were able to gain access to the account of any T-Mobile subscriber who used a “Sidekick,” a pricey phone-organizer-camera combination device that stores videos, photos and other data on T-Mobile’s central computer servers.

The hackers could only exploit the Web site vulnerability if they actually knew a Sidekick user’s phone number. The loose-knit group had grown bored of using the flaw to toy with friends and acquaintances who owned Sidekicks and decided to find a high-profile target, one that would ensure their exploits were reported in the press, the young hacker said. They ultimately settled on Hilton, in part because they knew she owned a Sidekick; Hilton had previously starred in a commercial advertising the device.

14 From the indictment, “United States of America vs. Timothy C. Mckeage, Justin A. Perras, Jason Daniel Hawks, Zachary Wiley Mann, And Jeffrey Robert Weinberg”, specific page 2:

2. Seisint, Inc. was a Florida corporation in Boca Raton, Florida that was purchased in or around September 2004 by LexisNexis. Seisint, Inc. was the original owner of the Accurint database. The Accurint database allows organizations to quickly and easily extract information from tens of billions of data records on individuals and businesses, using proprietary data-linking methods. Customers who have an Accurint account may access the database by visiting a web site and entering a username and password. Once they have obtained access, Accurint customers can run computerized searches of the database for specific terms (including the names of debtors or criminal defendants). The Accurint database was located on servers at a facility in Boca Raton in the Southern District of Florida.

From the indictment, “United States of America vs. Timothy C. Mckeage, Justin A. Perras, Jason Daniel Hawks, Zachary Wiley Mann, And Jeffrey Robert Weinberg”, specific page 6:

1 . Between on or about January 21, 2005, and on or about March 12, 2005, TIMOTHY C. McKEAGE used a Trojan Horse program to access the Port Orange Police Department’s computer system. The Trojan Horse program infected a computer of the Port Orange Police Department, which was used in interstate commerce and communication, thereby allowing TIMOTHY C. McKEAGE unauthorized access to the computer.

2. Between on or about January 21, 2005, and on or about March 12, 2005, TIMOTHY C. McKEAGE utilized this unauthorized access to fraudulently obtain usernames, passwords, and other information, which he subsequently used to create additional usernames and passwords to access the Accurint database.

From “Teen Pleads Guilty to Hacking Paris Hilton’s Phone” by Brian Krebs:

An adult member of the hacker group acknowledged in phone conversations with a reporter that he collaborated with the teen in sending hundreds of e-mails with an explicit image and a message urging recipients to open an attached file to view additional pornographic images of children. According to both hackers, a police officer in Florida was among those who opened the e-mail attachment, which harbored a virus-like program that allowed the hackers to record anything a victim typed on his or her computer keyboard. Not long after his computer was infected with the keystroke-capturing program, the officer logged on to his police department’s account at Accurint, a LexisNexis service provided by Florida-based subsidiary Seisint Inc., which sells access to consumer data.

15 A large section of the indictment is given over to a list of names, aliased with their initials, of those persons whose records were accessed. Hilton shows up on page 9; “United States of America vs. Timothy C. Mckeage, Justin A. Perras, Jason Daniel Hawks, Zachary Wiley Mann, And Jeffrey Robert Weinberg”, specific page 9:

17. On or about January 23, 2005, JEFFREY ROBERT WEINBERG fraudulently obtained an Accurint report of an individual, P .H., containing P.H.’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, and other identification information.

Although I have made no attempt to decipher the various other initials in the set, we can guess that the “A.S.” is Arnold Schwarzenegger, “D.M.” is Demi Moore, and “L.F.” is Laurence Fishburne. We know this from “Arrests Made in ’05 LexisNexis Data Breach” by Brian Krebs:

The government charges that the five men used the stolen Accurint accounts to look up sensitive data on a number of individuals. The victims are named only by their initials in the indictment.

But according to interviews had with at least three of the accused, the group accessed information on Hilton, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), and actors Laurence Fishburne and Demi Moore.

It should be said that the theory that this gang got the phone numbers from the Accurint database is not the one given in “Paris Hilton Hack Started With Old-Fashioned Con” by Krebs, where the gang gave their account of the hack and make no mention of the Accurint datatbase, and this I attribute to the gang not wanting to admit to other crimes unnecessarily. Instead, we’re told they obtained the phone numbers through social engineering at T-Mobile:

According to the young hacker’s account, the Hilton caper started the afternoon of Feb. 19, when a group member rang a T-Mobile sales store in a Southern California coastal town posing as a supervisor from T-Mobile inquiring about reports of slowness on the company’s internal networks.

The conversation — which represents the recollection of the hacker interviewed by — began with the 16-year-old caller saying, “This is [an invented name] from T-Mobile headquarters in Washington. We heard you’ve been having problems with your customer account tools?”

The sales representative answered, “No, we haven’t had any problems really, just a couple slowdowns. That’s about it.”

Prepared for this response, the hacker pressed on: “Yes, that’s what is described here in the report. We’re going to have to look into this for a quick second.”

The sales rep acquiesced: “All right, what do you need?”

When prompted, the employee then offered the Internet address of the Web site used to manage T-Mobile’s customer accounts — a password-protected site not normally accessible to the general public — as well as a user name and password that employees at the store used to log on to the system.

To support his story, the hacker provided with an image of a page he said was from the protected site. T-Mobile declined to comment on the screenshot, and has no way to verify its authenticity.

The hackers accessed the internal T-Mobile site shortly thereafter and began looking up famous names and their phone numbers. At one point, the youth said, the group harassed Laurence Fishburne, the actor perhaps best known for his role in the “Matrix” movies as Morpheus, captain of the futuristic ship Nebuchadnezzar.

“We called him up a few times and said, ‘GIVE US THE SHIP!'” the youth typed in one of his online chats with a reporter. “He picked up a couple times and kept saying stuff like YOUR ILLEGALLY CALLING ME.”

Later, using their own Sidekick phone, the hackers pulled up the secure T-Mobile customer records site, looked up Hilton’s phone number and reset the password for her account, locking her out of it. Typical wireless devices can only be hacked into by someone physically nearby, but a Sidekick’s data storage can be accessed from anywhere in T-Mobile’s service area by someone with control of the account. That means the hackers were at that point able to download all of her stored video, text and data files to their phone.

16 From “Paris Hilton Hack Started With Old-Fashioned Con” by Brian Krebs:

Later, using their own Sidekick phone, the hackers pulled up the secure T-Mobile customer records site, looked up Hilton’s phone number and reset the password for her account, locking her out of it. Typical wireless devices can only be hacked into by someone physically nearby, but a Sidekick’s data storage can be accessed from anywhere in T-Mobile’s service area by someone with control of the account. That means the hackers were at that point able to download all of her stored video, text and data files to their phone.

“As soon as I went into her camera and saw nudes my head went JACKPOT,” the young hacker recalled of his reaction to first seeing the now-public photos of a topless Hilton locked in an intimate embrace with a female friend. “I was like, HOLY [expletive] DUDE … SHES GOT NUDES. THIS [expletive]’s GONNA HIT THE PRESS SO [expletive] QUICK.”

Though the “young hacker” remains nameless in this article and in contemporary accounts after the gang’s capture is either unnamed or omitted due to him being a juvenile, he’s identified as Cameron LaCroix in numerous other accounts, such as “They’ll Always Have Paris” by Krebs and the later profile of LaCroix, “Ex-teen hacker tells Paris Hilton he’s sorry [WARNING: autoplay video]” by Tom Winter, Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington.

17 From “Ex-teen hacker tells Paris Hilton he’s sorry [WARNING: autoplay video]” by Tom Winter, Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington:

Hacking gave him a high and a sense of recognition. I wanted to be a celebrity, he said. When the Hilton photos went viral online, it was mind-blowing for me. I felt famous.

18 On his parole violation, from “They’ll Always Have Paris” by Brian Krebs:

No public information was available about 18 year old Cameron “cam0” LaCroix, who was a juvenile when the crime occurred. The teen pleaded guilty in September 2005 and spent 11 months in a Massachusetts juvenile detention facility. He was released last summer. Federal prosecutors declined to comment on his case, and the teen’s records are under seal because they are connected to the juvenile conviction.

Two sources close to the case who asked not to be named say LaCroix recently was sent back to detention. He apparently violated the terms of his supervised release, which barred him from possessing or using any computer, cell phone or other electronic equipment capable of accessing the Internet.

From “Ex-teen hacker tells Paris Hilton he’s sorry [WARNING: autoplay video]” by Tom Winter, Jeff Rossen and Jovanna Billington:

Before he was 21, he was sent to prison again after pleading guilty to racking up thousands in phony gift card purchases. The gift cards were purchased with stolen credit card numbers, but cashiers wouldn’t challenge them an easy end-run around corporate security.

[The cards] had no name on [them], he explains. The cashier would say,’Jeez, you know, it’s $600, $700 worth of stuff. Then they’d see the gift card and relax.

You don’t [need] an ID. Nothing. All that matters is that someone else’s information is on that magnetic strip.

And he kept hacking. Armed with little more than a $300 Toshiba laptop from Best Buy, he went back to stealing money with his skills, and used some of the funds to underwrite his growing dependence on opiates.

He still sounds excited when he talks about hacking, and with the help of a social worker he’s trying to understand the allure it holds for him. Both he and the social worker think there’s a clear link to his drug use.

[You get] the same pleasure. The same reward, Lacroix said. That challenge of getting in. It’s just like, ‘Wow.’

Lacroix stole 14,000 credit card numbers from online retailers, adding to what he thinks is a lifetime total of $500,000 or more in thefts from consumers. Other feats of hacking, however, just seemed to feed his need for a rush.

He hacked into state and local police databases, looking for warrants and arrest records and learning the identities of confidential informants, and through those databases gained access to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. He changed his grades and his friends’ grades at the community college.

Then, on Feb. 18, 2013, Lacroix took over Burger King’s Twitter account. He replaced the fast-food chain’s logo with McDonald’s golden arches and said that Burger King had been sold to its competitor because the Whopper flopped.

19 From “Massachusetts Man Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Computer Hacking Involving Stolen Credit Card Numbers and Altered Academic Records” by Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs:

Massachusetts Man Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Computer Hacking Involving Stolen Credit Card Numbers and Altered Academic Records

A Massachusetts man was sentenced to serve four years in prison today for hacking into computer networks around the country including networks belonging to law enforcement agencies and a local college to obtain highly sensitive law enforcement data and to alter academic records, as well as for possessing stolen credit and debit card numbers.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz of the District of Massachusetts, Special Agent in Charge Vincent Lisi of the FBI’s Boston Division and Colonel Timothy P. Alben of the Massachusetts State Police made the announcement.

Cameron Lacroix, 25, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty on June 25, 2014, to two counts of computer intrusion and one count of access device fraud. Lacroix was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf of the District of Massachusetts.

20 Audio is taken from “MILEY’S STOLEN SHOWER PICS + HACKER SPEAKS!”. Full transcript is on pastebin, “Josh Holly aka TrainReq 1st Radio Interview Transcript”.

21 Audio is taken from “Miley Cyrus HACKER speaks!”. Full transcript is on pastebin, “Josh Holly aka TrainReq 2nd Radio Interview Transcript”.

22 How Josh Holly did the Cyrus hack, from “Miley Cyrus Hacker Raided by FBI” by Kim Zetter:

Holly told Threat Level he stole about a dozen Cyrus pictures but only published the most provocative ones. He said he got access to Cyrus’s Gmail account after obtaining unauthorized access to a MySpace administrative panel where he found passwords for MySpace accounts stored in cleartext. He found the password Cyrus used for her MySpace account Loco92 and tried it on a Gmail account Cyrus was known to use. The password worked on that account as well, but only for a couple of weeks before it was changed.

Holly said he obtained access to the MySpace administrative panel by social engineering a MySpace worker. He was able to obtain a list of instant message buddies for one of the employees (he didn’t adequately explain to Threat Level how he’d done that before he ended our conversation) and sent an instant message to an employee named C. Cho, using the screen name of another MySpace administrator.

Posing as the other administrator, he told Cho he was having trouble logging in to the MySpace administrative panel and asked if he could use Cho’s username and password. Cho said yes, and Holly had access to the panel for about 16 hours, from about 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. one day, before MySpace discovered its security had been breached and changed or canceled Cho’s log-in credentials. Holly said he was resetting account passwords for MySpace users, which likely tipped off MySpace.

That Cyrus’s password was her dog’s name and birthdate, from “Alleged Miley Cyrus Hacker Arrested” by Robert McMillan:

Cyrus apparently used the same password — loco92 (her dog’s name plus her year of birth) — for several accounts, Holly said in a radio interview after the hack. After obtaining the password, “I tried it out on her e-mail and it let me in,” he said.

23 From “Confessed Miley Cyrus Hacker Sentenced to Three Years Probation” by Kim Zetter:

He claimed that he tried to sell the pictures to and other celebrity outlets, but no one would buy them, given the illegal manner by which he’d obtained them. He then posted some of them online at, after which numerous gossip and celebrity websites published them for free. More photos followed thereafter.

24 Selena Gomez, I think.

25 From “Miley Cyrus Hacker Raided by FBI” by Kim Zetter:

Hours before the FBI arrived at his doorstep, Holly posted a message online bragging that even though he was a known hacker, federal agents would never find him.

A hacker by the name of Padillac wrote Threat Level that he had little sympathy for Holly who, he said, had “been acting like an attention starved 8-year-old.”

“The problem is that TrainReq truly believed he was untouchable, and unfortunately for him, in 2008, it’s that type of reckless thinking that gets people raided,” Padillac wrote. “While most of us have smartened up and left ‘hacking’ behind, there are always newcomers like TrainReq who learn how to do something destructive and then execute their newfound abilities carelessly without fear of repercussion…[B]ut whatever here comes his big day, i just hope he doesn’t expect to touch a computer for a few years.”

26 From “Confessed Miley Cyrus Hacker Sentenced to Three Years Probation” by Kim Zetter:

Self-proclaimed Miley Cyrus hacker Josh Holly was sentenced on Monday to three years probation for computer crimes though not for the Cyrus hack that was his claim to fame.

Holly, 22, pleaded guilty last April to possessing about 200 stolen credit card numbers, and to breaching celebrity MySpace pages in a spamming scheme that earned him at least $100,000.

According to an affidavit, Holly admitted to the FBI that beginning in 2005 he had hijacked numerous celebrity internet accounts to conduct spamming. An investigation of his bank records showed that between November 2007 and July 2008, he received more than $110,000 from companies for spamming on their behalf. Holly told Threat Level that half of his illicit income went to an accomplice in Israel who used the online nickname elul21 (Elul is the Hebrew name of a month on the Jewish calendar).

Holly also said that the celebrity MySpace accounts he accessed to conduct his spamming activity belonged mainly to recording artists and groups Chris Brown, Rihanna, Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy. He accessed about 20 accounts. Once he had passwords to the accounts, he used the accounts to send bulletins to all of the friends on the MySpace accounts advertising a ringtone or call service for the recording artist. For example, he’d send out a bulletin from Fall Out Boy’s MySpace account telling fans that the band would call their phone and send them a ringtone if they clicked on a link and entered their details.

Holly said the advertising affiliates he worked for paid him between $5 and $12 per person who responded to the ad. The affiliates didn’t know he was spamming customers, he said, and, when they found out, they terminated their work with him and refused to pay him outstanding earnings.

27 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

One night in early 2008, while his grandma slept, the balding, 290-pound Chaney was idly surfing movie sites like Ain’t It Cool News when he stumbled on the latest celebrity scandal. Stolen pictures had leaked online of Miley Cyrus posing half-dressed, her midriff exposed. Chaney sparked a clove cigarette and considered the story. He couldn’t have cared less about the Miley shots themselves. What intrigued him was the guy who stole them. How’d he do it? Chaney wasn’t a hacker; he didn’t even own a computer until his late twenties and couldn’t write a lick of code. But he’d always loved solving puzzles completing crosswords, shouting out answers to Jeopardy! This was a tantalizing new riddle: “I was like, ‘How hard could this be if it’s happening all the time?'”

What Chaney lacked in technical skills, he made up for in effort. Finding a working e-mail address was a simple process of trial and error. In a Word document, he made a list of random celebrities and, one by one, entered them into Gmail first name followed by last until, days later, an address was finally accepted. (In the blur of celebs to follow, he wouldn’t be able to recall his first.) Unlocking the account, he knew, would be more difficult. To retrieve a lost password, sites often ask subscribers so-called challenge questions: What’s your mother’s maiden name? What’s your place of birth? Or, in the case of this celebrity, what’s your pet’s name? It was widely known that the hacker who broke into Paris Hilton’s phone had done it with her Chihuahua’s name, Tinkerbell. If her dog’s name was easily available online, so too, Chaney figured, were other clues.

Chaney found what he was looking for on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). After punching in the pet’s name, he watched in awe as the star’s private e-mails poured down his smudgy PC screen. “I don’t want to compare it to throwing a touchdown pass,” he says, “but it was a rush.” He quickly scrolled through the contact list, cutting and pasting the e-mails of anyone he recognized into a separate file: actresses, actors, athletes “It was pretty much anyone with a name,” he says. He then set the victim’s account to forward a copy of every e-mail to him, so even if the celeb reset the password, the e-mails would keep coming in.

Chaney eyed his in-box. He’d get to reading the messages in good time, but for now he wanted to crack more addresses. “You find the right pieces,” he says, “and then it unlocks.” There were favorite colors to ascertain. Elementary-school names. Social Security numbers. Chaney became an expert. He found old school names on, friends on Facebook, and hometowns on free directories like Intelius. “If they’ve had their names removed, their parents are probably still on there,” he says.

The one minor error in Kushner’s piece is the point on how Cameron LaCroix’s gang hacked Hilton’s T-Mobile: “It was widely known that the hacker who broke into Paris Hilton’s phone had done it with her Chihuahua’s name, Tinkerbell.” This, as we have seen, was not how they accessed the account: T-Mobile passwords can be reset when you know the phone number and the gang acquired the phone number through the Accurint database. That the hackers gained access by guessing that Hilton’s password was “Tinkerbell” was only part of early speculation, such as “Paris Hilton: Hacked or Not?” by Staci D. Kramer:

How did the phone numbers, notes and saucy pictures Paris Hilton stored on her Sidekick II handset from T-Mobile get into the hands of someone else and onto the screens of computers around the world this weekend? Was it simply a case of a consumer who failed to be careful enough with her own privacy and that of others? Or could T-Mobile — still dealing with the detritus of a previous security breach — have prevented it?

Despite the tossing around of the term “hack,” no one knows whether the data was hacked or if it was obtained with a password.

T-Mobile subscribers can access their e-mail, contacts and photos through a website protected by a user name and password. Given Hilton’s less-than-savvy reputation, the favorite candidate for her secret password is “tinkerbell” — as in one of her pet pooches.

28 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

The hacker’s eyes widened as the image filled his screen. There, without her makeup, stood Scarlett Johansson, her famous face unmistakable in the foreground, her naked backside reflected in the bathroom mirror behind her, a cell phone poised in her hand snapping the shot. Holy shit, he thought. This was a find even for him. For years, he had stealthily broken into the e-mail accounts of the biggest players in Hollywood. He had daily access to hundreds of messages between his victims and their managers, lawyers, friends, doctors, family, agents, nutritionists, publicists, etc. By now he knew more dirt than almost anyone in L.A. the secret romances, the hidden identities, films in all stages of development. Still, this photo, a private self-portrait of one of our biggest stars, was something new, something larger than life, especially his. “You feel like you’ve seen something that the rest of the world wanted to see,” he says. “But you’re the only one that’s seen it.”

Hacking didn’t just take Chaney into the secret world of sex photos. It gave him access to the hidden world of Hollywood itself the behind-the-scenes deals and day-to-day workings of the business. And Chaney, a die-hard film buff since he was a kid, says that’s what drove him deeper. His ideal victim, at least at first, wasn’t a starlet but a location scout. “I thought that was one of the awesomest [jobs],” he says. “They go around, find these places, take pictures of them, and send them to the directors. It was cool seeing a part of the process that nobody ever sees.”

After hacking the account of one producer, Chaney saw the entire filmmaking process, from start to finish. The producer was working on In Time, a film starring Justin Timberlake, Olivia Wilde, and Amanda Seyfried. Chaney breezed through copies of the script, set in a dystopian future where people die at age 26 unless they can afford to buy another day. He marveled over production photos of arms imprinted with numbers that count down the actors’ hours. He read in astonishment as one producer discussed visiting strip clubs to find a body double for an actress, perhaps Seyfried. Another had to negotiate a deal with Seyfried’s agent over how much flesh she’d show. “It seemed a fairly convoluted process just to show a butt crack,” Chaney says.

There were plenty of other juicy affairs, however. “Everyone dated everyone eventually,” he says. “It always reminded me of [Beverly Hills] 90210.” He once followed an exchange between a famous actor and actress who tried to keep their relationship private, opting to see each other at, say, Canter’s Deli at 3 a.m. instead of dodging paparazzi at the Ivy. He later read about Johansson’s separation from Ryan Reynolds long before the tabloids caught on. “They were discussing, I guess, aspects of who gets what,” he recalls: what furniture, what photos, what souvenirs. “It was weird to read stuff like that,” he went on. “It was almost too personal.”

But Chaney wasn’t just reading about celebrity sex lives; he was following them in real time. Among the more surprising revelations he discovered were a handful of explicit e-mails that leading men sent to their secret male partners. “I’m trying to figure out how to say it without names,” he says. “There were some that, you know, their public persona is they’re kind of a player, and their private persona is they’re batting for the other team…. They may have been batting for both teams, I don’t know.”

29 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

While perusing the e-mail of celebrity stylist Simone Harouche in early November 2010, he stumbled across photos of her client Christina Agui-lera trying on outfits in a dressing room, wearing little more than silver pasties. Chaney found a random guy on a celebrity message board and sent him an e-mail telling him he knew “someone” who had hacked pictures of Aguilera. Did he want to check them out?

Chaney freaked the moment he sent it. What the hell am I doing? he thought. He was using a phony e-mail address, but he didn’t know how to effectively cover his tracks. On December 8, a headline appeared on TMZ: “Christina Aguilera: My Private Sexy Pics Were Hacked.” Aguilera’s rep told TMZ they were “attempting to determine the identity of the hackers and will pursue them aggressively.”

When Chaney saw his Aguilera photos online, “it was like a gut punch,” he says. But it was also a little exhilarating. After that initial wave of anxiety, he was left with a rare feeling of accomplishment.

30 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

He soon got an unsolicited e-mail from a mysterious hacker named TrainReqSucks, a play on TrainReq, the Tennessee teen who’d released the Miley shots. The stranger wanted photos and was eager to connect Chaney to buyers. Chaney rejected his offer, but the stranger was good. He pressed all of Chaney’s buttons, effusively praising his hijacking prowess, and when he asked for proof that he had the goods, Chaney couldn’t resist. In fact, Chaney had something everyone in the industry wanted: pictures of Johansson a shot in bed, another topless, and more. “I don’t know why I responded,” Chaney told me. “It was part bragging and part proving who I was to someone.”

Chaney picked what he thought was the tamest image: the “butt shot,” as he put it. The nerves kicked in again the moment he hit send, and twisted his stomach in knots when he later saw the shot online covered in Photoshopped squiggles. “Yeah, I squiggled over that,” TrainReqSucks told him, adding that he offered to remove the lines for TMZ if they met his price. To Chaney’s shock and relief, the photo was discounted as a fake. No one paid any attention to it.

31 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

TrainReqSucks wasn’t done. He e-mailed Chaney a fake topless shot of Selena Gomez, the perky Disney star, and said he was going to sell it as real. In it, Gomez was standing in front of a door, her hand resting on a bureau, an exotic medallion hanging between her too-ample breasts. Chaney found it “creepy” and told the guy off. This only raised TrainReqSucks’s ire. “You really need to cover your ass better, ’cause they’re all over you,” TrainReqSucks replied. “There’s heat on you.”

He reached out to the infamous blogger Deep at Sea. Deep was more of a fanboy than a hacker, posting photos he found across the Web. Chaney knew the guy had a thing for Renee Olstead, the redheaded star of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and Chaney had recently stumbled on a trove of her private pictures showering in a tight white shirt, using a baby blue vibrator. He decided to share them with Deep.

Chaney was sound asleep when he heard the knocking at his front door. It was around 6 a.m. on February 11, 2011, and he could barely make out the sun rising. He ambled down the hall, but before he’d reached the door, federal agents barreled through with a battering ram, stampeding into the room past his wide-screen TV and towering stacks of DVDs. They drew their guns, freckling Chaney’s body with red laser pointers. Chaney immediately spun around and put his hands behind his back for the handcuffs. “I’m glad you did this,” he said calmly, “because I wasn’t going to be able to stop this on my own.”

To Chaney’s surprise, the feds told him he wasn’t under arrest not yet. They were confiscating his computer, and they strongly suggested that he help them get to others. Others? “They constantly repeated, ‘We’re after the big fish; you’re just the little fish,'” Chaney says. “They were after a ring of celebrity hackers.” They asked him, “Would you be willing to work with us to bring other hackers down?”

“Yeah, whatever you want.”

32 From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

Websites like TMZ and Perez Hilton cash in by luring people to click on advertising banners. Nik Richie, owner of the popular gossip site The Dirty, calls a celebrity nude a “five-timer,” because it generates five times the usual traffic as many as 500,000 visitors in a day.

Chaney had recently landed a data-entry job at a trucking company when, one day in September, he read online that fully nude photos of Johansson had been leaked this time without the squiggles. “My stomach dropped,” he recalls, “because I knew I’d be the first person they came to.”

At 2:50 p.m. on September 14, a user nicknamed Mr. Green sent two nude shots of Johansson to Richie at The Dirty along with a message. “I love [the] fact that she probably sent some of these out to some Hollywood actor or producer and she never figured they would do her like that,” Mr. Green wrote. “Well, you might be a movie star and be famous, but doesn’t mean no one will fuck you over.”

Richie took one look at the photos and figured they’d been faked. There were three in all: one from behind, another topless, and another from the crotch up. To his surprise, his Photoshop experts deemed the pictures legit. Richie saw dollar signs. This went way beyond a “five-timer,” as he put it. “This, in Scarlett’s case, was times ten; it meant a million people coming to the site,” he said.

Chaney was stunned. He claims to have sent out only one shot. So how did the others get online? The only people who had seen them, he says, besides himself were the FBI, Scarlett, and her husband. Had someone hacked Chaney or Reynolds, or had someone else hacked her? Chaney’s mind was spinning. “Every night after that was very little sleep, hot and cold flashes. I knew that they were coming for me,” he says.

33 From by “Hollywood Hacker Christopher Chaney Honed His Skills For Years” by Anthony McCartney:

A federal judge sentenced a hacker to 10 years in prison on Monday after he broke into the personal online accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and other women and posted revealing photos and other material on the Internet.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero sentenced Christopher Chaney after hearing from a tearful Johansson in a videotaped statement.

The case included the revelation that nude photos taken by Johansson of herself and meant for her then-husband Ryan Reynolds were leaked online.

“I have been truly humiliated and embarrassed,” Johansson said. “I find Christopher Chaney’s actions to be perverted and reprehensible.”

Prosecutors said Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., also targeted two women he knew, sending nude pictures of one former co-worker to her father. The judge noted the damage to the women was in some ways worse than what Chaney’s celebrity victims endured.

Chaney, who could have faced a maximum sentence of 60 years under the law, apologized in court but denied that he had sent naked photos of women he knew to their relatives.

“I don’t know what else to say other than I’m sorry,” Chaney said. “I could be sentenced to never use a computer again and I wouldn’t care.”

Actress and singer Renee Olstead said in court Monday that she attempted to kill herself after Chaney leaked nude photos of her. She said she had never before considered suicide.

“I just really hope this doesn’t happen to someone else,” she said, crying. “You can lose everything because of the actions of a stranger.”

Aguilera said in a statement issued days before the sentencing that although she knows that she’s often in the limelight, Chaney took from her some of the private moments she shares with friends.

“That feeling of security can never be given back and there is no compensation that can restore the feeling one has from such a large invasion of privacy,” Aguilera said.

From “The Man Who Hacked Hollywood” by David Kushner:

To his peers, Chaney has become a cautionary tale. “I personally think what he did was pretty idiotic,” Josh “TrainReq” Holly told me. “Hacking celebrities is for the kids, and 35? I mean, I personally think he was too old for that.”

34 That would be “David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: Bad Religion”.

35 From “The Police Tool That Pervs Use to Steal Nude Pics From Apple’s iCloud” by Andy Greenberg:

Use the script to hack her passwd use eppb to download the backup, wrote one anonymous user on Anon-IB explaining the process to a less-experienced hacker. Post your wins here 😉

Apple’s security nightmare began over the weekend, when hackers began leaking nude photos that included shots of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst. The security community quickly pointed fingers at the iBrute software, a tool released by security researcher Alexey Troshichev designed to take advantage of a flaw in Apple’s Find My iPhone feature to brute-force users’ iCloud passwords, cycling through thousands of guesses to crack the account.

If a hacker can obtain a user’s iCloud username and password with iBrute, he or she can log in to the victim’s account to steal photos. But if attackers instead impersonate the user’s device with Elcomsoft’s tool, the desktop application allows them to download the entire iPhone or iPad backup as a single folder, says Jonathan Zdziarski, a forensics consult and security researcher. That gives the intruders access to far more data, he says, including videos, application data, contacts, and text messages.

From “Notes on the Celebrity Data Theft” by Nik Cubrilovic:

5. In reviewing months worth of forum posts, image board posts, private emails, replies for requests for services, etc. nowhere was the FindMyPhone API brute force technique (revealed publicly and exploited in iBrute) mentioned. This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t used privately by the hackers but judging by the skill levels involved, the mentions and tutorials around other techniques and some of the bragged about success rates with social engineering, recovery, resets, rats and phishing it appears that such techniques were not necessary or never discovered.

7. a) edit To reiterate what the main bugs are that are being exploited here, roughly in order of popularity / effectiveness:

  • Password reset (secret questions / answers)
  • Phishing email
  • Password recovery (email account hacked)
  • Social engineering / RAT install / authentication keys

36 This scan is taken from by “Everything We Know About the Alleged Celeb Nude “Trading Ring” and Leak” by Gabrielle Bluestone, and can be found on postimage:


37 Several examples of “Distraction News”, Dora Sammy unaltered, are on youtube. For example: “CrashBox Episode One Distraction News Tornados”.

38 From “ – Week of July 4,2010”, fragment runs from 3:43-3:58.

39 One animation segment by The Daily Capper devoted to this: “Viper’s Road to Verica”.

40 From “The Daily Capper – Week of September 5,2010”, fragment runs from 2:24-2:42.

41 The use of fake profiles and other people’s pictures by m0d is mentioned in his intro as nominee for The Daily Capper‘s 2010 “Blackmailer of the Year” award, in “2010 Capper Awards Results”, from 13:25 to 14:01.

42 From “2010 Capper Awards Results”, nominations and win for “Capper of the Year 2010” take place between 18:18 and 19:28.

43 Covered in “2010 Capper Awards Results”, when Coke and “Kristen”, the girlfriend are nominated for “Couple of the Year”, with Swan and Kristen nominated as well. Fragment runs between 8:11 and 8:38.

44 The importance of Klanhackle is mentioned in “The Daily Capper – Week of July 25,2010”, which mentions that his birthday is July 29 and list his influence on capping; fragment runs from 2:00 to 2:10. The notable achievements of Klanackle, screen shot and text:

Klanackle's impact on capping

1. Promoted tinychat when no one knew what it was in May 2009
2. Started the first tinych roon for capping which began the rise of tinychat and the start of new groups
3. Introduced Coke to tinychat
4. Began the first 6nychat room for blogtv in July 2009 and introduced the concept everyone uses today
5. Came up with a strategy to get mayathepervkiller banned from blogtv
6. Created the White Room Legion and gave everyone the ideas they use today such as perso and nitefeed and bruce lee
7. Revolutionized heroing and forced others to work to get win

45 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 11:44 to 11:58.

46 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 18:49 to 19:18.

47 From “‘Why Kids Sext’ Describes Nude Photos As ‘Social Currency’ Among Teens” (October 15, 2014), excerpt is taken from 27:16 to 28:09.

48 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 12:24 to 12:35.

49 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 13:46 to 14:10.

50 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 14:29 to 15:17.

51 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 28:25 to 29:04.

52 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, from 29:17 to 29:19.

53 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, from 32:52 to 33:15.

54 Canada is divided into provinces, rather than states like the U.S., and the westernmost province is British Columbia (B.C.), which shares a border with Washington state. Vancouver is its largest city. Both Amanda Todd and Kody Maxson lived there.

55 From “Alleged Amanda Todd cyberstalker has a warrant out for his arrest” by Cooper Fleishman:

Two days after what would have been Amanda Todd’s 16th birthday, Kody Maxson the man who Anonymous claims is behind the harassment and sexual exploitation that led her to take her own life skipped out on two Surrey Provincial Court hearings in British Columbia.

Now there’s a warrant issued for the 19-year-old, who was due to appear in court twice Thursday for charges of theft under $5,000, sexual assault, and sexual interference (touching with “sexual purpose“) of a person under the age of 16.

The charges are unrelated to Amanda Todd’s death. In fact, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, investigating Todd’s suicide, had deemed Maxson a “person of no interest.” But Maxson as I detail here and Kevin Morris discusses here happened to be deeply involved in an online ring of pedophiles who were notorious for stalking, recording, extorting, blackmailing, and harassing teenage and preteenage girls.

56 From “2010 Capper Awards Results”, the “Couple of the Year” nominations run from to 7:43 to 9:54.

57 Another Canadian province, this one located in the center of the country.

58 From The Fifth Estate program, “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”, 23:37 to 23:51.

59 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 0:33 to 1:45.

60 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 1:56 to 2:41.

61 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 3:17 to 3:30.

62 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 13:10 to 14:42.

63 From “Amanda Todd’s Bully Kody Maxson FULL UNCUT INTERVIEW”, this interview fragment runs from 20:02 to 20:50.

64 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, fragment runs from 1:24 to 5:34.

65 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, first fragment runs from 6:28 to 7:22, second fragment runs from 7:42 to 10:04.

66 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, fragment runs from 10:52 to 13:58.

67 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, fragment runs from 17:11 to 19:44.

68 From “Amanda Todd: Interview with Kody Maxson’s Ex Gf 1 Year Later”, fragment runs from 28:55 to 33:17.

69 From “Amanda Todd’s alleged tormentor may have had more Canadian victims: report”, credited to Globe and Mail staff.

70 From “Maryland man sentenced in Brownsburg online ‘sextortion’ case” by NBC affiliate WTHR:

INDIANAPOLIS – A Maryland man was sentenced to 33 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of production of child pornography. Trevor J. Shea, 21, also faces lifetime supervised release after his time is served. One of his victims was a teenage girl from Brownsburg.

US attorney Joseph Hogsett announced the plea and sentencing Friday. Hogsett called it a landmark case.

Shea admitted to blackmailing ten teenage girls to produce “images and videos of themselves engaging in sadistic and masochistic abuse and other sexually explicit conduct.”

71 The material from this paragraph is all taken from “Alabama predator sentenced to 18 years for Facebook extortion attempts: How he got access” by Patrick Hickerson.

72 Lyrics taken from AZLyrics, “12 Stone Lyrics – “We Are One””.

73 From “‘Why Kids Sext’ Describes Nude Photos As ‘Social Currency’ Among Teens” (October 15, 2014), first excerpt is taken from 8:57 to 9:22, second excerpt is from 7:23-7:37.

74 From “Teen ‘sextortion’ victim regrets not seeking immediate help” by Emily Longnecker.

75 A brief history of The White Room Legion can be found in “The Daily Capper – Week of September 5,2010”, from 3:03 to 4:09.

76 From “2010 Capper Awards Results”, “Attention Whore of the Year” segment runs from 5:26 to 7:27.

77 From the entry “Jessi Slaughter” at KnowYourMeme.

78 From “Jessi Slaughter (kerligirl13) on Good Morning America”, fragment runs from 1:35 to 1:40.

79 From “The Real-Life Tumult Of An Online Meme” by The Smoking Gun, the pizza is “Jessi Slaughter Docs (page 4)” and the school bomb threat is “Jessi Slaughter Docs (page 6)”.

80 From “The Real-Life Tumult Of An Online Meme” by The Smoking Gun, “Jessi Slaughter Docs (page 5)”

81 Lyrics taken from, “You Done Goofed”.

82 From “The Real-Life Tumult Of An Online Meme” by The Smoking Gun, “Jessi Slaughter Docs (page 7)”

83 From “Gene Leonhardt (“You Dun Goofed” dad) dead at 53″ by :”Gene Leonhardt, who became an instant internet legend after angrily defending his daughter from online critics, died this week of a heart attack. He was 53.”

84 From “Jessi Slaughter Interview”, first excerpt runs from 0:00-2:33, second runs from 2:50-3:49, third runs from 5:17-7:52, fourth is 8:07-12:13.

85 Transcript is taken from “Sexual Assault – Red Flags, Advice & My Experience”, first excerpt is from beginning of video to 0:49, and second excerpt is from 1:22 to 2:26.

86 Beyond the definitive account of this episode “Identity Crisis” by David Kushner, other helpful pieces include “Convicted Hacker Charged With Extortion After Attack On Model’s MySpace Account” and “Hacker Sentenced to 2 Years for MySpace Cyberstalking”, both by Kevin Poulsen.

87 From “ – Week of September 12,2010”, this fragment runs from 3:55 to 4:19.

88 Figure for “J-Law, Kate Upton Nudes Leak: Web Explodes Over Hacked Celeb Pics” was taken approximately around February 12, 2015, and given that majority of their clicks came in the immediate aftermath of the leak, this should hold steady.

89 A screenshot, in case the thread disappears:

Reddit John Manese CasualIAMA Excerpt Pt1

90 A screenshot, in case the thread disappears:

Reddit John Manese CasualIAMA Excerpt Pt2

91 For example, “All My Exes Live in Texts: Why the Social Media Generation Never Really Breaks Up” and “Sexting’s Strange Paradox: It’s Just No Fun”.

92 Why Chen refers to this incident in the most general terms, “how Anonymous had harassed an 11-year-old girl into police protection”, rather than to “Jessi Slaughter” or Jessica Leonhardt, since her name was out and in public in such places as an interview segment on “Good Morning, America”, I have no idea either.

93 From We Are Anonymous by Parmy Olsen:

Sabu’s real name was Hector Xavier Monsegur. He lived in a low-income housing project on New York’s Lower East Side, and with help from government welfare, he supported his five brothers, a sister, two female cousins for whom he was legal guardian, and a white pit bull named China. Monsegur would refer to the two girls, who were seven and twelve, respectively, in 2012, as his daughters. He was of Puerto Rican descent and a stickler for left-wing activism. As a child, he listened to tales of the El Grito de Lares revolt and told his family that one day, he would launch his own revolution.

Born in New York City in 1983, Monsegur grew up in relative poverty. His father, also named Hector, and his aunt Iris sold heroin on the streets. When Monsegur was fourteen, they were both arrested for drug dealing and sentenced to seven years in prison. Monsegur went to live with his grandmother Irma in a sixth-floor apartment in the Jacob Riis housing project on New York’s Lower East Side.

Online, he could live out his ambitions and avoid the disrespect he felt from figures of authority. By now he was learning how to break into the web servers of big organizations, from Japanese universities to third-world governments. Monsegur liked the buzz of subjugating a computer system, and soon he was veering from protecting them on his internships, to breaking into them in his spare time.

He had meanwhile discovered hacktivism. When he was sixteen and watching TV one day, Monsegur saw a news broadcast about protests in Vieques, an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Navy had been using the surrounding waters as a test-bombing range, and a year earlier, in 1999, a stray bomb had killed a local civilian guard. The guard’s funeral received global press attention and sparked a wave of protests against the bombings. In the TV broadcasts, soldiers pushed against protesters, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, a community leader in New York that Monsegur had become aware of through his growing interest in left-wing activism. Something snapped inside him.

He went to his computer and drew up a network map of the entire IP space for Puerto Rico, and he found that a company called EduPro was running the government sites. He hacked into the servers, discovered the root password, and got administrative access. In the heat of the moment, he also typed up an angry missive in Microsoft Word, ignoring his own typos: Give us the Respect that we deserve, he wrote. Or shall we take it by force? Cabron. He brought down the Puerto Rican government’s websites and replaced them all with his message, which stayed up for several days. Smiling at his work, Monsegur considered this his first act of hacktivism. When the U.S. military gave control of the Vieques base back to the locals two weeks later, he felt it was partly thanks to him.

94 From “Jeremy Hammond: Rise and Fall of the Legendary Hacker” by Janet Reitman, an excerpt that gives some sense of Hammond’s political background:

Even before the arrest broadcast his name worldwide, Hammond was well-known in extreme-left circles. An early champion of “cyber-liberation,” he had been described by Chicago magazine at the age of 22 as an “electronic Robin Hood” after he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for hacking a conservative website and making off with 5,000 credit-card numbers, intending to charge donations to progressive causes. But unique within the hacking subculture, Hammond was also a real-life revolutionary: a “modern-day Abbie Hoffman,” in the words of his friend Matt Muchowski. He possessed a shrewd intelligence as well as a certain impulsivity a fellow hacker referred to it as “urgency” that had led to a long string of civil-disobedience arrests dating back 10 years, for offenses ranging from defacing a wall with anti-war slogans to banging a drum during a “noise demo” at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. (He later called his brief stint in the Tombs his “best prison experience.”) Hammond was even busted once, in 2005, for trying to join a protest, against a group of white supremacists in Toledo, Ohio. “They hadn’t even gotten out of the car when they were arrested,” says Muchowski, a Chicago union organizer who bailed Hammond out.

95 For example, “Robert McCain Fine With Teen Pregnancy Among Religious, But Not Minorities” (September 17, 2009), “A Wild McCain Appears!” (October 7, 2009), “Stacy McCain Demands Retraction Over ‘White Supremacist’ Charge, Predicts Doom for Smartass” (October 8, 2009), “Robert Stacy McCain, White Supremacist Weirdo” (October 13, 2009), “My Offer to White Supremacist R.S. McCain Re: My Upcoming Book” (December 20, 2009), “Stacy McCain Finally Acknowledges, Declines My Offer to Debate” (December 21, 2009), “Seven Questions for Donald Douglas on the Question of R.S. McCain’s Racism” (January 8 2010), “Robert Stacy McCain and the Fall of the Conservative Movement” (March 18, 2010), “Palin biographer accuses me of planning anti-government violence
(December 3, 2010), “R.S. McCain accuses me of being a violent militant” (December 3, 2010), “My Final Response to Robert Stacy McCain Regarding His Racism updated” (May 25, 2011), all by Barrett Brown.

96 From “Gawker Answer”, on Digital Media Law Project, specific page 4.

97 From “Celebrities Threaten Google With $100 Million Lawsuit for “Facilitating” Hacked Nude Photos” by Eriq Gardner: “Marty Singer, representing over a dozen celebrities whose iCloud accounts were hacked and whose nude photos were stolen in late August, is excoriating Google in a letter that threatens a $100 million lawsuit.” From “Scarlett Johansson — Legal THREATS Over Nude Pics” by TMZ staff:

Scarlett Johansson’s lawyer is on the attack — warning a bunch of websites that Scarlett owns the copyright to her HACKED nude pics and anyone who doesn’t take ’em down will FACE HIS WRATH!!!!

TMZ has learned … Scarlett’s attorney — legal pit bull Marty Singer — has fired off threatening letters to various sites including [Nick Ritchie’s site]… demanding that the sites remove the “stolen copyright protected private photographs” immediately … or face legal action.

Singer claims, “The highly personal and private photographs at issue capture our client self-posing in her own home in a state of undress and/or topless.”

98 From “Gawker Motion”, on Digital Media Law Project, specific page 3.

99 From “Rebecca Gayheart, “McSteamy” Eric Dane, Get Gawker Settlement Over Threesome Video” by Edecio Martinez:

NEW YORK (CBS) The legal battle between Gawker and actors Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart has been settled after the website agreed to take down the couple’s homemade sex tape in return for them not suing the bejeezuz out of the gossip blog.

The Grey’s Anatomy star and his wife had sued Gawker in September for copyright infringement, after their threesome web video leaked to the internet, showing Dane, Gayheart and former beauty queen Kari Ann Peniche romping around naked and at times barely coherent.

The lawsuit claimed that Gawker “maliciously” distributed an uncensored version of the sex tape and refused to comply with a cease and desist order.

According to Reuters, Gawker and the couple agreed to private mediation, which facilitated a settlement that was filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court last week. Sources close to the case valued the settlement in the low-six figures.

100 Koblin, the author of the profile, would end up working at Gawker media: “Young, veteran media reporter John Koblin ditches all that to write about sports for Denton’s Deadspin” by Joe Pompeo.

101 One piece on her resignation: “The Most Important Person at Gawker Media Not Named Nick Denton Is Leaving” by Peter Kafka:

Gaby Darbyshire, Gawker Media’s longtime chief operating officer, is leaving the company.

Or maybe she has already left. Ask different people at Nick Denton’s blog network about Darbyshire’s departure date and you’ll get different results. Some think she left last summer; others say last fall, and others insist that she’s still doing a few last things for Denton.

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The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings: Gawking at the Wreckage

(The following is a return to writing after a long hiatus. One earlier attempt at a return would have involved a long post about #TheFappening and a forgotten novel. That project was eventually left by the wayside because it dealt with the on-going, seemingly unending circle of poison on the internet, and the post itself felt like one more continuation of that circle. Though that post may or may not ever be written, some of its elements will eventually be brought into this one, where poisoned arrows are let fly with recklessness and abandon.)

(A NSFW warning: this post contains several passages from The Last Magazine that are very sexually explicit.)

“The ice monarch had installed his agents in my heart.”

Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer

The last time I wrote about Michael Hastings, it was to say that I thought an article of his was a fucking disgrace. It was not idle clickbait malice, or malice carried over from something else, but from a passionate feeling aroused over bad work1. I don’t regret that expression, because I thought it was entirely honest, without extra venom for the pleasure of poison – such sadism would have been pointless anyway, as he was already several months dead. Hastings was an excellent reporter, a passionate, committed reporter, an ideal expressed throughout his work; his best known piece, “The Runaway General”, a profile of Stanley McChrystal which resulted in the general’s firing, did not come up about through luck or happenstance, but was an expression of skills honed for years. The flaws I saw in his last pieces were not the result of bad habits, but the collapse of his best ones, with his relapse in sobriety reflected in the thing he put his life into, which was journalism2.

The Last Magazine was his last book, and it was very much unfinished, but it haunts me and stays in my memory months after I read it – and this is not, I think, because of the virtue of the unfinished which allows the reader to project whatever they wish on the spaces in-between. The overemphasised aspect of the novel is that it was a gossipy romp, a barely veiled look at Hastings’ workplaces, Newsweek and Gawker, and the main pleasure is to play peekaboo at the names behind the pseudonyms. “There was interest in The Last Magazine,” sniffed Paul Constant, “the novel about magazine culture written by…Michael Hastings, until the first people to get their hands on the book realized it didn’t have much to offer besides thinly veiled media gossip.”3 The book’s dark heart did not so much elude reviewers, as pass willfully unseen.

The book moves back and forth between two narratives, a “Michael Hastings”, a rookie journalist working at an unnamed magazine that’s the old Newsweek (given here the brown bag pseudonym of The Magazine), and A.E. Peoria, both an excellent war correspondent and a drug-taking, scatterbrained babblemouth. As said, most of the book’s reviews dwelt on the who’s who aspect. Newsweek editor #1, Sanders Berman, “a 37-year-old trapped in a 67-year-old’s body” is, as everyone knows, Jon Meacham, and Newsweek editor #2, Nishant Patel, the man with “chocolate emeralds that a profile writer for The New York Herald said were like an Indian Cary Grant”, is Fareed Zakaria4. Hastings had already expressed his disdain wtih Meacham in a blog post, “Newsweek: Should Jon Meacham get the blame?”, where he quotes Lee Siegel’s “News-bleak! Or Is It? Grahams Succumb to Panic”, “Mr. Meacham’s deft maneuverings reaped him recognition and acclaim while his magazine tumbled toward irrelevancy,” and more directly in an interview with Cenk Uygur: “Meacham sucks,” he says, making an emphatic thumbs down gesture, “he’s on my enemies list. One of the people I wanted to go on a rant on.”5 The laughter at these men in 2014 was relatively safe; Meacham’s failure at Newsweek was so complete that he would retreat to book publishing, and Zakaria’s profile had already been diminished by one plagiarism scandal, though a second one was still to hit after the Magazine was published6.

Gawker‘s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” [archive link] by J. K. Trotter gives a good overview of the others, with one major misidentification and one glaring omission, an omitted ID that, given the source, you might find surprising or not surprising at all. They do, however, mention that Timothy Grove is very obviously Nick Denton, the owner of the Gawker network, and that the Wretched of the book, whose guiding policy is that “we live in a society of assholes. The media is a reflection of these assholes. We’ll show you what the inside of the asshole’s asshole looks like,” was Gawker‘s as well (though Trotter’s overview doesn’t use this quote) – then, however, there was enough of an old school publishing industry for Gawker to feed exclusively on that, and their content was shorter Page Six type items, without the interruptions of insufferably smug high mindedness that afflict it now. This, however, is letting this essay get a little ahead of itself, and letting certain feelings rise to the top already. I don’t think Gawker read the book that closely or carefully, and they leave out Tabby Doling, who is very clearly Lally Weymouth7, as well as the very gossip worthy Delray M. Milius, right hand man of Berman (Meacham) and of whom I have a few guesses, but over which I don’t feel like a libel suit8. James Rosen’s review in the Post, “‘The Last Magazine,’ by Michael Hastings”, however, does ID Doling, and makes the crucial point that A. E. Peoria isn’t just a lightly fudged verion of reporter Adam Piore, as described in Piore’s insightful account, “I Am A.E. Peoria”, but a depiction of Hastings himself: “both of these characters reflect Hastings at different points in his career, and…the author — if this novel is really as semi-autobiographical as it seems — was forever struggling to reconcile the disparate facets of his personality.”

Whatever Hastings’ intent with this name, when I see “A. E. Peoria”, I think of the proverbial ordinary American small town (as in “Will it play in…”) and, because of my own idiosyncrasies, the initials read as After Earth, just like the movie, Titan A. E., about a rocket that’s escaped earth’s destruction. A.E. Peoria is an ordinary man whose center has been annihilated, who spins out in a self-destructive circle as a war reporter. The relation of these two characters, I think, are a more complicated tension than Hastings as a Newsweek intern, and Hastings after going to Iraq and Afghanistan, but selves in Hastings that were always at tension. “I have a disorder,” says Peoria, “Compulsive disclosure disorder. I have no filter, my shrink says. I don’t know boundaries, I’m always revealing very personal and intimate details about my life,” he tells Hastings, and this seems nothing like the writer of The Operators whose work keeps a tight focus on the subject details, and though he lets a voice of exasperation or anger into his work, it’s often difficult to find life details there, or even in the usual sink of self-obsessiveness, your blog; The Hastings Report keeps its eyes on the grindings of political and foreign affairs. But this was Hastings as well, an earlier, more confessional version, as described in possibly the best account of the man, “Reckless and Inspired: An Interview With Jonathan Hastings About His Brother, the Journalist Michael Hastings” (equal to or superior to the best profile, “Who Killed Michael Hastings?” by Benjamin Wallace), from the blog Uncouth Reflections by “Paleo Retiree”. Jonathan Hastings: “I’m not sure what kind of writing he did when he was in that first year of college, but when he was living in Vermont again, he was writing all the time in journals…He actually ended up writing a memoir about this whole period. I’ve never read it and he couldn’t get it published.” Hastings was an excellent listener, allowing his subjects to talk, sometimes to indict themselves, yet this was through a deliberate act of restraint. “What I learned,” he told NYC radio host Leonard Lopate in 2012, “was that if you just sit and listen, and let them talk…I mean, I’m a big talker. Don’t get me wrong. Ask my wife. I’m a big talker. So the fact that I’ve been able to sortof train myself to sit back and listen, I think…that’s the most important thing a journalist can do.”9

Peoria snorts coke on the plane back home from an assignment in Chad. On vacation in Thailand, he takes hallucinogens laced with amphetamines. When Michael Hastings and Peoria go to a bar, Peoria orders two tequila shots while Hastings has a club soda. Perhaps because he was a prominent reporter for Rolling Stone, Hastings was tagged with being a journalist in the manner of Hunter S. Thompson, a wild, crazy, rambling addict. Nothing embodies this wrongheaded notion more than the obituary by John Dolan10, “Michael Hastings, Dead of Gonzo”: “Hastings never bought into that consensus, as his choice of car demonstrates. He died at the wheel of a C-Class Merc with 200 HP. The point of a car like that is to drive into palm trees at 4:30 a.m.” According to this epitaph, Hastings’ success had something to do with the fact that he wasn’t a homeowner who thought about mortgages (he owned a place in Vermont) with his domestic partner (he was married) and their golden retriever (he owned a Corgi). He was out in his Merc the night he died too young, and this crazy spirit supposedly informed his entire life and journalism. Where Thompson went for a crazed, hyperactive, hallucinatory style, Hastings’ writing always stayed calm, cold, and on the matter at hand. I don’t think McChrystal could have been dismissed over something which was covered in Thompson’s nightmare exhuberance, because the very style would place the account in doubt. The precision and the seriousness of Hastings’ piece is what made it so damning; this isn’t the reporter ginning anything up to get a better or more exciting story, this is what actually happened. In The Last Magazine, the character of “Michael Hastings” offers a withering critique of A.E. Peoria on TV, and we see exactly what Hastings wished to avoid so that his reporting would be taken seriously. What he describes is something like Thompson in his public appearances: “I know they will take one look at Peoria and think: This guy is fucked-up, this guy doesn’t know what he’s saying, he’s not making any sense at all.”

Kafka’s “Hunger Artist” is about a man whose starvation would become a spectacle, and Thompson’s college tours became something like “The Opiate Artist”, his voracious drug taking the overriding object of attention. It’s difficult to conceive of Hastings being this kind of showman; when he appeared on TV or on podcasts, he avoided glib pronouncements, easy nostrums, or simple provocations, but gave detailed analyses of what was taking place in Afghanistan or Iraq. To give an account of what actually took place, not to distort it into something more exciting, entertaining, or attention getting was crucial to the man, as we hear in this moment from the 2010 Polk Awards (where his “Runaway General” was one of the winners) between the moderator John Darnton and Hastings11:

I don’t mean for this to be a contentious question, but do you think, obviously your piece has created some controversy among your colleagues. Do you think it is, uh, fair…to hang out with someone over a long period of time, or even a short period of time…and kindof go drinking with them, listen to them…

I didn’t drink with them.


I don’t drink, actually.

Go to a bar with them in which they’re getting hammered.

Have you read Rolling Stone?

Yup. No, hang out with someone, and hear their off the cuff comments-

They weren’t off the cuff comments.

I’m not saying they were-

I’m going to contest every inaccurate thing you say, so…let’s just…

Jokes. And I’m not saying they’re irrelevant jokes. But just comments. Things people say.


Banter among them.

I- I-

Let me finish. Do you think it’s fair to-

I’ve heard this before, that’s why I know where you were going.

…into a larger portrait.

Sure. I think the key in this sense was that these weren’t just offhand comments, [they were] comments that got directly at the idea of civil-military relations. And the civil military relationship is the key component to our counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, so when you have the top general of the war, showing such disdain, and his staff – and the general is responsible for the command – when you have the top general of the war, and his staff, consistently making comments that were derogatory about the civilian leadership, whether they were justified or not to make those comments, that to me was clearly an important story to tell.

Peoria is Hastings’ difficult past and his sad future. Jonathan Hastings would give an account that was neither picturesque or romantic of his brother’s early difficulties with drug use, before he recovered and shifted his intense focus to reporting. Again, from “Reckless and Inspired”:

There was some relief from my parents when he went off to college. But that environment turned out to be really bad for him. He started using all sorts of drugs and it triggered a kind of manic episode. When he went home for summer after his first year of college, he wasn’t in good shape and ended up crashing a car, getting arrested, and going to detox/rehab. Though later he told it as a kind of gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson-style adventure, it was a really traumatic experience for him and my family. But he was always looking for risks: even after he sobered up and got his life on track and had his career underway he still wanted to push the envelope, such as having himself assigned to Newsweek’s Iraq bureau.

Paleo Retiree asks a little later: “What did being a foreign correspondent and a war reporter mean to Mike?” Jonathan Hastings: “He was a self-proclaimed war junkie.” It is always dangerous to analyze the dead, because we are allowed the arrogance of a multitude of hypotheses without the dead being able to shout out an argument against them; but I don’t think it’s an astonishing or difficult leap to say that after going into detox, Michael Hastings found an adrenaline surge in war and war reporting that he could not find in ordinary life, could not find in drugs, though he also knew that war was incredibly dangerous, that it could obviously destroy you physically, that it could destroy you inside as well, and that however much you wanted this surge, however much you couldn’t live without it, you had to turn away from it; but when he returned to civilian life, he still craved this energy, and he eventually went back to the old substitute of drugs.

Though he rarely let personal details come through in The Operators, he makes brief mention of his addiction, the craving for the strange energy of a war zone, on the way to an interview in a very dangerous part of Afghanistan:

I had reservations about going. I knew my security advisors wouldn’t be happy that within one day I was already ignoring their advice. I knew that the risks weren’t worth the payoff. But I felt the pressure to get a good story and I’d traveled down to this shithole of a city. I wasn’t just going to stay in my hotel, self-aware enough to know I was behaving in the classic war junkie fashion.

And so I found myself driving along a road from Kandahar to Herat in a white Toyota Corolla, thinking, You never put yourself in these situations, but you always seem to find yourself in them. Thinking of it as something out of my control decreased the blame—and there is plenty of blame if things go wrong, and it’s all blame on me. I know it’s a risk, I know it’s a rush, I know it’s not a healthy lifestyle. I know it’s an addiction; I know it’s the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

In the middle of the book, we have Hastings explicitly merging these addictions. He is in Dubai, on the way to the war in Afghanistan, and he gets drunk for the first time in a decade. He goes over a twentieth century history of war correspondents, until he hits the nineties:

In the nineties, the conflicts were bloody and didn’t usually involve American boys. A new phrase was popularized in the lexicon of journalism: the war junkie. It was rare to find a reporter to admit to being one, at least in public. There was more honor in self-identifying as an alcoholic. It was not appropriate to speak of the perverse fun of war. It must be buried under other motives. The war correspondent had to wrap himself in the language of human rights. He must bear witness, performing some kind of pseudo-religious rite. He was forced, in public, to talk about war as damning, ignoble, awful, tragic. Yet he kept going back for more. The irony had slowly crept in. A British journalist’s account of his time in the Balkans twins his heroin addiction with his compulsion to cover the conflict. He kicked the heroin. The book became an instant classic. I saw him in Baghdad a few years later. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hedges summed it all up: “The rush of battle is one of the most potent and lethal addictions, for war is a drug, one I have ingested many times.”

A little later, he writes: “I’d learned from all the literature that I had read that war always ended in violence, pain, self-destruction, madness, and tragedy. I confirmed this well-proven thesis for myself.” And: “Here’s what else I learned: The correspondent’s identity becomes inseparable from war.” In his memoir I Lost My Love in Baghdad, when his plane takes off out of Iraq, Hastings writes of the two as similar and intermixed:

The flight starts to take off. There is a draft coming from somewhere. The 737 is shaking more than it should. The wheels lift off the ground. I don’t hear any loud noises. The music in my headphones plays. I smile. I smile in a way I haven’t since the days before I got sober seven years ago. The addict in me is alive again and oh what a feeling. I survived. I made it. I didn’t fuck up. Bliss.

I know now what they are talking about when they say “war junkies,” now I understand exactly what they mean. I’ve felt it before. I know the pull, the intoxication, the life-affirming chemicals released after seeing the abyss and coming back from it. When I was a teenager I used to snort cocaine and smoke crack and party all night and booze for months because I wanted to know what it was like to hit those highs and to feel those highs when they all came crashing down.

He also quotes from a letter to his fiancé about his drug addiction as an attempt at self-destruction:

It’s not easy, this love thing, and we both have dark corners in our hearts. Yours is dark in the places where you have been betrayed and abused; mine is cloudy and bruised near the left ventricle; self-destruction does haunt me, an old and nasty friend, a habit, because there was a long time in my life where I thought the only thing to do with my self was to destroy it.

That war became an integral part of his existence, where your life becomes an admixture that barely contains this element, and that the last part of his life was an attempt to return to this strange energy, is too often avoided for the preferable wilds of conspiracy theory. “Some of the pieces of this puzzle are just so bizarre, they almost cannot be explained any other way than that there was some kind of foul play involved. A brand new Mercedes C250 does not simply explode into flames at the drop of a hat very easily,” says one amateur analyst on Hastings’ accident12. You could follow that mazing trail, or you could take the path Hastings already laid out in an essay explaining his own fascination with war, as well as what might finally have overwhelmed him. The Hurt Locker, and What it Means to be Addicted to War”, uses the movie as a foundation on which to discuss the longing of the war correspondent as a physical addiction. War, says Hastings, has nothing to do with heroism, valor, or the nobility of sacrifice. “It destroys what we love, people, children, sons and daughters, things, culture, buildings, possessions, morality, emotions, and our own sense of who we are as human beings. There is not much new for me to learn about war,” he writes. “And yet, I’ve kept going back.” And: “Am [I] doing this for the right reasons? Are there right reasons? Or have I, like Sgt. James in The Hurt Locker, fallen prey to an addiction? Am I about to take another potentially lethal dose?”

Jessica Coen, the former editor-in-chief of Gawker and later editor-in-chief of Jezebel, was friendly with Hastings and she would write the following after the publication of The Last Magazine13:

Eventually Newsweek sent [Michael] to Iraq, and after that he was different. He said there was a lot of stuff that I just couldn’t understand. He wasn’t crazy or anything, but he also kept a gun under his bed (futon, actually, in a shitty Allen Street walkup down the street from my shitty Orchard Street walkup). I also remember him saying that he was incapable of relaxing, not even in NYC, after that experience. He was also 100% certain he would go back. It was what he wanted to do. Very Hurt Locker-esque, like one of those people who just couldn’t return to regular life.

I think Hastings gives us some hint as to why he couldn’t sleep without a gun by his bed from the nightmares he began to have in Iraq, what he calls “insurgent dreams”, and which he relates in his memoir, I Lost My Love in Baghdad. They’re dreams which almost everyone in Iraq ends up having, which he never have before, and which he first hears about from one of his translators:

I should have asked him about his dreams, but it is only in the following year, long after our conversation, that I’ll come to really understand what he meant by insurgent dreams. One night, I’ll even dream of him and another translator, Ahmer, stuck on the side of a cliff in the middle of a blizzard. We were all at my old home in upstate New York sitting on snowmobiles, and then I send them out on a story without the proper clothing and with radios that are running low on batteries. The storm gets worse and the temperature drops quickly, and they freeze to death on the ledge of a mountain.

There are other dreams: My mother is in Baghdad, but this time Baghdad looks like a college town, and she’s dropping me off to work at a twenty-four-hour convenience store. As we commute, I lie down in the backseat of the car (a ’92 Buick Park Avenue, the car I crashed drunk when I was nineteen). In another dream, Baghdad appears as a campus on a hill. A group of us—reporters, I think—take a walk to some kind of cultural center. There are a series of checkpoints, but the grass is green and there are maple trees so we aren’t worried. The insurgents don’t show themselves in such nice weather and ideal surroundings. In another, I am in a car with Scott and it looks like the real Baghdad now. “Why are we going this way?” he asks. “We should turn back.” And then I am driving a bus on a dirt road. A veteran correspondent, Rod Nordland, tells me to drive faster, there is a pickup truck following us. Head to the lake and the beach. I think the only safety is the lake. I jump in and start to swim. Insurgents can’t swim, can they? Yes, they can, and one comes after me, splashing me as he gets closer and then he kills me. I wake up in my bedroom in Baghdad and stare at the clicking ceiling fan. Something profound has changed in my thinking. Never before had I died in a dream. I usually woke up first.

If we wish to think of the death of Michael Hastings as a puzzle, something with clean edges that could be solved, for me the end of “What it Means to be Addicted to War” lands down with a solid click that fills the curved space, but which gives no satisfaction at all, only a heartbreaking “Yes. That’s it.”:

Normal life can’t compete with the potent drug of war.

I don’t disagree. Normal life doesn’t stand a chance against war, in the same way that shooting up or swallowing a pill of ecstasy trumps reality every time. But I do take issue with how The Hurt Locker ends — not because I didn’t like the movie, or that it wasn’t enjoyable. It just doesn’t go far enough. In fact, I don’t think it was enough like Kathryn Bigelow’s earlier classic on adrenaline junkies, Point Break, a film about a gang of bank robbing surfers. That might sound ridiculous, but the movies’ themes are identical.

In the finale, the late Patrick Swazye (playing Bodhi, Point Break‘s version of Sgt. James) is found on an Australian beach, chasing the ultimate storm, the big wave. Bohdi gets swept away by this overwhelming, violent, thrilling, force of nature. Keanu Reeves, playing the troubled cop hero, speaks the film’s last memorable line: “He’s not coming back.” That’s what happens when you embrace dark and wild forces beyond control. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, doesn’t take war addiction to its logical, unambiguous, conclusion. That is, death.

Addictions destroy, junkies usually die, and the war always wins.

The Last Magazine is very much about this addiction to war, about never wanting to leave it and always wanting to return, though it does so at a slant. The actual cruel details of war are actually very uncomfortable to talk about, and war here becomes something else whose actual details often cause a great deal of conversational discomfort, and that’s sex. If you don’t see this twinning, the focus and explicit detail of the sex scenes in the book will produce bafflement. “In places there are unusually detailed sex scenes that are just plain bizarre,” writes Adam Piore. “Occasional cringe-inducing passages on the pornographic tastes of the principal characters notwithstanding, this book has points of interest at every turn,” writes Tom Gallagher in “Michael Hastings Skewers Them From the Grave (with a Scoop of Gawker)”. Or they might be viewed as simple joking around, “Multiple prostitutes are called into the scrum; sexual organs end up in bandages,” writes Dwight Garner in his Times review, “War’s Hell, Especially for Editors”. “Do not, unless you are mischievous, recommend this novel to your aunt’s book group.” In the next sentence, however, Garner mentions a book episode where Hastings tips his hand as to his intent: “One memorable and weirdly incisive chapter is made up entirely of the narrator’s flipping back and forth between cable porn and the start of the Iraq war on television.” The Michael Hastings of the book watches on, a voyeur to war and sex, while Peoria engages in the acts that Hastings only gazes on.

The bar for my porn watching keeps going higher. Rewind again. The man shooting his jizz in the faces of Ying and Yang doesn’t do it tonight. The gaping holes don’t do it. Fast-forward. Maybe the next scene with Gauge will. Gauge is dressed to look like a fourteen-year-old girl. She’s earns her living the hard way—it’s not fair to say just on her back, but with all different parts of her body flattened against floors, walls, designer chairs, soiled mattresses, leather couches, bent and acrobatic, ass pointed to the air, the weight of her body on her neck, knees somehow stretched backward behind her ears. I read on the Internet that she does five scenes a week in a good week.

I am waiting for what is making me come lately.

Ass to mouth—shorthand: ATM.

I watch the man, whose hair could have been styled in 1991 and never been changed, take his penis from her ass and then grab her by the waist to twist her face toward his cock. I wait for the moment when he puts his cock in her mouth, the moment of entry.

It doesn’t happen. There’s a jump cut.

I’m pissed. That is no good at all. I need to see the full-body motion, I need to see the uninterrupted movement from ass to mouth because I am savvy enough, my penis is savvy enough, to know that if there is a jump cut, then things could have been done, organs cleaned, wiped off, made more sanitary; my brain is trained to sense these kinds of illusions, to sense when it’s not real enough—when it’s too clean.

The intersection of sex and war:

Fast-forward. Gauge is kneeling and spitting and the man’s hand is on his penis, a point-of-view shot, and he ejaculates in her face. I shoot too.



I hit the Last button and jump back to a CNN correspondent with the 1st Armored Division.

The correspondent has positioned himself on a road to somewhere, and the trucks are rolling by him.

I reflect. I know I am being somewhat self-conscious. I know I am somehow, in some inexplicable way, being ironic. But I am not being ironic. This is just what life is for me. What else am I going to do when sitting in front of a TV alone? Jerk off. And if my country is going to war, I’m going to watch my country go to war.

This moment is taken entirely from Hastings’ own life, as can be read in his memoir, I Lost My Love in Baghdad:

That August, I listened to Vice President Cheney say we were going after Saddam. I remember my initial response was, what a crazy idea. What a crazy, crazy idea, flying thousands of miles with an invading army to topple a government. But as the debate began, I started to think, well, democracy, freedom, 9-11, WMDs, maybe it’s not such a bad idea. Being a contrarian, I argued with my antiwar colleagues, taking on the neoconservative talking points just to see how they felt, even though the talk of mobile weapons labs all seemed like complete bullshit to me, like whoever drew up the diagrams of mobile weapons labs had watched too much G.I. Joe as a child and could only imagine some kind of fantastic weapon that C.O.B.R.A (the evil terrorist organization fighting to rule the world, as the theme song pointed out) used to attack the real American heroes. On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell posed on 1st Avenue in New York City with a vial of fake anthrax. On March 20, 2003, the war started. For the next forty-eight hours, I watched TV, nonstop it seemed, switching between live coverage of the invasion and Adult Videos on Demand, alone in my New York apartment, thinking, I want to be over there, I want to be in Iraq.

Two years later here I am.

The book’s “Michael Hastings” wants to look at sex the way others want to look at war, something that looks real, like it’s dirty, like it’s gritty, like it’s actually happening, yet part of a simple structure allowing for release. There’s a sense that what the adult performer goes through is strenuous – “I read on the Internet that she does five scenes a week in a good week” – and yet this is secondary to the entertainment, just as the soldier’s life and struggles are secondary to the glossy war narratives of his magazine’s managing editor, Sanders Berman. For Berman, war is a kind of pornography distant from the reek and violence of the actual, a repeated veneration of sacred historical relics. “I read his book, The Greatest War on Earth,” narrates the Hastings of the book. “If I am in the mood to be cruel, I’d say his book does really well at nourishing our national myths. It’s a real comfort, reading his book. It gives you a real warm feeling about that whole time between 1939 and 1945. A real black-and-white-photo wholesomeness to it, a breast-fed narrative of good versus evil.”14 The perspective of the fictional Hastings towards the fictional Jon Meacham was shared by the actual Hastings toward the actual Meacham. “Newsweek when Jon Meacham was editor, they would not have printed my story [“The Runaway General”],” Hastings told Cenk Uygur. “Why do you think that is?,” asked Uygur. Hastings: “Political reasons, for reasons that there’s a sense that at Newsweek we were supposed to uphold…that we are supposed to reinforce our societal myths, not deconstruct them, and not kindof expose them. And there’s a real mission there, certainly under Meacham, Meacham sucks.”15 The actual physicality of existence deflates all these myths. In “Hack: Confessions of a Presidential Campaign Reporter”, his account of the 2008 primaries, Hastings makes his contempt for the process and participants obvious, but he keeps out personal details except for one habit, which effectively deflates the idea of a rarefied arena of democratic process, unending high flown music of regal trumpets and anthems:

There was no small amount of hypocrisy when it came to journalists discussing the sex lives of the people they cover, since fidelity wasn’t exactly a prized virtue among reporters on the campaign trail. For my part, I watched a lot of porn. A colleague told me the first thing he did after checking in to a hotel was to check out their porn selection. I followed his example. I’d become an expert on the various hotel chains and what they offered. The best was clearly the Hyatt Regency; the Homewood Suites had the usual selection of XX features. On my last night in Manchester, after the primaries were over and the campaigns had moved on, I selected one called Nasty Older Sluts or something like that for $11.95. (Note to Newsweek accounting department: I never expensed the porn.)

It occurred to me, as I sat there watching an interracial couple banging, that jacking off in a hotel room was not unlike the larger experience of campaign reporting. You watch two performers. You kind of like it when one of them gets humiliated. You know they’re professionals, so you don’t feel much sympathy for them. You wish you could participate, but instead you watch with a hidden envy and feel vaguely ashamed for watching. You think you could probably do as good a job or better. You sometimes get a glimpse, intentionally or not, of society’s hidden desires and fears. You watch the porn week after week, the scenes almost always the same, none of them too memorable. The best ones get sent around the Internet.

The ultimate refutation of any ideal of war is what it does to the body itself. There was one moment that stayed with him for a long time, I think, as it would with most people. He described the moment at length on Scott Horton’s show on Anti-War Radio, “Scott Horton Interviews Michael Hastings (April 21, 2009)”, a podcast on which he was a frequent guest16. I bold one key line:

In the article [“Obama’s War” in GQ], you describe it as a really beautiful scene, all the shooting stars and everything up there at the roof of the world.

There was the shooting stars, there was all the Americans shooting flares to taunt the Taliban to attack. It is a very scenic, I always thought, and I say this cynically and in jest, that at least in Aghanistan, it’s a scenic war, and in Iraq, I don’t remember too many moments of beautiful sunsets there.

Yeah, it just looks like Houston or something.

Yeah. (laughs) Houston with more concrete.

Uh, now, one of the things that you wrote about in your article that was pretty shocking, it’s the kind of reporting that we don’t usually hear, we don’t usually hear this kind of detail, anyway, in real narrative form, but the story of a suicide bombing at what I guess was the gate of the base you were staying at?

Yeah. Yes.

Tell us the story. What happened there.

I’d actually just got off the phone, I was standing outside this base, we were about eight miles from the border, the Pakistan border, and it was a beautiful sunny day, and all of a sudden there’s this loud boom, and I see over my shoulder about seventy five feet away, this plume of smoke comes up, the kid who was on guard, the American, yells, “Oh my God! We’ve been hit by a suicide bomber!” And there was some shooting, and- But what had happened was, this was really the sort of disturbing thing. That the suicide bomber had used local Afghan kids, seven-eight year olds, who used to hang out at the base, hang out at the base with the Americans, as cover to walk right up to the gate. And the kids ran away, a few seconds before the suicide bomber detonated it. And two- Luckily, no one was actually killed in the suicide bombing attack. Two Afghan security guards who were working for the Americans were injured quite badly. But the disturbing, more disturbing part was afterwards, the clean-up. They had to clean up the suicide bomber. Because his body had been spread all throughout the base. And to clean up…literally, they call it the police crawl, where all the soldiers, all the Americans sortof walk one step and then another step, trying to pick up different parts of the body and to put in a sortof plastic bag to bury it. And what I remembered, about this moment, I saw the guy’s leg, laying near one of the barbed wire fences, and on his foot was this nice high top with a yellow stripe. And later that day, the suicide bomber’s remains were buried, they had put his hightops on top of his grave about a hundred yards from the base. About an hour after that, a couple of guys from the village went to the grave to pay their respects, I guess, looked both ways, then grabbed the guy’s high tops, then left.

Nice. Well. I guess that doesn’t sound too much different than America. (laughs)


It’s part of a very bleak picture of the country that you paint in the article. And, I guess, it really goes to the question of whether the Center for a New American Security’s plan for a ten year occupation in the building of a nation has any credibility at all.

Sure, and I think…what I’m always fascinated with, is this human aspect of it. The effects of violence on the Americans who witness it, the Afghans who witness it, whether they’re children or teenagers or adults, and yeah, this idea that we’re going to buy into ten more years, and ten years, by that way, that’s the low estimate. You talk to David Kilcullen [senior counter-insurgency advisor], one of General Petraeus’s advisors, was one of General Petraeus’s advisors, who was also a major proponent of counter-insurgency, and he’s a really smart guy…but what he’s calling for is, literally, a twenty five year commitment, to Afghanistan and Pakistan as a region. So, even ten years is a very hopeful estimate.

Though Hastings is almost always on point with his answers, at the end of this interview, when Horton asks about an Afghanistan occupation plan, Hastings briefly goes off on a tangent: “Sure, and I think…what I’m always fascinated with, is this human aspect of it. The effects of violence on the Americans who witness it…” and here, I do not think he is simply talking of the soldiers in the field, but himself.

Hastings distinguishes the contrast between the ideal of war, the beautiful brutal valor, the ideal that cannot be tarnished through defeat or atrocity, with the vile details of war in two prominent moments in his writing. There is a speech by Graeme Lamb, a British Special Forces Commando and one of McChrystal’s advisors in The Operators:

The arena: It was a favorite concept for men like Lamb, capturing a dangerous and seductive worldview when applied to war. The idea came from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, trashing critics and valuing the experience of risk over all else. “It is not the critic who counts…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, and who comes up short again and again…” I’d heard other generals use the quote in Iraq17. What mattered wasn’t what the war was about, or what might or might not be accomplished; what mattered was that there was an inherent value in being a man, in going into action, in bleeding. There was little difference in victory or failure. The sacrifice of blood had an almost spiritual value beyond politics, beyond success, beyond good and evil; blood and sweat and pain made up its own ideology, existing within its own moral universe of a very narrowly defined concept of honor and bravery. It was as brave and honorable to take a bullet for the brotherhood as it was to cover up a bullet’s mistake. It didn’t matter that in Afghanistan, the U.S. military had come up short again and again. What mattered is that they tried. The simple and terrifying reality, forbidden from discussion in America, was that despite spending $600 billion a year on the military, despite having the best fighting force the world had ever known, they were getting their asses kicked by illiterate peasants who made bombs out of manure and wood. The arena acted as a barrier, protecting their sacrifices from the uncomfortable realities of the current war—that it might be a total waste of time and resources that historians would look back on cringing, in the same way we looked back on the Soviets and the British misadventures there.

And then there is the episode that Hastings brought up on Scott Horton’s podcast, from “Obama’s War”:

“There are body parts all over the place, all through the district center,” Hilt [Captain Terry Hilt] says. “Doc, we got plenty of rubber gloves? We’re going to get some and do a police crawl across the DC. If you find fingers, any of that stuff, don’t touch it. Call for one of the HIIDE [Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, device for obtaining identity through fingerprint and retinal scans] guys. We might be able to get it to hit on the HIIDE system.”

Hilt pauses and then adds, “Pictures. Do not be taking pictures of friggin’ body parts. You’ll get in a lot of trouble if you try to take pictures of body parts home18. We got really lucky. Stay vigilant. Here’s the good news: The sandbags worked, the gate worked. Because of that, we’re not putting anybody in the ground.”

The soldiers pull on rubber gloves and go outside and begin walking slowly over the gravel, looking for pieces of the bomber. One soldier scrapes up a chunk of flesh with a shovel. “Mmm, pancakes,” he says. “Why the fuck couldn’t they have used a car bomb? I don’t mind cleaning up after car bombs. Everything’s burned up.”

They dump the body parts in a clear plastic garbage bag. The bomber’s legs are still there near the gate, intact from the knee down. His legs are hairy. He was wearing white high-tops with yellow stripes. The scalp is on the ground next to a Hesco barrier, a blood-wet mop of black hair.

Staff Sergeant Daniel Smith spots a blackened finger hanging off the concertina wire, and Staff Sergeant Aaron Smelley, who’s in charge of identification, takes it and places it on the portable HIIDE machine and presses hard to get a scan. After a few tries, he gets a reading, but the fingerprint doesn’t match any known terrorist in the database.

The Afghan police bury the leftover body parts a few hundred meters away from the base in a small cemetery. They place a pile of rocks on top to mark the grave, then lay the bomber’s yellow-striped high-tops next to the rocks. Later that afternoon, two Afghan men from one of the nearby villages come to look at the grave site. As they start to walk away, one of them turns back and picks up the high-tops and takes them for himself.

That night the dogs are back, barking and fighting over the bits of flesh that flew so far from the base they were missed during the cleanup.

There is nothing of the heroic or epic in Peoria as he stumbles around Iraq and Chad, and this is not Hastings mocking the lesser, weaker man in contrast to the truly heroic, but a depiction of how people act: you are scared, you want to get out alive, you don’t know what to do. When Peoria is in Iraq, the war experience we see is defined again and again by sex. There is a discussion before the fighting starts. Soldier #1: “That’s fucking gay, dude.” Soldier #2: “Ball flaps aren’t fucking gay…I want to start a family when I get back, not just give fucking blow jobs like you. I’m keeping mine on.” Soldier #3, to Peoria: “If you haven’t noticed, the Army is a twenty-four-hour gay joke,” and Peoria writes down an observation that Hastings had already made on his blog, “‘The Army Is A 24-Hour Gay Joke'”: “Over the last couple years, I’ve had the privilege to spend a lot of time with American combat forces in Iraq, and, more recently, in Afghanistan. If there is one persistent form of humor it is this: jokes about homosexuality. Lots and lots of gay jokes. So many that, on my last embed, a soldier told me this gem: “When my family asks what it’s like to be in the Army,” he said. “I tell them it’s like a 24-hour gay joke.”” Peoria has been told by his editors to come up with color for their package on the ground war, “examples of fear”: “Soldiers afraid of gay men wouldn’t cut it. But the fear of getting your balls blown off was something he could work with.” Whether it be cannonballs tearing through a ship’s wood and throwing splinters into sailor’s privates, or the Bouncing Betty, a mine that jumped up a few feet so the explosion would tear up a man’s balls and dick: “The soldier’s number-one fear, Peoria writes in his mind, throughout the history of human warfare.”

Peoria is embedded in a convoy that’s part of the initial approach to Baghdad, and they come under fire, with almost everyone in his Humvee killed. Peoria survives alongside a badly wounded soldier, Justin Salvador. This soldier’s number one fear has come true: his groin is torn up by bullets, but Peoria staunches the bleeding and manages to keep Salvador alive till reinforcements show up. Peoria reaches Baghdad. Hastings gives us a brief chapter, “Interlude”: “My attention strays from the war after the first summer of the invasion…Anyway, mission accomplished. You might forget that at the time, people took that seriously.” We follow Peoria on a vacation to Thailand, where he has sex with a series of whores. “After one come two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight . . . Like pills, like shots, like hands of blackjack and lines of cocaine and potato chips and cheese fries.” The colonialism of the past shadows his brief sense of supremacy now. He stays at the Bangkok Mandarin Oriental. “The Oriental: the hotel of Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham and James Michener.” He is entirely alone, speaking only to those who take his orders. “He has spoken only to whores and concierges and maids for two weeks now. Conversations, one-sided as was his way, but conversations with people there to serve him. Should he feel bad about that?” He meets with a frenchman, Marcel, and his wife, Valerie, with Marcel looking on while Peoria has sex with Valerie, Marcel fellating Peoria as well. This again is sex as a metaphor for war, the colonialist of the past looking on with rapture at the colonialism of today. “We have the Arabs in Paris and you must treat them like that—with spit and kicks.” But Peoria doesn’t have any ideas or attitudes of supremacy, he is simply here, a figure of chance. “It is all savage and torture and Islam,” says Marcel. “Oh, you can’t say that about just Islam, dude, all religions are fucked,” replies Peoria. Marcel, Valerie, and Peoria have sex, and just as there are things you see in war close-up that occasionally make it into the movies, that might make you say just like in the movies, Peoria glimpses something that is a highlight and theme of some pornography, but which he’s never seen in the actual before:

Peoria falls over onto the bed. Valerie rolls to her back. Marcel gets to his knees, and starting at his wife’s breasts, licks and caresses her body, moving toward her belly button, moving toward her pussy. Valerie puts her hand on his head and pushes lightly, her fingers tangled in her husband’s thinning hair. Valerie puts her left hand on the top of her pussy, and in a move that Peoria has seen only on a computer monitor and television screen, she squeezes and a dollop of his sperm pops up.

Clams, seashells, mollusks, mussels, oysters. White discharge. Membranes and inverse epidermal layers. Pink jowls, a string of soy milk drool. A raw baked good, doughy, whipped egg-white batter uncooked.

Pushing himself up on his elbows, Peoria sees for the first time—in the dimming lights of the HDTV and the digital clock and the faint city lights cutting through the open drapes—what a cream pie looks like.

Peoria returns to the United States, and though the book never speaks of Peoria being changed by the war, he is changed: this is a book where war merges with sex; Peoria has picked up a veneral disease and after a doctor removes some skin, he now has a bandage on his dick. The character of Hastings is honest, but merciless, in his assessment when the two see each other again: Peoria looks weak, unwashed, unhealthy, a wheezing wreck who can’t stop talking. Peoria works on a story about the Koran being desecrated at the Abu Ghraib detention facility with Mark Healy, which provokes rioting and multiple deaths – an incident from actual life, when Michael Isikoff, on whom Healy is based, reported that the Koran had been desecrated at the Guantanamo Bay internment facility (see “Newsweek Reporter Michael Isikoff Discusses His Coverage of Koran Desecration at Guantanamo”, an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!). The various pundits and cable outlets are at a righteous boil. “Off to CNN?” Sanders Berman asks Nishant Patel when they meet by the elevator. “Oh, no, no time for television today,” says Patel. “Me either,” says Berman. If Peoria has ever had any political sense on what to do here, he has lost it completely after the war. “Peoria, man, I think they want you to take the blame for this,” Hastings tells him. Peoria goes on CNN. “I don’t think, I mean, you have to understand that I’m sorry that this rioting happened, but you know that cleric, that guy, he’s a real jerk—he’s not like a good guy, you know?” He is shouted down by the other panelist, a Daniel Tubes19: “Can I just respond to what Mr. Peoria said first? What he’s doing is classic. He’s blaming the victims for his own reckless reporting.” Peoria is suspended. Afterwards, he stabs himself in the leg with a pencil by accident, and he doesn’t feel it at all, doesn’t notice anything’s wrong except for the people screaming in horror. He takes a leave of absence, and falls into a depression when he’s no longer writing, and during a period when he confines himself to his bedroom, he speaks of his wounds, visible and invisible:

Back to the darkness he went. Back to the darkness, for another three-week stretch, the bills and dirty laundry piling up, redux. Resorting to reusing the coffee filter in his coffee machine after running out of paper filters, ordering groceries and deliveries, ordering everything and keeping the door shut. Vowing to never again check his email, never to look at what other news it would bring—the wound on his leg had healed, the puncture wound had healed, the molluscum contagiosum had run its course, but a new wound had opened up.

The darkness didn’t help him heal that wound. The darkness hid it from him, hid what he didn’t want to recognize. He went over the scenarios in his head again and again. This wound was deep, cut to his core. He tried to ignore the wound, tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but he knew he was burying his feelings, burying his emotions, burying the truth. I’m a journalist, he thought, and if I can’t look at truth within myself, how can I see the truth out there in the world?

Peoria tries to put his life together. He gets rid of the drugs, works out, starts teaching journalism at a college class. He tries to move on: “if every summer in his mind has a theme, the theme this summer is self-acceptance. I’m okay, I’m okay.” At his first class, his attention focuses on a female student who stares intently at him throughout. Afterwards, Peoria: “What’d you think of the class?” Student: “You don’t recognize me?” Then he asks, “You’re a friend of my ex-girlfriend’s, right?”, “Okay…we didn’t hook up before, did we?”, “Did I interview you for an immigration story?” No, no, no…“You saved my life.”

We know that Hastings was a big fan of the work of Norman Mailer20, and given his interest in and reporting on national security matters, I think it’s highly likely he read Mailer’s novel about the early CIA, Harlot’s Ghost. There are two hints in Last Magazine that he has read the book, one stronger than the other. In Ghost, there is a prostitute named Libertad La Lengua (from Ghost: “which in loose translation does not signify Freedom of Speech nearly so much as “Ah, Freedom—your tongue!””), who, it turns out is a transsexual. Ghost is filled with spies, double agents, truths given in the cover of falseness, and Libertad embodies this idea of double agency and deception, “She is all the beautiful women put together!” exclaims the narrator, but she is also undercover: “Libertad is an agent in the world of women”.

Peoria has had some skin shaved off of his dick, while Justin Salvador has had the whole thing sheared away. Just as Libertad is a symbol, Justina Salvador is a symbol as well, of the overwhelming change war effects, but her relation to Peoria also represents Hastings’ view of war and the war journalist: war is the woman you can never leave. The narrator of Harlot asks of his attraction to Libertad, “Was he, himself, a homosexual? That stands out, doesn’t it? To be so attracted to a transvestite, or whatever else you could call it—a transsexual?” Justina is a vivid, real character, so vivid that I regret that the book ends so abruptly after she comes onstage, but she’s also very much part of a metaphor, of Peoria wanting to stay close to war, and just the way ordinary life becomes dull to the war junkie, sex with an ordinary woman becomes dull to Peoria. He has the same doubts as Harlot‘s narrator about his attraction, but he is also specifically attracted because of this woman’s past identity:

But as he watched, he instinctively started to touch himself, and he started to hold the images in his head of Thailand, enhancing a sexual experience that he had avoided masturbating to at all costs—he was straight after all, it was his parents who were gay—but the transsexual porn brought these memories back, and he no longer felt revulsion, and in fact, started to get off on the idea that the man fucking the woman was actually fucking a man, a dirty little secret that wasn’t a secret but added a level of fantasy to the moving video clips, a level of fantasy that his own memories augmented.

This attraction is one step beyond what he’s already felt, appetites already sated, a man numbed to the violent intensities of erotica the way a war junkie becomes numb to the intensities of war:

As a young man growing up, photos in magazines were enough to get him off. First, publications like Playboy were good enough, but then he upgraded to Penthouse; the open vaginal and anal shots of Penthouse, still done respectfully, were the next level. Then, he discovered Hustler, and his masturbatorial bar was set even higher—Hustler, now that was explicit, threesomes, full penetration, dripping cum shots, and a new and enticing category called Barely Legal, which forever altered the way he viewed young female teenagers running cash registers at ice cream stands and in grocery stores and Japanese school uniforms and cheerleading outfits.

The Internet proved to be a disruptive force for self-abuse. With the Internet, the sheer range of digital images did the job at first—he was able to stop watching videos on the VHS and start watching, on his computer, acts that he had read about but never seen—women sucking off farm animals, women urinating on the faces of other women, women urinating on the faces of other men, men urinating in clear streams into the open mouths of women, defecating even, strapped and bound with metal and leather contraptions, penetrated with massive objects like baseball bats and giant rubber dildos, a foot in diameter, or shaken soda cans stuffed in rectal canals, and on and on. These images—who was putting them out there? Where was it all coming from?

What he’s watching is changing him in ways that he’s not sure of at all, blankly indifferent to the violence of the imagery, and the connection to a growing numbness to war’s atrocities is obvious. Though the following excerpt is no more grim than that of the suicide bomber aftermath in Afghanistan, I do have to preface that the following is very explicit:

He was not terribly concerned about the moral implications until June 2002, when he’d gotten the fastest speed available and clicked on a link that said “vomit porn,” and at that moment he had a crisis of faith, or the closest thing one who does not believe in anything can have to a crisis of faith.

A white girl, wearing a blue skiers’ tuque with an embroidered golden star, had been kneeling down in front of a crowd and giving head to a black male of significant perpendicular length. Using the now ancient deep-throating technique, she worked the man’s cock avidly, eyes watering, his large hands clasped around her ears, occasionally pulling out to the left or right to make a popping sound against the suction on her cheek. At minute 2:33 into the clip, the standard degradation went off course; at first, the male performer responded as if it were still part of the performance, but then she ripped his hands away and started to crawl away, a desperate move, as if she were a child with motion sickness in the back of the car trying to unroll the window, or a coed searching for a bathroom stall after expecting to come into the restroom only to touch up her makeup. She started to puke, a yellow and a watery flow, all over the ground, and the camera first zoomed in on her face as she vomited, and then the camera pulled back to get the reaction of the cheering crowd and the still-hard penis of the black performer, and then the video ended, and A.E. Peoria himself felt sick, he felt ill, and wondered if maybe he shouldn’t be watching this stuff, maybe it was destroying his soul, if there was such a thing.

That didn’t last long.

This is not, I think, about a man becoming comfortably numb to the images of a girl vomiting, but about becoming comfortably numb to a clump of scalp being picked up, a blood soaked mop of hair, a chunk of flesh, where you become so used to the gore, you make jokes. “Pancakes,” says the soldier shoveling up the flesh, and you’re thinking the same thing. You are repulsed by the image, and yet you end up somehow wanting to see it again and again, going back one more time to Afghanistan or Iraq. Peoria is reminded of this moment of getting into vomit porn when he starts watching the transsexual stuff: “He thinks of it now because he’d had the same first reaction to the transsexual performers: that something was somehow unholy or desperately sick in the acts that were being performed, that it was somehow disturbing to his subconscious that the women being fucked in the ass used to be men.” Peoria and Justina sleep together, and when they are together they both are brought back immediately to the intimacy of war, and maybe that previous intimacy is why they’re attracted to each other now:

He usually has a hard time coming in hot water—he never masturbates in the shower, for instance—but he lets his imagination go, and his imagination goes back to the memory, the first time he had touched Justina, while he was still Justin, his hand warmed by blood, bodies pressed together, the absolute fear and excitement of death enveloping him, a memory so powerful he had pretended it didn’t exist, and with the warm water falling off his short, five-foot-seven frame, splashing to the top of the long black hair at his knees, he lets the memory wash over him, maybe even washing it away however briefly, and he comes.

Swallowing, Justina looks up.

“I know what you were thinking about,” she says. “I was thinking it too.”

They both start to cry.

In the epilogue, we are told Peoria and Salvador eventually get married; Peoria is chained to the war, he cannot let it go, does not want to let it go. Before that, there is the possibility that Peoria will publish Salvador’s story – the war, the gender reassignment, everything – because he’s a reporter and this is what he does. “Justina will be happy to help me tell this story,” he tells himself, but she isn’t. “You can’t do this. You can’t write about me. I’m not ready, I’m not ready for it,” she says. “I’m a fucking story to you,” she says. “I’m a fucking story.” He briefly falls apart, but they are reconciled by the morning. The book ends with Hastings taking Peoria’s notes, and doing the story instead. “I know by taking Peoria’s story, I’m putting the last nail in the coffin of his career, and I know that I’m also jeopardizing the privacy and future of Justina,” he says. But but but, and this is one of the last lines before the epilogue: “But I don’t agonize over it.” If the longing for sex in this book can be seen as a lightly guised account of the longing for war, then this betrayal by Hastings of Justina, and her near betrayal by Peoria, can be seen as Hastings reckoning with something else very real to him, something of the past almost entirely forgotten, something disgusting and outrageous, something to do with Gawker‘s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” [archive link], the one identification they get very wrong and the one that’s prominently missing.


From “Hack: Confessions of a Presidential Campaign Reporter” by Michael Hastings:

In the weeks after New Hampshire, I went down to Florida to watch Giuliani lose for good. I received a press release saying academy award–winning actor jon voight endorses mayor giuliani, which seemed as good a death knell as any. Voight joined the mayor on the campaign trail. Most of Rudy’s senior staff were hiding from the press, so Voight filled the void with an impromptu press conference. He explained how being cast in Midnight Cowboy was similar to Rudy’s decision-making ability on 9/11. It didn’t make sense then, either. After running out of campaign questions—and since nobody cared what Jon Voight thought—a reporter from The New York Observer asked him about his daughter, Angelina Jolie. This was an answer worth listening to. He couldn’t confirm the rumor that she was pregnant, but he did “wish her the best in life.” Then a Fox News embed posted a blog item featuring clips of a movie he did called Karate Dog.


“Before we get into it, your career owes a lot to a volcano in Iceland, doesn’t it?” radio host Leonard Lopate asked Hastings about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, which resulted in flight delays that allowed Hastings to spend more conversation time with McChrystal and his aides. “My career owes to a lot of things,” answered Hastings, “that have put me in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time.”21 And one instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time which may have led to all his later work, which made this ambitious, driven reporter even more driven, was the killing of his fiancé, Andrea Parhamovich, on January 19, 2007. Parhamovich had followed Hastings to Iraq, where she worked for the National Democratic Institute while Hastings was a correspondent for Newsweek. Hastings would make clear the importance of this for everything he did later in an interview with Scott Horton22.

So, now onto our next guest. It’s Michael Hastings. He is a reporter who’s got a new article in GQ magazine, you can find it in men dot style dot com…it’s called “Obama’s War”. Welcome to the show, Michael. How are you?

Great. Thanks for having me.

Well, you’re very welcome. I’m really glad you’re here. I’m sorry, I did not take sufficient notes…I know that you wrote a book about, I Lost My Heart in Baghdad or something, tell us about that.

Yeah, I wrote a book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story. It came out last year. It was about my girlfriend and fiancé, Andi Parhamovich, who worked for the National Democratic Institute, and she had joined me while I was the Newsweek correspondent in Baghdad. She was, unfortunately and obviously, tragically killed there…so, it was a way…so after that happened, you know, screw it all, I’m going to write (laughs) I’m going to write the truth about what the war’s really like, and what the actual cost is. So, that’s what that book was about.

And so that’s why you’re not at Newsweek any more?

Well, you know, I had a great time at Newsweek, you know, great place to sortof come up as a reporter, but one of the things I felt…I wanted to say, I needed a different sort of venue for that. So to speak.

Hastings, in all the appearances I’ve looked at and listned to, comes across as a congenial everyman, and despite being very knowledgable in the areas of politics and war, he never affects smugness or superiority – and yet there is a brief moment in that interview, a moment that recurs in several other places, that is always haunting, and that briefly makes him an alien figure, taking him out of the ordinary. It’s here in the interview, when he says “She was, unfortunately and obviously, tragically killed there…so, it was a way…so after that happened, you know, screw it all, I’m going to write”, and then he laughs, and it’s not like his other laughs, it’s like a laugh at a sick joke nobody back in the world, back in a peaceful United States, back in a country that doesn’t even remember that it’s at war, would know. It’s a laugh without cruelty, a strange mix of being very much a sincere laugh by someone full of passion and energy, but one that stands out as so empty – like the laugh of a ghost or a dead man.

“Reckless and Inspired”, the interview with Jonathan Hastings by “Paleo Retiree”, underlines, if necessary, the impact:

PR: How did your family feel about her [Andi Parhamovich’s] decision to follow Mike to Iraq?

JH: We definitely had misgivings about her going to the mideast. The last time I saw her my parents and I had just had dinner with her. Mike was already back in Iraq, and she was waiting to hear back about whether or not she had gotten the job with NDI in Iraq. I told her, in all seriousness, that I hoped she didn’t get the job. I also talked to Mike about her going and said that I didn’t think it was a good idea. I don’t think HE thought it was a great idea either, but he said that ultimately the decision was up to her — which was true.

PR: How did her death affect him?

JH: He was a real wreck. My parents — my father especially — got him through the first part of all of it.

Hastings would write of the moment before he hears of her death in Lost My Love, as something like the micro inch of time before one is sealed behind a prison door, or before the darkness breaks and the sunlight illuminates the stark and unending landscape of the savage and merciless desert:

There is no pause, but I will pause here. There is this moment before I know, before I have this piece of information. A moment before when life was normal, when life was good, when I was in Baghdad with Andi and my career was skyrocketing and I was writing stories about the war, when we were planning trips to Paris, to Budapest, to Istanbul, when I looked at a diamond ring in Dubai, when I got an American Express Platinum Card because it gave me a free complimentary business or first class ticket so she could join me on my travels. The life before I have this piece of information, before the three missed calls and the three new voice mails and the two cryptic emails, this life, my life, our life. There is the moment when the information has not been delivered. The moment before 7:58P.M., Baghdad time. This moment before I know, but not before I understand because there is no understanding moments like this, the moment before the future no longer matters, before the future is nothing but a wish for the past.

The second half of the Last Magazine devoted to “Michael Hastings” is about his attempts to be published somewhere, anywhere, while he interns at Newsweek – I mean, The Magazine – and so he starts posting to under the pseudonym K. Eric Walters, and this is entirely based on real life. Wretched is actually Gawker (“HA. Subtle.”, Jessica Coen, the site’s then editor would write23), which is edited by “Sarah” (Magazine intro: “She’s cute, and I recognize her face because her picture is always up at”), who is actually Coen. “I remember taking him to random media parties (Molly Jong Fast’s book party at her mother’s condo comes to mind),” and this very item, published as “Team Party Crash: Molly Jong-Fast’s Book Party” [archive link] by “lock” (Lockhart Steele), is there in the book:

The book party is for a daughter of a famous writer who wrote a women’s liberation classic back in the ’70s. The daughter’s memoir is one of those tell-alls about what it was like growing up around all these other famous writers. About all the fucked-up shit she saw at a young age, about the different men who passed through her mother’s life, and how that led, inevitably, to promiscuity, drug addiction, expulsion from high-priced schools, and, finally, a career in writing, the shadow of her mother looming over her.

The shadow has its advantages, like the fact that her mom is a famous writer with a really nice corner apartment on 81st and Park, a perfect place to host a book party.

Afterwards, Hastings is brought in to guest edit, and he uses the same pseudonym, K. Eric Walters (Magazine: “the name of a little-known and short-lived Irish revolutionary who had accidentally punched out a Brit in a drunken brawl, sparking a rebellion that Michael Collins would later take credit for”), that Hastings had when he edited Gawker for a week, from the first post, “Guest Editor: A Brief Introduction” [archive link] (5/16/05) to the last, “Guest Editor: Acknowledgments, Feedback Still Welcome” [archive link] (5/20/05). The workload is grueling, ten posts a day. “Ten posts a day. Where to find them?” There’s a press release on Steven King’s son publishing a collection of short stories. “Think he deserves this on merit?” asks the tipster. Answer: No. “I copy a chunk of the press release then write a few lines about how Stephen King’s son got a book deal because he was Stephen King’s son. Scathing.” Again, from life. “Owen King: In Praise of Nepotism Redux” [archive link] by “kewalters”: “We don’t envy writers who have to scribble away in the shadows of their superstar parents. (See: Amis, Martin; Bellow, Adam.) Actually, we’re lying. They get book deals! We’re so sick with envy we can’t even finish our own ‘works in progress.'” It was through this job that he met Andi Parhamovich.

“How did Mike meet Andi?” asks “Paleo Retiree”. Jonathan Hastings: “I’m pretty sure Mike met Andi when she was working at Air America and he was trying to get on the radio more.” From one epitaph, “Activist slain in Iraq `was an idealist'” by Louise Roug: “Parhamovich met Hastings when he came to interview Jerry Springer, who was on an Air America show in New York.” This interview is in “A Moment With Jerry Springer For Air America” [archive link], a post made two weeks after his guest editing stint24: “So we sent Gawker rentboy K. Eric Walters to brave the salsa at Rosa Mexicano on the Upper West Side”. Interview high point: “Springer: That’s where Democrats are getting it wrong. They’re talking about a strategy to win an election without first understanding that we have to offer a combination that reflects the culture. Hastings: And since your show has been called the lowest point in American culture, you think you can help the Democrats understand?”, though the overall high point is the disclaimer: “K. Eric Walters has never watched a full episode of the Jerry Springer Show, nor listened to any program on Air America. His political biases include NASCAR, Neo-Stalinism, and the Church of Scientology. In fact, he was totally unqualified to conduct this interview.” From “Activist slain”: “”It was the most boring Jerry Springer interview in history,” Hastings recalled. But an e-mail exchange about the story led to that first date — diner milkshakes.”

Hastings would describe their first meeting and the interview, perhaps purposely dull because of his growing disenchantment with an unnamed gossip site’s pointless venom, in Lost My Love:

Despite the training course, I still didn’t know if the magazine [Newsweek] was serious about sending me to Iraq. So I was doing some freelance work to get other kinds of reporting experience, writing under a pseudonym for a website that traffics in New York gossip. My freelance assignment on June 1 was to interview Jerry Springer. The editor had called me in the afternoon to see if I’d like to go to a party hosted by Air America Radio for the launch of Springer’s new radio show. I didn’t really want to go, but I said I would. I took the F train up to 57th Street and walked to Rosa Mexicano, the restaurant where the event was being held. Andi was one of Air America’s two publicists, and she was in charge of hosting and organizing the event. She and her colleagues had flirted with the idea of disinviting me—they didn’t know if it was a good idea for the gossip website to cover the launch after all—but decided that protesting had the potential to make the situation worse.

After the interview, I spoke with Andi for about fifteen more minutes. Her coworkers watched in horror as she talked to “the gossip guy.” I made sure to mention that I was really a Newsweek guy, and that this gossip thing was just for fun. “Real news only,” I told her. “Most of the time, at least.”

“That’s quite a notebook you’re carrying,” she said.

It was a classic reporter’s notebook, spiral bound, sticking out of my back pocket.

“Do you think you’re covering World War II or something? I mean, it’s like you think you’re in the movie, Newsie. Did you leave your fedora at home?”

There was an edge to the flirting. I could tell she thought I was full of myself, and she wanted to take me down a peg.

I transcribed the Springer interview and sent in the piece. There wasn’t much to work with, and beyond that I was no longer in the mood for the casual pettiness the gossip site required. I’d been working with them for a few months, and I’d lost interest in writing about topics that I felt were essentially meaningless. The Springer interview was probably the most boring and harmless item the website ever published. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it was by accident, but her colleagues at Air America would say that it was a “Valentine to Andi.”

From “Activist slain”:

Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Thursday for the attack that took the lives of the 28-year-old and three bodyguards — a Hungarian, a Croat and an Iraqi. Two other security workers were wounded. None of these other victims’ names had been released.

“She was an idealist,” Hastings said of Parhamovich, who grew up in Perry, Ohio. “She always believed that people were good. Certainly, those ideals were put to the test when she came to Iraq.”

Parhamovich, known as Andi, followed heart and ideals when she came to Baghdad. Hastings, a reporter with Newsweek, was working in Iraq. But Parhamovich was also drawn to political work in Baghdad, teaching Iraqis about voting and how to establish a functional government.

She worked first for the International Republican Institute, joining the National Democratic Institute a few months later.

On Wednesday, Parhamovich had gone to meet a group of Sunni politicians from the Iraqi Islamic Party. “She was really excited about the meeting,” Hastings said.

After Parhamovich conducted her training seminar for the Sunni politicians, she left in a convoy with her armed guards. Moments later, the convoy was ambushed. The guards fought back but were outgunned by the attackers, whose arsenal included grenades.

“With God’s assistance, we have succeeded in the destruction of two SUV vehicles belonging to the Zionist Mossad, killing all who were in them, attacking them by light and medium weapons,” wrote the group that took responsibility, in a statement on a well-known Sunni insurgent website.

The group often refers to its targets as members of Israel’s intelligence service.

But in fact, Hastings said, “they killed a wonderful, unarmed girl.”

Shortly after this incident, Hastings would write a book about Parhamovich, her death, and their time in Iraq. Scott Horton: “I know that you wrote a book about, I Lost My Heart in Baghdad or something, tell us about that.” Hastings: “Yeah, I wrote a book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story. It came out last year. It was about my girlfriend and fiance, Andi Parhamovich, who worked for the National Democratic Institute, and she had joined me while I was the Newsweek correspondent in Baghdad.” Three weeks after her death, Hastings had sent the book’s proposal to agent Andrew Wylie, and there has been some questioning of his Hastings’ motives in coming up with a book so quickly, but I can think of one reason why he did so: Hastings wrote to survive that moment.

In “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” [archive link], Gawker identifies a character named Brennan Toddly, a journalist who writes for a prestige magazine like The New Yorker, someone who meets with Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, someone who’s an advocate for the war, and Gawker names, wrongly, Jeffrey Goldberg. It was left to Tom Gallagher in his review in the L.A. Review of Books, “Michael Hastings Skewers Them From the Grave (with a Scoop of Gawker)”, to do excellent work making the case that this writer is actually George Packer. He notes that Toddly’s books – A Peaceful Village (1989 memoir about the Peace Corps), The Typewriter Artist (1996 novel), Awash in Red (1999 memoir of self-discovery on whether to stay a socialist) – line up almost exactly with Packer’s: The Village of Waiting (1988 memoir about the Peace Corps), Central Square (1996 novel), Blood of the Liberals (2000 memoir about deciding to leave the Democratic Socialist Party of America). One other similarity that Gallagher leaves out is Packer’s pre-war 2003 “Dreaming Of Democracy”, which features a meeting with Maikya whose elements are slightly re-written for Magazine, but whose source remains obvious.

This is an excerpt from one of Toddly’s articles in The Magazine:

After the panel discussion, I made my way backstage, where I encountered Kanan Makiya. I introduced myself to Makiya. He invited me to his home for tea. We walked across the campus yard, where a new class of coeds had just arrived, playing Frisbee and hacky sack. Easy, carefree thoughts. The opposite of what Makiya was thinking. “This is what Iraq was like when I was a child, before I had to leave,” he told me. “You Americans are finally paying attention. You must finally take action.” Three hours later, I had left his office, a bladder full of sweet chai, convinced. But the arguments with myself would continue.

This is “Dreaming”:

Last summer, the State Department convened a number of Iraqi exiles to advise the United States government on the problems that Iraq would face after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It was called, rather grandly, the Future of Iraq Project. Among the topics was democracy, and among the Iraqis invited to join was a dissident named Kanan Makiya.

“It’s the architect in me,” he says, nursing a cold over Japanese tea in Cambridge, Mass., where he lives. Makiya is a balding and somewhat disheveled Brandeis University professor of Middle East studies with a soft, intense manner. His office in a Cambridge apartment is lined with leatherbound books on Islamic history and literature. When his cellphone rings, he apologizes for having temporarily acquired one — “a disaster for a writer.” The immediate world of waitresses and crosswalks constantly surprises Makiya out of his thoughts, which these days are elsewhere. This unlikely revolutionary is taking the huge gamble that by riding on the back of an American war, he can hold the Americans to their own talk and help direct the outcome.

There is no single sentence substitute for “But the arguments with myself would continue”, but there is this paragraph later on:

The unease among Americans, even those who support the president, about the war and its aftermath is certainly due to fear of unknown consequences. It might also come from the sense that we’re trying to have it both ways — guns and butter, war without sacrifice, intervention without commitment. If Iraq succeeds in becoming a democracy under American protection, it will represent the triumph of hope over experience for both countries. It’s a notion that I always found easier to imagine when I was within earshot of Kanan Makiya.

“Frankly, I was tickled to see George pilloried in this book — even though it appears that few have realized he was part of its inspiration,” is one sentence filled with Gallagher’s glee over his ideological opponent being made a target. Though he does excellent deductive work, Gallagher does not seem to know why Hastings has picked out this particular war advocate, that the choice was not arbitrary, and Hastings’ animus is not due entirely to Packer’s position on the war. It was Packer who reviewed I Lost My Love in Baghdad for the New York Times, “What She Did for Love”. It is not an uncharitable or unnecessarily cruel review. There are two stories in this book, writes Packer, and “[o]ne senses that the war story, conveying an experience that consumed Michael Hastings during a crucial period in his mid-20s, is the book he really wanted to write. It is better written, more vividly rendered, more intensely felt”. And there is the second storyline: “The love story is told with greater insistence and less conviction, without memorable passages or surprising recognitions. It accounts for the embarrassing title and the whiff of exploitation that hangs over “I Lost My Love in Baghdad.”” Packer compliments Hastings’ succinct descriptive skill, as a journalist who “learned his trade and kept his eyes open amid the grotesque history being made around him”, and picks out this description of Saddam Hussein in a courtroom, after the nimbus of power was gone: “He had the look of a depressed businessman, a former C.E.O. in a corporate fraud case.” When it comes to the second plot, this writer’s power fails: “Why is Hastings unable to summon anything like this facility when describing Andi Parhamovich, the young woman whose death prompted him to write this book?”

There are many sections in the review that might have roused Hastings’ anger, none more than the last:

Hastings comes close to blaming the N.D.I. [National Democratic Institute, the NGO which Parhamovich worked for] for Andi’s death. It seems senseless to him, inevitably — not just because of his anger and grief, but because he has little to say about the substance of her work there and her attitude toward it. Beneath the literary shortcomings in the love story there is a deeper flaw. Hastings didn’t take the time to struggle with the issues that writing this book should have forced him to face: the nature of Andi’s motives and his own, the conflict between work and love, between ambition and a normal life, and his sense of the degree, however small, of his own responsibility. That effort would have made a better — though more painful — whole of the book’s two halves.

Hastings would release his venom toward Packer in two places besides The Last Magazine. Packer would review Mark Danner’s Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War in the Times in 2009, “Heart of the Matter”. This would provoke a lengthy letter from Danner, “‘Stripping Bare the Body’: Letters”, where Danner took exception to Packer not making his early support for the war explicit and clear in the review: “Whatever this may say about eccentric attitudes toward journalistic fairness or personal integrity, it certainly shows contempt for Times readers, who might have found themselves puzzled by the oddly personal and defensive tone of the review and many of its gratuitously nasty and distinctly strange observations”. Hastings would send in his own letter during the controversy to Editor & Publisher, “UPDATED: Packer Responds to Hastings Letter on ‘NYT’ Book Review”:

I saw your story [“UPDATED: Danner Challenges ‘NYT’ Choice of Book Reviewer in Lengthy Letter — Packer Responds”] on the Mark Danner versus George Packer controversy. This isn’t the first time George Packer has reviewed an Iraq book in the New York Times that should have raised conflict of interest questions. In April 2008, he gave a fairly negative review of my book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story.” My book was also very critical of the war in Iraq, a war that Packer supported. He did not disclose his support for the war in that review.

The more egregious conflict of interest, though, was his close relationship with the National Demoractic Institute, an NGO that I was highly critical of. (Andi Parhamovich, the women I was set to marry, was working for NDI when she was killed, in a large part due to NDI’s failure to provide proper security.) Packer had even met with the president of NDI, Kenneth Wollack in the spring of 2007; in the meeting, her death was discussed. A year later, the negative review in the Times came out, defending NDI, and parroting NDI’s talking points against the book. (NDI refused to cooperate with the writing of the book, and it was only under great pressure that they even shared details of what happened with Andi’s family, almost nine months later, another fact Packer failed to mention.)

At the time, I decided to take my lumps–bad reviews are part of the deal, and the majority of reviews the book got were favorable. However, I actually happen to have just read Mark Danner’s “Stripping Bare the Body.” It is an excellent work, and for Packer to have reviewed it seems quite unfair. Obviously, I’m not a neutral observer, but there does appear to be a pattern. (For the record, I have great admiration for Danner’s reportage, and I think Packer is a talented journalist, though I’ve never met either of them.)

What seems to bug Packer about Danner’s book is similar to what bugged him about mine: the books focus on the what Packer calls the “creepy” details of the consequences of war, details which clearly make him uncomfortable. That is, what war actually does to human beings, and how human beings actually behave. After having been one of the many thoughtful cheerleaders for the war in Iraq, Packer has never been able to come to terms with the human cost of the bad ideas he promoted. I fear he suffers from the anxiety of getting it wrong — it’s certainly a blow to the ego for a self-styled foreign policy writer to have whiffed on the most critical foreign policy question of this generation. So it’s easier to attack others who got it right, to criticize a writer like Danner who saw the folly of the Iraq excursion before the fact, not after.

Michael Hastings
(the writer is currently in Baghdad)

Packer would respond:

You’re right: my review of “Stripping Bare the Body” didn’t say “history proved Danner’s position on the war right.” That was a loose (maybe too loose) paraphrase of what I did say: “[His] point of view has served Danner well in his far-reaching criticisms of the foreign policy of George W. Bush, especially on Iraq.” The meaning is similar.

I conveyed to the Times in advance that Danner and I knew each other but had no history of friendship or enmity.

The length of Danner’s letter (1400 words, about the length of my original review) and my reply (300 words) might say something about prolixity but not about wrongdoing. I answered Danner’s charges as succinctly as I could, in the belief that readers shouldn’t be subjected to drawn-out quarrels between authors and reviewers.

In my review of Hastings’ “I Lost My Love in Baghdad” (New York Times Book Review, April 20, 2008) [hyperlink added], I wrote that I had met members of the National Democratic Institute on several trips to Iraq. In other words, they were sources of mine, and I was capable of coming to my own conclusions about NDI’s responsibility for Andi Parhamovich’s death (mixed: “a terrible mistake, but not an incomprehensible one”). By Hastings’ standards, it would be unethical for a reporter with sources in the Bush administration to review a book that criticizes the Bush administration. These are the provisional standards of an author who didn’t like the review he got. I gave his book a not-so-good review because it was a not-so-good book–in fact, a bad book, and undeserving of mention alongside Danner’s.

George Packer

Although it goes unmentioned specifically in Hastings’ letter, I would think the sentence that would upset him the most was one of the last in Packer’s review: “Hastings didn’t take the time to struggle with the issues that writing this book should have forced him to face: the nature of Andi’s motives and his own, the conflict between work and love, between ambition and a normal life, and his sense of the degree, however small, of his own responsibility.” Why, Hastings, might ask, is he being charged with confronting responsibility for Parhamovich’s death by someone who advocated in favor of the war? Hastings would underlie this issue on his own blog post devoted to the Danner-Packer argument, “Mark Danner versus George Packer, and the nature of a bad review”: “Packer, a vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, seems to like to trash books that are quite critical of the war in Iraq. And in doing so, he always fails to mention that he was a vocal supporter of war in Iraq.” Even the small parenthetical, “For the record, I have great admiration for Danner’s reportage, and I think Packer is a talented journalist, though I’ve never met either of them,” contains hidden poison. It understates the admiration that Hastings once had for Packer as a journalist, and is something like the dog that doesn’t bark: Hastings had never met Packer, but Andi Parhamovich had. From I Lost My Love in Baghdad:

After two weeks readjusting to Baghdad and her new job, she is making friends. She tells me about a girl named Anne; another blond from the Midwest, also dating a reporter, who shares Andi’s interests in spirituality. Magic stones and whatnot. I smile when I hear this. She is excited because she ran into a reporter from The New Yorker, George Packer, in the lobby of her hotel compound. She says she wished I could have been there, because she knows how much I like his work.

So, this is the misidentification that Gawker makes, and that was caught by Gallagher. There is a missing identification, however, of a very minor character, who is nonetheless given a relatively lengthy descrption in The Last Magazine. His appearance will puzzle most readers, and certainly he puzzled me. Why give so much space to a man who simply appears briefly and then disappears? Gawker most certainly would have been able to make the ID, as he was a prominent and highly placed employee, but they make no such naming. The character appears at a party held at a club called The Dark Room, and we might contrast this figure with the far briefer overview of these other cameos, almost all of whom are limited in appearance to only their names in this paragraph, all of whom are based on actual people:

There is Allan Tool, who holds some kind of deputy managing editor title for Wretched; Franklin Liu, who blogs on Mediabistro; the other Sarah, Sarah Klein, who does Gothamist; some guy named Arnie Cohen, most notorious for his ability to get mentioned on everyone else’s blogs without actually doing anything of note, except hitting on Sarah Klein in the back of a taxicab and then blogging about his rejection; Jennifer Cunningham, who would later have a “crisis of conscience” and leave Wretched to focus more clearly on herself; and on and on, names with a “blogspot” and a “dot com” attached, names that I’ve heard of before by reading one referring to the other. The closest thing to someone from a traditional media outlet, besides myself, is a kid with short dark hair and beady eyes and a skinny tie who works for the New York Herald named Jonathan Lodello—he is here, Sarah whispers, to do a story on the new new media scene, a story that will surely then be linked to on all the blogs of everyone sitting around the table, generating traffic and page views that can help with the advertisers and buzz.

Allan Tool is Lockhart Steele, the managing editor of Gawker Media in 2005; Franklin Liu I have a very good guess for, but since the character does cocaine and people remain uptight about that habit, I’ll keep it to myself; Arnie Cohen is, I think Joshua David Stein, who would go on to write “The Dangers of Blogger Love”, which, disappointingly, is not about a herpes outbreak in the wordpress community; the self-absorbed Jennifer Cunningham can only be Emily Gould, infamous for her self-absorbtion25, and I’ll take a guess later as to why Hastings puts crisis of conscience in such poisonous quotes; Jonathan Lodello is…who knows? Maybe Ben McGrath, who would write probably the best profile of Gawker founder Nick Denton, the New Yorker‘s “Search and Destroy” and whose piece about an artists’ collective which designed habitats for writers, “Writers at Work”, was linked by K. Eric Walters in “The New Yorker Unlocks Secret to Blogging” [archive link]: “The New Yorker‘s always enterprising Ben McGrath made the harrowing, God-awful trek to Queens last week to visit Flux Factory, an alleged artist’s collective.” Maybe Andrew Ross Sorkin, who profiled Denton in 2003 for the Times, “Building a Web Media Empire on a Daily Dose of Fresh Links”. However, a blogger party at some horribly fashionable bar with a journalist looking on, if not partly taken from Hastings’ own experience, is very much from “Everybody Sucks: Gawker and the rage of the creative underclass” by Vanessa Grigoriadis.

Sarah Klein is just about the only character in the paragraph who stays a while on the stage, with her and “Michael Hastings” hooking up that night. Jessica Coen, on Gawker’s “A Guide to IDing the Real People Disguised in Michael Hastings’ Novel” [archive link]: “I am pretty sure he briefly dated Rachel Sklar. Relevant, I know.” “Michael Hastings’ Dangerous Mind: Journalistic Star Was Loved, Feared and Haunted” [archive link: ] by Gene Maddaus: “Writer Rachel Sklar met him, and dated him for a few months, when he was living in New York and working for Newsweek.” Sklar in 2005 wasn’t at Gothamist, but MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY (she was, however, profiled on Gothamist: “Rachel Sklar, co-editor and writer of FishbowlNY”, an interview with Rachel Kramer Bussel), would go on to run the Eat the Press blog at the Huffington Post (including the insightful piece on Gawker, “Wow, Everybody Really DOES Suck: Drowning In The Bile Of Gawker, Page Six, and New York”), and now works at The, a tech start-up. That Sarah Klein is “the other Sarah” might be a joke on the fact that Jessica Coen and Rachel Sklar bear a passing resemblance to each other. Both literati voyeurs and those doubtful that the sex in the book is anything other than an expression of Hastings’ pervy impulses might wish to note that the moment between Sarah going to his apartment after the party and her leaving the next morning is left chastely to the readers’ imagination.

There is one character, the one already referenced several times, who is set aside from this paragraph, and who is given a considerable amount of space, seemingly for no purpose, leaving the reader to wonder: why? Here is the full excerpt in which he appears. I bold the most important lines:

I sit down next to another kid.

“Kelly,” he says.

“Mike,” I say. “Kelly, as in Kelly Treemont?”

“That’s me.”

“I’ve read your blog. I thought you were a woman. The name.”

“I get that. You don’t do the powder either?”

“Nah, I used to do that shit a lot but stopped.”

“Me too,” he says. “I’m very boring now. I live with cats. I’m in recovery.”

“Great. I work for a magazine.”

“Dead tree, oh no.”

“Yeah, the trees are pretty dead.”

“You know, to be honest, I take a little Adderall still,” he says. “It helps me in my writing. I’m working on a memoir. About my experiences with drugs and alcohol, and I don’t know if you know, but I’m gay, so it’s about my experiences with drugs and alcohol and being gay and everything.

“Sounds great,” I say.

“You know, I think it’s been out there, a little, but my experience, I think I have a really unique perspective.”

“How long have you been working on the book?”

“Three years. This blogging, you know. But I found an agent. She’s excited.”

“Very cool. Having fun?”

“I’m waiting for Timothy. H