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Teen Anarchist's Supporters Accuse FBI Of AIM Hack 
By Brian McWilliams, Newsbytes
07 Feb 2002, 9:04 AM CST
The FBI declined to comment Wednesday on allegations that federal
agents have commandeered online chat accounts belonging to the
teen-aged operator of anti-government site Raisethefist.com.

However, the agency denies allegations that it has harassed associates
of 18-year-old self-proclaimed anarchist Sherman Martin Austin.

According to several of Austin's supporters, someone has repeatedly
logged into the teen's accounts on America Online's AOL Instant
Messenger (AIM) real-time chat service while he was in police custody.

Austin, a resident of Sherman Oaks, Calif., has been incarcerated in a
high-security federal jail in Manhattan since Saturday on charges of
disorderly conduct following a protest against the World Economic
Forum in New York.

A friend listed on Austin's AIM Buddy List who identified himself only
as "James" said he was threatened Monday by someone he suspects was an
FBI agent using Austin's account. "He told me, 'Your ass is next,
pal,'" James said.

Laura Bosley, a spokesperson for the FBI's Los Angeles field office,
declined to say whether the FBI would commandeer someone's AIM account
as part of an investigation, citing its ongoing nature. But she said
FBI agents would never harass associates of a suspect.

Last week, federal agents executed a search warrant at Austin's home
and confiscated several computers as well as equipment for making
explosives. According to an affidavit, the FBI suspects Austin of
hacking into several Web sites to post anarchist messages and using
his own site, Raisethefist.com, to publish bomb-making information.

Newsbytes independently observed that someone using Austin's AOL
screen name "Ucaun" signed on to the service briefly Tuesday night.  
But that person did not respond to interview requests.

Matt Yarborough, head of the cyberlaw section at Fish and Richardson
and a former assistant U.S. attorney, said it was "certainly possible"  
that FBI agents commandeered Austin's AIM accounts as part of their
undercover work on the case.

"I've dealt with federal agents who did things that made my stomach
turn. But, assuming these claims are true, the agents might see this
as a good technique for flushing people out," said Yarborough, who
noted that Austin may also have been instructed to sign on to his AIM
account while in custody.

However, Mark Rasch, vice president of cyberlaw at Predictive Systems
and a former federal prosecutor, said it was most likely that one of
Austin's enemies, and not the FBI, was responsible for hijacking his
AIM accounts.

"It would be very improbable that even an overzealous agent would do
this. It's unfathomable that a court would grant such an order," said

Susan Tipograph, the attorney representing Austin in New York, said
Austin has not spoken to the FBI since being arrested. According to
Tipograph, he has been held in a maximum-security cell around the
clock and it was impossible that he would have signed on to his

"He's in the same unit where they held people who bombed the U.S.  
embassies in Africa in 1998. It seems odd to treat an 18-year-old this
way," said Tipograph.

Austin's political views have made him a target for verbal attack by
right-wing extremists, his associates said, but they dismissed
suggestions that his accounts may have been compromised by such

While AIM accounts are password-protected, the technology has been
abused in the past by attackers who hijack others' AIM accounts
through trickery, Trojan horses, packet-sniffing and other techniques.

Matthew Dickinson, a San Diego-based accountant who said he was an
online acquaintance of Austin's, reported that the teen told him last
autumn that his AIM accounts had been hacked into by law enforcement

Dickinson provided a Nov. 10 e-mail message, purportedly from Austin,
in which he recounted discovering that one of his AIM screen names was
being used by the FBI to harass him.

The message included a log file of an AIM session in which someone
using Austin's screen name Raisethefist told Austin, "This is a matter
of national security, pal. We're tapping all accounts," and, "We're
watching you, and packeting you. Warrants are wonderful."

AIM log files are simple text documents that can be created or edited
using a word processor. As such, their authenticity is difficult to

It was not clear whether Austin shared the login information for his
AIM account with family members or friends. Austin's mother referred
all inquiries to Tipograph, who said she had no information on the

If federal agents took over Austin's AIM accounts without his
permission, such an action would constitute unauthorized access and be
illegal, according to Yarborough.

"The government doesn't have the right to hack into someone else's
computer. If these allegations are true, it would look bad in court,
as if the agents were attempting to intimidate people to disclose
information," he said.

In an interview with Newsbytes last week over AIM, Austin admitted to
defacing several Web sites in the past three years to post messages
about overthrowing the U.S. government.

One of the defacements included the message: "We don't gather weapons,
plan extreme operations, and risk our lives for nothing. This is

Austin was not charged with any crimes as a result of his arrest in
New York, Tipograph said. However, federal charges were filed against
him for posting information at his site about making explosives and
with possessing a Molotov cocktail, which is considered an
"unregistered firearm" by the FBI.

No hacking charges have yet been filed against Austin, although Bosley
told Newsbytes that additional charges are possible.

Raisethefist.com has been unreachable since late last week. Austin's
former hosting company, About Web Services, refused to comment on the
status of the site, citing the firm's privacy policy.

Domain registration records today showed that Raisethefist.com is no
longer receiving domain-name service from About Web's Freeservers.com
service, and that the domain was transferred to InfoSpace's HyperMart
hosting service on Feb. 1.

In the interview last week, Austin told Newsbytes that he didn't think
18 was too young to be an anarchist.

"Sixteen-year-olds fight in the New Peoples Army in the Philippines,"  
he said.

When asked whether he thought it should be illegal to publish
bomb-making information, Austin replied that everyone should have a
right to distribute such knowledge.

"I think it should be illegal for other people to get rich off
dropping bombs on poor women and children. I personally would like a
society without bombs," he said.

According to an FBI affidavit, a search by New York police of Austin's
car last weekend uncovered "electrical wiring, electrical tape, one
empty gasoline tank, and anarchist literature."


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