“An ex-hacker running for national office would have been unimaginable just a few years ago,” Reuters’ Joseph Menn writes this morning. Thanks to Robert “Beto” O’Rourke and his shadowy past in “hactivist” circles, that moment has been thrust upon us. In an interview with Menn, O’Rourke admits to his membership in a notorious hacking collective known as the Cult of the Dead Cow, which created hacking tools targeting Microsoft Windows as well as engaged in political activism through their hacking.
At least for now, everyone seems interested in downplaying O’Rourke’s contributions to the CDC collective. I wonder why …
The hugely influential Cult of the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows. It’s also known for inventing the word “hacktivism” to describe human-rights-driven security work.
Members of the group have protected O’Rourke’s secret for decades, reluctant to compromise his political viability. Now, in a series of interviews, CDC members have acknowledged O’Rourke as one of their own. In all, more than a dozen members of the group agreed to be named for the first time in a book about the hacking group by this reporter that is scheduled to be published in June by Public Affairs. O’Rourke was interviewed early in his run for the Senate.
There is no indication that O’Rourke ever engaged in the edgiest sorts of hacking activity, such as breaking into computers or writing code that enabled others to do so. But his membership in the group could explain his approach to politics better than anything on his resume. His background in hacking circles has repeatedly informed his strategy as he explored and subverted established procedures in technology, the media and government.
“There’s just this profound value in being able to be apart from the system and look at it critically and have fun while you’re doing it,” O’Rourke said. “I think of the Cult of the Dead Cow as a great example of that.”
Former members of the CDC spoke with Menn as well, painting a picture of mostly harmless teenage rebellion. The narrative spun here is more War Games than an online Antifa, and everyone takes care to emphasize that O’Rourke had retired from the group when its more notorious activities took place. Or so they say, anyway; the group has been fiercely protective of O’Rourke, keeping silent about his connection throughout his political career until now.
It’s worth noting, however, that the group committed crimes even in its early days with O’Rourke’s participation. Beto acknowledges, for instance, defrauding the telephone company to keep from paying for its services. Even direct fraud of that kind against the utility itself constitutes a felony if it involves more than $1500 loss, and it’s clearly a felony if they fraudulently used the accounts of others in the scheme. O’Rourke’s predictably fuzzy on those details, although it was also three decades ago. In one incident, the CDC posted instructions on making explosives, which led to an incident in Canada that maimed a teenager.
This is all water long under the bridge, of course. The statutes of limitation ran out decades ago on any of these potential crimes, which is one reason that O’Rourke and his CDC friends can feel at ease discussing them. According to the narrative, O’Rourke gave up his CDC engagement when he went to college, which makes this a part of the teen rebellion at hand in those days, if true. It’s easy to paint O’Rourke as a product of his generation — disaffected, bored, and looking to change the system, man. Menn paints quite the romantic picture of that rebellion, too.
That prompts a very good question. Does an admission of potentially felonious conduct by a politician automatically act as a disqualifier from higher office? Especially when said politician already has another incident of arguably felonious conduct on his public record? Or will O’Rourke’s history of taking it to the man make him an even bigger darling of the progressive Left regardless of the character questions it might raise?
I know how I’m betting on this. Consider this in the context of Bill Clinton’s draft evasion, Kamala Harris’ marijuana championing, and Donald Trump’s entire pre-political career, and get ready for Betomania 2020.