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Self-styled grey hat hacker Jesse Tuttle is fighting charges that he broke into his local council's computer network with a claim that he only did it as part of his work with the FBI.

Tuttle (AKA Hackah Jak), from Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio, claims the Feds sanctioned him to prowl the Net for sensitive computers as part of a deal he signed two years ago. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that in August 2001 federal prosecutors agreed to drop charges for cracking into the computer system of a New York brokerage firm in return for his subsequent assistance as an informer.

From then, on everything the 23 year-old did online, from "tapping into computer systems to posing as a teenage girl online - was related to his work with the FBI", the paper reports.

Although the FBI never asked him to crack specific systems, Tuttle claims the agency encouraged his work and paid him up to $1,000 cash a pop for his information. He was helping safeguard systems by, er, breaking into them.

By Tuttle's account, his arrest by Hamilton County sheriff's deputies with breaking into the county's computer network is just an inter-agency mix-up. Child pornography allegedly found on his home computer probably got there when he was investigating a paedophile case. Tuttle denies accusations that he is a pervert.

The FBI has a policy of not commenting on its work with individual informants. It has certainly not come forward to get its man off the hook, and the prosecution of Tuttle by local authorities proceeds apace. Tuttle faces charges that carry a jail term of up to 80 years, harsh because it seems he didn't do anything to damage or disrupt the county's computer systems.

Although the Cincinnati Enquirer in a 2,000 word plus article reports plenty of evidence that support Tuttle's assertion that he acted as an FBI informer, we have grave doubts that the Feds ever gave him a license to root around any system he fancied.

Would the Feds really sanction a former Web-face defacer (Hackah Jak is known as a member of post-9/11 'patriotic hackers' The Dispatchers) as a covert information security agent?

It just doesn't seem plausible. But, then again, funnier things have happened at the FBI. ®

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