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Less Than Confidential Informant

An even bigger mistake, according to the documents, was Butler's misplaced trust in several unnamed associates. According to chat logs supplied by a source identified only as "Confidential Informant #2", Butler - using one of his anonymous online personae - "recounted that he threw away his cell phone, among other things, to distance himself from Aragon following Aragon's arrest."

Butler passed plenty of other incriminating comments to CI#2.

"So obviously I am digits also," he told the informant during one online chat in which Butler used his Iceman identity. "It is a pain in the ass trying to keep that separate from people i know an [sic] trust and like such as yourself. Anyway reasoning is, iceman is legal. digits is breaking the law. i assumed if i could keep it separate there would be no legal leg to stand on for coming after 'me' as the forum admin."

By early June, agents from the US Secret Service's San Francisco field office had begun surveillance of a house where Butler and his longtime girlfriend lived. Over the next two months, agents continued to trail him in cars, lobbies and elevators until finally they were able to confirm the location of the apartment he used for hacking.

Butler seemed to know something was going wrong. He cut the long, brown pony tail that had been a prominent part of his physical appearance for years. And he began phasing out many of his aliases, including Iceman and Digits. He also recruited new individuals for various roles within Cardersmarket.

Despite this, he continued to use the Aphex ID in forums to discuss various topics related to credit card fraud. In a posting dated August 16, for instance, he wrote about the use of "skimmers," which are used to read and record credit card information. A few days earlier, Aphex had warned users against a former member named Zebra, who was now said to be a confidential informant."

Perhaps Butler's biggest undoing was his continued confidence in CI#2, which continued until August 30.

King of the Carders

Authorities' account of Butler fleshes out a dichotomy between ultra-secretive paranoia and a careless brazenness that in many ways mirrors the carder culture Butler sought to lead.

Last week, just two days after the unsealing of Butler's indictment, carder boards were buzzing with comments warning people to be careful and accusing certain members of snitching.

"So for all members of [Cardersmarket] if u wish to run to CM and delet ur PMs, ... they are gone, AND I AM 100% SURE A BACK UP COPY WAS ALLREADY MADE BY the 2 admins of CM," a user going by the name Achilous wrote in a forum hosted by Cardingzone.org. "Will not say names because i don't like acusing people."

The screed, with its poor spelling and grammar, came just hours after private messages and the vast majority of the site, were taken offline.

And yet the steady stream of postings on other carder sites advertising the sale of stolen credit cards has barely let up since word last week that Butler was arrested. For instance, at time of writing, the credit card forum on real-forum.net was filed with fresh postings advertising stolen numbers for between $3 and $9 apiece.

"The worry, it seems, is just more of a hassle factor worry that they'll have to move their message board forum," said Dan Clements, president of CardCops, a division of the Affinion Group that monitors online forums for stolen credit card information. "This is a global problem that will take global solutions. I don't really see people worrying about getting busted." ®

Please direct any news tips, inside scuttlebutt or other security-related intelligence to this reporter by using this link. Confidentiality assured.

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