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How the Feds shook hands with an internet pedophile

Crime and punishment in the digital age

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The Grooming

Even after the attacks began - and the FBI commenced its investigation - Digerati continued to groom boys as young as 13 years old, according to five four people who congregated with Digerati on IRC. He would often plead with the boys to masturbate in front of their webcams, and it wasn't unheard of for him to offer a payment using PayPal. He also hosted his own IRC channel called #diggerpenis, which was frequented by boys.

One of the boys he propositioned in 2006 was Michael Johnson, a then 16-year-old #ssgroup member who says Digerati asked him on at least three occasions for pictures of his penis.

"After I said no, he would always say he was joking," said Johnson, who is now a college student in Newcastle in the UK.

Digerati had a hard time accepting the revocation of his operator status and the banishing of his channel. He repeatedly argued that his connections in the hacker underworld made him an asset to #ssgroup. And he lobbied tirelessly for the reinstatement of #diggerpenis, which he said was a benign place.

Meanwhile, the DDoS assaults continued. They were unremarkable with one exception: the sheer volume and relentlessness of the junk data being thrown at them.

In private messages to Ward and others, Digerati was always careful to distance himself from the attacks. He blamed them on fellow hackers by the names of Dshocker and Vortex, who had reputations for striking out at those they didn't like.

"It's Dshocker's doing," Digerati said during one exchange with a hacker who ran Taunet, during an ongoing attack against a hosting service called Sharktech. "I tried stopping him, but they pissed him off by canceling his account and threatening to report him to authorities." A few weeks later, Digerati added: "I agree, DDoS is lame."

But Digerati's private communications with a New Zealand-based botmaster known as Akill - and later intercepted by FBI agents and recounted in court documents - tell a different story.

"I can get you some good private stuff, I can also pay you, to take Taunet down," he wrote in late January 2006, a few weeks before the attacks began.

Over the next few months, Digerati renewed his call for Akill to strike out at Taunet and added new targets, including ssgroup.org. "I want Taunet taken down," he told Akill in March. "They are starting to annoy me again. They must stay down for at least a week or so."

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