Murdoch’s Pirates: the Out Takes
Kazanluk, Bulgaria February-August, 1999
Ray Adams had a new best buddy, and the former Scotland Yard man was almost squirming. In a few short weeks Adams had forged a life-long link to Plamen Donev, former Bulgarian military technician, now one of the world’s most threatening hackers. It was a little like watching the cat being romanced by the Disney skunk, Pepé le Pew. Ray was the cat, and Donev believed he had never had a friend like him. There were so many things to say about life on Planet Plamen, beginning perhaps with the fact that NDS’s latest recruit, who was on a visit in early July to head office in Jerusalem, showed signs of being anti-Semitic.
‘I don’t like Israel,’ Plamen emailed Adams. ‘Everything is fine, but I cannot understand the local mentality . . . Something is wrong with the people here! I hate the jews! (Reuven, Chaim, Yoni and Zvi are the only exceptions). I am an intruder here! Nobody trusts me, I am constantly watched…;
Two days before, Reuven Hasak had written to Adams that ‘It seems that the visit goes quite well’. He had met with Yossi Tsuria and Yoni Shiloh and ‘he showed “signs” of being satisfied (Thank God :-))’.
Two days later, not so much. They kept asking Plamen if he was OK. He hated that. ‘YES! I am still alive! And I intend to stay alive!’ he told them. ‘Nobody seems to understand irony… I still keep low profile but I can assure you that I AM PISSED!’
To be fair, Plamen probably hated the British even more. There was his attempt in April to obtain a visa from the British embassy in Sofia. That hadn’t turned out so well.
‘I expected some troubles but not so obviously tactless treatment,’ he told Adams. ‘You’re right – at the embassy they aren’t english, they have mutated to some UGLY animal creatures.’ His documents had been misplaced they had hustled him out of the embassy (‘I took it for the cause’).
He went back, but it was no better. ‘Now hear my word,’ he told Adams. ‘THAT’S ENOUGH! NOBODY IS FUCKING WITH ME LIKE THAT! IF IT’S UP TO ME, THEY CAN STICK THEIR FUCKING VISA UP THEIR ASS! I’m having a pride.’
To clarify here, in case Ray had missed the finer points: ‘I can’t take it any more. I don’t like being treated as speechless monkey by creature showing intellect approaching to the WORM’s intellect. Dostoevsky defined this kind better as DEAD SOUL. I have no respect for such creatures. By my opinion, they have to be exterminated, because they’re polluting the God’s creation – the human kind.’
If the London trip that Ray had planned for him was off, then Plamen had found some exciting prospects getting back into quantum physics. He thought there was something really interesting that was about to done in understanding gravity, something a person could be proud of. That was when Reuven suggested the trip to Israel.
NDS had kept up the pressure on Plamen since his apartment in Kazanluk was raided back in July 1998, ensuring his applications for a Canadian visa were blocked. Plamen couldn’t understand why he was a target for internal security. In late January 1999 he agreed to what became a series of meetings in Bulgaria with Adams, Hasak, Norris and NDS general manager Raffi Kesten. Norris played bad cop, Adams was Plamen’s only true friend. They started with him $5000 a month.
If conversation with Plamen was a lively experience, corresponding with him by email was like group therapy, where Plamen played all the parts: ‘The presence of your friend (chief) Raffi Kesten at this kind of meetings is normal practice. (Fact) By the way, I have the perception that he didn’t like me. Ref: The way he was looking at me. He hates me. (I’ve always trusted to my perceptions…)’
Plamen had a knowingness (‘I’m having legal problems here and they’re funny (no reason). You (your company) are involved in this. (Deduction) By the way, was it expensive?’) mixed with an engaging naivety. He had told no one about their last meeting. Not a soul. Apart from his mother. And his driver. And the friend whom he had had to put off because of the meeting. Perhaps one or two others.
Why should he stop talking to Ron Ereiser’s Canadians? Why was Ray so worried about them, they weren’t the worst kind of people. ‘They’re the most innocent mafia guys I’ve ever seen . . . If you wish to classify them as connected to the organised crime, I would never agree until you exclude the word “organised”. They’re not organised at all!’ They looked at it as a game—‘the proof is their stupid, uncoordinated actions’.
That didn’t go down so well with Ray. ‘He seems to have learned from my shouting at him the other day,’ Adams told Norris days later. ‘He is more polite.’
‘Ray, you’re offending me. I just tried to add some humour to the unhappy situation,’ Plamen wrote. It was almost as if Adams expected Plamen to spy on the Canadians. Plamen hadn’t got around to telling them that he wouldn’t do any more work for them (‘I don’t want to disappoint them before I get my money, thus saving them from a major violation of God’s laws…:-)’. Meanwhile Ereiser’s group had offered him $500,000 to hack the next DirecTV card, P3, in the Caymans—had he not mentioned that? And he wasn’t sure what to say. John Norris (bless him) suggested Plamen put the 500 gorillas in an escrow account. What a quaint little idea.
Plamen wanted to know about Boris. ‘I know that he was in negotiation with you until he died . . . What’s your personal opinion on the subject? Frankly, I don’t think that he’s from the “suiciding” type.’ Hackers didn’t ever give up. Plamen’s theory was either that Boris was murdered, or he wasn’t a very good hacker.
He didn’t like Adams’ response. ‘Ray, you know that there’s something stinky, why aren’t you doing something? You’re one of the best! It’s in my character to say, “OK Ray, tell me what to do, how can I help.” You have to know what has to be done . . . Boris was a brother.’
Life with Plamen was spent in the fast lane. Through the email exchanges you catch a glimpse of Adams, Hasak and Norris scratching their heads, trying to find some way to connect with this wayward missile.
Plamen was probably the most dangerous person in the world for NDS (apart from Oliver, who was on their side already). In the course of producing the hack of the P2 DirecTV card for Herb Huddleston and Ron Ereiser’s group, Plamen had devised a whole new way of attacking smartcards, called glitching. It was a way of applying power to portions of a chip and measuring response times to deduce the values in the chip’s memory. Plamen was brilliant in a comparable way to Oliver and to Markus Kuhn, but achieved his results without the fancy equipment, by ingenuity and determination.
Glitching had revolutionised smartcard hacking. NDS like everyone else had multiple generations of cards which had not been built to handle a glitcher. It was glitching that resurrected the Eurocards after Chris Tarnovsky killed them. Plamen might be too volatile, as Ereiser had discovered, to depend upon for the humdrum business of responding to counter measures. Ereiser had turned to Tarnovsky for that. But as the danger man who could threaten NDS technology at any moment, who could blow a hole in the company, Plamen was in a class of his own. He was a bomb that could go off at any moment. So how do you keep him happy?
London October 19-21, 1999
Adams meanwhile was wrestling with a familiar problem . . . how to keep Plamen Hasak happy and on the team, now that he was back in Bulgaria.
Plamen had been assigned to find a fix for the many versions of the hack for DirecTV’s P2 card. It was really just an attempt to keep him busy. He emailed Asher Arbit, the next day, October 20, asking for the binary source codes for the P2 card: ‘I have analysed almost all of the cards. There are 61 valid dumps. 3 of them were a junk . . . There are 22 different hacks. I have solution for 18 of the groups (totally 47 dumps). They are all similar . . . so we can kill all of them permanently.’
Privately Plamen wrote to Adams in a rage: ‘How the hell somebody is thinking that ANYBODY can analyse 61 different images by 4096 bytes each in 3 days! This is almost quarter million bytes! I am not a wizard!
I had to write some tools to help myself . . . I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I AM DEALING WITH and I am going to do it before the end of this week! . . . As about the Israelian fucks – you already know my oppinion. They don’t like me. Fuck them,’
And then he really got snitty. He did indeed have an idea that might solve the problem with all of the twenty-two hacks, once and for all. But no one paid much attention to him.
‘Woww! Ray, are you angry with me? I haven’t seen so much irony in single letter for years!’ Plamen wrote on March 1 2000 after Adams pulled him up. He might have been a little short tempered, Plamen conceded. He was tired, he had the flu. And ‘I had an argument (HU..UGE) with my wife/girlfriend/emperor/ ruler_of_the_world/personal_sun_for_me_the_ungrateful_pig/etc… (an ex- now… ,for now) 😦 to which I have to thank every day that she spends her time with me, (what is happening with the pregnant women?!! Uuugh!)
But back to the British embassy staff: ‘So it is completely natural to freak when someone makes monkey of you! It was their mistake!’ A few details of British perfidy. ‘Then I had the URGE to shoot someone (preferably someone working there, best – all of them!) We played by their rules and even then we didn’t get any chance! PIGS!!!’
This would not be a good year for Plamen Donev. He had already written to his friend Ray about the difficulties having a newborn baby placed on his sleep and his work, and problems about building a house. By May his marriage was breaking up, he wrote: ‘It is THE HELL here. My wife is a real garbage. I’m trying to get a divorce. She is trying to destroy me.’
Excerpts from early drafts of Murdoch’s Pirates. The above should be read and understood in conjunction with the broader account in the book
From: Alien [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]Sent: 26 April 1999 18:33To: Adams, RaySubject: 😦Hi RayProbably, you should have guessed the result already but I have to report. I expected some troubles but not so obviously tactless treatment. You’re right – at the embassy they aren’t english, they have mutated to some UGLY animal creatures…I expected at least kindness and will to help. Probably, they didn’t know that I’m having immediate feedback. (from you) Let me first explain in more delail what happened before. (I’m writing better than I talk)At my first visit to the embassy I submitted all of the required documents. They told me that, probably, I have to wait from 4 to 6 weeks. Then I tried to convince them that my problem is URGENT and it’s written in the letter in a kind way… They told me that I shouldn’t have an oppinion on such matters…. (being a Bulgarian, I admited that the English is not my first language – obvious) Everyone treated me as a beggar or a bum.I was shepherded out of the embassy. I took it for the cause.Then, you sent the second letter. The last week I was PREPARING for leaving with the intention to get the visa TODAY.Today (amazingly) happened something impossible! At the interview the officer had ONLY the first letter. You know the most, I saved you the treatment… (the same) At the interview I told them that THERE IS ANOTHER LETTER explaining in more delail my case. The answer was – “NO, That’s the ONLY letter we have.”I didn’t argue, because the FIRST ONE obviously was enough for the consideration of my case as URGENT, even if it was exactly the opposite of what I was told before… Then the guy acted like I’m trying to trick him somehow. He asked me many questionson which I have ALREADY ANSWERED in the standard application form.(What the hell he’s thinking – probably that if I’m lying, I would have forgotten what I lied before? Foolish!) Then he got thoughtful look (giving a BIG effort, obviously) and he wrote in rapid sequence what ELSE I have to submit. The ‘ELSE’ you know already. My FIRST thought was that it concerns MY company and I explained that my relationship to NDS is PERSONAL and my company has nothing to do.The answer was “the documens of the ENGLISH company”. I was astonished! Away from everything else – he even didn’t understand that NDS is INTERNATIONAL COMPANY!!!He either had an intellect below the minimum for a human being or just didn’t care! I started to explain that the question about the financial ability of NDS is ridiculous but he didn’t listen to me.“I can do no more. Come again with those documents. NEXT PLEASE…”It’s very interesting how this became MY MISUNDERSTANDINGAfter our conversation, at 2:00 I got again to the embassy. I was shep.herded again, the guy at the gate took my passport, I stood there 2 hours ON MY FEETS trying to establish some communication with the persons mentioned by you. Impossible! The guy at the gate told me that he can’t do anything else (he was Bulgarian) and made the suggestion that it’s better for me to try to PHONE to the embassy. (I was THERE – IN THE FUCKING EMBASSY!)On the phone the answer was as always – “This person is not available at the moment. CLICK.” (You already have good experience). At 4:00 the guy at the gate came to me with my passport and told me – “I’m sorry! Try againtomorow.”Now hear my word. THAT’S ENOUGH! NOBODY IS FUCKING WITH ME LIKE THAT! IF IT’S UP TO ME, THEY CAN STICK THEIR FUCKING VISA UP THEIR ASS! I’m having a pride. I believe that in order to win other’s respect, one have FIRST to respect himself! No more silly games!I’M NOT GOING BACK TO THE EMBASSY TO TAKE MORE OF THAT SHIT! What I want to hear is:” Mr. Donev, would you PLEASE (missing word in their vocabulary) come here to get your visa. We really sorry about the delay.”And I will go there ONLY if I get this responce in advance!I can’t take it any more. I don’t like being treated as speechless monkey by creature showing intellect approaching to the WORM’s intellect. Dostoevsky defined this kind better as DEAD SOUL. I have no respect for such creatures.By my oppinion, they have to be exterminated, because they’re poluting the God’s creation – the human kind. (Probably, I have to make something more than talking about this, at last…)Now, we arrive at the real problem.Do you think that I’m able to do my job here?How this will interfere further on our relationship?I admit, that’s probably the WORST possible case. If you think that I wouldn’t be useful, we can terminate our agreement. You don’t owe me anything in this case. I would never accept payment for doing nothing. From my side, I can assure you that I will never attack your company again. (nor any other company)I’ve found more exciting problems to solve… Probably, I will continue with my education in the physics, especially – quantum mechanics. (I feel that some of the mathematical aparatus used slips out of my understanding). There’s many rumors about theories unifying the all 4 forces. All of them are similar.I feel that the humanity is close to the point to become able to control the gravity. It’s interesting, exciting, fascinating… Something worth doing, even worth spending the rest of my life. Something not to be ashamed for…Tell me your oppinion. Do you see any other possibilities? I’m too disappointed to cover all of the possibilities now…Sincerely yourPlamen—————————————-From: “Alien” <email@example.com>To: “Adams, Ray” <RAdams@ndsuk.com>Subject: RE:Date: Wed, 1 Mar 2000 02:50:33 +0200Woww! Ray, are you angry at me? I haven’t seen so much irony in singleletter for years! Well, here’s the explanation:1. I was tired because I haven’t slept the previous night (had togo early in the morning),2. I got some terrible flu,3. I had an argument (HU..UGE) with my wife/girlfriend/emperor/ ruler_of_the_world/personal_sun_for_me_the_ungrateful_pig/etc… (an ex- now… ,for now) 😦 to which I have to thank every day that she spends her time with me, (what is happening with the pregnant women?!! Uuugh!)so it is completely natural to freak when someone makes monkey of you!It was their mistake!They told us: “Come in 16:00 to take your passports vith the visas”. Even then, we tried in 14:00 when the Embassy opens for the afternoon. They said: “It is impossible – come back after 16:00 as we told you!” When we arrived at the embassy EXACTLY at 16:00, they said:“Well, the council asked for you 30 minutes ago – you missed your chance!”.If we haven’t came back at 14:00, I would have probably saved my feelings only for myself… Then I had the URGE to shoot someone (prefferably someone working there, best – all of them!) We played by their rules and even then we didn’t get any chance! PIGS!!!Many excuses, if you have understood my message as an insult… I was just brief and bitter (and in hurry to go to the bed), so please – MERCY!Forgive my unkindness, I am peasant! (was it something bad? Find a worse word and change it…) :-))))I still feel sick. I still got problems. Would it be acceptable if we fly the next week?As about the beer – you may, but only the first!best regardsYourPlamen—–Original Message—–From: Alien [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]Sent: 25 February 2000 15:58To: Adams, RaySubject: RE:Hi Ray,The passports are at the embassy. They tried again to play theirsilly games. I am not going ANYWHERE without confidence that it’sgoing to work. Now I am very sick. Have to go to bed.ByePlamen