Packet Rat: The Rat lends a paw to the FBI

(GCN Illustration by Michael J. Bechetti)

The whiskered one dwells where two worlds collide: the Federal Triangle and cyberspace. Sometimes the overlap causes conflict with his associates in one circle or another.

It's bad enough that he keeps getting ferreted out at the DefCon hackers' convention during the popular 'Spot the Fed' game. It's hard to hide when you have, er, distinctive good looks.

But in the post-9/11 world, the cyberrodent's fed-geek dichotomy has split his personality even more, thanks in no small part to attorney general John Ashcroft'or, as he is known in the United Kingdom, Lord High Protector Ashcroft.

After Ashcroft's recent redrawing of the rules of engagement for FBI investigations, techno-libertarians of the Rat's acquaintance were screaming louder than ever.

'You hear that sound?' one instant-messaged him. 'It's my rights being trampled.'

Sure enough, the thought of FBI agents hanging about in chat rooms and trolling personal Web pages for a hint of anti-American activity did conjure up memories of J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO and other things the Rat would rather forget.

But there was one comforting fact that he cited to his tech-weenie friends: Before a federal agent can be assigned to every chat channel and discussion board on the Web, the Justice Department has to figure out how to get to them.

'I have it on good authority that Ashcroft until very recently thought Google was a porn site,' the Rat chuckled.

It was only a matter of time before he found himself embroiled in the issue, however. A contact at the department rang up, and for once it wasn't about an impending investigation of the ratlings' online depredations.

Instead, it was a cry for help.

The attorney general's rulebook changes had triggered a sudden interest at the appointee level in all things peer-to-peer, and a minor problem had arisen. Few appointees spoke the lingo.

Despite their best efforts to wander the public spaces of the Internet, they kept getting laughed out of America Online chat rooms as clueless newbies. And then there was the whole Internet Relay Chat thing.

'The AG wants the 411 on IRC on the QT, ASAP,' snapped the acronym-empowered junior G-man.

So, a few days later, the cyberrodent was ushered into a room several floors below Mulder's office in the Hoover building.

'OK, so let's get started,' he instructed. 'First, you need IRC client software installed. Fortunately, Mozilla comes with a chat client, so we'll only need to do one download.'

There was a murmur of confusion from the desk.

'Mozilla,' the Rat repeated. 'It's a Web browser. It's the open-source version of Netscape.'
'Download?' queried the designated suit.

The Rat slapped his furry forehead. It was going to be a long day.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected]

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