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John Draper, Interviewed Early 1995

By Tom Barbalet.

Who is John Draper?

I'm John Draper. And I am sometimes known as Captain Crunch. From about twenty years ago when the Captain Crunch cereal whistle was used to make free phone calls, and the name I picked was because it was an alias or a pseudonym that I used to keep anonymity.

The name has stuck pretty much all this time and every time a big hacker arrest comes up I am always the person to be brought up. The media people always come up and ask me questions. Also even the FBI will come up and ask me questions, pertaining to the recent arrest. Although they haven't have been bothering me since 1985 or '86 actually. The last time I encountered those bozos. Anyway that's it, recently, now, I am very heavy (sic) in the rave scene. Going to as many raves as I possibly can.

Newsweek magazine puts you in the list of the top twenty hackers.

Top twenty of all time, they say. I thought the picture looked a little dorky.

You've been a dominant figure in hacking since the early seventies. When you started, did you realise what you would get yourself into?

When I started I was mostly interested in the curiosity of how the phone company worked. I had no really (sic) desire to go rip them off and steal phone service and evade charges. I was mostly interested in interesting codes you could dial and what you can do with a bluebox, than actually outright and making free calls. I had any number of ways of making free calls available to me other than using a bluebox.

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After being discharged from the military I had access to military phone system just because I knew a lot of people that were working at the base near where I lived. And they could connect me of charge on their watch-signs anywhere I wanted to go. So that really didn't mean anything to me as far as making free calls go.

I was mostly interested in what you could do with the internal codes of the bluebox - that the bluebox gave me access to. And that was my intention, I had no intention to go out there and rip them off. That happened later after I got in jail. After I got in jail I went out of my way to tell everybody how to do it. That caused a lot of rip offs for the phone company and that's what really cost them a lot of money.

By putting me in jail they basically created hundreds of Captain Crunches out there. Thousands of Captain Crunches out there. That was the biggest, stupidest mistake they made. They shouldn't have put me in jail.

They put me in jail, and look what they did, they put me in contact with the very people that you would never want to have access to this kind of technology - prisoners. Prisoners in jail love this kind of stuff, they just eat that stuff up. I was very popular in jail as a result. I had classes. Every other day, I'd have classes. People would ask me hundreds of questions. I'd have workshops, and we'd go to the payphone in the jail and try things out. So I'd get these people familiar with what things sounded like.

As a result I generated close to two or three hundred phone phreaks from Lompoc alone. Everybody there from the Lompoc Federal Prison knew me and what I was in there for and the much appreciated all the information I was giving them. And not only that, I gave all the other people in all the other jails all the information that they needed. And they went out and utilised this information to what ever means that fitted them.

They did that, that's fine. I didn't care at that point. I was pretty bitter about the idea of being thrown in jail for just experimenting. I was made a martyr. I was made the big kingpin only because my number appeared in everybody's' address books when the Grand Jury began doing their inditement suite in the original case. I was pretty much the fall-guy I guess.

The US courts seem to only put one heavy sentence out of a group of hackers, right?

Yes, that's the way they do things.

They really lean on one person in order to get the rest of them. The person that knows a lot is probably the one that is going to get the short end of the stick as far as the law is concerned. But at the same time, the person that knows a lot is more likely to go to jail. And the person that knows a lot is more likely to be the person that is going to go out there and give the information out to the prisoners.

That's the key. Getting that technology out to the underground prisoners. That does the most damage, than anything else. That's a very damaging thing. Just by being in jail, I've done more damage to the phone company, and cost them a lot more money than being out of jail. If they'd have left me alone and hired me instead they wouldn't have had this problem. I would have cooperated with them, I would have kept my knowledge under wraps.

They thought what they should do is punish me. Well that punishment plot backfired on them and as a result, thousands upon thousands of hackers out there - there is probably fifty thousand people that have access to this technology as a result of my arrests and my being incarcerated.
I made sure that word got out. While I was in jail I was sending a script to my attorney who was then releasing it to the underground magazines. Things like 'Tap' and '2600' and all these magazine articles where having a steady stream of information being sent from people like me.

What is unique about the San Francisco cybercommunity?

The San Francisco cybercommunity has always been the cutting edge of the intermingling of art and technology. There is a lot of art and technology and music mixed together in the cybercommunity of San Francisco. It has always been that way. Almost anything new that comes out will usually come from San Francisco first.

From there or from the UK. The UK also has a lot of interesting things as well, although not being from the UK, in a more recent sense, I don't know really what they've got over there. But I do know with groups like Cyberlab-7 all of the other things they've got in San Francisco, it seems to be like the cutting edge thing of mixing art and music and dance and technology, electronics, Internet, real-TV, and these things all mixed in together.

San Francisco has a huge array of multimedia companies, South-of-market area. South-of-market area is an industrial area, now. A lot of the nightclubs have sprung up mainly because it is easy to park down there.

Can you explain your philosophy of energy within yourself?

I have been working with a personal trainer, over the period of the last three years. And I have also been working with a number of other interested groups as well and people to basically explore an inner energy source related to being able to identify energy blockages that make you weak and tired. I've been able to successfully do this to myself, however, up until just recently I haven't been very successful in doing it to other people.
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The reason being, that I've just realised that I've got an inner sensitivity to people's energy and I am able to identify where they are. And it is very difficult for somebody who has not done this before. I'm having a heck of a time trying to teach other people to do this. I certainly wish I could find someone to do it to myself. Because having it done to myself is a lot better than me doing it myself. Cause then I can relax and I can deep focus and monitor my breathing and things like that.

There is only one or two people that come really close to me and these are people that I live with in California. It involves kinesiology. It involves acupressure. It involves doing exercise. It involves a whole lot of things, and you throw it all together again and you can control these things it actually works.

Your energy philosophy, interlinks with your dance philosophy. Why is dance music so crucial in the Captain Crunch existence? It seems now you want to be know as Captain Crunch the Raver instead of Captain Crunch the Hacker.

That's stuck on me 'cause of all the raves I go to. So I became famous automatic' only because I go to so many raves. People see me so many times. Everybody comes up to me and they say I see you everywhere what's your name - kind of thing. I find that through dance I can let my self go with the music. Kind of move my body around. I get exercise. I get socialising and exercise at the same time.

Through dance I can do tai chai and yoga and all these things, all rolled into one. So it is a matter of convenience as well as a necessity to go out and get exercise. Probably the main reason I go to raves. Dancing all night at a rave probably burn up more energy there than I can do in two weeks worth of going to the gym and working out.

You write techno too. How do you create the music?

I'm only doing this in Sydney, with Clan Analogue. I'm working on a techno song with Clan Analog, a collective, of musicians and bands that specialise in techno music, synthetiser, midi stuff and all that. And I was given an opportunity to get access to the equipment. I sat down and I wrote a song.

You've been staying at ANU [the Australian National University] for just over a day now. What do you think of the campus? The student accommodation? And the level of computer security in the University?

I wouldn't want to be a student here, I'd go insane. I can't even make a phone call using my calling card from the rooms here. I don't like the idea of not being able to have my own phone with my own phone line. I think that's despicable that they won't let the students have there own phone lines and they have to go through this stupid electronics system they've got here.

You get charged and soaked for calls I'm sure. If they are going to make surcharge in fees for long distance and STD calls out of here. The computer service is very nice. I like the idea of having a computer room in the dorms. Although almost every college I've been to does have a computer room in the dorms. The idea that you can just plug into the net and just telnet into your account is really nice. I like that, that is a nice aspect of the concept. But I do think students should be able to use a modem from their rooms, as well as being able to use the computer rooms.
The security aspect of the ANU computers?

With this electronic system, they have control over you and what you do. it is just a matter of control. And they are going to do their best to discourage people from hacking into their phone system. Which I'm sure is hackable, just no one has thought about trying to do it yet.

What do you think about Australia, the place, and the wildlife?

From a hacker's point of view, Australia is definitely a hacker's heaven. That's all I've got to say. It's a hacker's heaven. It is so easy to make free phone calls here it's pathetic. You can take mag cards, duplicate them on phone cards and make all the calls you want free.

It's real easy to do. Duplicating cards is done by contacting hacktic [an Internet site in the Netherlands] and getting a card duplication kit, and you're in business. You can get free subway rides, free bus rides, free train rides, probably free gas, cause those gas station things take these little mag cards as well. It's ridiculous.

As far as wildlife is concerned, I have yet to see all of Australia. I have only seen the south-eastern half or sections of it. I did see my first kangaroo out on the lonely road on the way to Wallawalla from Tokamol. Saw that sucker out there licking his pouch. Almost hit the stupid thing, they think they own the road. I like the birds. I like the wildlife here, for sure. You can get really close to them, you can look at them up close. Don't get that were I live.

I like the climate here. Even though it is getting on Winter, it is almost like summer for me. The seasons are reversed. It is a little bit weird seeing the leaves turn colour in April rather than seeing the leaves change colour in October. All the energy forces are in opposite directions from energy forces where I come from. Water goes down the toilet differently here than it does where I'm from. The sun goes around the sky differently, than where I come from. The moon is upside down from here as far as my perspective goes. They drive on the left hand side of the road. For me that is pretty strange.

Got to be careful energy forces are different. Could get wiped out being hit by a car, if I look right before I cross the street. So there are all these energy forces I have to deal with that I always have to be aware of but it's neat. It's neat to be able to come out here and see everything different. It's a change. I like change. I've always liked change. I like to do things new, like I went into the restaurant and I asked about some particular item of food and I says, 'Oh, I'll take that one. I've never had that one before so I'll take it.' And so I'm very aware of trying to do as much new things as I possibly can.

There is a lot of stuff that is new to me. I am very naive. When I ask questions I have to believe them. The nice thing I like about Australia is people are very polite, they're very nice, they go out of their way to help you out. Even dealing with bureaucratic people they're even nice. Nicer than the stuff in the States.


Tom Barbalet interviews John Draper on his time at Autodesk - John Draper's Wikipedia Entry