Working Title: Agent Steal
The True Story of Computer Hacker, Justin Petersen
Contact: Justin Petersen
Note: I wrote this myself; roughly I might add, simply as a guideline for someone writing a script. Nevertheless, it outlines my story in brief.
I see this as a sordid Hollywood story of computer crime, love, hi speed chase action, kinky sex, and betrayal, all with a tongue in cheek sense of humor.
A hip yet sexually decadent computer hacker grows up and finds himself involved in hi-tech corporate espionage for a Hollywood P.I. firm. His association with an infamous hacker invokes a dramatic FBI investigation and, after an 8 month multi state chase, he gets captured. Instead of prison they put him to work as a hacker bounty hunter, it's hacker versus hacker. Eventually, his deal with the Bureau goes sour, and he goes back to prison.
The following story as written is factually correct and is documented in 4 books and countless newspaper articles. Agent Steal is the hacker pseudonym of Justin, thus we refer to him as "Steal" in this treatment.
In a short opening scene we see our main character, Steal, as a 12 year old. He and a friend are playing with the phone lines in his basement electronics lab in his house. Steal tries connecting a make shift phone tap to the line. He hears his mother talking about him to her friend. Steal's jaw drops. She notices that something is up and yells downstairs at the kids. "STOP PLAYING WITH THE PHONE! DON"T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE!" The boys run out the basement door laughing and giggling.
18 years later - appears on the screen
The camera starts to follow a black Porsche from above. The car rolls to a stop near a dark office building. Steal steps out of the car and approaches the building. The scene continues as Steal, in a wanna-be Mission Impossible style, bypasses alarm systems and tricks electronically controlled doors to enter into a computer network facility. Once inside he connects a portable computer to the rows of equipment. We see the laptop as it captures data and passwords as they speed along the network connections.
In the next few scenes we learn that Steal is a professional computer hacker working for a busy P.I. firm. He is a wiretap and information specialist. The P.I. is an ex-FBI Agent (SAC Ted Gunderson). We also learn that Steal used to be a traditional hacker and still, when he needs to work out a problem, communicates with the geeks back at the computer lab. One of Steal's friends holds a position as a security specialist at the "San Diego Super Computer Center".
Steal is not your typical hacker. He is fashionably dressed, articulate, affable, and has hip friends. We see him frequenting nightclubs, and playing drums in a local band, or running concert sound systems. He leads a decadent life of going to parties, and hanging out with rock stars, strippers, and kinky sex nights. Although he has a hip look about him, he has an inner intelligence that is revealed at times. Note that Steal tends to wear glasses only when he is working, hinting that a split personality might be present.
The story follows Steal on a few industrial espionage missions for the P.I. There are countless adventures to chose from here:
Steal breaks into the office of another P.I., hacks into his computer, and then copies his files. Steal later finds out that the Church of Scientology is the client.
Steal, dressed up like a phone man, installs a phone tap in broad daylight for the P.I. firm. On the way out of the phone room Steal passes a real telephone man. They exchange greetings and go about their business. Next he sees the person he was paid to tap leaving her apartment, it's Playboy Playmate Heather Parkhurst and they know each other. He pulls down his hat, tips his head forward and walks by. Steal later learns her rich jealous boyfriend hired his P.I. firm to keep tabs on her.
Steal gets hired to go to the offices of Producers John Peters and Peter Guber to check for bugs and wire taps. He has free reign of Mr. Peter's office and sits at his desk, leans back, and puts his feet up on the desk. Steal uses his phone to call his girlfriend, "You'll never believe where I am." he tells his girl. After the call Steal gets back to work. A life size statue of Batman looms ominously at him. Comically, he checks it for bugs.
Steal has a meeting with Alex, the infamous, "Hollywood Madam", who gave Heidi Fliess her start. Alex is half crazy and paranoid, convinced she is being tapped. He debugs her house, cautiously stepping over her 12 cats.
Steal is a bit of a ladies man but, he has a love interest, Diane, a pretty, petite brunette. He loves her very much, however, Steal is drawn to the fast life and lives for adventure. He doesn't want to settle down yet. This creates conflict in what otherwise would have been a harmonious relationship. In fact, Steal lives underground so to speak. He doesn't tell anyone his real name, and he doesn't live in one place, or keep the same phone number for very long.
We briefly meet a pathetic 'wanna-be cool' character named Philip. He is shallow, two faced, and jealous of Steal. Philip used to work for Steal at a nightclub until he fired him. They often run into each other. Philip plays an instrumental role later on in the story.
Steal and his hacker buddy frequently break in to telephone company computer centers at night to study the gear. Eventually, his hacker buddy comes up with a method that will enable them to seize the phone lines going to radio stations. With this they are able to guarantee that they will be the winners in phone in contests. The scam pays off, over a 6-month period, Steal, and his associates win $50,000 in cash prizes, 2 Porsches, and several trips to Hawaii. Steal buys his girlfriend Diane breast implants with his winnings.
Information is Steal's specialty. Friends often call on him for advice on credit, finding unlisted numbers, and the occasional birth certificate that he makes with his computer.
Eventually, life gets complicated. An investigation ensues as the result of Steal's association with his hacker buddy, a sophisticated and mysterious hacker by the name of Dark Dante (Kevin Poulsen). Steal learns the FBI is tapping his phone. It all leads up to a scene where Steal tries to lose a dozen FBI agents that are following him to get to Dante. On a windy canyon road Steal floors his Porsche and disappears into the hills. A helicopter is called in and Steal narrowly escapes. Abandoning his car, Steal hides under a parked car while the helicopter circles overhead. Later, Steal confides in Diane, she gets fed up. Not wanting to get caught up in the investigation, she breaks up with Steal. He decides that he won't be safe unless he leaves town. In a dramatic moment, with appropriate music, we see Steal driving away from LA on a rainy day. Steal opens his wallet, looking at a picture of Diane, he mumbles to himself, "I'll be back".
The story shifts to the FBI offices and we see Agents busy working on the case. The scene is ominous and the seriousness of the manhunt is evident. In a telephone conversation between a United States Attorney and an FBI agent we learn that the Bureau has identified Dark Dante as Kevin Poulsen, a particularly dangerous, in the eyes of the government, computer hacker. After discussing the case they decide to have Poulsen profiled on TV's "Unsolved Mysteries".
This scene emphasizes the dual life Steal is leading. On one hand Steal works for the P.I. and spends time hacking away on the computer, on the other hand we see Steal hanging around nightclubs working as a sound engineer, and always with a lady. During this scene, with Steal now living in Dallas, we see his visit to a strip club interrupted by a page from Poulsen. Poulsen has found out about his upcoming profile on "Unsolved Mysteries" as the nation's most wanted computer hacker. Steal hops on a plane to LA. The two meet up and work on a plan to knock out the 800 number call-in lines to the show. On the night of the show the lines "mysteriously" go down, and, in an effort to prevent his neighbors from seeing the show, Poulsen cuts the cable TV feed to his apartment building. The heat is on and Steal feels less than mortal. And to add to the turmoil, Steal learns that Poulsen has betrayed and lied to Steal. He can no longer trust him and he ends their association.
Several months later, Poulsen gets apprehended. And after painstaking efforts, Steal gets captured. At 6 in the morning, with his current girl friend lying naked in the bed next to him, armed FBI agents burst into his apartment. But unbeknownst to him, his boss, the ex-FBI man, works out a deal for him. Steal and his attorney in a secret meeting with a dozen government suits close the deal. Steal is to go undercover for the Feds. His mission is to teach agents about hacking techniques and to track down the Hannibal Lector of hacking, Kevin Mitnick. Steal is not real happy about being under the thumb of the Bureau, he knows they will screw him if things don't work out. It's a deal with the devil, but the price is right. Steal signs the papers and becomes a hacker bounty hunter.
Released from prison into the custody of two FBI agents, Steal is flown back to LA to begin his 2 years of covert undercover work. He meets with agents at the FBI's offices and is briefed on Mitnick. Steal is then taken to an undercover apartment and equipped with some high tech tools of the trade. His first mission is to locate Poulsen's hidden computer equipment. Since Poulsen had betrayed him, he decides to do the same. Steal's other task is to gather information on the hacker underground, techniques etc. Next he tracks down Mitnick, makes contact and the game begins. (This is where the Miramax movie "Takedown" begins) Steal is able to get Mitnick to confide in him and he lets him in on his latest hacking activities. With the FBI covertly recording every meeting, the case starts to build. Unfortunately, Mitnick detects the sting due to a Bureau foul up. The deal turns sour and the FBI turns their backs on Steal, he is of little use to them now. Steal is concerned that he may have to go back to prison.
Note: "Takedown", for the most part, only covers what was just mentioned. From here it continues to follow Mitnicks flight.
Diane is never far from Steal's mind. Feeling down, he calls her, but she doesn't want to talk. It's clear she still loves him, but she can't handle his way of life. Steal tells her about his deal with the Bureau. He says he is trying to get his life back on track, "Now you are working underground for the FBI?" she asks, "You are completely out of your mind!" She hangs up the phone. The scene fades out with Steal nursing a drink at a strip club.
Next scene the phone rings and awakens Steal. It's his friend from the San Diego Super Computer Center and he is calling to warn Steal. It seems Mitnick has been hacking through one of the Super Computer Centers computers, trying to access high level information on Steal. Eventually the conversation shifts to how different things are in Steal's life now. His buddy tells him, "There was a day when you were so underground you wouldn't even answer a phone. Now look at you. You probably have a credit card under your real name!" Indeed, Steal pines for his days of anonymity.
The scene shifts to Mitnick as he secretly accesses the information on Steal's deal with the government. Then, over the phone he impersonates a police officer and attempts to have some DMV printouts of Steal faxed to him at a Kinkos. The DMV clerk is suspicious and alerts the FBI. After trying to pick up the printouts, Mitnick narrowly escapes in a foot chase through a busy parking lot. (This scene is in Takedown)
Someone leaks the Steal versus Mitnick story to the press. The newspapers always happy to report the latest development in Mitnick's' criminal career run the story on the front page. The headlines read, "FBI Hires Computer Hacker To Track Mitnick". And with the investigation a failure, the Bureau looks bad.
In a final blow to Steal's situation the United States Attorney summons him and his attorney to a special meeting. At the meeting the U.S. Attorney, along with two FBI agents, accuse Steal of committing additional crimes. They also believe that he might have tipped off Mitnick. (Having never been charged or convicted of these crimes I'd like to keep this mysterious) Steal stares out the window and starts to daydream while his attorney talks to the agents. He thinks about what it was like to be free, no responsibility, and living underground. It really bothers him to have to answer to someone, especially the arrogant government. When he comes back to reality he realizes that he will likely be arrested at the end of the meeting. Steal asks to step outside into the lobby to confer with his attorney. Once outside Steal shakes his attorneys hand, says thank you, and then gets into the elevator. His attorney, momentarily dumbfounded, realizes that Steal is running away. The attorney hurries back to the meeting and warns the FBI. An agent quickly phones down to the security desk and the agents run out of the room. But, it's too late Steal is gone. From the back seat of a public bus, Steal, watches as FBI agents and US Marshals run out the front door of the Federal Courthouse looking for him.
The FBI desperately searches for Steal. They raid his house just minutes after he had gathered his things and left. They trace a call he makes from a payphone to his attorney and dispatch a black FBI helicopter. He narrowly escapes. Their efforts are futile; Steal knows their game and stays one step ahead. Steal leaves LA. Nevertheless, the Bureau persists hoping he will slip up. Several months pass while he is hiding out.
It has all come full circle for Steal, he is back to square one, once again a fugitive. His life is a mess so he decides to cash in and leave the country. He travels back to LA. Using his hacking skills one final time he sets his sites on the Holy Grail of hacks, the coveted inter-bank funds transfer system. It's a formidable task and we see Steal taking more "Mission Impossible" style risks like never before. He must break into a highly protected computer center and tap in. The mission is a success as he keys in an initial test transfer for $150,000. He mumbles to himself, "If this works we'll add a couple more zeros".
Steal plans to pick up his cash from his partner. On a whim he calls Diane and she agrees to see him. Philip, the jealous friend, in an odd coincidence, spots him walking into Diane's apartment. Philip has always been anxious to get one up on Steal, and when he steps up to a pay phone you already know what he is about to do. Philip calls the Feds. As Steal leaves Diane's apartment several FBI agents swoop in on him. He runs for his car but is captured. Diane sees the whole ordeal. As Steal is being led handcuffed by the FBI, Diane and Steal stare at each other, Diane starts to cry. Steal goes to prison.
Next we see Steal sitting in the prison visiting room meeting with his attorney. The attorney says that things are not as bad as they seem. Apparently, the government feels somewhat responsible for the way things turned out. As the result they won't be pushing for a harsh sentence. Then the attorney, while emotionlessly looking down and writing says, "But you're going to have do some time." Scene fades to black.
3 years later, 1996 - appears on the screen
We see Steal getting out of a Federal Bureau of Prisons bus with a guard driving. The guard wishes him luck and drives away. Camera pans out to reveal Steal standing in front of an Airport. He picks up his bag and walks in the terminal. While waiting in line, Steal, notices a pretty blond looking at him. She smiles. Steal mumbles to himself, "Still got it!".
Note: This story can continue. There is more drama if necessary.