Transcription performed by Leah Hervoly www.leahtranscribes.com
JACK: Hey, it’s Jack, host of the show. We’re about to hear a story from a friend of mine, Jordan. Jordan is one of those guys that has a million stories. Like, his life is just filled with crazy adventures; like this one time he was traveling and got kidnapped, but then escaped. Then on another trip he was kidnapped again and escaped again. He’s also been in North Korea I think a few times. But today, he’s going to tell us a story about a time when he was a teenager and got a visit from the FBI.
JACK (INTRO): [INTRO MUSIC] These are true stories from the dark side of the internet. I’m Jack Rhysider. This is Darknet Diaries. [INTRO MUSIC ENDS]
JACK: When Jordan was a kid, like many of us, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with himself. He was smart, energetic, clever, bored, and sometimes a rascal. You mix all that up and you get a kid that constantly got in trouble and was into a lot of mischief. It seemed like he didn’t know right from wrong sometimes and might just be a bad seed going down a bad path.
JORDAN: [MUSIC] There was a time when my mom was crying in the kitchen and it was one of the lowest points of my life. She was crying in the kitchen because she thought that her son was gonna screw his whole life up and he had a lot of promise. She didn’t understand why and she thought maybe it was her fault, and she had no idea. There was a time when I thought I can’t be an employee or I can’t get this stuff straight, or maybe I am gonna not be able to resist my own BS urges and end up doing something stupid and end up in prison, committing fraud to buy something dumb that I didn’t even need.
JACK: We’ve all made mistakes when we were young. Our brain’s just not fully-formed yet. When you look at a young kid doing bad things, is there a way to tell if they’re really bad or deep down good? Curious kids get in trouble. Kids who think the world is strange or inefficient get in trouble. It’s only the kids who know how to play by society’s rules that do good as kids. But maybe some of us don’t know how to play by the rules properly until we get in proper trouble, or maybe it just takes the right person at the right time to make a serious impact on a young mind. Let’s go back to the early 90s when Jordan was twelve or thirteen, when he got his first computer.
JORDAN: Of course, I got a modem and what I ended up doing was going on a lot of bulletin board systems, networking my way on there literally and figuratively. I don’t mean like, networking in the computer sense. I mean making friends with people online who lived in Detroit and talking about crazy, zany topics and having a lot of fun, and chatting about adult things. At this point, I really get interested in making things that explode. [MUSIC] Now, you can’t do that without getting your door kicked in by the FBI but back then, it was like, oh, Drano bombs; hilarious. Right? Ah, this bottle rocket or model rocket that you’ve attached the explosive payload to, so funny. You could make a big boom and the whole neighborhood freaks out and the windows rattle, and everyone’s like, that kid. Nobody’s like, Al-Qaeda.
That’s what they do now, right, they go domestic terrorism! Back then it was just you redneck punk. I start getting a reputation as the guy that has all of those recipes for everything. I got every text file. They were .txt files of every [00:05:00] kind of device; box, explosive, everything. What my move was is I would sign up to a new board and I would – the sysop would have to approve you. You sign up for the new board, bulletin board system, and then at some point I’d say look, you should let me in. I have ten thousand or a thousand or whatever it was files about red boxes, blue boxes, explosives, all this stuff. A lot of people had some of it but not many people had all of it that you could possibly find anywhere. I was an avid collector of this.
JACK: At thirteen and he’s already developing an encyclopedic knowledge of explosives, stuff that he probably shouldn’t be getting into at that age. But people on these bulletin boards thought he was cool, so the admins would ask him to upload what he had, and he did.
JORDAN: These sysops of these great pirate boards or little hacker boards that were just like small time or medium time, I guess you could say, they were stoked. Sometimes boards would go hey man, you have so much of this. I need you to curate it. I’m gonna make you an assistant sysadmin after a couple months. Can you organize this, make it really cool? I wanna make this kind of an HQ. Our board has the most of this stuff now anywhere that I’ve ever seen. These are boards that also had games and stuff like that. They were pretty elite for my area back in Detroit. I remember they were always busy and they had multiple phone lines. I mean, these were frickin’ legit, man.
JACK: Jordan started meeting some of these people from online in real life and he would get together and meet with them in Detroit. But these guys were into something that Jordan hadn’t seen before. They liked jumping into trash cans and looking for stuff; dumpster-diving. They were looking for something particular. No, they weren’t trying to find free pizzas or day-old bread. They were looking for something a little more interesting.
JORDAN: The guys were like hey, you know, we’re dumpster-diving for these electronic serial numbers. You wanna see what we do with them? I was like, sure. I started learning how to program cell phones. That was the beginning of the journey.
JACK: Jordan was up for this kind of stuff. Heck yeah, as a teenager hanging out in the town with the older kids who knew how to hack cell phones who also accepted Jordan? Jordan was in with the cool kids and things were getting exciting.
JORDAN: Other things I started learning how to do were diagram and learn a lot about phone systems. We called it phreaking back then. Of course, you spelled it with a ph ‘cause you were very cool and elite. What I started to realize was cloning cell phones was really fun and listening to cell phone conversations was really easy. I think I had an NEC P301 or an NEC P300 or both. Somehow, you could get that to scan cell phone channels and you could listen to one side of the conversation. I think it was just one side. You could scan for channels ‘cause everything’s analog. Nothing’s encrypted, nothing’s really secure. I thought that was fascinating but you would lose them as they went out of reception and I think – I really do remember you were only getting one side of the conversation.
JACK: Jordan continued to play around with the phones, trying to hack payphones and cell phones and landlines, everything. One day he saw a telephone repair truck parked. [MUSIC] Of course, this caught his attention. Jordan was super into phone hacking at this point and would have loved to get his hands on some of the pro tools that a lineman would have. Jordan watched the lineman go off to lunch, and he snuck over to the truck. He saw an Ameritech handset, the ones linemans use to test telephone boxes with. He grabbed it and ran.
JORDAN: It has alligator clips; the orange handset, right? It has alligator clips on the end, so I went in and then I made a hex wrench or whatever kind of wrench it was to open those green boxes on the side of the road. There was one that had bushes near it and they hadn’t trimmed the bushes in a while. They were supposed to do that but they didn’t. I could dump my bike and sit in or near the bushes and not be spotted from the road, open up the green box, plug the alligator clips onto whatever line pair I wanted, and I can listen to conversations all day in my neighborhood. I would spend like, four and six hours listening to conversations in my neighborhood.
JACK: Jeez, spending that many hours listening to people’s conversations? How weird. A lot of conversations were boring calls; someone calling their spouse. What’s for dinner, honey? Or do you need anything from the store? That kind of stuff. But as Jordan hung out listening to these calls, he started to get hooked on one guy in particular. This guy who made a lot of calls in his neighborhood was going through a divorce and living with his mom.
JORDAN: [MUSIC] He would whine to his mom or his aunt, I guess, all the time on the phone. He would whine to his sister on the phone, he would act really tough with his friends on the phone, and when he was talking to his soon-to-be-ex-wife, he was just outright hostile. [00:10:00] I remember thinking even at age thirteen, age fourteen, if he just talked to his soon-to-be-ex-wife the same way he talks to his sister or his mom, he wouldn’t be in this situation which is kind of a funny insight for an adolescent tween to have. I listened to every bit of this guy’s phone calls that I possibly could. I remember my butt was just hurting, I would go out even if it was raining.
JACK: This sneaky peek into the personal lives of adults changed Jordan a little. It was enlightening and educational to hear real conversations like this.
JORDAN: But what was interesting about it for me as a kid was when you’re a kid, you don’t get to participate in adult conversations and if stuff’s getting heavy, you’re not around. They wait for you to leave or they tell you to leave. This was the first conversation or set of conversations where I was actually hearing what adults were really like. I remember in my young brain, adults, and this guy especially, transformed from this sort of two-dimensional caricature to a real person with feelings and situations and problems and concerns and ideas just like me. Coming from the position of a self-centered kid, that was a novel revelation.
It made no sense to me at first and then it slowly opened me up. It allowed me to look at people in a completely different light and have more empathy. I remember taking these skills with me to school and talking with more adults and them saying oh, you’re so ahead of your time. I was learning so much from all of these phone conversations and that’s what really got me interested in people. Once you get interested in people but you’re at the age where mischief is really taking root, the next logical step is social engineering.
JACK: Jordan continued to listen to phone calls for a while and was still actively uploading text files to BBSs, full of bomb-making recipes. He thought, maybe this isn’t a good idea. Maybe the cops are watching me upload this stuff. Maybe it’s not so cool to put all this explosive information on the BBSs, but the cops didn’t contact Jordan. They just left him alone.
JORDAN: But I have no doubt that they were following my connections and my people online. I remember being on the phone chatting voice as we used to say, with some of the people who were operating other boards. They would be like wait, there’s somebody at the door. I remember them being like, hang up the phone. Then I wouldn’t hear from them for like, weeks. I’d be like, what happened? They’d be like, dude, the FBI came. I can’t talk to anyone. I’m not doing anything. The board would go down, all that stuff. These guys would get so scared. It was fun for me in an exciting way ‘cause I was just on the outside of this.
JACK: As the forums he would frequent would go down, he started checking out some other websites and forums that he knew about. When Jordan started learning about something, he has a tendency to dive deep into it.
JORDAN: [MUSIC] I also, of course, was looking at the way that credit card systems work and payment systems work. I had this little racket going where I could order books using a money order. I could wait for them to get the money order and wait for them to go and take care of the money order and deposit it, or so they thought, and send out the stuff. There was this little lag between then and I would call to get confirmation. Most people don’t do that; they just wait for things to be shipped to them. I would call, find out they received the money order, immediately bike over to the drug store and cancel the money order and get my cash back.
There was just enough of a lag, it was probably just a couple of days, where they would send out the stuff but I would still have my money. They would not know that it had been cancelled but you could cancel it right away; turn in that little stub and it would be done, and you’d get your cash right then. It was this easy glitch in the system that was so obvious to me as a kid, and I would get a ton of free stuff, usually books. I remember I ordered some more expensive stuff but the problem is, you have to have the money first to get a money order, so I was pretty limited in what I was able to do.
JACK: Soon though, he got bored with this scam and started learning about other ways to scam with money. Quick side story; when I was thirteen, I was mad at my mom about something. She gave me an old checkbook and a pair of scissors and told me to cut up the checks since we weren’t gonna use those checks anymore and that she didn’t want thieves stealing the checks. Well, me being mad at her and a little mischief-maker myself, I didn’t quite understand this and I got into my head that somehow the checks were money. Money is confusing as a kid; it’s not clear if the check itself is money, or if a credit card is money, or just cash is money, or where the money is and how it moves around, and how is it tied to one thing or another? What the heck is money? I was thirteen and didn’t know. I took these checks and didn’t rip them up.
After school one day, I went to an [00:15:00] ice cream shop and asked do you accept checks? The clerk said uh, yeah? So, I did my best to try to write a check out. Didn’t do it very well at all, I’m sure. I gave it to them. My hand was probably shaking. I had no idea if what I was doing would get me in trouble with this or what, but I just did it. I knew I was breaking some kind of rule just for a sweet lick of some ice cream. The manager came out and looked at the check, and told me where’s your mom? I grabbed the check and ran out of there, ripped up the checks, and never tried this again. But what if this did work and a small win got me a lick of ice cream with a stolen check? I probably would have done it again, and who knows where I would have ended up.
I can absolutely see Jordan here having great success with the money orders and to just go ahead, take it further. Look for what’s next. What’s bigger? That’s when he got curious about credit cards. [MUSIC] Being on these dark and seedy forums, he came across full credit card numbers and credit card generators that would just make up fake credit card numbers. He found a credit card number online. It didn’t have an expiration date or a name, so he just made it up. He tried to order something small over the phone paying with a credit card and it worked. He got the item shipped to his house with a stolen credit card. Amazing. Jordan was onto something new here.
JORDAN: One time, I decided to go big and I called from a pay phone and used a credit card and I ordered pizza for the next day for my entire middle school. I gave the guy instructions; I thought about this ahead of time. I said, you know what you need to do, come in, start putting the pizza down. Don’t go to the office, just come straight into the lunch room, start putting a pizza down on every table and eventually one of the women is gonna come up to you and say excuse me, what are you doing or something like that, and that’s when you say happy birthday, Mrs. Jacobson, ‘cause she was the assistant principal who was also our lunch monitor. I knew that she would be the one to go up and say excuse me, what are you doing?
What happened, of course, was I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I told one friend who was a frickin’ idiot, still is an idiot actually, and he told everybody. Everybody knew and when that pizza van showed up, that guy got mobbed. Kids started housing that pizza and of course, when the principal came up, assistant principal came up and said what are you doing? He said happy birthday, Mrs. Jacobson, and the whole school started laughing and she was pissed. She took him to the office and the police came. They were unhappy. They called me into the office multiple times. They blamed everyone but me and eventually they had nothing on me other than rumor. They were gonna take one of my other friends who didn’t do anything; he had nothing to do with it. They were gonna take him down. They said, we’re gonna expel you.
JACK: Seeing someone else getting in trouble for his crime, he had to come clean.
JORDAN: The cops said well, alright. I want to find out how did you do this? I explained everything and they said man, we got to tell the FBI because you used a card that belonged to somebody else. We can’t reach the person who owns the card. I kept saying look, I made the card number up. You’re using a name; of course you found somebody with that name in Florida. It’s a coincidence. I used a fake name. What are you talking about? They just could not wrap their minds around this. The FBI agent came and I’m sure he was pissed ‘cause he had to drive up from the office in Detroit to interview a fourteen-year-old kid. After I explained everything, he said look; you’re seemingly pretty intelligent. Why did you do this? I said I wanted to pull a fun prank.
He goes, this is gonna get you in deep trouble. He said, but you should focus your energy on something else. I’m not gonna do anything with this. You gotta figure out how to pay back the damages for the pizza. You’ve gotta call the pizza place. You’ve gotta deal with this. I’ll deal with the credit card company. They might want to do something with this but I doubt it. It’s petty, but keep your nose clean, man. You probably have a bright future ahead of you if you stop pulling this crap. It made sense to me. Right? It made sense to me. Every other adult was just pissed, they were embarrassed, their ego was damaged. This was the only guy who was like huh, this is not the dumbest thing I’ve ever had to investigate, right?
That to me gave me a little boost of confidence. Not to keep doing bad stuff but to maybe focus on something healthier instead. The assistant principal wanted to throw the book at me. The cops didn’t really seem to want to do that and the FBI definitely didn’t want to, and I’m thankful for that. As much as we in this community might make fun of or rib feds, these are not bad guys. You know, they were much more interested in trying to keep me on the straight and narrow and utilize my knowledge than they were in trying to get me into some kind of trouble, and I’m extremely thankful for that [00:20:00] because it would have been easier or just as easy for them to just book me for some sort of dumb crime and ruin my chances of getting into college. Instead, I ended up with a letter of recommendation from one of them. I mean, what are the odds of that?
JACK: [MUSIC] When we come back, Jordan tries to find a date in a chat room but gets so much more than he bargained for. Stay with us. Jordan had a bit of a habit; he really did enjoy going to these shady forums where he saw batches of credit cards with holograms being bought and sold. He watched out of curiosity but stopped short of participating in criminal activity. His brush with the police and FBI had convinced him not to make fake credit cards. He took a job at the local movie theatre and designed websites on the side.
JORDAN: One of the movie theatres that I worked at was owned by the owner of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team and that guy was one of the wealthiest men in the world, actually, at the time; certainly one of the wealthiest guys in the United States ‘cause he owned the Red Wings but he also owned Little Caesar’s Pizza, the whole chain. His daughter owned this theatre and they had some theft or some issue at the theatre, and so they had security come around. When they couldn’t find a regular security guy, [MUSIC] Mike Ilitch, the owner, the daughter’s father, the owner of the Red Wings and Little Caesar’s Pizza, he would send his in-house private investigator.
JACK: A private investigator investigating a theft at the theatre Jordan worked at? That is interesting, right? Jordan was curious to know more about what a private investigator does so he starts chatting with him. They got to talking about all kinds of stuff; martial arts, websites, crime. One day, Jordan mentions to him that he knows how to build websites. That was sort of a rare skill back then. The PI gave Jordan a chance to build a website for his friend’s security company.
JORDAN: They were kind of doing, on the one hand, security for the neighborhood; the apartment buildings and different commercial buildings. But on the other hand, they were legit vigilante in Detroit; tackle drug dealers, tie ‘em up and take them to the police station and collect a bounty, or just arrest dangerous people in the neighborhood. That’s what these guys were doing back then. I wanted in, man. That was exciting. I had a car at this point. In exchange for designing a website for this security company, they were training me in martial arts which were like, real martial arts, not like do a kata karate, break a piece of wood. They were showing me stuff nobody was talking about that they had learned in the Israeli military. I met some hard dudes back then.
They were usually ex-military and they were in executive protection. We would end up, and by we, I mean I would either drive or be completely back in the office’s logistics, but we would have Ice Cube, Puff Daddy come in for concert and they would protect him. I handled our phone systems, our computer stuff. I did a lot of the driving. I was actually the only white guy for a long time in the office. I had gotten straight A’s so my dad, who worked for Ford, was like well, if you get straight A’s all three years ‘til your junior year, ‘til your senior year, I’ll rent you an SUV, or a car that you want. I chose an SUV. It wasn’t that fancy but you know, he was an employee at Ford; he got a great deal on it. I was really thankful for that. This was a badass car.
I drove around and I drove our agents around in this. It was easy ‘cause a lot of them were busy doing client work, things like that, and I was able to [00:25:00] drive my car and transport agents around; some of them honestly, 20/20 hindsight, probably were not supposed to be driving. Probably had either felonies or lost their license or just didn’t have a car. There were some shady people in this executive protection company and I was pretty clean. I’d get pulled over at night and the cops would be like alright, have a good day. This is 90s Detroit, man. If I’m driving around in a nice area in an SUV, I’m just another white kid in an SUV. If they’re driving around at night in an SUV, all black, leather gear, tactical stuff, it’s not gonna look good.
JACK: So now, Jordan is running with a whole new group of guys; security guards, martial artists, vigilantes, big, buff dudes.
JORDAN: They used to rib me about hey, are you meeting any girls? [MUSIC] You meeting any girls? I was embarrassed ‘cause I wasn’t, really. I met girls at the movie theatre where I worked at that was kind of it.
JACK: He tried to meet girls but he just wasn’t having any luck, so he decided to try and meet them in a different way. Jordan was online a lot and thought hey, if I’m online, there’s probably girls online, too. He started looking around for them. See, this is decades before Tinder and at that time, it was extremely weird to sort of make new friends online and try to find a girlfriend. But he popped on AOL to try his luck anyway. He liked AOL since it had a ton of chat rooms and you could privately message people, too. He found his way into a Detroit chat room, or a teenager chat room, and tried to find girls in there.
JORDAN: AOL turned out to be a gold mine because a lot of girls my age had it and I could use instant messenger. I told the guys what I was doing, that I was meeting girls on AOL instant messenger, and they were really enthralled. ‘Cause they were like wait a minute, there’s a way to meet girls using the modem? I don’t understand. How do I do this? I was showing them this and one of the guys goes, you know what? If you want to stand out from other guys doing this, what you should do is create an account that sounds like a girl and see what the guys say to you. I thought that’s pretty genius. Social engineering for the win, right?
Probably one of the very first times I ever even thought about doing anything like that. I made a screenname on AOL that sounded really girly. [MUSIC] Immediately I started getting – I made these basic profiles; I would go in the chat rooms. Immediately, guys would start hitting on me and immediately a lot of it was really pathetic. Some of it was really clever; I started taking notes and learning. But then some of it was kind of funny and I would print out the chat transcripts of these guys hitting on this girl, or me, who they thought was a girl. The guys at work would have a laugh about it every single time I went to work.
JACK: But then his boss stops him one day and says wait a minute, this guy says he’s a professional photographer and thinks you’re a fifteen-year-old girl. He’s a thirty-nine-year-old man. Suddenly Jordan realized this dark side. This was not just some lonely guy. He was being hit on by child predators.
JORDAN: This is a criminal. This is a guy who victimizes young girls. I didn’t think about that being, I think, fifteen or sixteen at the time. I didn’t think about the fact that this was a criminal. I was just thinking he was pathetic.
JACK: It quickly turned from a good, lazy laugh to holy crap, this is really bad. Some of these guys were hitting on this fake girl are monsters. Suddenly the conversation took on a different meaning.
JORDAN: This is not even me being flirty or anything; this is just me being like yeah, I’m fifteen and I live with my parents and I like going to the beach. Then they’d be like hey, I’m a photographer. Do you want to become a model? Hey, you should come see me. Where do you live? What’s your address? When are your parents home? We don’t want your parents to be home. Hey, can I take you out on a date? Like, really weird stuff. These guys were unrelenting. I didn’t even have to really feed that much into the chat. It was extra-creepy. These guys said wait a minute; we gotta figure this out. This is not good. A couple of the guys, of course, had connections to the local FBI office.
JACK: Yeah, even though those security guys were your typical tough guy, they had to deal with the FBI before so they gave Jordan a fax number to an FBI agent. But the FBI agent wasn’t used to dealing with cyber-crime because I don’t think many agents were, at the time.
JORDAN: Think about this; since it was computer crime, the Detroit office was like, we’re not really sure what to do with this. Now, I mean, what crime does the FBI handle that’s not done with a computer, right? But back then, this was a bank fraud unit-type of crime. They had to figure out who was dealing with stuff ‘cause remember, AOL’s servers are in Virginia or whatever. I’m in Michigan and the other guy’s in Ohio. What local PD has jurisdiction? Nobody had a clue. We were faxing these transcripts back and forth and he would send it to DC and then a week or so later they’d come back with hey, we need more information on these people. Hey, are you still [00:30:00] talking to these people? I had their screennames so I could easily go and get them and bait them into a chat. I started working at that time via Agent Forester and some of the other agents with people in DC to hand off my chats to them so that they can continue them.
[MUSIC] After I kept sending them a bunch of chat transcripts, whoever it was up in the powers that be in Washington DC, they decided to get interested ‘cause I think at that time they thought eh, so some kid finds a pedophile on AOL. Who cares? No harm, no foul. But then was it was like, ten a week and it was me barely doing anything but showing up in a chat room with a name that kind of looks like it could belong to a girl, that became very, very problematic. That became very problematic. It became hard for them to ignore and I think at some point they figured this is no longer something that we can just sort of sit there and ignore all the time, or in good conscience not deal with. I started to send them more and more transcripts and they would call me, ironically on a cloned cell phone, some of the time, they would call me.
They would ask me questions about where I’m meeting these people, how I’m engaging with them, and things like that. I don’t know this is fact but I think since they probably didn’t have enough manpower to deal with this, they felt comfortable enough having me send them, I guess you would call it the leads, and progress the conversations to the point where it was very clear these were no longer innocent parties that were just kind of interested in flirting with someone online. It became really clear and really obvious very quickly that these guys were more than willing to cross state lines and meet with and engage with a minor.
This is long before To Catch a Predator, now that I think about it, right? This is long before then but it became really clear that me barely doing anything was good enough for this guy who lived in Ohio to come up and cross the state line into Michigan in order to engage in clearly inappropriate acts with a minor. That got them pretty interested. They started organizing with local PD and they started making arrests. I would hand off the chat so I didn’t get all the logistics work. That was kind of on them and they would do some confirmation of like so, is this gonna happen, are these things gonna happen? This guy, I mean, I saw the transcripts, some of them, and they were pretty explicit after that.
JACK: Okay, so what are your parents thinking of this? ‘Cause I mean, number one, you’re talking to pedos online and number two, you’re an informant for the FBI at sixteen years old.
JORDAN: They were just glad that I wasn’t blowing anything up or doing any drugs. They were really glad about that but they were not happy that I was talking to pedos online until they got a call from the FBI because they originally, when they couldn’t reach me on my cell phone or before I even got the cell phone, they were calling the house. Imagine the FBI calls your house. Your parents, first of all, have a miniature heart attack and then the FBI agent says he’s helping us catch people, bad people, or whatever they had to say on the phone. Then my mom goes, okay.
Of course, they had to sign off on some of this. It wasn’t just like hey, I’m talking to the FBI and nobody can know about it. It’s like, no, your guardian has to say it’s okay for my son to be working with you. They were 50% proud, 30% worried, 20% completely not sure about what the hell was actually really going on and kind of clueless and probably gladly so, ‘cause they were just like, as long as our kid’s not dead. Bear in mind, I’m still getting straight A’s in school at this point, I’ve got a job. There’s not a whole lot for them to complain about. I just also do this crazy FBI stuff on the side.
JACK: [LAUGHING] Jordan was still a teenager but he stuck out of public school because he had a cell phone. No one really had cell phones in the 90s, much less teenagers. If you had one, people thought you were a drug dealer or a secret agent or something. Jordan was a secret agent and had a cell phone. He even had a get out of jail free card; he had a note signed by the superintendent of schools, the principal, and the FBI agent stating that he could carry a cell phone in school. How cool is that?
JORDAN: A librarian caught me in the hallway calling my mom on the cell phone and she just was clutching pearls and gasping; oh my god. She ran back in the library and she called the assistant principal. This is a high school, not the one that I embarrassed over the pizza incident. Mr. Speechco, bless him, comes out, hadn’t seen the note. This is a pretty early day and me being able to carry the phone in school comes over and goes Harbinger, do you have a cellular telephone in your bag? [MUSIC] He’s not mad. He’s more like, incredulous. [00:35:00] Just like, who the hell has a cell phone? This is one of my teachers. He teaches a unit on Vietnam. I’m very active in his class. He knows I’m not a drug dealer or an idiot and the librarian comes out and she’s got librarian swag.
She can’t wait to watch me get busted by the assistant principal and she’s got a smirk on her face that I’ll never forget. I said yes, I do. I also have a letter from the principal, the super intendant, and the FBI. He goes, can I see it? I said sure, the phone or the letter? He goes oh yeah, the phone and the letter, ‘cause I think he just wanted to see the phone, initially. I hand him the phone and he’s just like, in awe. He looks at the letter and he goes well, I’ll be. You sure do. Well, good for you. Are you working with the FBI? What are you doing? This is really cool, man. Hey, can you come by after school? I want to hear all about this.
Anyway, the librarian’s face went from a smirk, and I’ve never seen somebody melt into a puddle so quickly, and it’s a vindication that is so rare as a teenage boy that I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, even as a forty year old man who should be over this by now. I’m still not because she just slunk back into her library and was just like, whah, I can’t believe it. Mr. Speechco, the assistant principal, was flabbergasted that one of his students was working with the FBI to catch pedos online. When he heard the story, all the teachers heard the story in short order and I remember when my phone would ring during class, even the hardest, strictest teacher would just point to the door and I would walk out and take the call. They weren’t happy about the disturbance but it was kind of like well, the bat signal is flashing so Harbinger’s gotta leave the room now. It was awesome.
JACK: After school, he would call the FBI agent and report what he saw. He would call and give reports frequently. Since this whole internet thing was still new and the FBI agents didn’t quite understand it all, Jordan just invited them to the house to take a look for themselves. They came over, went into Jordan’s bedroom, sat down, and watched as his dialed into AOL, connected to chat rooms, used a girly name he made up, and made some kind of entrance into a chat room.
JORDAN: They would see me login and then they would see it be like bring, bring, bring. I would go in the chat room; bring, bring, bring, private messages would start popping up all over, fourteen at a time. I’ve got my screen tiled with chats and nine out of ten are pedos and the occasional kid who’s like hi, are you pretty? But nine out of ten are pedos and this wasn’t a weird chat room. This was like a standard, generic AOL chatroom.
JACK: [MUSIC] He even told the FBI about the cell phone cloning that he was doing. They didn’t exactly condone it but they didn’t seem to care, either. Maybe they didn’t understand what the harm was at that point. It wouldn’t be until years later that the FBI would see how cell phone cloning could cause real harm.
JORDAN: But of course, the dark side of this was people were committing crimes using cloned cell phones and then throwing them in the garbage. The guys I was learning and cloning with, some of them ran businesses where they would jack or buy phones, reprogram them with stolen ESNs, sell them to drug dealers and mafiosos who would use them for a week and then throw them in a dumpster or return them to my buddy who would reprogram them. There was a real dark side to that but I wasn’t messing with all that, you know? I felt like a hero. I was catching pedos online and I didn’t even have to go and tackle anyone. I wasn’t tough. I was the least tough guy in the security company but I still had mad respect from all those guys because I was like, the local hacker. I wasn’t hacking squat; I wasn’t doing anything really that complex. I was just sweet-talking knucklehead, pervy pedo predators into crossing state lines and to getting arrested by the cops. I felt like I was doing the Lord’s work, dude.
JACK: Time passed and Jordan grew up a little. He got through high school and decided to go to college to become a lawyer. FBI agents came to his school to give a talk about how to become an FBI agent and they recommended students become a lawyer or an accountant to do that. But as Jordan studied law, he thought becoming an FBI agent may not pay off his student debt very well and the forensic work just didn’t excite him so after law school, Jordan moved to New York city. He passed the bar and got a job as a lawyer on Wall Street. It was 2007; the whole economy was about to implode. One of the higher-up partners of this company was Dave. Dave was assigned to be Jordan’s mentor to teach him all about being a lawyer on Wall Street, but Dave was never in the office to mentor him. One day, Jordan asked to meet up with Dave over some coffee and finally, he had a chance to ask him some of these questions that have been nagging him since day one.
JORDAN: He took me to coffee in the basement of the building at a Starbucks and he said alright, ask me anything you want. He’s banging away on his BlackBerry and I said how come you’re [00:40:00] a partner, you’re one of the youngest partners, but you’re never in the office? Thinking he was gonna give me the magic cheat code to working from home, and instead he said well, I work from home sometimes, yeah, but mostly I’m out generating business for the firm. I thought wait a minute, what does that even mean? Of course, I had to know. I said what do you mean you’re generating business for the firm? He goes yeah, I bring in deals. I don’t worry about my billable hours. I don’t worry about getting a billable hourly bonus because if I get a bonus for bringing in two or three deals a year, it eclipses any hourly bonus I would have gotten, so I focus on generating deals.
I said how come everybody doesn’t do that? He goes, not everybody’s good at that. I said well, how do I get good at that? He goes, you know, you gotta go out there and meet people and work your connections, and go to events. I’m going to this charity event, I’m playing racquetball here, squash over there, I run over here, I bike over there, I do jujitsu. You know, it’s cool, man. I do a lot of different stuff. Whenever there’s an investment banker, I make sure that one of our clients is – I’m hanging out with him. Then they throw us a deal. It’s actually not that hard. [MUSIC] I wish more people would do it but maybe I’m glad more people don’t. He goes, if you learn how to do that, you can write your own ticket. You’ll make partner earlier. That changed the way that I look at work forever.
JACK: Once again, one person saying the right thing at the right time enlightened Jordan. Instead of banging away at becoming a great lawyer, maybe he needs to change his focus a little. He thought about this.
JORDAN: Oh, there’s this secret third path that nobody’s even thinking about which has to do with networking and relationship development. This is psychology-based. I can do this. These are people skills. This is like social engineering but it’s like sales. A lot of people look at social engineering and they go yeah, it’s kind of like sales only it’s a little dark side. I learned social engineering first and I went oh, it’s like sales, it’s like social engineering but it’s white hat. I didn’t even think about that before. Then I dedicated myself whole-hog into body language, non-verbal communication, persuasion, influence. That kind of stuff was my bag so I took every class I could find, I read every book that I could, and I started to apply this and I started trying to generate business for the firm. Of course, I was too young and too junior to be able to do this.
Of course, other lawyers, they didn’t care to learn this. They didn’t know it was important. What they did care was that I went from being a homebody nerd to going out all the time and meeting a ton of women and people were like wait, what happened to you? I said well, I’m learning all this sales stuff and networking stuff, and it just so happens that when you apply it to the opposite sex, it really works well. Then I had their attention, right? Then, everybody was like wait, wait, wait; teach me what you’re talking about here. That was the genesis of me starting The Jordan Harbinger Show and the podcast, and the things that I teach in consulting and things like that when I, ironically, train law enforcement, military, and security companies.
JACK: Yeah, Jordan Harbinger is a podcaster. That’s how I met him; one podcaster meeting another. But he’s also no stranger to going to Defcon and has a lot of friends in the social engineering village there. He rounds up all this knowledge he has, and experience, and interviews a ton of interesting and successful people on his podcast, the Jordan Harbinger Show. Even though he used to dream about becoming someone in the intelligence community, now he trains those kinds of people.
JORDAN: Well, remarkably, what intelligence officers do best is not follow people through dark alleys and go on chases. You know this and everyone listening probably knows this too, but one of the things intelligence officers tend to do a lot of is manage lots and lots of relationships, sometimes with people who are not completely open, sometimes with people who are maybe a little hostile. They have to generate trust and that’s exactly what I’m training them to do. I’m teaching people how to know, like, and trust you so that you can use influence. It’s fairly straightforward but it requires a lot of discipline, a lot of practice, and you really have to work on the skills. It becomes a way of being and a set of habits, not a set of hypnosis persuasion tactics that you can apply. You really do need to be socially fluent. I’m training them things that I learned as a teenager that I then turned into things I used in my twenties to date and meet people that I then, once again, turned into social engineering and networking and sales. It’s really come full-circle.
JACK: Huh, the once-punk kid chose wisely. Through a series of remarkable events, he ended up teaching himself to be socially fluent and is now running his own business, making even more money than when he did as a lawyer on Wall Street, more money than what he could have probably been making if he was a criminal, too. I don’t know what the life lesson is here to take away from Jordan; maybe not to be afraid of pushing the boundaries and the rules because you might not realize how smart you are until you get caught, or maybe it’s that social skills are a ton [00:45:00] more valuable than we think, and that social engineering can be applied for good and have great rewards. But of course, what’s interesting to me is that Jordan is constantly trying to learn and grow every day. It doesn’t matter how smart he is or feels like he is; he knows he needs to learn more which is something I think that’s important for us all, no matter how much knowledge we think we have.
JACK (OUTRO): [OUTRO MUSIC] A big thank you to Jordan Harbinger for sharing his story with us. You can hear so many more of his stories on his podcast called The Jordan Harbinger Show. I recommend the episode where he interviews Richard Clarke and another good one is when he interviews Frank Abagnale. They talk about nation state hacking and social engineering. That’s just fantastic. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Darknet Diaries Patreon. This is where you can get bonus episodes and really help support the show to make more things and greater things and better things. Thank you everyone who is supporting the Patreon because that’s really what gives this show wings. This show is made by me, the snow-coder, Jack Rhysider. This episode was produced by Michelle Martin, sound design by Andrew Merryweather, editing help from Damienne; artwork this episode by Lorin Olsen. Our theme music is by the jingling Breakmaster Cylinder. Even though my dad still doesn’t own a cell phone because he’s just tech-illiterate, this is Darknet Diaries.
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