"The Octopus" part1
INSLAW THE INSLAW OCTOPUS SOFTWARE PIRACY, CONSPIRACY
Nothing Is Secret
By Kelly Patricia O’Meara
Insight uncovers a spy probe in the United States by the Canadian government into the theft of computer software that allegedly allows surveillance of top-secret government computer systems.
Good morning, Mr. McDade. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has reason to believe that the national security of Canada has been compromised. A trojan horse, or back door, allegedly has been found in computer systems in the nation’s top law-enforcement and intelligence organizations.
“Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to establish whether this is the PROMIS software reportedly stolen in the early 1980s from William and Nancy Hamilton, owners of Inslaw Inc., and reportedly modified for international espionage. As always, should you or any of your associates be caught, the governments of Canada and the United States will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This recording will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Sean.”
Sounds like the opening taped message from an episode of the 1960s TV action series Mission Impossible. But just such a mission was offered — and accepted — by two investigators of the National Security Section of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The Mounties then covertly entered the United States in February of last year and for nearly eight months conducted a secret investigation into the theft of the PROMIS software and whether and by whom it had been obtained for backdoor spying. PROMIS is a universal bridge to the forest of computer systems. It allows covert and undetectable surveillance, and it and its related successors are unimaginably important in the new age of communications warfare.
In this exclusive investigative series Insight tracks the Mounties and explores the mysteries pursued by the RCMP, including allegations involving a gang of characters believed to be associated with the suspected theft of PROMIS, swarms of spies (or the “spookloop” as the Mounties called them), the Mafia, big-time money laundering, murder, international arms smuggling and illegal drugs — to name but a few aspects of the still-secret RCMP probe.
But the keystone to this RCMP investigation is PROMIS, that universal bridge and monitoring system, which stands for Prosecutor’s Management Information System — a breakthrough computer software program originally developed in the early 1970s by the Hamiltons for case management by U.S. prosecutors. The first version of PROMIS was owned by the government since the development money was provided by the Department of Justice (DOJ), but something went awry on the way to proprietary development.
For more than 15 years the story of the allegedly pirated Hamilton software, and how it may have wound up in the hands of the spy agencies of the world, has been hotly pursued by law-enforcement agencies, private detectives, journalists, congressional investigators, U.S. Customs and assorted U.S. attorneys. Even independent researchers have taken on the role of counterespionage agents in a quest to uncover the truth about this allegedly ongoing penetration of security.
But each new U.S. investigation has failed fully to determine what happened. While the Mounties encountered a similar fate, officers Sean McDade and Randy Buffam have been the most successful to date. Last May, with the assistance of Hercules, Calif., detective Sue Todd, the Mounties walked away with a package of startling evidence that many believe will solve the case of the pirated software and its reported continuing use for international espionage and a host of other illegal activities.
Insight has spent months retracing the steps of the two RCMP officers and interviewing their sources, poring over copies of documents they secured, listening to tape recordings of meetings in which they were involved and reviewing scores of reports and depositions that have been locked up for years.
The result is this first installment of a four-part investigative report about how the Mounties conducted their covert border crossings and investigation that ranged across the United States and back again before returning to Canada where they discovered their cover had been blown. By late summer of 2000 the Canadian press was reporting not only the existence of this secret national-security probe — “Project Abbreviation” — but that if the reported allegations prove true “it would be the biggest-ever breach of Canada’s national security.” Confusing official comments about the probe added further mystery. But Insight has confirmed many of the details, including the fact that the investigation is continuing. And it’s serious stuff.