Meanwhile, Monsegur’s real-world life was coming apart. Monsegur was devoted to his girls and wanted to do well by them. But he seemed to have given up on maintaining any semblance of normal home life. His apartment became a kind of frat house where Monsegur, his relatives, and his friends partied into the night. One neighbor complained repeatedly—and others joined in—claiming that he and others were “pounding, rapping, and screaming to loud music,” sometimes until 4 a.m. When the neighbor knocked on his door, he told her, “Get the fuck out of here,” she said.
Then in January 2011, the NYC Housing Authority informed him that because his name wasn’t on his grandmother’s lease, he was subject to eviction. But Monsegur missed five consecutive appearances at landlord-tenant court just a few blocks away. Finally, an indulgent judge offered him a second chance. He could take over his grandmother’s lease, and her $517-a-month rent, if he paid the back rent owed—$5,146 as of February 2011. But Monsegur never came up with the money. “I don’t think he cared anymore,” said a Housing official who spoke to him.
Online, Sabu had joined a small, ultraskilled group of Anonymous hackers—its SEAL Team Six. He’d been involved in cyber attacks against government systems in Tunisia and Algeria, but this elite group’s hack of computer-security company HBGary Federal burnished the Anonymous brand—skilled, dangerous, vindictive, and capable of anything. “I’m the one that did the [HBGary Federal] op,” Sabu later bragged, though it wasn’t entirely true.
After HBGary Federal’s CEO, Aaron Barr, claimed he knew the real identities of certain Anonymous leaders, a boast to promote business, a hacker called Kayla helped break into the company’s computer system. And Sabu conned the company’s security systems administrator—“social engineering,” it’s called in the hacker world—e-mailing him from what appeared to be an HBGary account and getting him to give up an administrative password. They stole and posted roughly 50,000 of CEO Barr’s e-mails, which inadvertently revealed that the supposed good guys were proposing some shady business—like discrediting Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, a very vocal supporter of WikiLeaks. HBGary Federal suggested infiltrating groups and spread disinformation, tactics that disturbed some members of Congress enough to call for an investigation.
For Sabu, the stakes were rising quickly. The FBI had been trying to track him for months. And now, so were other hackers who viewed themselves as patriots. First, Hallissey revealed his real name. Then Jennifer Emick, a Michigan housewife, who had once been sympathetic to Anonymous, released a spreadsheet of roughly 70 supposed real names of Anons in March 2011, taking up where Barr had failed. Most were wrong, but she had Sabu right (though she misspelled his name). Sabu had slipped up, once posting the address of his private server, which led her to pictures of a favorite vintage car, which was traceable.
Sabu denied Hallissey’s and Emick’s claims—“It’s jeremy,” he wrote—but being named weighed on Sabu. And so did the prospect of getting caught. The past summer, the FBI arrested fourteen purported hackers across the country for allegedly attacking PayPal. By April, Sabu talked of quitting. But then hackers from the HBGary Federal team suggested getting the old crew back together—reuniting the band. Sabu had missed the camaraderie and the intensity of a daring mission. By May, the group had reassembled and launched an offshoot of Anonymous, LulzSec—which, over 50 days, conducted a reign of Internet terror like few before it. Sabu had once viewed himself as a principled warrior, but now he joined in wreaking havoc—indiscriminate havoc. Sabu and LulzSec hacked Fox.com, Sony Corps, the U.S. Senate, in some cases posting personal information and e-mails. They hacked PBS, where they posted a fabricated story claiming that Tupac Shakur was alive. Sabu found a weakness in the FBI-affiliated InfraGuard. On June 3, 2011, dubbed Fuck FBI Friday, they defaced InfraGard’s Atlanta website and released personal information. The Wall Street Journal published an article about LulzSec: Almost anyone is a target, it reported.
LulzSec was the new star of the hacker scene, and in chat rooms random hackers passed along computer vulnerabilities or even stolen information. Pointless internecine feuds escalated. Under the banner of LulzSec, one kid “packeted” cia.gov—“for the lulz,” tweeted LulzSec. Others packeted each other. LulzSec had become chaotic, and some core members soon wondered if it was worth continuing. Then Sabu disappeared for almost two days, which was a worrying occurrence.
After nine on the warm night of June 7, 2011, the anniversary of Monsegur’s grandmother’s death, tall, balding FBI special agent Christopher Tarbell and a second agent, wearing bulletproof vests, entered the gloomy lobby of 90 Avenue D, walked to the sixth floor, and knocked on Monsegur’s brown door, to which is affixed a torn bumper sticker with an American flag.