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“Hello, I Am Sabu ... ”

With others, though, Sabu was ruthless. Mike Nieves, a legendary hacker who online goes by the name Virus, believes that Monsegur targeted him, trying to maneuver him into doing something ­illegal. In person, Nieves, 22, is not much over five four, with a habit of looking away when speaking, as if checking for exits, but he’s a tough kid. He told me he’d dropped out of school in the ninth grade rather than get booted for fighting. “It was fun,” he said of his post-school days. “I hung out, got drunk, and hacked AOL.” When he was 17, he was arrested for that last bit of fun. Afterward, he occasionally checked into chat rooms, and on August 11, 2011, he chatted with Sabu, who, in an apparent diversionary tactic, accused him of snitching for the NYPD: “my nigga ­jesus. at least inform for the FBI or secret service not the NYPD LOL thats like lowest of the lowest form. ya smell me?” Sabu wrote without irony.

“you’re a faggot bro,” Virus responded. “don’t start accusing me of shit.” He pointed out that Sabu had offered him money for some stolen information. Nieves sensed something was wrong, and told Monsegur so—“you disappeared and came back offering to pay me for shit—that’s fed tactics.” Sabu retreated, assuring Virus that he loved him like a brother, but a cynical Virus couldn’t be had. “It’s the internet,” he wrote back to Sabu. “There’s no love on the internet.”

But that wasn’t always true—Sabu inspired loyalty. Even though Monsegur had retired (as part of his plea agreement) from active hacking, he continued to be a revered leader in the movement. “You just get me,” wrote one young hacker. When this hacker thought of quitting, Sabu talked him down, explaining, “You can’t quit an idea, my love.”

What many didn’t suspect was that at that moment, the unquittable idea was a federal investigation. Hackers passed Sabu computer vulnerabilities, as many as a couple of dozen a day, which he fed to the FBI, which hurriedly contacted the vulnerable companies. Sabu was finally the security expert he’d once hoped to be. By the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s account, he helped plug 150 holes in computer systems. Sabu also thwarted ops by force of personality—when hackers wanted to attack Wall Street at the time of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the FBI told him to shut it down and he did, according to Olson.

On March 6 of this year, Sabu’s run finally ended. Authorities in Europe insisted on rounding up suspects produced by their own investigations of Anonymous, so the U.S. Attorney’s office had no choice but to reveal Sabu’s role. As part of a coordinated worldwide sweep, Kayla and other alleged members of LulzSec who had been said to have collaborated closely with Sabu were among those charged.

In the space of a few weeks, Monsegur’s life changed completely. Sabu the revolutionary warrior disappeared from the Internet without a trace. And by then, Monsegur had also vanished from the projects. A month before his outing by the FBI, a city marshal had shown up at apartment 6F, a locksmith in tow. Monsegur was already gone. The marshal found nothing but a few boxes of children’s clothes and toys. Monsegur is said to be somewhere in the neighborhood, awaiting sentencing. His girls, for whom he’d become a snitch, are no longer his charges. Child Protective Services was said to have taken them to their mother, Sabu’s aunt, who’d been released from prison.

On the Internet, Monsegur was now a reviled figure. At Jacob Riis, it was a different story. Those who knew him growing up were shocked—he was always “respectful,” they said. But also, they were a little proud. In their eyes, he was a kid from the projects who’d achieved a certain success. He’d gotten out, finally. “The government wanted him. That’s how good he is. He’s like the greatest hacker in the world. To me, I look up to him,” said one of his boyhood friends.

This story appeared in the June, 11, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.