Operation Sun Devil, named after the mascot of Arizona State University, was a large-scale dragnet conducted primarily by the United States Secret Service and Arizona's assistant attorney general, Gail Thackeray, to arrest suspected computer criminals. After years of investigative work, law enforcement officials culminated the operation with a series of raids in the spring of 1990, but their heavy-handed equipment seizures and dearth of significant criminal charges (much less court cases) not only led to widespread public criticism, but also triggered the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In today's age of photo-blogging grannies and www.whitehouse.gov, it may be difficult to comprehend that in 1990, the average FBI man or Secret Service agent couldn't tell a "ROM chip from a Vise-grip", as John Perry Barlow pointed out in his essay, Crime and Puzzlement. Federal agents who conducted property seizures on or before Operation Sun Devil often had trouble differentiating important computer evidence from items such as boomboxes, telephone answering machines, and cable television wiring. For example, federal agents working another case during that period were actually convinced that Steve Jackson's futuristic role-playing game, GURPS Cyberpunk, was not only real, but also a threat to national security. Strident hyperbole painting the federal authorites as jack-booted thugs was lent much credibility by the seizures that took place in 1990, and it would take many years for the sentiment to soften.

My personal involvement with Operation Sun Devil was tangential at best, but still somewhat amusing. I'd just retired my Commodore 64 in favor of the PC-AT clones at college, and I lacked the cool PC or Amiga hardware at home that could get me into the BBS scene. My utter unhipness paid off when my close friend had been tipped off that lots of sysops in the Phoenix area were about to be raided by the feds. The biggest fear among the sysops wasn't going to jail (charges were rarely filed, and they almost never stuck), but they were deathly afraid of getting their gear confiscated and never seeing it in one piece again, regardless of their ultimate guilt or innocence. Since I was beneath suspicion by the authorities, my bedroom at my parents' house became a hidden stash of several people's Amiga systems, complete with monitors, hard drives, and thousands of 3.5" floppy disks full of games. In the days that passed as the Amiga sysops waited for things to cool down, I ditched classes and stayed at home playing Amiga games until I temporarily lost sensation in my arm.

Operation Sundevil describes a number of raids made by the Secret Service based in Arizona with cooperation from various regional racketeering task forces on May 7, 8, and 9 of 1990. The goal of the operation was to send a message to the underground BBS community becoming increasingly active in credit card theft and wire fraud. Raids occurred all over the US targeting BBS operators, members, and hackers in Austin, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Newark, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Tucson, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco. Some 42 computers were confiscated resulting in over 25 BBS communities taken offline. In addition, an estimated 23,000 floppy disks were seized along with a large amount of notes, printouts, and books. Only four people were arrested during the raids.

Although the name Operation Sundevil originally was meant to only apply to the raids in May, the name has became attached to other Secret Service actions in 1990. These other raids included the Atlanta Three, Craig Neidorf, Loyd Blankenship, and the most famous Steve Jackson Games raids.

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