I’m told that, after his P.I. offices were raided, Anthony Pellicano used to boast from jail to friends that no one would ever be able to crack his wiretapping encryption. Well, the feds did find a way. But who? And how? Perhaps it was inevitable that the Pellicano scandal would have a 9/11 connection. I’m told that the reason for the years-long delay between the November 2002 raid on Pellicano’s office and the recent 2006 start of major indictments was because the nation’s top code-breakers were too busy investigating terrorist targets. Sources tell me the effort went all the way up to the National Security Agency which already had its hands full with post-9/11 activity. The Recorder legal paper on Feb. 27th quoted an FBI spokeswoman confirming that “FBI technical expertise certainly was utilized” during the investigation. But NSA involvement has not been speculated.
Pellicano after all had become one of the nation’s foremost expert witnesses in electronic surveillance. He claimed to have come up with a name for it: forensic audio, to describe authenticating and cleaning up tapes. That was one reason why defense attorney Howard Weitzman brought Pellicano from Chicago to Los Angeles to help beat John De Lorean’s cocaine rap. Pellicano boasted to GQ mag in 1992 that he was being paid by district attorneys and sheriffs for his audio expertise run out of what he termed the fanciest tape lab in the country – Forensic Audio Labs. Others said he testified for prosecutors in organized-crime cases involving court-ordered wiretaps. But then Pellicano developed a sophisticated wiretapping system.
Many of those audio recordings Pellicano had secretly made on behalf of clients and scooped up in that 2002 federal raid turned out to be encrypted with powerful security software on his hard drive and therefore inaccessible to prosecutors and FBI agents for several years of the investigation. We already know the government’s allegations: that, beginning in 1995, Pellicano paid a self-taught computer programmer to develop software for intercepting phone calls. Telesleuth, as it became branded, was a combination of hardware and software that converted audio into digital signals that could be recorded on a computer. Then Pellicano is accused of paying two Pacific Bell workers to help him secretly install wiretaps.
Investigators recovered encrypted computer data on storage devices with a capacity of 3.868 terabytes of data, the equivalent of two billion pages of double-spaced text. (But they did not find two billion pages of notes and wiretap transcripts, as some media outlets have claimed.) The earliest incident of Pellicano allegedly wiretapping with this new technology is in the government’s Feb. 1 indictment of him: May 1997.
We know that Pellicano was so proud of his wiretapping technology that he pursued a trademark for Telesleuth. According to media reports, he claimed he intended to use Telesleuth on behalf of law-enforcement clients and even suggested it couldn’t be used as a wiretapping device, although the participant in a call could use it to record a conversation. (The government has since subpoenaed documents surrounding Pellicano’s pursuit of that Telesleuth trademark.)
But in order to conduct his own wiretaps, without court orders, Pellicano had engineering work done to finish the hardware for Telesleuth. Then he trademarked a program called Forensic Audio Sleuth that could play back and enhance the quality of audio recordings, according to media reports. Telesleuth‘s trademark pursuit was abandoned, but not the device itself. In September 1997, prosecutors say he began using it to wiretap.
Pellicano believed that his modern encryption system was uncrackable even by the feds’ combination of heavy-duty hardware and clever code experts. However, an encryption protocol officer in a private computer security firm told The Recorder that several federal agencies have designed systems to figure out passcodes to gain access to the drive, generally by inputting detailed data about an individual into a computer to get a psych profile that can suggest possibilities. In the end it was The Feds 1, Pellicano 0.