As part of a nationwide wire fraud investigation of youths suspected of breaking into defense and pay computer systems, the FBI said Saturday it believes it has identified one young mastermind known as 'The Cracker.'
An FBI spokesman in Detroit, a key city in the investigation, said the probe was not 'a lark' meant to merely frighten young electronics buffs known as 'hackers' whose equipment was rounded up in six states this week.
Sources said the investigation focuses on offenses including illegal use of electronic message services, tapping of defense information and destruction of stored data.
The FBI raided at least 12 homes in six states, reportedly in California, Detroit, Tuscon, Ariz., Oklahoma City, Okla., Rochester, N.Y. and Virginia.
San Diego FBI spokesman Gary Laturno said agents Thursday raided a home and seized documents and and computer equipment from a youth aged '17 or 18.' Laturno did not identify the youth and did not say where he lived, but added, 'We've found The Cracker.'
The youth was not arrested, but an FBI official Saturday said the investigation was continuing.
The Cracker allegedly helped four Irvine, Calif., teenagers break into an electronic mail network known as GTE-Telenet of Vienna, Va.
Agents in Irvine took thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment at the homes of Wayne Correia, 17; David Hill, 17; Gary Knutson, 15; and his brother, Gregg, 14.
At a news conference, Hill said he learned to penetrate the Telenet system from The Cracker and Correia said the FBI took the telephone number of The Cracker from his personal phone list. They said they did not know they were doing anything wrong.
In Detroit, Special Agent John Anthony said, 'I don't think the FBI would be involved in an investigation like this if it were insignificant or a lark. It's obvious we are treating this matter seriously and investing resources to bring it to a successful conclusion.'
Anthony said, 'The decision to issue arrest warrants rests with the Department of Justice, regardless of the subjects' ages.'
A Detroit youth known as 'The Wizard' was reportedly part of a group of six-to-eight teenagers called the 'Inner Circle' who used computers to roam through Arpanet, reportedly a highly secure Defense Department network that serves military computers.
The Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported Saturday that The Cracker also was believed to be a member of the 'Inner Circle.'
Anthony would not confirm or deny if The Wizard was a youth whose home was raided Wednesday.
Agents in Detroit went into the home of Eric Stadjas, 14, and took computers, phone parts and files, the youth's mother, Sharon Stadjas said.
The FBI's Alexandria, Va., office, which is leading the investigation, said, 'It will be several months before the case reaches a prosecutive stage.'
The Detroit Free Press quoted a source close to the investigation who said damage caused by a Detroit group of computer enthusiasts was estimated 'between $500,000 and $1 million.'