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GOTO Jail: FBI Investigated Bizarre BASIC Program Sent To Johnny Cash ( 62

v3rgEz writes: Who has time to write out all the vaguely threatening conspiracies that need to be sent to celebrities these days? Turns out, that can be automated too: In 1979, the FBI investigated a bizarre, threatening Christmas message sent to Johnny Cash on the eve of his 62nd album's release. The threat included the source and output of a BASIC program, which the FBI dutifully dusted for clues. Newly released documents show what would become the FBI's CyberCrime division.
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GOTO Jail: FBI Investigated Bizarre BASIC Program Sent To Johnny Cash

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  • by gweilo8888 ( 921799 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @05:50PM (#51377261)
    I guess we've run out of the good stories. It's the end of the internet, someone. Hit the lights, please!
    • WARNING: Crappy "art" imitates life - CSI:Cyber will feature this in an upcoming plot. Is there anyone that still watches that barf-fest? Is it still on?
    • I see the internet going out more like, "Sit, Ubu, sit... good dog!"

      Then the dog barks and the lights go out.

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@carpanet.PERIODnet minus punct> on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @06:42PM (#51377661) Homepage

      Agreed, I read the whole thing and I am still looking for the threat. all this is is proof that the FBI pays its agents by the hour.

      • Agreed, I read the whole thing and I am still looking for the threat. all this is is proof that the FBI pays its agents by the hour.

        I read the whole thing and agree as well. No specific threat exists in those documents. There is 1) a narrative which interprets those documents as threatening or creepy, even when many other interpretations exist and no concrete proof of a threat exists outside of the FBI narrative. 2) Many positive statements, wishing whoever Merry Christmas and expressing love. 3) A te
        • From what I read, the FBI sent the letters off to the fingerprinting office to determine who sent them, then chatted with him and found he was trying to impress a woman, then closed the case. How do you expect that they would figure out who sent them without the investigation part? What parts would you have had them not perform?

          • The narrative said at the top there was no return address, but then went on to say that he included a business card. So, the part you don't perform is the FBI investigation and the fingerprinting. You simply contact the person back via mail or phone using the business information and ask. It would be more appropriate for the Cash family to contact the letter writer back than the FBI if they were the ones who were concerned.

            "If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow creatures is to be a f
  • Johnny Cash could take care of himself. Which is probably why the threat was (meant to be) sent anonymously.

  • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @05:56PM (#51377315) Homepage Journal
    oh, a BASIC programmer who was mentally disordered.
    There's something you don't see every day...[*]

    [*] no, really. nobody uses BASIC anymore, not even MicroSoft.
    • oh, a BASIC programmer who was mentally disordered. There's something you don't see every day...

      FTFY: A programmer who was mentally disordered. Blame management for forcing us to live with contradictory demands and the resulting cognitive dissonance.

    • And C and assembler; all on dos under win 95.

      Old DataAQ equipment needs old stuff.

      And you never forget how to write basic; it was on everyone's computer already. :)

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      oh, a BASIC programmer who was mentally disordered.
      There's something you don't see every day

      10 WHAT
      20 DO
      30 YOU
      40 MEAN
      50 BY
      60 THAT,
      70 HARVEY!

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      it was a mentally disordered who THOUGHT he was a programmer and wanted to make fear with that.. kind of.

  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @05:59PM (#51377341)
    Going off on a tangent because I never RTFA. Johnny Cash was a really good radio tech in USAF, picked up morse code quickly and can distinguish between different operators in USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries by how they use the keys. An officer asked Johnny to re-enlist but he said I want to be on the radio, not work with radios.
    • I tell the corp recruiters that too, but none of them understand. "I want to be on the computer, not work with the computer".
    • And some of his songs had rhythms that are based on what he was hearing back when he was in the USAF.

      Good thing the USSR never came after him for plagiarism.

  • by Sir_Eptishous ( 873977 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @06:49PM (#51377715) Homepage
    Like the time Conway Twitty received Cobol source code printout in a manila envelope with a Valentines card from his cousins ex-wife. Being curious, he input and compiled the code on his PC DOS workstation, and then ran it, discovering a surprisingly nimble calendaring/appointment/contacts program.
  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @07:12PM (#51377849) Journal

    Several of the examples in TFA were obviously printed on a DEC DECWriter printer, like an LA36.

    Also, the snippets of code that were there looked a lot like DEC BASIC, running on a TOPS 10 or 20 minicomputer, but it's hard to tell with such small samples.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @07:15PM (#51377875) Homepage Journal

    The thing that you have to know about 1979 is that the vast majority of people (including most law enforcement) back then had never seen a computer in person. If you asked most people to draw a computer, they'd produce a rough sketch of the iconic IBM 729 [] 7 track tape drive.

    Technology moved so fast after that the computers of 1979 would seem inconceivably archaic even to people who were born in that year. I was still learning to program back then, on machines that had banks of lights on the front panel to show you the contents of the CPU registers. The very first microcomputers an average person (well, and average person with rudimentary soldering skills and the equivalent of $3200 burning a hole in his pocket) could own had just recently become available, and they had the same feature [].

    The point of my old-fart ramblings is this: unless you are old enough to remember this time, you probably have no idea of how alien and spooky this computer stuff would have been back then. It's not just people are more used to computers now, we're more used to being confronted with unfamiliar new technology in general. You have to understand the biggest change in technology experience most people had had at that time was the switch from rotary dial to keypad on telephones and not everyone had that yet. There was still a display in the Boston Museum of Science explaining the benefits of Touch Tone dialing. TV remote controls were still in the future, you still had to get off the couch to change the channel or the volume. So this kind computer stuff was barely one step removed from sorcery as far as most people were concerned.

    The Internet also has familiarized most people today with oddball geek behavior, and experience has taught us not to expect people doing bizarre things to make sense. So not only were computers weird and disturbing to most people, weird and disturbing behavior was more weird and disturbing to most people. People in general, and law enforcement specifically, had no experience whatsoever to draw upon to formulate a reasonable response to something like this. Later law enforcement doesn't have that excuse, but at the time this is really all you could expect from the FBI.

    • This is totally weird, but as I was reading that article and seeing the BASIC listing, I actually remembered the smell and feel of my TRS-80.

      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        This is totally weird, but as I was reading that article and seeing the BASIC listing, I actually remembered the smell and feel of my TRS-80.

        The olfactory bulb is intimately interconnected with the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and associative memory, and the amygdala, which processes emotions. So it's quite commonplace for smells to trigger emotional memories, and it wouldn't be surprising for the trigger to run the other way -- from an emotional response to an olfactory memory.

        So I'm going to take a wild stab and guess that you probably loved that computer. Or possibly hated it.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          They didn't call it by their other name, Trash 80, so there's that.

          In reference to your prior post - I was just then heading to college for my first four years, having spent four years enlisted in the Marines prior to that. I did see some terminals but didn't really use a computer. In fact, I kind of hated computers back then. Oddly, I was majoring in Applied Mathematics. But, really, we didn't do a whole lot of computing with a computer at that point and, when we did reach that stage, we were actually expe

    • Well said Sir. Far too many of the /. demographic are too young to have any experience or knowledge of the world prior to the Digital Revolution. Heck, when I was a (personal) computer salesman in 1992, I was still having to explain to dubious and suspicious Stan and Suzy Suburbia why having a PC was a good thing - especially if they had school age kids. (That a decent system was still north of $2k at that point, when $2k was a still a lot of money, didn't help.)

      Consider yourself virtually modded up (

    • Exactly. I got my first computer as a kid in 1981 (a Casio PB100). The manual was excellent, and I learned BASIC as well as some numerical analysis with it : Monte-Carlo method, systems of equations, etc. My parents were short of money at the time, had a large house, and took guests who needed a place to stay for a few months. I remember long discussions with a couple of computer specialists (as we said at the time) working for major banks. They only seemed to know VM and COBOL on big iron computers, punch

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