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Predictive Programming: Steve Jackson’s “Illuminati” Card Game: How the Secret Service Raided a Game Company

Predictive Programming: Steve Jackson’s “Illuminati” Card Game

Wikipedia Background Information

How the Secret Service Raided a Game Company

Card Galleries, Analysis, and Predictive Programming Examples

From Wikipedia: Illuminati is a standalone card game made by Steve Jackson Games (SJG), inspired by the 1975 book, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. The game has ominous secret societies competing with each other to control the world through sinister means, including legal, illegal, and even mystical. It was designed as a “tongue-in-cheek rather than serious”[1] take on conspiracy theories. It contains groups named similarly to real world organizations, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Symbionese Liberation Army.[2] It can be played by two to eight players. Depending on the number of players, a game can take between one and six hours.

Created in the 1990’s, the games cards have “predicted” incidents and people for events such as 9/11, Julian Assange, and Donald Trump. This has created an interest in the game, it’s origins, and the bizarre raid on the game company by the United States Secret Service. Below are an accounts of the raid.

SOURCE: Electronic Frontier Foundation

On March 1, 1990, the United States Secret Service (USSS) nearly
destroyed Steve Jackson Games (SJG), an award-winning publisher of
roleplaying games in Austin, Texas.

Today marks ten years to the day since that fateful search and seizure
operation, which led to one of the most important precedent-setting
lawsuits in online history, the Electronic Frontier Foundation-backed
case of Steve Jackson Games, et al. v. US Secret Service.

“I’m very glad to see that the EFF is still here with us and and
fighting the good fight. Back in 1990, [EFF co-founders] Mitch Kapor
and John Perry Barlow said that this new organization would be in it
for the long haul. After ten years, I think we can see that this’s
true,” remarked Steve Jackson on the anniversary of the infamous raid.
“The EFF is a permanent part of the civil liberties landscape.
Technology is changing faster than ever, bringing new opportunities,
but new hazards to freedom and fairness as well. It’s good to know the
EFF will always be here when it’s needed.”

In an early morning raid with an unlawful and unconstitutional
warrant, agents of the USSS conducted a search of the SJG office. They
seized and removed, all in all, 3 computers, 5 hard disks and more
than 300 floppies of software and data, and a book manuscript being
prepared for publication. Among this equipment was the hardware and
software of the SJG-operated Illuminati BBS (bulletin board system).
The BBS served as a small-scale online service for gamers to
participate in online discussions and to supply customer feedback to
SJG. The BBS (today, the Internet service provide Illuminati Online)
was also the repository of private electronic mail belonging to
several of its users. This private e-mail was seized in the raid.

Yet Jackson, his business, and his BBS’s users were not only innocent
of any crime, but never suspects in the first place. The raid had been
staged on the unfounded (and later proven false) suspicion that
somewhere in Jackson’s office there “might be” a document allegedly
compromising the security of the 911 telephone system.

The Secret Service did not return the equipment, though legally
required to do so and requested to do so many times, until sometime in
the end of June of that year. When the equipment was returned more
than three months after the raid, it became clear that someone at the
USSS inspecting the disks had read and DELETED all of the 162
electronic mail messages contained on the BBS at the time of the raid.
Not one of the users of the BBS was even under investigation by the
Secret Service, and many of the messages had never even been read by
their intended recipients.

In the months that followed the raid, Jackson saw the business he had
built up over many years dragged to the edge of bankruptcy. SJG was a
successful and prestigious publisher of books and other materials used
in adventure role-playing games. Jackson had to layoff nearly half of
his work force. Publication of at least one of his gaming books was
delayed, resulting in loss of revenues to the company. He was written
up in Business Week magazine as being a computer criminal. Jackson
decided to fight back.

On May 1, 1991, Steve Jackson, the Steve Jackson Games company, and
three users of the Illuminati BBS, with the help of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, filed a civil suit against the United States
Secret Service and some indivdually named agents thereof, alleging
that the search warrant used during the raid was insufficient, since
Steve Jackson Games was a publisher (publishers enjoy special
protection under the Privacy Protection Act [PPA] of 1980), and that
the protections against improper surveillance in the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) had been violated with regard to the
electronic mail on the system.

ECPA consists of a series of amendments to the federal Wiretap Act. It
prohibits law enforcement officers from intentionally intercepting,
using and/or disclosing the contents of private electronic
communications without a warrant. The statute offers similar privacy
protection for communications that are stored “incidental to the
electronic transmission thereof” (e.g. on the hard drive of a BBS).
The users of the Illuminati board claimed that their unread e-mail
required a warrant specifically describing the messages to be
searched. The Secret Service claimed that no special warrant was
required under ECPA – in essence asking the court for license to go on
uncontrolled “fishing expeditions” through citizens’ private
communications, in violation of Fourth Amendment principles. The court
sided with Jackson and the other plaintiffs, berating USSS Agent Tim
Foley – on the witness stand – for 15 minutes straight.

According to Mike Godwin, EFF Senior Policy Fellow, “the Steve Jackson
Games case was the first case to underscore the intersection between
civil liberties and the Internet. Our victory in that case sent a
signal to the law-enforcement community that the days of unregulated
searches and seizures of computers, and shut-downs of online
publishers, were over.”

The judge’s official decision was announced on March 12, 1993.
District Judge Sam Sparks awarded more than $50,000 in damages to
Steve Jackson Games, citing lost profits and violations of the PPA. In
addition, the judge awarded each BBS-user plaintiff $1,000 under the
Electronic Communications Privacy Act for the USSS seizure of their
stored electronic mail. The judge also ruled that plaintiffs would be
reimbursed for their attorneys’ fees. Plaintiffs filed an appeal,
seeking to hold the USSS liable for “interception” in addition to
“seizure” of the e-mail, on the grounds that e-mail still “in transit”
if it has not yet been received by its recipients. This clarifying
appeal was not successful, as the appellate court held, on a
technicality, that “in transit” essentially means only “in transit,
momentarily, across communication wires”, not “in transit, by whatever
medium, between sender and recipient”. But the case remains a victory,
establishing that at the very least, “stored” e-mail cannot be seized,
examined or destroyed with impunity by law enforcement officers, and
affirming, by clarifying the meaning of “in transit”, that e-mail
cannot be eavesdropped upon by police as it is being transmitted from
system to system without a proper warrant.

“It’s hard to imagine, but the raid on Steve Jackson Games took place
years before the World Wide Web even existed. Ten years may not seem
like much, but it’s an eternity in ‘Internet time’ The SJG case is
still cited as the seminal precedent explaining the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act. It was exciting being a part of it,”
commented Shari Steele, then Director of Legal Services at EFF when
the SJG case came to its conclusion. (Steele is presently Co-Director
of the allied nonproft organization Digital Bridges).

Godwin added: “The most important factors in our success in the case
were Steve Jackson’s courage and determination, the resolve of Mitch
Kapor and other EFF backers to go the distance, and a excellent and
committed legal team.”

Representing the plaintiffs in this suit were Harvey A. Silverglate
and Sharon L. Beckman of Silverglate & Good (Boston, MA); Eric
Lieberman and Nick Poser of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky &
Lieberman (New York, NY); and James George, Jr. of Graves, Dougherty,
Hearon & Moody (Austin, TX).

Links to More Information

Steve Jackson Games:
Illuminati Online:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation:
EFF’s SJG Case Archive:
US Secret Service:


The Day the Secret Service Raided a Role-Playing Game Company

Steve Jackson Games is a company well known for its tabletop RPGs and card games. An innocent enough trade, then, so why in 1990 were its offices raided by the United States Secret Service?

It wasn’t because SJG’s products were somehow illegal, or that the company was peddling counterfeit currency. It was because, at the time, it had employed a man by the name of Loyd Blankenship to write a game for them. And Blakenship was a hacker.

Loyd Blankenship, aka The Mentor, has been hacking since the 1970s, and was a member of the infamous Legion of Doom, one of the most famous hacker groups of all time. At the time of the raids, he was writing an RPG toolkit for SJG called GURPS Cyberpunk, which has become a classic in the field.

He became a target of the Secret Service when a zine he helped distribute, Phrack (which is still being released to this day), published information lifted illegally from telecommunications provider BellSouth that contained some basic contact information for people involved in the administration of the emergency 911 system.

While seemingly harmless, ignorant government officials at the time believed these details could be used to teach people how to hack the emergency phone system, and for years during the 1990s targeted people like Blankenship in an attempt at curtailing their efforts.

Anyway, when in 1990 SJG’s offices were raided, despite no arrests being made and no employees being questioned, agents confiscated a number of items, including the manuscript for GURPS Cyberpunk, which the Secret Service hilariously believed was a “handbook for computer crime”. The entire company, and not just Blankenship, were thus slated to appear in court, in the case Steve Jackson Games vs. The Secret Service.

The case finally went to trial in 1993, and was a disaster for the Secret Service. Not only were SJG awarded over $300,000 in fees and damages, but the Secret Service got a stern talking to from the Judge, who accused them of not knowing statutes, no grounds to accuse the entire company SJG of anything and of being “sloppy” in their procurement of warrants.

So how is this important to video games? Well, the raid led directly to the creation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Jackson vs Secret Service is cited as the chief motivator behind its formation), an advocacy group that to this day fights tooth and nail for better education amongst the uninformed as to the rights and benefits of those working with computers and the art and products they create.

That includes video games, which is reflected in hacker George Hotz’s donations to the EFF following his court case, along with the money that’s sent their way every time a Humble Indie Bundle is sold.

SOURCE Steve Jackson Games Official Site

SJ Games vs. the Secret Service

On March 1, 1990, the offices of Steve Jackson Games, in Austin, Texas, were raided by the U.S. Secret Service as part of a nationwide investigation of data piracy. The initial news stories simply reported that the Secret Service had raided a suspected ring of hackers. Gradually, the true story emerged.

More than three years later, a federal court awarded damages and attorneys’ fees to the game company, ruling that the raid had been careless, illegal, and completely unjustified. Electronic civil-liberties advocates hailed the case as a landmark. It was the first step toward establishing that online speech IS speech, and entitled to Constitutional protection . . . and, specifically, that law-enforcement agents can’t seize and hold a BBS with impunity.

The Raid

On the morning of March 1, without warning, a force of armed Secret Service agents – accompanied by Austin police and at least one civilian “expert” from the phone company – occupied the offices of Steve Jackson Games and began to search for computer equipment. The home of Loyd Blankenship, the writer of GURPS Cyberpunk, was also raided. A large amount of equipment was seized, including four computers, two laser printers, some loose hard disks and a great deal of assorted hardware. One of the computers was the one running the Illuminati BBS.

The only computers taken were those with GURPS Cyberpunk files; other systems were left in place. In their diligent search for evidence, the agents also cut off locks, forced open footlockers, tore up dozens of boxes in the warehouse, and bent two of the office letter openers attempting to pick the lock on a file cabinet.

The next day, accompanied by an attorney, Steve Jackson visited the Austin offices of the Secret Service. He had been promised that he could make copies of the company’s files. As it turned out, he was only allowed to copy a few files, and only from one system. Still missing were all the current text files and hard copy for this book, as well as the files for the Illuminati BBS with their extensive playtest comments.

In the course of that visit, it became clear that the investigating agents considered GURPS Cyberpunk to be “a handbook for computer crime.” They seemed to make no distinction between a discussion of futuristic credit fraud, using equipment that doesn’t exist, and modern real-life credit card abuse. A repeated comment by the agents was “This is real.”

Over the next few weeks, the Secret Service repeatedly assured the SJ Games attorney that complete copies of the files would be returned “tomorrow.” But these promises weren’t kept; the book was reconstructed from old backups, playtest copies, notes and memories.

On March 26, almost four weeks after the raid, some (but not all) of the files were returned. It was June 21, nearly four months later, when most (but not all) of the hardware was returned. The Secret Service kept one company hard disk, all Loyd’s personal equipment and files, the printouts of GURPS Cyberpunk, and several other things.

The raid, and especially the confiscation of the game manuscript, caused a catastrophic interruption of the company’s business. SJ Games very nearly closed its doors. It survived only by laying off half its employees, and it was years before it could be said to have “recovered.”

Why was SJ Games raided? That was a mystery until October 21, 1990, when the company finally received a copy of the Secret Service warrant affidavit – at their request, it had been sealed. And the answer was . . . guilt by remote association.

While reality-checking the book, Loyd Blankenship corresponded with a variety of people, from computer security experts to self-confessed computer crackers. From his home, he ran a legal BBS which discussed the “computer underground,” and he knew many of its members. That was enough to put him on a federal List of Dangerous Hoodlums! The affidavit on which SJ Games were raided was unbelievably flimsy . . . Loyd Blankenship was suspect because he ran a technologically literate and politically irreverent BBS, because he wrote about hacking, and because he received and re-posted a copy of the /Phrack newsletter. The company was raided simply because Loyd worked there and used its (entirely different) BBS!

As for GURPS Cyberpunk, it had merely been a target of opportunity . . . something “suspicious” that the agents picked up at the scene. The Secret Service allowed SJ Games (and the public) to believe, for months, that the book had been the target of the raid.

The one bright spot in this whole affair was the creation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In mid-1990, Mitch Kapor, John Barlow and John Gilmore formed the EFF to address this and similar outrages. It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the Constitutional rights of computer users. (For more information, look at the EFF web site, or write them at 454 Shotwell St., San Francisco, CA 94110.) The EFF provided the financial backing that made it possible for SJ Games and four Illuminati users to file suit against the Secret Service.

Two active electronic-civil-liberties groups also formed in Texas: EFF-Austin and Electronic Frontiers Houston, which have since merged to become Electronic Frontiers Texas.

And science fiction writer Bruce Sterling turned his hand to journalism and wrote The Hacker Crackdown about this and other cases where the law collided with technology. A few months after it was published in hardback, he released it to the Net, and you can read it online.

In early 1993, the case finally came to trial. SJ Games was represented by the Austin firm of George, Donaldson & Ford. The lead counsel was Pete Kennedy.

And we won. The judge gave the Secret Service a tongue-lashing and ruled for SJ Games on two out of the three counts, and awarded over $50,000 in damages, plus over $250,000 in attorney’s fees. In October 1994, the Fifth Circuit turned down SJ Games’ appeal of the last (interception) count . . . meaning that right now, in the Fifth Circuit, it is not “interception” of your e-mail messages when law enforcement officials walk out the door with the computer holding them.

Case Documents

  • The affidavit under which the Secret Service obtained its warrant to raid SJ Games. (This was first made public in issue 2.11 of the Computer Underground Digest, which we have reproduced here in its entirety to recognize the work of the CuD editors.)
  • The complaint filed by SJ Games against the Secret Service.
  • The final judge’s decision in the case.
  • The Fifth Circuit opinion on the “interception” question.

Articles and Commentary on Privacy, Search and Seizure, Etc.

Computer Law

  • Texas Penal Code provisions regarding “computer crime.” Updated 1994 . . .

Articles and Commentary on Censorship and Freedom of the Press

Other Sources





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