GURPS Cyberpunk

From Academic Kids

Written by Loyd Blankenship and published by Steve Jackson Games in 1995, GURPS Cyberpunk is a sourcebook for a cyberpunk-themed role-playing game 'GURPS', based in a fictional, near-future dystopia, such as that envisioned by William Gibson in his influential novel Neuromancer. In 1993, GURPS Cyberpunk Adventures—a collection of three RPG scenarios based on GURPS Cyberpunk —won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Adventure of 1992.


Operation Sundevil

GURPS Cyberpunk received notoriety when the Austin headquarters of Steve Jackson Games was raided by the U.S. Secret Service in 1990 as a part of Operation Sundevil, a nation-wide crackdown on "illegal computer hacking activities".

Steve Jackson Games was raided ostensibly because Loyd Blankenship, the writer of GURPS Cyberpunk, was a target of the crackdown. Blankenship, known in hacking circles as The Mentor, was a member of the Legion of Doom hacker group, and ran a BBS from his home called The Phoenix Project, which had helped distribute the popular underground ezine Phrack. Phrack published the contents of a proprietary text file, stolen from Bell South, containing information about the E911 emergency response system. The government feared that the stolen document could be used to teach crackers how to compromise the vital E911 system (a claim that is disputed due to the non-technical nature of the document), and Bell South claimed that the dissemination of the data caused monetary damages.

The Raid

On March 1, 1990, a group of Secret Service agents led by Timothy Foley, Austin police and Henry M. Kluepfel, from Southwest Bell, raided the offices of Steve Jackson Games and the home of Lyod Blankensmith with an unsigned search warrant. They were searching for computer equipment and documentation on computer hacking. Among the things taken were four computers, two laser printers, assorted hard disks and a good amount of computer hardware. The computers taken were the computers containing the GURPS Cyberpunk sourcebook files, company e-mail and records, and the computer running the Illumnati BBS. The agents cut off locks, forced open footlockers, tore up cardboard boxes and bent two letteropeners trying to pick the lock of an office file cabinet - this despite the fact that (according to Jackson's testimony) staffers were offering the agents the necessary keys at the time. The E911 document was not found anywhere on the premises.

Striving for secrecy during the ongoing operation, the investigators were reluctant to release information about the E911 document that their investigation was focused on. So, when Steve Jackson and his lawyers approached the Secret Service demanding answers, the investigators allegedly smokescreened by claiming that the GURPS Cyberpunk manuscript was a "handbook for computer crime". However, the only reason GURPS Cyberpunk became a target of the raid was that it was found on the scene and declared suspicious.


Despite—or perhaps due to—the absurdity of this notion, word quickly spread throughout the role-playing, science fiction and hacker communities that the government had raided Steve Jackson Games because it feared that GURPS Cyberpunk contained instructions for cracking real computers, rather than game rules for pretending to crack fictional ones. The raid was often referred to as "The Cyberpunk Bust", and while the investigators remained silent, the rapidly spreading rumor suggested that the government was ignorant and naive in regards to computer technology.

Whether the Secret Service investigators actually targeted the GURPS Cyberpunk sourcebook is uncertain. They had undoubtedly read messages about the upcoming book while monitoring Blankenship's BBS, and later court rulings concluded that they had no reasonable basis to suspect that the company possessed the E911 document. Therefore, some suggest that the game manual might have actually been one of the intended targets of the raid, rather than just an excuse concocted after the fact.

Steve Jackson was promised by the Secret Service that the next day he could come back and make copies of the files that were taken. He went with an attorney and was able to copy only a small part of the files that were taken. It was later said that GURPS Cyberpunk was considered by the Secret Service a "manual for computer crime". Over the course of a couple weeks the Steve Jackson Games attorney was assured by the Secret Service that the files would be returned "tomorrow," but they never were.

On March 26, 1990, some more of the files were returned. Finally on June 21, 1990, most of the files were 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 motivated the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Steve Jackson and the EFF successfully sued the Secret Service for violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) by confiscating the company's private electronic communications.


In 1993, the case of Steve Jackson Games vs. The Secret Service finally came to trial. Steve Jackson Games was represented by the Austin firm of George, Donaldson & Ford. The lead counsel was Pete Kennedy. Steve Jackson Games won two out of the three counts. Steve Jackson Games was awarded US$50,000 in damages and US$250,000 in attorney's fees. The third count dealing with interception of e-mail was turned down in October 1994 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Judge also reprimanded the Secret Service, calling their warrant preparation "sloppy", suggesting that they needed "better education" regarding relevant statutes, and finding that they had no basis to suspect Steve Jackson Games of any wrongdoing.

Operation Sundevil, which spanned two years, has a tarnished image due to lack of successful prosecutions and questionable procedures. The overshadowing rumors surrounding the confiscation of the GURPS Cyberpunk sourcebook added embarrassment for the government, fueled paranoia among the hacker community, and created a lasting legend in hacker culture. To this day, the GURPS Cyberpunk book lists "Unsolicited Comments: The United States Secret Service" on its credits page.

Later, the writers of the Wild Cards series - which was also the subject of a GURPS worldbook - included a parody of the raid in one volume of that series.

A small joke can also be found on the White Wolf role-playing game book "Mage: The Ascencion" , in which there's a reference of the fact that the fictional magical Tradition called Virtual Adepts misled the Secret Service into doing the raid rather than raiding their own refuge.

See also

See Bruce Sterling's book The Hacker Crackdown for a detailed account of these events.

External links


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