1. What is this negotiation about?

What is the situation background?

An influential computer hacker agreed to become a government informant. it is kind of like what happened to Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch me if you can” but for computer hacking.  The hacker was facing up to 124 years in prison for 12 hacking and conspiracy charges. The key question for this blog post is: “What could have been the hacker’s best outcome?”

Who is engaged in the negotiation?

There are 2 main actors in this negotiation:  The FBI agents in charge of the case and the hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur.  These 2 are the one directly involved, but there are also another 2 actors that can influence the outcome of this negotiation:  The hierarchy of the FBI and also the free hackers will influence the decision of the agents and Hector.

What are they negotiating about?

Most probably the FBI did not inform Hector that in was in the middle of the most important negotiation of his life.  They probably told him: “You are guilty of 12 very serious criminal charges and face spending the rest of your live behind bars with criminals that are not there because of their computing skills”  I may be exaggerating a bit, but at the end of the day, Hector probably thought that he had only 2 options: going to jail or collaborating.I see the situation more as 1) how much and 2) what type of collaboration Hector needed to provide the FBI to reduce the impact of the criminal charges he is accused of.  This is a give and take situation rather than a take it or leave it situation.

2. What are the strategies used?

What are the FBI objectives?

Reduce cybercrime by decreasing the number of hackers and building their in-house capability.

What would the FBI do if the negotiation fails?

+ Prosecute Hector+ Potentially send an influential hacker to jail- Lose very needed skills to fight cybercrime

What are Hector’s objectives?

Avoid/reduce jail time Potentially get revenge on other hackers or prove that they are better.

What would Hector do if the negotiation fails?

 +/- Go to trial.  Only the outcome of the trial will tell if this is a good or bad thing.

3. ‘The negotiation room’ interpretation:

Who has more power?

Hard to say…  You could think that the FBI is calling the shots, they can apparently put their terms to Hector.  But Hector has something very rare and sought after to offer: He is one of the best hackers in the world and has active connections with the most influential hacking groups (remember, this is the key objective of the FBI to reduce cybercrime).  So I won’t chicken on my first post: Power advantage to “Hector the hacker”

Why does the FBI have this objective?

Reducing cybercrime is an important objective highlighted by Robert Mueller the FBI Director. The number of hacking case is doubling every 2 years.

How far would the FBI go?

The FBI has protocols for everything they do.  So, there are chances that the FBI agents can not deviate much if they negotiate with Hector.However, Hector is not your average criminal, you can not arrest another Hector in a few weeks.  And we all know the proverb “to exceptional situations, exceptional solutions”.  The FBI could probably go beyond protocol if the situation was escalated.

Why does Hector have this objective?

– I have never been to jail, but based the series “OZ” it seems clear why everybody should stay away from it.- It could be surprising to some but you should never underestimate what people would do because of their ego.  He could try to demonstrate his skills or get revenge on ex-friends.

How far would the Hector go?

Well, we have the answer on this point.  He would not go very far and was ready to collaborate to limit his trouble (he has been collaborating for 1 year with the FBI and they just revealed his real name).

Conclusions

Hector probably did not realize that he was in a more powerful situation than the FBI painted to him.  How could he? This was not a fair fight, nor should it be!  The FBI agents are experts in this type of situation, they have done it several times have been trained.  Hector on the other side is a 28 year old who spends nights partying and has been building his computing skills since age 16.  How often would he have to negotiate in high pressure situation? If something was not to his liking he would just use his computer and change it! Although we do not exactly know the detail of Hectors’ arrangement with the FBI, the fact that they consider putting him under the “witness protection program” shows that he is a high value asset.  The fact also that he is working day and night to put his ex-friends behind bars hint that he did not negotiate himself a sweet deal.