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Hacker Logs Out—On Bail

A computer expert who worked as an FBI informant now faces charges himself after allegedly hacking into the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, the Air Force and other sensitive computer systems.

Max Ray Butler, 27, of Berkeley was expected to be released late Thursday on $100,000 bail after promising a federal magistrate in San Jose that he will not use a computer for anything other than his work.

Butler—who also goes by the name "Max Vision"—was indicted on 15 criminal counts on March 15 and he turned himself in Tuesday in Oakland.

Court records say Butler was a confidential FBI source for two years. FBI officials refused to elaborate.

Prosecutor Ross Nadel, who heads the Justice Department's new Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Unit, said the charges were unrelated to the work Butler had been doing for the FBI.

But friends—who filled most of a row of the courtroom—said Butler began working with federal agents several years ago after he was caught possibly violating the law. They said he agreed to work with the FBI to avoid charges, and then recently refused to comply with an FBI request.

"He's being charged with something that occurs constantly," said Seth Alves, one of Butler's friends from San Francisco. "It's ludicrous to nail someone with something that happens all the time."

Prosecutor Nadel said there is nothing frivolous about the charges of stealing hundreds of passwords and recklessly causing damage to government, military or research computer systems.

"We're not viewing this as a joke," he said.

On a Web site, Butler has advertised himself as "an expert in ethical hacking."

"Apparently the defendant's point of view is that certain types of hacking are ethical or appropriate," said Nadel.

The investigation of Butler took 22 months, according to the Justice Department. During this period, Butler's defense attorney Jennifer Granick has been negotiating with federal prosecutors about the case.

Butler, clean shaven with a pony tail down his back, smiled nervously at his wife and friends, whispering "Thank You" to several friends who stepped forward to put up cash for his bail.

He is accused of breaking into computers and causing damage, intercepting electronic communications and having unauthorized "access devices."

The facilities the grand jury indicted him for allegedly intruding into included the Argonne National Laboratories in Illinois; the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.; the Marshall Space Center in Alabama; IDSoftware in Mesquite, Texas; the office of the Secretary of the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C.; and unspecified facilities of the Department of Defense.

In an affidavit filed to support a search of Butler's home, an FBI agent also alleged that Butler focused his attacks on the U.S. Air Force.

The following bases were allegedly victims: McChord in Washington state; Offutin Nebraska; Tinker in Oklahoma; Scott in Illinois; Maxwell in Alabama; Kirtland in New Mexico; Kessler in Mississippi; Robins in Georgia and Sacramento Air National Guard in California.

The same agent alleged that Butler broke into systems at the Lawrence Berkeley National lab; the University of California, Berkeley; the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. departments of the interior and commerce.

Court records also show that Butler was convicted of misdemeanor attempted trafficking in stolen property in Washington in 1997.

By MARTHA MENDOZA