Michael Elansky: Anarchist? Copyright © 1993, Gage Steele All rights reserved
MICHAEL ELANSKY: ANARCHIST? by Gage Steele
When does the "long arm of the law" extend too far? Michael Elansky,
of West Hartford, Connecticut, found out this summer.
22 year-old Michael (aka "The Ionizer") ran a BBS called The
Warehouse. He was also a member of the International Information Retrieval Guild, a computer group very much concerned with freedom of speech and freedom of information. Like the group with which he was affiliated, Michael felt strongly about our First Amendment rights, and it was this belief that ultimately led him to trouble.
Michael is currently in jail, unable to post his $500,000 bail. Says
the prosecutor, he created risk or injury to a minor and advocated violence against law enforcement agents. Those are some mighty hefty infringements, true, and carry a maximum of 10 years imprisonment if convicted.
Police say a file found on Michael's system gave instructions on how
to build bombs and other explosives, and that having it on his BBS was in conflict with the law. The text itself was written 4 years ago by "Deth Vegetable" (who was a teen at the time of writing, and unable to be reached for comment). It contained information similar to what you might find in numerous publications, including highschool- and college-level chemistry textbooks, and the infamous _Anarchists Cookbook_. All can be purchased in many bookstores, as well as borrowed from most local libraries, without fear of breaking the law. In fact, minors are able to purchase or borrow the _Anarchists Cookbook_ itself, from numerous venues.
So, why, then, was it illegal for Michael to make a similar,
electronic version available to his users? This remains unanswered, as do many aspects of this case. While researching, I came to numerous inconclusive pieces of evidence, some possibly fact, some possibly fiction.
In Detective Richard Aniolowsky's unsworn officer's report, he
" That I, Richard Aniolowsky, am a member of the West Hartford Police Department and have been for ten years and 7 months and was promoted to Detective in September 1990. [...] That it was on May 28, 1993 that Detective Goodrow of the Hartford Police Department gained access to the "Warehouse", a modem accessible computer [...] That Goodrow said the "Anarchy'" [sic] file he obtained access to the Warehouse bulletin board through one of the users systems. "
Although Detective Aniolowsky's writing is somewhat difficult to
follow at times, mixed with typos and grammatical errors, this last sentence does seem to read that Detective Goodrow used someone else's account to log onto The Warehouse. This would be classified as a class C felony under Connecticut General Statute 54-41 ("…Unauthorised or illegal inception of wire communication of any person…").
Also, when Michael's BBS LOG file was made available for inspection,
only two incidents were found of the file ever having been downloaded. Neither incidents occured on May 28th, 1993, the date which Detectives Aniolowsky and Goodrow contend they acquired it through download from The Warehouse BBS. Both accesses of the file in question were made previous to the May date.
Did the detectives investigating the case commit a crime?
Unfortunately, I was unable to reach either Aniolowsky or Goodrow for comment.
"Misguided Youth" (whose true name I cannot divulge, upon his
request), a user of The Warehouse BBS, had this to say when I spoke with him on the telephone:
" Detective Aniolowsky came to my house and made me sign a statement saying I had seen anarchy and bomb-making files on Warehouse and that I had spoken on the phone with 'Ionizer' many times. My parents only witnessed me signing. But later it got changed to '...I had spoken on the phone with 'Ionizer' many times about making bombs.' I have never had an interest in anarchy files. I never got any from 'Ionizer.' I have never cared to download them. "
Neither I, nor "Misguided Youth" could grasp the reasoning behind the
later alteration of the statement he had signed. He also seemed to feel that the police pressured him in the situation. I found "Misguided Youth" very pleasant to speak with, and do not understand why such apparent "strongarm" tactics were used to ensure his signing of the statement.
When I spoke with Michael Elansky on the telephone, he was sincere,
at ease, and very willing to talk with me. He did, however, have a bit of information to add to the complexity of it all:
" I was supposed to be arraigned in Hartford Court. My lawyer was present when we went down. The arrest warrant had the bond set at $20,000. But, Detective Aniolowsky said that I needed to be taken to the WEST Hartford Court to be booked. So, my lawyer said 'okay,' and he waited at Hartford. So, Aniolowsky [took me to West Hartford Court] and rushed through booking, prints, photo. Then he took me upstairs where they proceeded to arraign me - without my lawyer present! Aniolowsky made a motion to set my bond at $500,000, which it was. Of course it was! My lawyer wasn't even there to say anything, and Aniolowsky knew he wasn't there and knew he was waiting for us back at Hartford Court. "
From the way Michael was treated, it looks as though his right to
counsel was compleatly ignored. I don't want to pass judgement, but isn't that… unjust?
I asked Michael about minors on his BBS, and what sort of files they
had access to. He assured me that no-one under 18 could look at the adult areas. When I asked specifically about the text in question, he said:
" No, no-one under 16 could even see that stuff. Only one guy under 18 had access to it, he's 17, but he's a member of the International Information Retrieval Guild, and had to have access to it. "
For clarity, that means this 17 year old had clout over Michael in
the hierarchy of the computer group. It was rather like part of the 17 year-old's job description to ensure that Michael ran his system within the guidelines of the group, and therefor required a very high level of access to The Warehouse BBS.
Ever-optimistic, Michael also added this:
" [There's] no way in hell I'd ever plead guilty to these two charges, nor would I ever cop a deal forcing me to plead guilty to these two charges. I did nothing wrong. I am confident that the two charges will be dismissed. "
Meanwhile, pretrial hearings are filled with deliberation, and some
headway. And - Michael remains behind bars, waiting.
The Elansky case could have staggering effects on electronic-based
media and publication. If the prosecutor finds Elansky guilty as charged, maintains that the file is illegal and worthy of felony prosecution with possible imprisonment, then the basis for attacking a BBS, but not a bookstore or local library, is not defined. In fact, were Elansky to be found guilty, it would seem that the prosecutor reneged all First Amendment rights and protection under such simply because the text was electronically bound and not paper bound.
The Internationl Information Retrieval Guild and Michael Elansky
asked, as a favour, that I also include the following. The Elansky Family is having a terrible time assuaging the cost of legal fees. Because of this, a fund has been set up, and they are asking that anyone able, donate whatever he/she can afford to his legal defense.
Send what you can to:
Free Ionizer c/o David Elansky 25 Maiden Lane West Hartford, CT 06117
Make cheques or money orders payable to Michael Elansky. This way,
you are assured that all funds go directly to his defense. The bank's account number for the fund should also be written on the cheque or money order: 02-060-573652
My thanks to: Dan, International Information Retrieval Guild;
David Elansky; "Misguided Youth;" and Michael Elansky. If it weren't for them, this article could not have been written.