WRKF

The Mysterious Death Of The Hacker Who Turned In Chelsea Manning

Sep 19, 2019
Originally published on October 25, 2019 9:46 am

Debbie Scroggin and her husband live at the end of a series of gravel roads in a lonesome part of Kansas. It is the kind of place where, Debbie says, "you have to drive 15 minutes to get anywhere." Getting to the Scroggin house involves turning onto a desolate ribbon of gravel that cuts through fields as far as the eye can see. It was easy to think that someone might come here to either get lost or be forgotten. Scroggin remembers Adrian Lamo arriving on a night train with nothing but a broken suitcase and a hangdog expression.

"He was shorter than I thought he would be," she told me as we sat in her living room. "I saw pictures of him when he was young." He was slight, dimpled and smiling, back then. The Adrian Lamo who stepped off the train was thick, stooped and "had on gloves and a hat and this long black trench coat, full of things."

The sheer bulk of the coat demanded attention. Its contents rattled and clicked when Lamo walked, and the look of it was dramatic enough to compel the ushers at the Scroggins' church to pull the couple aside and ask, "Who is that guy, is he with you?" Bill Scroggin, Debbie's husband, remembers saying: "If I told you who that guy really was, you'd never believe me."

Lamo was, back in the early 2000s, one of the world's most famous hackers. As a young man, he broke into a who's who of corporate America and couldn't wait to tell anyone who would listen precisely how he did it.

"He was like the Tony Robbins of the hacking world," Lorraine Murphy, an old friend of his, said. "It is one thing to be gifted at hacking and another to be able to tell the world about it." Lamo did both. In happier times, he had legions of followers — long before Twitter made that a thing — and he loved the attention. "He wanted to be a household name," Murphy said. "Fame. Media. That's what motivated him."

It turns out, the thing that made Lamo anything close to a household name had less to do with hacking and more to do with a random Internet chat he had with a young soldier in Iraq in 2010 and the decision that followed it.

"Hi, how are you? ... Im an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern baghdad, pending discharge for 'adjustment disorder. ... Im sure you're pretty busy... if you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8-plus months, what would you do?

"Lets just say *someone* I know intimately well, has been penetrating US classified networks, mining data... and been transferring that data from the classified networks over the 'air gap' onto a commercial network computer ... Sorting the data, compressing it, encrypting it, and uploading it to a crazy white haired aussie who can't seem to stay in one country very long."

The "crazy white haired aussie" was Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks; and the young soldier was Chelsea Manning. What happened next is what people remember about Lamo: He turned Manning in and found himself on the receiving end of death threats. Manning was arrested days later, after she had passed hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and a video to Assange, which in one fell swoop had the effect of weaponizing the Internet and transforming the act of whistleblowing into a popular movement.

The gravel road leading to Debbie and Bill Scroggins' house, outside Wichita, Kan.
Dina Temple-Raston/NPR

Those leaks, Manning's admission and Lamo are creeping back into public consciousness because they are now at the heart of the U.S. government's attempt to bring Assange to justice. As it seeks Assange's extradition, the U.S. government alleges Assange did more than just accept a trove of classified material from Manning. It claims he not only encouraged her to provide more secret information but also attempted to help her crack a Defense Department password so she could leak more.

If the U.S. government can prove that set of facts — and it is far from clear that it can — the founder of WikiLeaks may have run afoul of the Espionage Act. And a key witness for the prosecution? It might well have been Lamo — had he not died under mysterious circumstances last year.

The "Wild West" of hacking

"I cannot come to the phone right now due to connectivity issues, distraction, my death," an old voicemail greeting of Lamo's began. "If I'm dead, I'm telling you that I love you from beyond the grave. You should consider this moment rather unique. Thank you and have a wonderful day."

Lamo was born in Boston and spent his formative years in his father's home outside Bogotá, Colombia. His early hacker's résumé tracks like that of most computer geeks. He owned a hand-me-down Commodore 64, which he used to hack into computer games; he played with viruses on floppy disks (remember those?), and eventually he was tapping into strangers' phone lines and finding ways to spoof the phone company to make free long distance calls.

When his family moved to Northern California, it made it easier for Lamo to pursue his interest in computers. "His name was very well-known especially for anybody who was up and coming in the community," his cousin Glenn Morrow recalls. "And he wasn't very hard to find, either, online during the AOL Messenger days. So a lot of people say, 'Hey, look what I've done, what do you think?' "

Back then, regular people, civilians, the rest of us, were flocking to the Web. Every business, community and subculture was running headlong into cyberspace to stake a claim. What we consider fixtures of the Internet today were just getting their start. AOL introduced instant messaging in 1997. In 2004, Google launched its IPO, assuring investors it had found a way to profit from searching; and a loose affiliation of computer geeks had started a small group of hacktivists, calling themselves Anonymous. Lamo had been watching this explosion of activity with a mixture of excitement — he was part of it, after all — and alarm. This was all so fragile, he would say, the Internet was dangerous and no one could see it.

A Commodore 64, the computer that launched a thousand hackers, as seen at the 2014 Gamescom gaming trade fair in Cologne, Germany.
Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Lamo's hacking was a way to underscore the point: Cracking into companies like AOL, Yahoo, MCI Worldcom, even The New York Times, with such ease certainly suggested something was broken. If someone like Lamo — who often got into these companies while borrowing an Internet connection from a local Kinko's — could do this, the hacks seemed to suggest, anyone could. Lamo didn't steal information; he didn't hold people's computers hostage. That might have had people questioning his motives. Instead, he would find security holes, offer to fix them free of charge, and if companies didn't take him up on it, he'd notify the media, hoping that public attention would force whoever it was in his hacker crosshairs to patch the hole.

Federal prosecutors ended Lamo's crusade after he hacked The New York Times and the paper pressed charges. The way it unfolded would sound familiar to anyone who was in the hacking underground at the time. Lamo was very good at figuring out passwords, either getting someone to unwittingly give him one or guessing at default passwords that hadn't been changed. The Times had some employees who were still using the digits from their Social Security numbers as passwords, and that gave Lamo the opening he needed.

He searched the Times' internal server and gave himself administrator credentials and a login and a password for the paper's LexisNexis account. (The Times claimed he ran up hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of searches; this was later disputed, since the paper had negotiated a monthly rate with the company.) Lamo gained access to a database that contained the telephone and Social Security numbers for more than 3,000 contributors to the paper's Op-Ed page. But he didn't steal them or publicize them. Instead, he played a little joke: He added himself to the paper's internal database of experts — as an expert in hacking. What might have been his undoing is that he then trumpeted what he had done.

The Times was not amused. In August 2003, the FBI issued a warrant for Lamo's arrest; the U.S. attorney in Manhattan at the time, James Comey, likened Lamo and other hackers to common thieves: "It's like someone kicking in your front door while you're on vacation and running up a $300,000 bill on your phone, and then telling you when you arrive home that he had performed a useful service by demonstrating that your deadbolt wasn't secure enough."

Lamo pleaded guilty, paid a fine and served six months of home detention. "I do think there were some lines I stepped on in my access," he told the Off the Hook radio program, a hacker favorite at the time.

"I want to take responsibility for this and I want to put it behind me." And then he added, "On a tangentially related note, the U.S. marshals actually let me retake my mug shot until I thought it looked pretty."

Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador in London in 2017. The founder of the WikiLeaks website was forcibly removed from the embassy earlier this year and is fighting extradition to the U.S. to face charges related to the Manning leaks.
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Lamo was olive-skinned and dimpled — and had a fun, impish air. That mug shot was pretty, too. He was half smiling and looking a little smug; and it reveals something about Lamo that he expected The New York Times episode to have a completely different ending. His friend Murphy told me, "He was really appalled that he didn't get a job offer out of that... He thought he'd be made a security consultant.... You know the pipe dream of the best kid in the drama club at high school is to go to Broadway? The pipe dream of every kid in every hackerspace in the world is to get a paid job from a major corporation as a security consultant and all you do is sit there all day and find their weaknesses."

The idea that everyone felt that way may be overstating the case, given the countercultural ethos that pervaded the hacker community back then, but about Lamo she was correct. He made no secret that he wanted to do that kind of work, but The New York Times hack only dimmed his prospects for doing so because it gave him a felony record and sparked a belief he never shook: that federal authorities were watching him, constantly.

To be sure, there was more than a whiff of self-importance in thinking the federal government cared about him that much, but Morrow, his cousin, believes the possibility that he was under surveillance may have played a role in Lamo's calculation to turn in Manning. He may have assumed the authorities knew about the Manning chats and would be able to prosecute him as an accessory after the fact. "He never said that to me directly, that that was what motivated him," Morrow told me. "But even back then, being digitally anonymous was an ever increasing challenge."

Morrow witnessed the exact moment when the hacker community turned on Lamo. It happened, in a stark way, at a Hackers On Planet Earth conference in New York. Hacker meetups were usually a great opportunity to party, meet new people and start new projects, but from the outset it was clear that post-Manning, this HOPE meeting would be different.

"The first day at the conference there were a lot of people yelling out 'snitch' and at least one occasion that I recall somebody spitting in his direction," Morrow recalls. "It was a rather divisive time back then. Something like this had never happened to the community. Up until that point, Adrian had been an inspiration, but that all turned. In their minds, or in the culture, the worst thing you could be was a snitch and I think that probably confused a lot of people. There was a bit of a mob mentality, people were just so taken aback that this happened."

The organizers put together a last-minute panel they called "Informants: Villains or Heroes?" and it basically revolved around Lamo. He was onstage and there were boos from the crowd as soon as he was introduced. One by one conference attendees came to the microphone to berate him. "I see what you've done as treason," said one. "I think you belong in Guantánamo," said another.

Then Mark Abene, a member of one of the original hacking groups, Masters of Deception, took the floor. "As soon as you make up your mind to choose a side," he told Lamo, "politically speaking, you cease to be a hacker. You had a choice and you made the wrong choice. You could have simply walked away and none of this would have happened."

Lamo leaned forward and spoke into the mic. "I could have, but I wouldn't have been able to live with myself," he said. The rest of the conference, Morrow said, was a bit of a blur. "It was a little tough for me to hear," he said, remembering the weekend. "Everybody knew who he was, and up until that point Adrian had been, you know, a hero."

It didn't help matters that the Manning arrest unfolded at a time when hackers were just beginning to consider the moral implications of what they were doing. "In the early days, hackers didn't think that there were rules when it came to websites," Murphy explained. "It was the Wild West. It wasn't against the law to hack a particular website for years and years and years."

The whole Manning affair had forced the community to address fundamental questions. What did ethical hacking really mean? If you cracked into someone's server but didn't do any damage, was that OK? And if someone tells you they hacked into a machine and leaked classified information, were you obliged to say something? The majority of the community wanted hacking to remain a force for good, but they weren't entirely sure how to make that happen.

The homepage of the WikiLeaks.org website circa 2010. The Manning leaks put a little-known transparency organization on the map and made its founder, Julian Assange, a household name.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After the conference, there was no ambiguity about how the hacker community felt about Lamo.

"People hated him," said another of his friends, Andrew Blake. "He couldn't log on to any sort of interest platform under his actual name without instantly getting some sort of hate directed toward him. Even when Adrian would do something with the absolute best of intentions, as soon as anyone realized that it was Adrian Lamo who did it, they didn't want anything to do with it."

Wired differently

"He used to say that he liked to believe in a world where things can happen, even if I have to do them myself," said Lamo's ex-wife, Lauren Fisher. "That was kind of his motto. He just liked to make the extraordinary happen."

If he found a letter on the ground without a stamp, he and Fisher would do whatever they needed to do to deliver it. They found a cellphone at a post office once and traveled across town to return it to its owner. "He just wanted to deliver it with all haste to this older woman who ended up buying us flowers and chocolates and giving us a big hug," Fisher remembered. "There was always an adventure."

There had always been rumors about whether Lamo had signed on as a government informant after the Manning affair; and they may have started with a project Fisher and Lamo dreamed up years before anyone had ever heard of Chelsea Manning. They called it Reality Planning and it was a kind of an a la carte offer of Lamo's hacker services. He would test your website or your company's servers, like the "red teaming" of company websites, which is common practice today. "It was all very vague but it was really just to get him back in the PR spotlight, and it kind of worked," Fisher said.

Early on, someone contacted them about coming to speak at a computer expo in Europe. Lamo asked for business class airfare, a luxury hotel — but before discussions progressed very far there were unexpected complications from the State Department: a hold on his passport because of that felony hacking conviction related to The New York Times. The European trip, speaking engagements, being in the spotlight again — it never happened.

Adrian Lamo in a motel room on Long Island, N.Y. Lamo tried to make light of his reputation as a snitch, even wearing a hat that labeled him as such.
Jennifer S. Altman / The Washington Post via Getty Images Magazine

Fisher recalls that there were a lot of things that didn't go their way back then. People saw only the Lamo they wanted to see and there were times when just being Lamo, living up to the expectations, took a toll. "He'd have to step into those shoes," she said, "and if you're anyone in the spotlight you have to do it wholeheartedly if you're going to survive. It was hard for him to be who everyone thought he was."

Lamo was wired differently, she said. That difference allowed him to see things other people didn't see when he sat behind a keyboard and a screen, but that difference would also lay him low with crippling anxiety. Sometimes he wouldn't leave the house for days. It was around that time, Fisher said, that she first heard Lamo mention something called ProjectVigilant. He was speaking with someone on Skype about a project that would use his hacking skills to catch the bad guys.

"It was kind of like Reality Planning, though it was all just vague," she said. "But it seemed, for me, a bit bigger. And it seemed more secret." Lamo told her it had something to do with the dark Web but he didn't seem to want to talk much about it. The secrecy, looking back on it, was in keeping with the two Adrians that Fisher was constantly trying to manage. "He'd like to shine in his Adrian Lamo kind of persona," she said, "but there were also the times where the walls were down completely and he wasn't the Adrian Lamo that he himself made himself believe that he was."

To cope, he medicated, hoping to find some little door within himself that would give him the control he wanted. Fisher called it body hacking, his attempt to contain all the different feelings inside him and keep them in check. The list of what he took was as long as your arm: Valerian root, vitamins and, at some point — no one is quite sure when it started — the list included an herbal supplement called kratom. (It is legal in most states.)

"It's ... a fine powder ... like a dust, and Adrian explained that kratom was supposed to work on the same brain receptors that opioids did," explained Blake, a longtime friend. Blake had helped Lamo out with a couch and a meal over the years and was well aware of Lamo's kratom use. "Adrian would get it in like a big bag. ... [He] gave us a bag for Christmas."

It is important to understand that hackers like Lamo looked at drugs a little differently than would a typical recreational drug user. Drugs aren't just a way to have fun; they are seen as a way to expand their powers. Early hacker conferences were so drug-addled and alcohol-soaked, attendees would get banned from hotels. So Lamo's body-hacking approach was hardly the exception. Murphy said Lamo dosed himself with prescriptions and natural supplements and did remarkable things. "We would have never heard of him if he hadn't done these remarkable things," she said.

"Tourist to normalcy"

Murphy met Lamo on Facebook when they worked together on the platform's 2600 Group. 2600 was an outgrowth of a magazine of the same name: 2600 — the Hacker Quarterly. Founded in 1984, it had become a bible for people testing the security of computer systems, full of technical information and invitations to meet up with other hackers around the world. The claim had always been, even back in their 2600 days, that Lamo was using the group to spy on people.

"He told me at one point that his job was to provide intel on non-Americans operating outside the United States," Murphy said, but he would never reveal precisely whom he was working for. "He never said, but [it was] either the U.S. government or a contractor who is reporting to the U.S. government." Murphy assumed it was this company he occasionally talked about, ProjectVigilant. The last time Murphy heard from Lamo was about two years ago. "I said, 'How are you doing?' He said, 'Homeless in Wichita but better than a lot of people,' " she said.

Spring 2012 Issue of 2600 Magazine, a bible for hackers.
2600.com/Wikipedia

In his heyday, Lamo had been known as the "Homeless Hacker," couch-surfing before couch-surfing was really a thing and long before it became an app. Ironically, when he wrote to Murphy, this may have been one of the few times in his life that Lamo wasn't exactly homeless. He was living with Debbie and Bill Scroggin. Lamo had been living with their son, a good friend of his, and had worn out his welcome, so Will Scroggin called his mother and asked if she would take him in.

Lamo was in his mid-30s by then, and whether it was a lifetime of transience, poor nutrition or his constant body hacking, he didn't seem well. He walked with a limp. He had put on weight. He had back trouble. The younger Scroggin had a sense that someone needed to take care of Lamo, and he wasn't equipped to do it. So he asked his mother. There was a FaceTime discussion, an understanding about house rules, and Lamo was on a train bound for Kansas and a life unlike anything he had ever known.

"He became a tourist to normalcy," Murphy believed. "The 9-to-5 small town, you go to work, come home to your loved ones; you play with the dog, you take your kid to Little League. That was all as foreign to him as walking on the moon would be to you or me. The idea that someone like Adrian would be at your Little League game is like looking up in the stands and seeing Darth Vader at your ballet recital."

There were family Thanksgivings and Christmas stockings. Lamo hadn't really had much of an occasion to experience any of these things. And while the Scroggins took him in and made him feel like family, living with him could be a bit odd. He wandered the house at night. "I could hear him and I could see his little flashlight going down the hall," Debbie Scroggin said. "He always slept either on a couch and if he slept on a bed it was always on top of it, never under covers."

Sometimes he would just pile up his clothes and sleep on top of them, as if he were preparing for a quick getaway. There was also a constant stream of mysterious packages that arrived on the doorstep. "He did not use his real name," Bill Scroggin said. "Most of the stuff that came would be to Adrian Alfonso, his middle name."

And while he didn't seem to have a paying job, he was hard at work in the basement doing what he called research. His projects seemed to have evolved; his focus had been updated. His days of hacking corporate America were over, he told them; instead, he was focusing his energies on more sinister forces. "It had to do with the dark Web, hacking into ISIS stuff," Debbie Scroggin said, adding that Lamo led them to believe that he was in Kansas on a kind of secret assignment. Was it for ProjectVigilant? "It might have had something to do with the Department of Homeland Security," Bill Scroggin said. "But I can't say that for sure. I think in his own mind, he worked for this country."

"I do believe that he kind of thought that he was an agent in some way," Debbie Scroggin said, though she couldn't put her finger on what that meant. "There were times where I'd say, this has to be in his head but there were other times where he would either show us a confidential piece of information from Homeland Security or tell us that he was working on something and I'd think, this almost seems real. It was hard to tell with Adrian."

Lamo drives an ATV for the first time with Debbie Scroggin at a family friend's home.
Courtesy of Debbie Scroggin

Lamo's methodology and motivation had been under scrutiny ever since he turned in Manning. How he came to tell the authorities back in 2010 has been a source of controversy and confusion. The fact that Lamo eventually turned Manning in to the authorities isn't in dispute. How it happened has always been a muddled story. According to depositions related to the case obtained by NPR, Lamo placed two phone calls shortly after the Internet chat with Manning.

The first was to a friend: Tim Webster, who at the time was a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Lamo may have called him because he had previously been in Army intelligence.

According to the deposition of an investigating officer, Webster called the FBI shortly after hanging up with Lamo. Whether he called the bureau on Lamo's behalf or felt compelled, as a former intelligence officer, to report an intelligence breach is unclear. Despite repeated attempts by NPR to contact him, Webster declined to comment for this story.

According to the documents, Lamo then placed a second call — this time to a business partner, a man named Chet Uber, and he told him what Manning had said. The business partner immediately left a message on the Army's Criminal Investigative Division tip line. That was on May 23, 2010, just two days after Lamo and Manning began their fateful exchange.

By the end of that week, Lamo had turned his computer over to investigators and Manning was in custody in Iraq. Whether it was Lamo who turned Manning in or the people who phoned the authorities became beside the point: The person everyone blamed for Manning's arrest was Lamo.

"He really did think it was the moral imperative [to turn Manning in]," said Murphy, who later became active in the Free Manning movement. "He thought it would make him a hero, but it backfired spectacularly on him." She knew about the death threats, but Lamo didn't like to talk about them. "They were daily," Murphy said. "Hourly."

ProjectVigilant

In the state of Kansas, medical examiners have five categories for determining a cause of death: natural, accident, suicide, homicide or undetermined — the last of which is the most unsatisfying.

"It's certainly possible to have a known cause of death but still have an undetermined manner of death," Scott Kipper, the deputy medical examiner who handled Lamo's autopsy, explained.

"So, for example, if we find a body at the base of a tall building, it looks like he fell off the building. I can bring the body in. I can document the injuries. What I can't tell you is how he ended up on the sidewalk. Did he jump off? Was he pushed off? Was he working on the building and accidentally fell off? I can't see that at autopsy, but those three different things would have three different manners of death."

In Lamo's case, Kipper said he wasn't able to find, despite all the supplemental testing, "anything that definitively showed a cause of death." He couldn't even rule out murder, he said. "There are some things that can be done to a body that leave minimal or no findings at autopsy," he said.

He did allow, though, that there were some irregularities in the Lamo case, including something that he had never seen before: On Lamo's left thigh, under his clothes, Kipper found a sticker with a name and an address. Finding a sticker on a dead body was a first for him. The sticker read: Adrian Lamo, Assistant Director, ProjectVigilant, 70 Bates Street, NW, Washington, DC. "We took the sticker off; there was nothing under it," he said, adding, "no needle marks."

This seemed like a clue. Company records in Florida establish that Uber, the same man whom Lamo called during the Manning affair, incorporated ProjectVigilant in 2011. Uber was the person on the other end of those Skype calls Lamo's ex-wife had overheard all those years before. ProjectVigilant had nine corporate officers and directors. Uber was one of them; Lamo was another.

When we started calling the others, we got some peculiar answers, especially from a man named Duane Johnson, who was listed as the company's director of science and technology. Johnson is a professor at Iowa State University and, before we called him and asked about it, he had never heard of ProjectVigilant. After we sent him the incorporation papers, he speculated about how his title may have been created.

The papers were "using a title that was closely related to my title at the time — I was chief research officer of a laboratory," he said. Not just any lab; he was chief research officer at the Ames Laboratory, one of the Department of Energy's national labs. He also noticed that his contact address in the paperwork was the address for the campus student union. "I'm not sure how they chose me, but certainly it was misappropriated with some kind of intent," he said.

So from the outset, there was something a little "off" about ProjectVigilant. Other officers or directors we called said they had heard of ProjectVigilant, but they declined to speak on the record because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Some of them were former government officials from the Justice Department and DHS. One, former NSA official Ira Winkler, agreed to talk.

Winkler is now the president of a company called Secure Mentum. He's a delightfully geeky guy who helps companies beef up their cybersecurity by probing their systems for vulnerabilities, something known as red teaming. It sounded a little like what Lamo used to do, but Winkler is doing it legally. Winkler said he met Uber at a hackers conference and after a quick conversation, Uber asked him to be part of this company.

He was made director of intelligence and Lamo was supposed to report to him. The animating idea for the company was to use volunteer hackers like Lamo to find bad people on the dark Web and then use ProjectVigilant as a vehicle to report them to the authorities.

"It was supposed to look for illegal, immoral actions on the Internet that pertained to foreign intelligence, terrorism, child exploitation," that sort of thing, Winkler explained.

But if Lamo ever discovered anything criminal during his trips to the dark Web, he never passed it along. Winkler never received anything from him. "What ProjectVigilant did was absolutely nothing, as far as I can tell," he said. If it had a mysterious connection to the government — aside from listing former government officials as officers or directors — we couldn't find it.

Lamo did receive money from the government, but it was from the Defense Department and appeared to be small reimbursements for travel expenses related to his testimony at Manning's court-martial. The official documents we saw said that Lamo's relationship with the government ended in July 2011. He did have a military email address for a short time, but it was unclear how it was created. He told some of his friends that he had devised a way to create his own .mil email addresses, but if that was the case, that hole in the system was eventually patched. We saw emails that he had sent over the years asking people in the military if they could help him get a .mil address again.

The way Lamo came to be living in a senior living facility can be traced back to an incident about a year before his death. Bill Scroggin had set up a camera in his office. He put it on motion activate. "Kind of like fishing for catfish on trotlines," he said. "You put the bait on there and you come back and you check it four or five hours later and see if you've got anything."

The "fish" he caught was Lamo, slipping into the office with his flashlight. Bill and Debbie Scroggin believe he was looking for some medications to steal. "The temper got a hold of me and I literally blew up," Bill Scroggin admitted. They packed Lamo up and he went to a nearby homeless shelter. Debbie Scroggin found him an apartment a few weeks later. It happened to be a senior living facility; anyone with a low income could qualify to live there.

In Lamo's tax returns, he was declaring less than $1,000 a year in income. He was on public assistance, and the Scroggins appear to have helped him out with the rest. "We gave him a coffee maker. We gave him some furniture," Debbie Scroggin said. "But I was like, 'Adrian, don't you want to buy a mattress, a bed?' No, the couch was fine. So he didn't even have a bed in his apartment."

On March 14, 2018, the manager of Shadybrook Senior Apartments found Lamo's body. He was lying on a pile of clothes in the bedroom and when she saw the blood pooling under his fingernails, she pulled a medical alert cord in the apartment. The first responders found an apartment in complete disarray — huge piles of trash, dirty dishes, pills and powders everywhere. The medical examiner took photographs and then loaded Lamo's body into a van.

Debbie Scroggin called Lamo's father and then went out to the apartment to tidy it up a bit before he arrived. "One of the things I did that I probably shouldn't have done is I threw away all his empty prescription bottles," she said. "Adrian only called his dad when he had good news. Like after I taught him to make lasagna, or to tell him about Christmas presents." She didn't want Lamo's father to see how his son was living or how many pills he was taking. She was trying to protect them both from the reality of what Lamo had become.

The memorial service was a small, hastily arranged affair. Only a handful of people were there. "I was the only one of Adrian's friends; no one, you know, his age, no one who knew him besides his father for more than a few years," said his friend Blake, who made the trip from Washington to attend. "Just knowing that had I not gone, that no one besides the people in Kansas and his father would have been there ... that baffled me."

Blake said Lamo wasn't so much forgotten as unforgiven. "People tended to associate Adrian with the Adrian who snitched on Manning," Blake said, choking up. "Not the Adrian who did a whole bunch of cool other stuff."

Body hacking

Dr. Timothy Rohrig is Sedgwick County's chief medical examiner, and when he began to read through the chemicals found in Lamo's bloodstream, he saw it was a long list of prescription and over-the-counter drugs: clonazepam, etizolam, flubromazepam, Benadryl, chlorpheniramine, citalopram, gabapentin, some decongestants and anti-diarrheals. It wasn't enough to kill Lamo, Rohrig said, but he was likely in a fairly sedated state.

That didn't surprise Debbie Scroggin. "He would overmedicate because his anxiety was so high," she said. "There were times when he would ... come up to have dinner and he'd fall asleep in his food. Literally face down in his food."

They were working on the problem, she said. His doctor was in the process of weaning him off some of the medications, including reducing the three different benzodiazepines he was taking. That is of particular interest because about a month before Lamo died, the FDA came out with a medical alert — a warning against mixing benzos with kratom. The combination had been linked to dozens of deaths.

"A few assessable cases with fatal outcomes raise concern that kratom is being used in combination with other drugs that affect the brain, including ... benzodiazepines," the alert read. Rohrig said Lamo had a handful of what he called designer benzos in his system, some of which weren't available by prescription in the U.S.

"The most common way of getting these particular ones is basically off the Internet," Rohrig told us. "You can order them and have them shipped to whatever address you want." Debbie Scroggin assumed that lots of the pills and supplements coming into the house were in those packages addressed to Adrian Alfonso.

Because kratom isn't regulated by the FDA, it's impossible to tell whether Lamo was ingesting potent doses of it one day and weak ones the next. It can change that much from batch to batch. "It's a strange drug," said Dr. Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and a former member of the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. "It has some of the characteristics of pure opioid."

And while Madras couldn't say exactly what killed Lamo, she did allow that people who mixed "natural" substances like kratom with prescription drugs were essentially conducting their own human experiments. "They have no clue what they're putting into their body and what the consequences could be."

Jailhouse note from Chelsea Manning passed to NPR through her attorney. She said that when it came to Lamo, there was nothing to forgive.
Shuran Huang/NPR

So this is where all the evidence pointed us. The kind of hacking that killed Lamo wasn't the Internet kind; everything we learned pointed to that thing that worried Fisher, his wife, so many years earlier: His body hacking — the constant intake of pills and powders and liquids — is likely what did him in. "I think he lost track of what he was taking," Debbie Scroggin told me. She is sure it wasn't suicide.

"We had long conversations in the car about all kinds of stuff; it was a safe place to talk. I asked him once if suicidal thoughts happened and he told me he was too much of a narcissist to do that."

In his last voicemail to Debbie Scroggin a few days before he died, Lamo sounded fine. "I'm not ignoring you on purpose," he told her. "I had trouble with my phone. Give me a ring or a note when you can. My phone service is active again. Love you, bye."

That was the last time the Scroggins heard from him. But the message cleared up a mystery. Hackers had noticed that Lamo hadn't been on the Internet the week before he died. The absence fanned a number of conspiracy theories. But the reason was simple: Lamo hadn't paid his cellphone bill, and he used his cellphone to get online.

In retrospect, as we retraced Lamo's steps during the last two years of his life, it is clear there were no assassins lying in wait, no government officials eager for a briefing. Lamo was profoundly alone.

He left a voice note to himself hours before he died. He had twisted his leg and was, in his words, in agonizing pain. Given everything we had uncovered it is possible that Lamo's last night went something like this: After spending some time on the computer and having dinner he took something to help him relax and maybe ease some of that muscle pain. He went into the bedroom, lay down on the clothes, curled up, and just stopped breathing. It wasn't natural, suicide, homicide or completely undetermined — it was an accident.

And that leaves just one unsolved mystery: that address label found on Lamo's thigh, the one that read Adrian Lamo, Assistant Director, ProjectVigilant, 70 Bates Street, Washington, DC. We searched the property records, previous owners, renters. ProjectVigilant was never registered there. But there was one name I did recognize: Andrew Blake, the friend of Lamo's who flew to Kansas for the memorial.

"That's an address that I lived at for a brief time and Adrian stayed with me occasionally off and on," he told me, adding that he didn't even know the sticker existed until he read about it in the autopsy report. "That's when I laughed and that's actually the first time in the weeks after his death where I actually felt a bit of closure." He said it felt like a joke or a signal from his old friend.

"That ProjectVigilant sticker, I think maybe it was where he put his hopes," Murphy now believes. "And it didn't go anywhere."

Perhaps Lamo's real ProjectVigilant was himself. To try to find his place in a world that had gone one way after he went another. Oddly, had he stayed alive just a bit longer, things might have been different for him.

Assange's extradition hearing is scheduled for February 2020, and if Lamo had still been alive, the prosecution would likely not have needed to compel Manning's testimony; Lamo was there too. As it is, Manning has said that she told the authorities everything she knew during her court-martial investigation. They say she may have more to say about her interactions with WikiLeaks than has been previously disclosed.

I asked Manning, through her lawyer, if she forgave Lamo for everything that happened, and she said something surprising: She said there was nothing to forgive. In a handwritten note she passed to us she added, "I've never had any ill will toward Adrian at any time. I'm more mad at the government for using him."

Had he lived, Adrian Lamo likely would have been preparing to testify in the Assange case recounting what Manning had told him about that "crazy white haired" guy all those years ago. And he would have been where he thought he was happiest: back in the spotlight.

NPR's Adelina Lancianese contributed to this story.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON (HOST): This is I'LL BE SEEING YOU, a four-part series about the technologies that watch us from NPR. I'm Dina Temple-Raston, and today we're looking at the life and mysterious death of one of the world's most famous hackers, Adrian Lamo. And our story starts with the discovery of a body.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1 (911 OPERATOR): 911 Wichita.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Requesting a dispatch for commercial medical alarm.TEMPLE-RASTON: This is the actual 911 call that came in on March 14 of last year.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK, and tell me exactly what happened.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It just got this on 54 Room 222, alert by medical.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: How old is the patient?UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Don't know - don't have any information on them.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Patient male or female?UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Don't know.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Are they breathing?UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Don't know.TEMPLE-RASTON: All the caller seemed to be sure about was that something bad had happened and someone needed to get there quickly.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Call back if anything changes.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you.TEMPLE-RASTON: This was probably one of the few moments in Adrian Lamo's life when he was truly anonymous because before all this happened, he was a hacking rock star.(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SCREEN SAVERS")LEO LAPORTE (TELEVISION HOST): You know him as the guy who hacked Yahoo, AOL, Time Warner, MCI WorldCom, Microsoft and very famously, the New York Times. Adrian Lamo, one of the most celebrated hackers in the world today, welcome to "The Screen Savers."TEMPLE-RASTON: "The Screen Savers" was an old cable television show all about technology. It aired in the late '90s and early 2000s, and the host was a guy named Leo Laporte.(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SCREEN SAVERS")LAPORTE: Do you define yourself as a hacker? Do you consider yourself a hacker?ADRIAN LAMO (HACKER): It's not a term that I try to sell myself as.LAPORTE: Yeah.LAMO: People use hacker to mean a lot of different...LORRAINE MURPHY (JOURNALIST, FRIEND OF ADRIAN LAMO): He definitely had an original approach to things.TEMPLE-RASTON: Lorraine Murphy writes about hacking, and she knew Adrian for years.MURPHY: The hacker mindset is all about looking at something and going, how can I use this for something it wasn't intended to? Or, how far can I push this before it does something unpredictable? He definitely had that.TEMPLE-RASTON: She says that because Adrian came to the hacking community so early, he was a bit of an inspiration, even a hero of sorts. People asked his advice, they wanted his approval, and he had almost a cult following.MURPHY: He's like the Tony Robbins of the hacking world. It's one thing to be gifted at hacking. It's another thing to be able to tell a world of civilians that the thing exists and you are good at it, and Adrian had both of those.TEMPLE-RASTON: Adrian Lamo was born in Boston, but he grew up outside Bogota, Colombia. His early hacker's resume tracks like that of just about every hacker I've talked to. He got a hand-me-down Commodore 64 as kid. He hacked into computer games. He played with viruses on floppy disks. Floppy disks - remember those? And eventually, he began tapping into strangers' phone lines and finding ways to spoof the phone company to get free long-distance calls. When his family moved to California, that only made it easier to pursue his interest in computers.After that, what we have is a persona Adrian Lamo carefully created. He thought of himself as an ethical vigilante, a gray hat hacker, a self-styled Robin Hood of the early Internet. And like Robin Hood, he took aim at the king - one of the largest internet providers in 2001, a company called MCI WorldCom. MCI would say later that Adrian slipped in through a security hole. He'd found a piece of bad code that allowed him to fool the network into thinking that he belonged there. But according to Adrian, the hack itself was even simpler than that.He got into MCI by guessing passwords. As it turns out, the company had set up temporary passwords for employees based on Social Security numbers. Adrian simply Googled some employees, quickly found their Social Security numbers online, and a short time later, he was inside the network. Getting into these networks, he told anyone that would listen, was incredibly easy.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)LAMO: Some of the companies that you do business with every day had passwords that were simple dictionary words, names of animals.TEMPLE-RASTON: Adrian explained how he broke into MCI in an unreleased documentary that he started. It was called "Hackers Wanted."(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)LAMO: Anyone at all with this information could have connected to each and every router that handled the data for Bank of America, Ford, Chrysler, NASA. There were very detailed...TEMPLE-RASTON: We hear about things like this all the time now, but back when Adrian was saying all this, people were just starting to realize how unsafe the Internet was. Adrian was foreshadowing the future, warning that once bad actors figured out how easy it was to get into network systems, no one would be safe.(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SCREEN SAVERS")LAPORTE: You may remember Adrian Lamo. He's been on the show before.KEVIN ROSE (TELEVISION HOST): Been on the show a couple of - real nice guy.LAPORTE: Wonderful guy - he's a hacker but a kind of a gray hat hacker.TEMPLE-RASTON: "The Screen Savers" show again...(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SCREEN SAVERS")ROSE: Right. He doesn't steal any information. He doesn't take anything and use it for bad. He's a good hacker.LAPORTE: Well, I'll give you an example.TEMPLE-RASTON: Back when Adrian and his friends were cracking into computer networks, the goal was just to see if they could. What they were looking for was bragging rights, tinkering in order to learn.MURPHY: Adrian was never really monetized. He was not motivated primarily by money. Media, fame - that sort of thing motivated him.TEMPLE-RASTON: Here's Lorraine Murphy again.MURPHY: He wanted to be a household name.TEMPLE-RASTON: Some of the hacking tools Adrian helped develop back then are still being used by the hacker community today. What made Adrian a little different from the others around him, though, is that he saw darker forces forming. He could imagine a day when technologies would goose-step out of the pages of science fiction into our daily lives, and these technologies would allow governments, bad actors, even companies to watch us without our knowing. But Adrian went too far when he hacked into the New York Times.The way it all unfolded would sound familiar to anyone who was in the hacking underground at the time. Adrian was very good at figuring out passwords, either getting someone to unwittingly give him one or guessing at default passwords that hadn't been changed. That's how he got into the internal server at the Times. He gave himself administrator credentials and a login and a password for their LexisNexis account. Then he played a little joke. He added himself to the paper's internal database of experts and listed himself as an expert in hacking. Pretty funny in a hacker kind of way, but The New York Times didn't exactly see the humor in it. The newspaper pressed charges, and in August 2003, the FBI issued a warrant for Adrian's arrest. A reasonable person could ask, why does it seem these hacks keep on happening? Lorraine Murphy says part of it has to do with the way Web sites are designed.MURPHY: Well, when you have a Web site, you need to be able to let people into it, like, under the hood into the engine to tinker with it. That's everybody from the reporters who have to be able to put up information to the IT guys who have to be able to work on the actual machinery of the Web site.TEMPLE-RASTON: So that's the first part. A Web site is always being updated, so the system has to be open, and Adrian took advantage of that. The second part is more fundamental. Most of the code that holds Web sites together is problematic. It's buggy, which means it's full of mistakes, full of holes, which makes it really easy for hackers to get in.Here's an amazing fact. Back in Adrian's day, commercial software like Windows XP contained 20 to 30 bugs for every thousand lines of code. That means there could have been close to a million bugs in that operating system alone. And the problem is better now. The latest version of Windows operating system, Windows 10, is thought to have about five bugs per thousand lines of code. The more surprising thing is that you don't need to be a coding genius to find those bugs. You can actually buy software that finds them for you.MURPHY: You can buy those programs on the dark web, and you can buy them in plain sight. There are Facebook groups that sell this kind of code. Facebook keeps trying to shut them down, but I've been in one for years and years.TEMPLE-RASTON: So let's say you're a hacker just starting out. All you have to do is download the software, get the code for some Web site you want to hack and then run the program and see what it does. You don't need to code anything. Those overseas scammers trying to steal your personal information, they aren't computer geniuses. They just know where to buy the cheap sniffer programs - kind of brilliant, and at the same time, kind of scary. Adrian was known to buy the odd sniffer program to save time, but what he was really good at was social engineering...MURPHY: Which is more or less the con man skill set. He was very good at impersonating people, impersonating entire groups. He was great at creating personas and getting you to believe the persona.TEMPLE-RASTON: In real life, Adrian could be socially awkward and anxious, but on the Internet, he was bold, taking on the darker forces of corporate America. One of the most popular cartoons in New Yorker Magazine history ran in 1993. It was a drawing of a dog sitting on a chair behind a keyboard and a computer screen, and he's chatting to another dog sitting beside him, who's watching him type. On the Internet, he says, nobody knows you're a dog - which, if you think about it, is one of the things we love about the Internet. We can be whoever we want to be. Certainly, that was one of the things that Adrian loved.(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SCREEN SAVERS")LAPORTE: There is a big story just breaking now.ROSE: Right now...LAPORTE: We wanted to bring it to you. We've got an exclusive scoop on this. Things have turned bad, I guess, for Adrian Lamo because...TEMPLE-RASTON: What had turned bad was the New York Times hack we just talked about. Adrian was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a cybersecurity law which, at the time, had been rarely enforced. The act codified the computer equivalent of trespass. You didn't need to steal anything or be actively malicious to run afoul of it. Just gaining unauthorized access to a system and having a company decide to press charges was enough to trigger it. Adrian pleaded guilty to a felony and was sentenced to six months of home detention and two years probation. His conviction was a reminder to the wider world that hacking was now seen as a clear and present danger. To the hackers themselves, it signaled that they could no longer crack into internal servers with impunity. The world was changing. Adrian, for his part, acted contrite...(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SCREEN SAVERS")LAMO: I do think that there are some lines that I stepped over in my access. I want to take responsibility for this.LAPORTE: Sure.LAMO: I want to put it behind me.TEMPLE-RASTON: ...But not so humbled that he couldn't resist poking fun at the whole episode.(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SCREEN SAVERS")LAMO: On a tangentially related note, the U.S. marshals actually let me retake my mugshot until I thought I looked pretty, so...LAPORTE: You're kidding. Really?TEMPLE-RASTON: And Adrian was pretty - olive skin, light eyes, dimples, kind of impish - and his mugshot was pretty, too. He was half-smiling, looking a little smug. And it says something about Adrian that he expected that story to turn out completely differently.MURPHY: He was really appalled that he didn't get a job offer out of that, actually.TEMPLE-RASTON: What job was he expecting, IT analyst?MURPHY: Well, security consultant.TEMPLE-RASTON: OK.MURPHY: Literally the pipe dream of every, you know, best kid in the drama club at high school is to go to Broadway. The pipe dream of every skid in every hackerspace in the world is to get a paid job from a major corporation as a security consultant, and all you do is sit there all day and find their weaknesses.TEMPLE-RASTON: OK, that might not be what everyone or every skid in the notoriously anti-establishment hacking community wants, but the fact that Adrian wanted that kind of job so badly shows how much of a white hat he aspired to be right up until the time he died. Our show today is about the mysterious death of a hacking pioneer, Adrian Lamo. I'm Dina Temple-Raston, and you're listening to I'LL BE SEEING YOU from NPR. After the break, how does one man go from computer hero to hacking pariah?ANDREW BLAKE (FRIEND OF ADRIAN LAMO): People hated him. He couldn't log onto any sort of Internet platform without instantly getting some sort of hate directed toward him.TEMPLE-RASTON: Stay with us.TEMPLE-RASTON: This is I'LL BE SEEING YOU from NPR. I'm Dina Temple-Raston. And on the show today, we're investigating the mysterious death of one of the world's most famous hackers, Adrian Lamo. And as you'll hear, the deeper we dug into this, the weirder it got. It began as a story about an unexpected death, and then it became something else - a story not just about hacking in the Internet but about how hacking has evolved. It's gone from kids doing something slightly subversive to global syndicates trying to alter the course of history. And most people didn't notice that change until this.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I got a black vehicle under target. It's arriving right to the north of the mosque.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yeah, I would like that. Over.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's from a classified military video that was leaked back in 2010. It was filmed from the gun sights of an American helicopter in Iraq. It was all shot in black and white and runs for about 39 minutes. You're hearing actual conversations between the pilots of two Apache helicopters.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Hotel 26, this is Crazy Horse 18.TEMPLE-RASTON: The helicopter is flying over a residential neighborhood. And from the camera's viewfinder, you can see low cinderblock buildings and some palm trees and a mosque. Then the camera angle shifts, and it zooms in on a handful of men walking down the street.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I have individuals with weapons.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: ...Four radio.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Yep, he's got a weapon, too.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: All right, we got a guy with an RPG.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I'm going to fire.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: You're clear.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: All right, firing.TEMPLE-RASTON: And then everything changes.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Light them all up.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Come on, fire.(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Keep shooting.(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)
TEMPLE-RASTON: We know now that this was live footage of a terrible mistake, and the weapons the pilots thought they saw weren't weapons at all. It was actually a camera with a telephoto lens. The men they thought were the enemy were actually reporters - Namir Noor-Eldeen, a Reuters photographer, and his assistant and driver, Saeed Chmagh. Twelve people were killed in the assault. The video, when it was released, raised questions about civilian casualties and American rules of engagement in Iraq. And it focused the world's attention on three things - the little-known organization called WikiLeaks, the young Army intelligence analyst who leaked it and, rather improbably, Adrian Lamo.Now, if you don't remember the story, this is how it unfolded with a few new details. About two months after the helicopter video went viral, Adrian got an instant message from Chelsea Manning. She began by telling him that she had a copy of a documentary Adrian is starred in on her desktop. So Adrian thought it was going to be just another conversation from a fan. And then, all of a sudden, it wasn't. Manning started talking about her family, how hard it was to be in Iraq, about her gender identity issues and how she had to hide them from people she was working with. I know all about creating a persona, Adrian wrote. And then Manning went a step further - I think I'm in more potential heat than you ever were. How so, Adrian asked. And then she told him, told him about how she'd passed the now-famous helicopter video to WikiLeaks, along with hundreds of thousands of classified State Department cables.She'd been in touch with a crazy white-haired Aussie who can't seem to stay in one country very long. She was talking about Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks. He's fighting extradition from the U.K. to the U.S. now. I can't believe what I'm telling you, Manning wrote. Adrian couldn't believe it either.GLENN MORROW (COUSIN OF ADRIAN LAMO): I don't think he anticipated, when he started, the gravity of what Manning was actually saying.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Glenn Morrow, Adrian's cousin. And they were close. He and Adrian had talked about all this while it was happening, and he remembers Adrian saying that, at first, he thought Manning was just another hacker looking for affirmation.MORROW: When you reach a sort of critical mass of fame, you just have so many people come out of the woodwork, so many, you know, people wanting to share something they've discovered or something they've done.TEMPLE-RASTON: But the Manning conversation was about breaking the law, not in the ambiguous way that Adrian was used to but in what seemed to him a very black-and-white way. Manning had leaked classified documents. Adrian quizzed her about what she downloaded, and Manning said she didn't really look at what they were. She just passed them along. The more Manning revealed, the more unsettled Adrian became. So he made a choice, and his choice altered the course of his life and Manning's, too. He called the authorities.MORROW: Once it became clear that it was such a serious thing that had happened, I don't think he could stand by and really live with the implications of just sitting on it.TEMPLE-RASTON: Chelsea Manning was arrested within days. Adrian thought he'd be celebrated as a patriot. Chelsea Manning was in a war zone, vacuuming up classified documents and distributing them. To Adrian, it didn't seem like a close call. Here's Lorraine Murphy, again.MURPHY: And it backfired, spectacularly, on him.TEMPLE-RASTON: What Adrian hadn't fully understood was how people in the hacker community would react. He was sure he could make them see how he had no choice but to turn Manning in. Weeks later, he crashed headlong into the reality of what he had done at a New York hackers' conference called HOPE.MORROW: Hope stands for Hackers on Planet Earth.TEMPLE-RASTON: Glenn Morrow went with him, and they rather naively thought it would be a great opportunity to meet people. It sounds crazy now, but it hadn't occurred to either one of them that Adrian's decision to turn in Manning would hijack the conference.MORROW: The first day at the conference, there was a lot of people, you know, yelling out snitch, at least one occasion that I recall of somebody spitting in his direction.TEMPLE-RASTON: And then the organizers hastily put together a panel they called Informants - Villains or Heroes?(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Should we avoid the controversy, or should we dive right into it? I say, of course, we dive right into it. We confront this thing head on, right?(APPLAUSE)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: With that, I'd like to introduce Adrian Lamo. And we'll let him say his piece, ask some questions and hopefully learn something. Adrian.(BOOING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: All right, you can boo. Go ahead.TEMPLE-RASTON: The audience was clearly against Adrian. One after another, people came to the microphone to berate him for violating the unwritten rules of hackerdom.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: I think we need to be clear about what's acceptable to do and what's not acceptable to do. And I think you [expletive] up huge.(APPLAUSE)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: I see what you have done as treason.(APPLAUSE)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: I think you belong in Guantanamo.TEMPLE-RASTON: As the group saw it, Adrian had broken the hacker code.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)MARK ABENE (HACKER): As soon as you make up your mind to choose a side, politically speaking, you cease to be a hacker.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's a guy named Mark Abene, better known as Phiber Optik. He was a high-profile hacker in the 1980s and 1990s and an icon of sorts. He made clear he thought Adrian had crossed a line. Hackers were supposed to be faintly subversive, not law enforcement informants.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)ABENE: You had a choice, and you made the wrong choice. You could've simply walked away, and none of this would've happened.LAMO: I could have, but I wouldn't have been able to live with myself.(APPLAUSE)ABENE: I disagree.MORROW: It was a little tough for me to hear. Everybody knew who he was. And up until that point, Adrian had been, you know, a hero. In the culture, you know, the worst thing you could be was a snitch.TEMPLE-RASTON: It didn't help matters that all this happened at a time when hackers were just beginning to consider the moral implications of what they were doing.MURPHY: And in the early days, the hackers did not think that there were rules when it came to websites. It was the Wild West. It wasn't against the law to hack a particular website for years and years and years.TEMPLE-RASTON: Adrian had forced the community to address fundamental questions, like what did ethical hacking really mean? If you cracked into someone's system but you didn't do any damage, was that OK? And if someone tells you they're leaking classified information, are you obliged to say something? They all wanted hacking to remain a force for good, but they weren't quite sure how to make that happen.After the conference, there was no ambiguity about how the community felt. Adrian was shunned. He received death threats. Fake bombs were mailed to his parents in California. Rumors went around that Adrian was actually a spy, ratting out fellow hackers to the government.BLAKE: People hated him. He couldn't log on to any sort of Internet platform under his actual name without instantly getting some sort of hate directed toward him.TEMPLE-RASTON: Andrew Blake is another longtime friend of Adrian's.BLAKE: Even when Adrian would do something with the absolute best of intentions, as soon as anyone realized that it was Adrian Lamo who did it, they didn't want anything to do with it.LAUREN FISHER (EX-WIFE OF ADRIAN LAMO): He used to say that I like to believe in a world where things can happen, even if I have to do them myself. He just liked to make the extraordinary happen.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Adrian's ex-wife, Lauren Fisher. This is the first time she's talked publicly about her marriage to him. And the reason why we're talking to her is because all these rumors about Adrian working for the government may have started with something she and Adrian did years before he'd ever heard of Chelsea Manning. They started a business together in 2008, and they called it Reality Planning.FISHER: Reality Planning was a go at getting him to have a sort of a la carte system where you could ask him to test your website or test your company. It was all very vague, but it was really just to get him back into the PR spotlight. And it kind of worked.TEMPLE-RASTON: Kind of worked because someone contacted them about speaking at a computer expo in Europe. Adrian was going to get them to pick up business-class airfare. He wanted a luxury hotel. But almost before they got out of the gate, there were unexpected complications from the State Department.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: We have a hold in our system on your passport application. I need to know whether or not you are still on probation...TEMPLE-RASTON: This is an actual voicemail they got at the time. Fisher had saved it, and it was about the felony conviction we mentioned earlier for hacking The New York Times.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: We have information indicating that you had some kind of legal matter or something going on. So give me a call if you have any questions. Have a good day.TEMPLE-RASTON: The Europe trip, speaking engagements, being in the spotlight once again - that never happened. Fisher says there were lots of things that didn't go their way back then. Anxiety often got the better of Adrian. Sometimes, he wouldn't leave the house for days. Fisher says it was around that time that she first heard Adrian mention something called Project Vigilant. She overheard him talking to people on Skype about a project that would use his hacking skills for good, something that would put him back on top.FISHER: It was just kind of like Reality Planning, though. It was just all vague and - but it seemed a bit - for me, it seemed a bit more - it seemed bigger, obviously. And it seemed more secret.TEMPLE-RASTON: All she knew was that it had something to do with a part of the Internet called the dark web. Beyond that, Adrian didn't seem to want to talk much about it. The secrecy was in keeping with the two Adrians she was always trying to keep up with.FISHER: There were times where we would be together, and he would be in the Adrian Lamo persona. We would go to a 2600 Hacker - the monthly meet up, you know, in San Francisco.TEMPLE-RASTON: We'll talk about 2600 in a minute.FISHER: And he liked to shine in his Adrian Lamo kind of persona. But there was also the times where he was just - the walls were down completely and he wasn't the Adrian Lamo that he himself made himself believe that he was, you know?TEMPLE-RASTON: And when that happened, he medicated, looking for some little door within himself that would control his anxiety.FISHER: It was body hacking, trying to contain all the different feelings and keep them in check.TEMPLE-RASTON: Valerian root, vitamins - the list was as long as your arm, and at some point - no one is quite sure when - that list included an herbal supplement called kratom. Traditionally, it's used in lighter doses for stress and anxiety. Kratom, which is legal in most states, made it easier to socialize, which just kept getting harder for Adrian.BLAKE: Hello?TEMPLE-RASTON: Hey. Andrew?BLAKE: Hello?TEMPLE-RASTON: Are you there? Can you hear me?BLAKE: Yeah. I'm the only one home all day today.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Andrew Blake, a friend of Adrian's, and he helped Adrian out with a couch and a meal and a place to stay over the years. And he was well aware of Adrian's kratom use.BLAKE: He used to get it mailed in envelopes as just a fine powder. It's kind of like a flower, like a dust. And he didn't explain that kratom was supposed to work on the same brain receptors that opioids did.TEMPLE-RASTON: Blake told me that Adrian had given him kratom for Christmas, but he never got around to using it.BLAKE: Adrian would get it in, like, a big bag, and I'm looking to see if I could find one in, like, our pantry.TEMPLE-RASTON: So it's important to understand that hackers like Adrian look at drugs a little differently than most of us do. Early hacker conferences, like something called HoHoCon, were drug-addled and alcohol-soaked affairs. Attendees would party so hard they would get banned from hotels.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)DOUGLAS BARNES (MEMBER, ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION): As a result of things that happened last night, I want everyone to repeat after me. I want to talk to my lawyer.TEMPLE-RASTON: Drugs weren't just a way to have fun. They were seen as a way to expand abilities. Adrian saw them as a way to expand his powers, too. On drugs, he felt invincible. He was a super coder.MURPHY: He took those drugs, and he did a lot of remarkable things. We would never have heard of him if he hadn't done these remarkable things.TEMPLE-RASTON: Lorraine Murphy first met Adrian on Facebook.MURPHY: I'm in over 600 Facebook groups. One of them I joined - and I was delighted to join - was called 2600.TEMPLE-RASTON: Facebook's 2600 group grew out of a magazine of the same name, 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. It was founded back in 1984 and had become like a bible for people who were testing the security of computer systems. It was full of technical information and invitations to meet up with other hackers around the world.MURPHY: I'm not a programmer, but it was really interesting to me what they were doing and how they explained it. And it sort of became my job to explain hacking in plain English, so I learned enough to follow along.TEMPLE-RASTON: And eventually, she followed along so well they made her moderator for the group, and the person she reported to was Adrian. They knew each other for years, and Murphy liked Adrian but still was suspicious of him.MURPHY: The claim was that Adrian was using the group to spy on people, and I'm like, they're public Facebook posts, dude. Anyone can read them. I don't think he's using it to spy on people. What he was doing was using Facebook to find people to spy on.TEMPLE-RASTON: People to spy on later. She always believed that Adrian was working for the government.MURPHY: He told me at one point that his job was to provide intel on non-Americans operating outside the United States.TEMPLE-RASTON: He never actually revealed precisely who he worked for.MURPHY: He never said, but either the U.S. government or a contractor who is reporting to the U.S. government.TEMPLE-RASTON: Was Adrian a government agent? Was the Manning episode the beginning of a long, secretive relationship between Adrian and the intelligence community? Certainly, conspiracy theorists thought so, so when the coroner listed his cause of death as undetermined, they went wild.(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: This guy's got a lot of history.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: This is very curious, folks.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: It seems to suggest that this person was literally a government agent.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: This guy was offed.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: Something out of Jason Bourne...UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: And you didn't even know that he died.TEMPLE-RASTON: There were lots of other questions. What was Adrian doing in Wichita, and why did police find him in the Shady Brook Senior Apartments if he was only 37 years old? Those close to Adrian had questions, too. His father was suspicious, and he wondered, among other things, where had all his son's computers gone? Hackers who were still talking to Adrian wondered why he disappeared from the Web a week before he died. That was way out of character. Were his killers cleaning a crime scene or moving the body?Then, during the autopsy, something else a little odd, something the local medical examiner had never seen before - on Adrian's left thigh under his clothes, there was a sticker with a name and an address.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: Do you typically find stickers on dead bodies?UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: That was a first for me.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: Did you look to see if there was anything under it?UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: Yes. We took the sticker off. There was nothing under it.UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: No needle marks or anything like that?UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: No.TEMPLE-RASTON: The sticker read, Adrian Lamo, Assistant Director, Project Vigilant. Was Adrian trying to tell the world where to begin investigating?MURPHY: I mean, the last conversation we had was basically - homeless in Wichita is what he said to me. I said, how are you doing? He said, homeless in Wichita but better than a lot of people.TEMPLE-RASTON: Our show today is about the mysterious death of a hacking pioneer, Adrian Lamo. I'm Dina Temple-Raston, and you're listening to I'LL BE SEEING YOU from NPR. After the break, we dig into the conspiracy theories that have swirled around the death of Adrian Lamo.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)LAMO: I can't come to the phone right now due to connectivity issues, distraction or my death.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's an old voicemail greeting of his.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)LAMO: If I'm dead, I'm telling you that I love you from beyond the grave. You should consider this moment rather unique. Thank you, and have a wonderful day.TEMPLE-RASTON: Stay with us.TEMPLE-RASTON: From NPR, this is I'LL BE SEEING YOU, a four-part series about the technologies that watch us. I'm Dina Temple-Raston, and on today's show, we're investigating the death of a famous hacker, Adrian Lamo. He died of undetermined causes last year, and anyone following the story would have been pulled into a world of conspiracy theories. To search for what really killed Adrian Lamo, we had to go to where it happened - Wichita, Kan.When we started our investigation, we could see how the conspiracy theories developed. I mean, why was he in a senior living facility? Was it a safe house? Had the government put him there? And what about the sticker they found on Adrian's body and the mysterious words printed on it? Project Vigilant - did that had anything to do with his death? The answers had to be in Wichita, and right when we got there, we found out that Adrian's characterization of his time in Wichita began with a lie.He had told Lorraine Murphy and some of his other friends that he was homeless, but he wasn't. For most of the time that he was in Wichita, Adrian Lamo was living with Debbie and Bill Scroggin, parents of a friend of his who had taken him in. They lived in a single-story ranch house on five acres at the end of a dirt road.DEBBIE SCROGGIN (FRIEND OF ADRIAN LAMO): Hi. I'm Debbie. Come on in.TEMPLE-RASTON: Right away, Debbie told us living with Adrian could be weird. He was up a lot at night, wandering around in the dark.SCROGGIN: I could hear him, and I'd see this little flashlight going down the hall. And he always slept either on the couch, and if he slept on the bed, it was always on top of it.TEMPLE-RASTON: Sometimes, he'd just pile up his clothes and sleep on top of them like he was preparing for a quick getaway. And then there were the mysterious packages that arrived on the doorstep.SCROGGIN: He used our mailing address.BILL SCROGGIN (FRIEND OF ADRIAN LAMO): Did not use his real name. Most of the stuff that came would be to Adrian Alfonso.SCROGGIN: Alfonso...SCROGGIN: His middle name.TEMPLE-RASTON: And while he didn't seem to have a paying job, he was hard at work in the basement.SCROGGIN: Doing some research that had to do with the dark web, hacking into ISIS stuff...TEMPLE-RASTON: And he seemed to suggest that he was in Kansas on a secret assignment for Project Vigilant.SCROGGIN: It might have had something to do with the Department of Homeland Security, but I can't say that for sure.TEMPLE-RASTON: There were DHS stickers on nearly all of his notebooks downstairs, which seemed kind of weird. Why would you have DHS stickers on everything if it was supposed to be a secret?SCROGGIN: But yeah, I think in his own mind, he worked for this country, and you know what?SCROGGIN: I do believe that he kind of thought that he was an agent in some way.TEMPLE-RASTON: Was he working undercover for Project Vigilant? What was Project Vigilant? A man named Chet Uber incorporated the company in Florida in 2011. Chet Uber was on the other end of the line of those Skype calls Adrian's ex-wife Lauren had overheard. We dug up the company records, and it had nine corporate officers and directors. Adrian was one of them, and we started calling the others.DUANE JOHNSON (FORMER CHIEF RESEARCH OFFICER, AMES LABORATORY): Hello. Duane Johnson.TEMPLE-RASTON: Duane Johnson was listed as their chief technical officer, but here's the thing. Before we called him, he says he'd never heard of Project Vigilant. We sent him the incorporation papers, and Johnson says he thinks he knows how they came up with his title.JOHNSON: It was using a title that was closely related to my title at the time. I was chief research officer of a laboratory.TEMPLE-RASTON: Not just any laboratory - he was the chief research officer at the Ames Laboratory, one of the Department of Energy's national labs.JOHNSON: I'm not sure how they chose me, but certainly, it was misappropriated with some kind of intent.TEMPLE-RASTON: So from the outset, right at the time of incorporation, there was something a little off about Project Vigilant. Other officers or directors we called had heard of Project Vigilant, but they declined to speak on the record because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Some of them were former government officials from the Justice Department and DHS, and just as we were about to give up, a former NSA official named Ira Winkler called us back.IRA WINKLER (PRESIDENT, SECURE MENTEM): Hi. I'm Ira Winkler, president of Secure Mentem and author of...TEMPLE-RASTON: Winkler is a delightfully geeky guy who helps companies beef up their cybersecurity by probing their systems for vulnerabilities. It sounded a little like what Adrian used to do, but Winkler does it legally. Winkler said he met Chet Uber at a hacker's conference and he asked him to be part of this company. Winkler said he'd be happy to help, and it was that informal. He said he was made director of intelligence, and Adrian was supposed to pass anything he discovered along to him. The idea was to use hackers like Adrian to find bad people on the dark web and then use Project Vigilant as a vehicle to tell the authorities.WINKLER: It was supposed to look for illegal, immoral actions on the Internet that pertained to foreign intelligence, terrorism, child exploitation.TEMPLE-RASTON: Which more or less tracked with what Debbie and Bill Scroggin had told us. Getting to the dark web isn't as hard as it sounds. All you have to do to start is download something called Tor, which stands for the onion router. Tor is basically a Web browser, and the only thing you need to know about it is that it allows you to move around anonymously on the Web. It drags branches behind your digital footsteps so people can't tell where you're going or where you've been. The dark web itself isn't illegal, but not surprisingly, some people want to take advantage of its anonymity to do things they aren't supposed to do, like trafficking in porn or recruiting for ISIS.I logged on and found something called the Darknet Heroes League. It says it's a marketplace for drugs and it sells pot and opioids and benzos and steroids, among other things. And to give you an idea of what I'm seeing, it looks like the Web did 20 years ago. Remember when the fonts were all irregular, and there were shabby pictures with misspelled links beneath? It's like that. And the sellers here are actually rated, like eBay or Amazon, and they offer bargains.But if Adrian ever discovered anything criminal during his trips to the dark web, he never passed it along. Winkler said he never received anything from him. In the end, he said...WINKLER: What Project Vigilant did was absolutely nothing as far as I can tell.TEMPLE-RASTON: If it had a mysterious connection to the government, aside from listing former government officials as officers and directors, we couldn't find it. Adrian did get money from the government, but it was from the Defense Department just reimbursing him for travel expenses related to his testimony at Manning's court martial. The official documents we saw said that Adrian's relationship with the U.S. government ended in July 2011. As for the mystery of how Adrian wound up in a senior living facility, that was a lot easier to solve. The Scroggins sent him there.About a year before Adrian died, Bill Scroggin had come across an old camera and set it up in his office. He put it on motion activated.SCROGGIN: Kind of like fishing for catfish on trotlines. You put the bait on there. And you come back, and you check it four or five hours later and see if you've got anything.WINKLER: The fish he caught was Adrian, slipping into the office with his flashlight. Scroggin said he was looking for some medications he could steal. It had happened before, and now he was caught on camera doing exactly that.SCROGGIN: The temper I - got a hold of me, and I literally blew up.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)SCROGGIN: And then in here is your computer, your books...TEMPLE-RASTON: Debbie helped Adrian pack up, and he secretly recorded it.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)SCROGGIN: Socks, underwear, your meds.LAMO: (Unintelligible).SCROGGIN: I'm sorry, Adrian.TEMPLE-RASTON: He went to a nearby homeless shelter, and then Debbie found him an apartment. It happened to be in that senior living facility. It turns out anyone with low income could qualify to live there. I saw some of Adrian's tax returns. He was declaring less than a thousand dollars a year in income. He was on public assistance, and the Scroggins helped him out with the rest.SCROGGIN: We gave him a coffeemaker. We gave him some furniture. But I was like, Adrian, don't you want to buy a new mattress, a bed? No, the couch is fine. So he didn't even have a bed in his apartment.TEMPLE-RASTON: The manager of Shadybrook Senior Apartments is the one who found Adrian's dead body lying on a pile of clothes in the bedroom. She pulled the medical alert cord in the apartment to call 911. It was typical of the calls that came in from a place like that.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #17 (911 OPERATOR): 911 Wichita.TEMPLE-RASTON: The alert, with so few details, was a metaphor for what Adrian's life had become.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #18: Don't know. Don't know. Don't know. Don't have any information on them.TEMPLE-RASTON: Investigators found an apartment in complete disarray - huge piles of trash, dirty dishes, pills and powders everywhere. The medical examiner took photographs and then loaded Adrian's body into a van. Debbie Scroggin called Adrian's father and then went out to the apartment to tidy it up a bit before he arrived.SCROGGIN: One of the things I did that I probably shouldn't have done is I threw away all the empty - his prescription bottles and all of those things.TEMPLE-RASTON: She told us that Adrian called his father only when he had good news, when he'd learned to make lasagna or to tell him about Christmas presents. She didn't want Adrian's father to see how Adrian was living or how many pills he was taking.SCROGGIN: He said where's his medications? I was like, oh, I don't know. Somebody may...TEMPLE-RASTON: She was trying to protect him, and in a way, protect Adrian, too.(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGES")PHIL OCHS (SINGER): (Singing) Sit by my side. Come as close as the air.TEMPLE-RASTON: There were only a handful of people at Adrian's memorial service. This is music from a video Adrian's father made for the occasion.(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGES")OCHS: (Singing) And wander in my words. Dream about the...BLAKE: I was the only one of Adrian's, like, friends that was there.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Andrew Blake again.BLAKE: No one his, you know, his age, no one who knew him, you know, besides his father for more than a few years. And just knowing that had I not gone that no one besides the people in Kansas and his father would have been there, like, that baffled me.TEMPLE-RASTON: Blake said Adrian wasn't so much forgotten as unforgiven.BLAKE: I think just people tended to associate Adrian with the Adrian who snitched on Manning, not the Adrian who did a whole bunch of cool other stuff.(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHANGES")OCHS: (Singing) ...The pictures that I play of changes.TEMPLE-RASTON: So by now, we understood what Adrian was doing or not doing for Project Vigilant, how he ended up in Wichita and why he was living in a senior apartment. But we still hadn't ruled out murder. Even the local medical examiner's office stopped short of doing that.SCOTT KIPPER (DEPUTY MEDICAL EXAMINER, SEDGWICK COUNTY, KS): There are some things that can be done to a body that leave minimal or no findings at autopsy.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's deputy medical examiner Scott Kipper.For example?KIPPER: Things that I would rather not discuss on the radio.TEMPLE-RASTON: You don't want to discuss it on the radio show because you don't want to give anybody any ideas?KIPPER: That's correct.TEMPLE-RASTON: Dr. Timothy Rohrig is the county's chief medical examiner, and he began reading through the list of chemicals he'd found in Adrian's bloodstream.TIMOTHY ROHRIG (CHIEF TOXICOLOGIST, SEDGWICK COUNTY, KS): Phenazepam, etizolam, flubromazepam, Benadryl, chlorpheniramine, citalopram, gabapentin.TEMPLE-RASTON: The coroner's list didn't surprise Debbie Scroggin.SCROGGIN: He would overmedicate because his anxiety was so high. There were times where he would supplement just to come up to have dinner. And he'd fall asleep in his food, literally it - face down in his food.TEMPLE-RASTON: About a month before Adrian died, the FDA came out with an alert - a warning, really - against mixing benzodiazepines with kratom. It had been linked to dozens of deaths. Dr. Rohrig said Adrian had a handful of what he called designer benzos in his system, some of which weren't available by prescription here in the U.S.ROHRIG: The most common way of getting these particular ones was basically off the Internet. You can order them and have them shipped to whatever address you want.TEMPLE-RASTON: Debbie Scroggin figured there were lots of pills and supplements coming into the house in those packages addressed to Adrian Alfonso. Adrian had left a voice note to himself just hours before he died. He was clearly in pain.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)LAMO: I really hurt a muscle, so it's hard for me to move around. Agonizing pain from a twisted leg, period.TEMPLE-RASTON: Because kratom isn't regulated by the FDA, it's impossible to tell if Adrian was ingesting potent doses of it on one day and weak doses the next. It can change that much from batch to batch.BERTHA MADRAS (PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL): It's a strange drug. It has some of the characteristics of pure opioid, which means it can cause sleeplessness. It can...TEMPLE-RASTON: Dr. Bertha Madras is a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and a former member of the president's commission on combating drug addiction and the opioid crisis. While she wouldn't say exactly what killed Adrian Lamo, she did say that people who were mixing things like kratom with benzos and other natural supplements were essentially conducting their own human experiments.MADRAS: They have no clue what they're putting into their body and what the consequences could be.TEMPLE-RASTON: So this is where all the evidence pointed us. Hacking may have killed Adrian Lamo, but it wasn't the Internet kind. His body hacking, the constant intake of pills and powders and liquids, is likely what did him in.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)LAMO: Hey. This is Adrian. I'm not ignoring you on purpose.TEMPLE-RASTON: This was the last voicemail Debbie Scroggin received from Adrian a few days before he died.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)LAMO: I had trouble with my phone. Give me a ring or a note when you can. My phone service is active again. Love you. Bye.TEMPLE-RASTON: It offered a clue. Hackers had noticed that Adrian hadn't been on the Internet the week before he died, and that seemed suspicious, but there was a simple answer. He hadn't paid his cell phone bill, and he used his cell phone to get online. In retrospect, as we retraced Adrian's steps during the last two years of his life, it's clear that there were no assassins lying in wait, no government officials eager for a briefing. Adrian was profoundly alone. After he turned in Manning, the hacker community went one way, and Adrian went another.And if you look at all we uncovered, it's easy to imagine that Adrian's last night went something like this. After spending some time on the computer and having dinner, he took something to help him relax and maybe ease some of that muscle pain. He went into the bedroom, laid down on the clothes, curled up and just stopped breathing. It wasn't a murder or a suicide. It was an accident.And that left us with just one unsolved mystery - that address label they found on Adrian's thigh. It read Adrian Lamo, Assistant Director, Project Vigilant, 70 Bates Street, Washington, D.C. So we looked up the property records of the place - who owned it, any renters. Project Vigilant wasn't registered there, but there was one name I did recognize.BLAKE: That's an address that I lived at for a brief time, and Adrian stayed with me occasionally off and on.TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Adrian's friend Andrew Blake, the one who went to the funeral. He didn't even know the sticker existed until he read about it in the autopsy report.BLAKE: That's when I laughed, and that's actually the first time in the weeks after his death where I actually kind of felt a little bit of closure. It almost felt like a joke from Adrian to me, maybe just like a signal.MURPHY: That Project Vigilant sticker - I think maybe it was where he put his hopes, and it didn't go anywhere, so maybe he just wanted to be reminded of that.TEMPLE-RASTON: And we have an epilogue here. A couple of months ago, we reached out to Chelsea Manning. She's being held in a detention center in Alexandria, Va., for refusing to testify against that crazy white-haired guy she told Adrian about, Julian Assange. Through her lawyer, I asked her if she forgave Adrian, and she said there was nothing to forgive. In a handwritten note that she passed to us, she wrote, I've never had any ill will toward Adrian at any time. And then she added, I'm more mad at the government for using him.Adrian, had he lived, probably would have been a witness for the prosecution in the Assange case to talk about what Manning had told him about that crazy white-haired guy, and Adrian at last would've been back where he wanted to be - back in that public spotlight.(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SCREEN SAVERS")LAPORTE: You know him as the guy who hacked Yahoo, AOL, Time Warner, MCI WorldCom, Microsoft and...TEMPLE-RASTON: I'LL BE SEEING YOU is written or reported by me, Dina Temple-Raston. Our producer is Adelina Lancianese, and she scored our show, too. Special thanks to NPR's investigations team, the NPR story lab and to Josephine Wolff of Tufts University. In our next show, AI and elephants - the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Until then, I'm Dina Temple-Raston, and I'll be seeing you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.