DEFCON Blows The Lid Off Undercover NBC Reporter; Sends Her Away

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[News Media]
Let's say you're a blond producer for NBC, and you think you're going to disguise yourself and infiltrate one of the country's largest conventions of computer hackers & security professionals and try to get people to confess to committing crimes.

What happens then, when you're sitting in the audience and they announce a fun new game for everyone to participate in, called, "Identify the undercover NBC reporter trying to make us all look bad."

Undercover reporter Michelle Madigan (Associate Producer of NBC Dateline) got a little more than she bargained for when she tried to sneak in to DEFCON 2007 with hidden cameras to get someone to confess to a felony. When DEFCON staff announced the “spot the undercover reporter” game and told the audience that an undercover reporter was taking video to catch someone confessing to a hacking crime, Madigan bolted from the conference premises followed by a pack of ~150 DEFCON attendees and reporters trying to photograph and video tape her. DEFCON officials never got the chance to bring Madigan on stage to offer her a press badge so that she could cover the rest of the event above board.

DEFCON organizers caught wind of this from undisclosed sources and casually contacted Madigan to see if she wanted official press credentials and a press badge to cover DEFCON. Reporters in the pressroom were then fully briefed on the situation before the “spot the undercover reporter game” so that they could cover the event.

According to Senior DEFCON official “Priest” who works for the Government in his day job, Madigan declined press credentials on four separate occasions (twice on phone and twice at DEFCON). Madigan proceeded to register as a regular DEFCON attendee and even told a DEFCON staffer that she was going to the bathroom to get her hidden camera ready. When a DEFCON goon (staffer) explained to Madigan that secret video taping wasn’t allowed, Madigan not knowing she was speaking to a goon replied that she didn’t think it wasn’t a problem. The staffer then followed Madigan around and watched her as she panned her hidden camera around the entire “Capture the flag” room to get unauthorized video of the members.

Madigan was apparently trying to do a shock piece for NBC Dateline to show middle America how criminal underground hackers had descended on DEFCON Las Vegas to learn tricks of the trade and how Federal Agents were tracking them down. When a DEFCON staffer spoke to Madigan posing as regular attendee, Madigan commented that people in Kansas (reference to middle America) would be very interested in what was “really” going on in DEFCON. DEFCON official “Priest” also had reason to believe that that Madigan was planning to out uncover federal agents attending DEFCON and expressed some serious concern about the safety and privacy of those agents. Because of this, staffers used this to lure Madigan to the room where they planned to out her instead in front of DEFCON attendees in the “spot the undercover reporter” game but Madigan bolted from the scene before her photo was put up on the projector.

The sad part of this story is that Madigan was given every opportunity to get a press pass and get access to any of the speakers and attendees above board. Even after the secret video taping she was offered a chance cover the rest of the conference with an official press badge. This is my second year covering DEFCON and I’ve never had any problems getting photos or video from willing attendees and speakers but that’s not what Madigan was going after. She wanted to paint a picture that would shock “people in Kansas” about DEFCON and that’s not what DEFCON is about. The Feds, Press, and hacker community have built up a level of mutual trust at DEFCON so that we have a place to talk openly and honestly. After taking an unofficial poll in the press room here, not one person appreciated Madigan’s antics.




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