,,Kwadrat" - ,,Solidarność" Toruń Serwis Internetowy Solidarności
"Spectacular computer crimes" Buck Bloombecker (Director, National Center for Computer Crime Data)
POLITICS II •
JAN HANASZ: THE POLISH TV PIRATE
I went to Torun, Poland, one rainy morning a few years ago, to meet my favorite
computer criminal: the
astronomer and Polish television pirate, Jan Hanasz.
A paragraph in the Los Angeles Times had caught my eye more than a year before.
The article related that
Poland's leading space scientist, Jan Hanasz, and three colleagues went on trial,
"accused of having
interrupted a state television transmission ... to urge voters to boycott
Suddenly the newspaper caught my attention.
"They allegedly used a home computer, a synchronizing circuit, and a transmitter
to flash messages on
A Polish computer crime! An opportunity to visit a friend and colleague and
imagine myself as an
investigative reporter. This was the kind of story I could do something with.
And I had. Now, in the summer of 1987,1 was on my way to interview Jan Hanasz as
part of the research
for a story on underground computing in Poland. His, I was to learn, was but one
example of several
ways that computers were making life easier for the Polish movement known as
Jacek, a man in his mid-30s, and droll, drove, talked, and pointed out the
sights as we approached the
city of Torun, the
ancient home of Copernicus. Despite occasional jokes, Jacek was
depressing, distressing, and deep in his gloom. He was cynical
about the Soviet Union, doubtful about glasnost, despairing
about Poland. "The only way to live in this system is to cheat,"
he said angrily. "The gas station attendant mixes ethyl and
diesel gasoline. He sells the ethyl he has left over to people who
have no government-issued ration coupons—at a premium, of
course. The truck driver gets a broken part, replaces a good one
with it, sells the good one, and brings his truck in for repair.
"The government creates rules," Jacek continued, "partly
to control us. If you follow all the rules you're exhausted and
poor. If you cheat, you're vulnerable to being co-opted. If you
want to get meat, for instance, you'll find that there are extra
ration books available for people who are in the government's
The scenery was postcard-pretty as we drove. Horse-drawn
carts loaded with great mounds of hay passed us on the road.
Jacek was amused that I was curious about computer crime
in Poland. He laughed about Polish computing. "Yeah! They
started getting them [computers] in the 70s. Part of the indus-
trialization. I've heard about boxes of them sitting in the sun
where the managers had no idea what to do with them. We
borrowed up to our ears from the West, built things that didn't
work, and wound up worse than before."
What a contrast from Jacek's dour driving to arrive at the
office of Jan Hanasz and experience hospitality, grace, and
hopefulness from this philosopher of political piracy.
A gentleness and calm surrounded this man. A friendly
smile, a supportive glance, and Hanasz put me at ease. He was
very open-faced and radiant. His thin, gray hair peeked around
the red-framed glasses at his ears.
Hanasz's office at the Copernicus Astronomical Center in
Torun was a bit larger and older than most I'd seen in the United
States, but otherwise it was quite similar. Paper predominated,
and two computers were on.
I'd come to Poland to learn about underground computer
use, and the professor obliged me beyond my wildest dreams. He
told me of DES (Data Encryption Standard) encryption for
information going between Solidarity centers and individuals in
Poland. He filled me in on the word processing programs used to
prepare articles for publication, and on database programs used
to organize Solidarity's files and make them easier to destroy. "I remember
raids when I'd be eating files,
everyone else would be
eating, and the police were at the door." Now, Hanasz smiled, "I'd
just press a disk to my chest and bend it"
Pacing at the blackboard, Hanasz proceeded to demonstrate
his own contribution to the Solidarity effort, a spectacular
computer crime. Twice within two weeks, he had sent a message
to those of the 120,000-plus residents of Torun who were
watching the evening news. "Enough price increases, lies, and
repressions. Solidarity Torun," said the first message. The second read, "It is
our duty to boycott the
election," and then
displayed the stylized version of the Solidarity name.
He had done it, Hanasz explained, by performing the
equivalent of electronic hitchhiking on the Polish television
network's airwaves. As an astronomer, he was more used to
dealing with waves traveling through the air than the average
computer user. After three months of planning, Hanasz and
three colleagues had created an electronic system that could
produce television signals, synchronize them with the signals of
Polish state television, and aim them in the same path as the
"There is a psychological phenomenon which allows us to
join two different images we see on a television screen into a
single picture," Hanasz told me. As a result, it was possible for
the message to appear with much of the strength of the regular
The key to his communication, Hanasz explained, was a
form of synchronization. Unless the messages he was sending
out were synchronized with the Polish TV station's signals, the
plan would not work.
Hanasz, Zygmunt Turlo, Leszek Zalewski [orig. Zaleski - webmaster], and Piotr
Lukaszewski were charged with possession of an unlicensed
radio transmitter and publication of materials that could cause
The details of their action were summarized in the sentence
handed down in Department 2 of the Regional Court of Torun:
A picture transmitted by the official Polish television station was being
received on a Neptune 150 television set. Vertical and horizontal
synchronization pulses were being input
to a digital device controlling and working
with & DX-spectrum microcomputer and a transmitter. The digital device
caused the microcomputer to time its generation of signals in synchronization
with those of the
government station, allowing television viewers tor
receive both the government signal and the Solidarity signal at the same time.
Thus, while watching the evening news (Jokingly referred to as
the evening comedy hour by many Poles), many of the residents of
a suburb of Torun saw the Solidarity message. The prosecutor
claimed that as a result voting was much poorer in Torun than in
the surrounding area. Hanasz would not take all the credit for the
downturn in voting, noting that there were leaflets, speeches, and
underground newspaper articles also urging Poles to boycott the
elections. But this, he agreed, was the most spectacular action; and,
he smiled, "People like spectacular actions."
Hanasz warmed to the task of explaining to me why he took
the action he did. He was a strong advocate of taking one's
political identity seriously, and he railed against those who
voted when they did not approve of the elections or the government. "The
everything," he said. "If someone votes, he doesn't lose only for himself, he
loses for the
Hanasz estimated that more than 50 percent of the Poles
had voted in the 1985 elections, despite efforts like his. He
sternly characterized this percentage as "terrible". "If people
don't believe in the government, they shouldn't vote", he said.
The prosecutor would later argue that the text of Hanasz's
message had been sent at "a time of great unrest for the city and
the country." The question of voting was far from trivial, as
American readers might easily assume.
Not everyone in Poland was willing to follow Hanasz's
advice in the message. "People are frightened even of their
shadow," Hanasz sighed. "People are always blaming 'them,'"
he went on. "They complain about what 'they,' [the government]
are doing, but they won't take action." For Hanasz, the
situation was clear: "The government isn't worth supporting.
But people aren't used to having clear signals. They prefer to
see mixed signals, which allow them to cooperate with the
As an example of why his fellow Poles resisted Solidarity's
call for a vote boycott, Hanasz pointed to his own daughter's
situation. Before the election, he said, his daughter wanted a
passport to go abroad. Since the government lists those who
vote, she was in a difficult situation. She knew of people who did
not vote and then were denied passports. "No one tells you the
reason you've been denied a passport is because you didn't vote,"
Hanasz explained. "You never know why these repressions take
place. People vote just in case. It's the same thing if you want a
building permit or a shop license."
In response to these fears, Hanasz urged his fellow Poles to
act courageously. His daughter didn't vote, and she received her
passport two weeks later. "I claim that in most cases this is true,"
Even when a citizen is sanctioned for failing to be sufficiently loyal, the
astronomer suggested, the
worth the price. "I feel much more free, resisting the government," he said. "I
cannot go abroad, cannot
go higher in my
work, but I feel free. It depends on your attitude. If you want to
have too much, you are never free."
Freedom is a revolutionary concept to Hanasz. "If many
people were thinking this way, the government could do nothing." Instead, he
found that people were
themselves to those in Western Europe and wanting better
standards of living. "This makes them support the government,"
he explained. Then he smiled and shrugged: "But these are
normal people, I'm tolerant of them."
The first time he pirated the airwaves, Jan Hanasz was not
frightened. "You don't think about consequences then," he
explained. "I was frightened afterwards," he added, "knowing
that sometime it had to end." He felt prepared. "There's no
fighting without victims," he said.
Hanasz's fears were justified. The first time he and his
colleagues transmitted their message, it was seen but they were
not caught. Policeman Jozef Medzik saw it and read the text.
The next time, Hanasz and his associates were not so fortunate.
Probably the victims of gossip about their unusual feat, Hanasz
and the others were arrested September 14, 1985.
On that date, Polish police officers went to the flat from
which they believed the transmissions were coming. "They
knocked for quite some time at the door," Hanasz recalled, "and
then decided to use force." This proved unnecessary. Hanasz
opened the door, showing the officers several people packing
electronic equipment and a television in plastic, one of them on
the balcony taking apart a television antenna. The power supply
for the transmissions was on a bed in another room, near a
transformer plugged into the wall. A Sanyo computer and a tape
recorder lay on a table nearby.
For the next three months, Hanasz was held in jail without
being allowed any contact with his wife or attorney. He was
questioned continually, as the authorities tried to find out if
others had helped in his broadcast. After another month's
delay, the case went to trial in January 1986. The pirates'
lawyers, like lawyers dealing with a computer crime case
anywhere, did their best. "At the start" Hanasz remembered,
"it all looked obvious. However, the defense attorneys did a
good job of complicating it."
However, all four men were found guilty. In determining
their sentences, the judge noted that the defendants were
well-respected scientists, each the author of several scientific
achievements and the recipient of many prizes. Each received
probation and was required to pay a fine of less than 100 U.S.
dollars. Though much more onerous than a similar fine would be
in the United States, the fines were considered fairly light.
"I didn't imagine the amount of noise our case would generate," Hanasz laughed.
"Our colleagues worked
on defending us, a Congress of intellectuals discussed it in January, and we
get newspaper clippings from West Berlin, France, Great Britain,
and Israel." Six months later, an amnesty was declared for all
political offenders. Hanasz's case was considered political, so the
punishment was ended and everyone's records expunged.
Returning to work at the University, Hanasz had to step
down to a lower level of responsibility. (He had been the Principal
Investigator on a joint project with the Soviet Union involving
experimentation with satellites.) Six months more passed, and in
January 1987 he returned to his former position after "quite a
fight in the Academy," as he described it. "People who officially
say they don't support the government have a hard time being
seen as loyal," he said without a trace of irony. However, although
he was restored to his original post, Hanasz said the project was
much smaller than it had been before his arrest.
WAS JAN HANASZ A HERO?
The last time we met, I was curious about the role that Jan
Hanasz felt he had played. "I'm not a hero," he said. "In the
underground there are people risking their lives all the time
without being known. When they make a mistake and get
attention—then they become heroes. This is a paradox." He
reminded me of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, the priest who had
been killed by the Polish police. "When you are working in the
underground," Hanasz explained, "you are prepared that someone can 'break your
Returning from Torun with Jacek, I saw the bridge over the
Vistula River from which the priest's body had been thrown by
the Polish police. No more comment was necessary.
This chapter was written at a time of enormous change in
Poland. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first non-Communist to ever
head a Communist nation, had just been chosen as Poland's
Prime Minister. This was the latest of a series of revolutionary
changes suggesting that Jan Hanasz was correct, if not prescient, in his
prediction that the Communist
Poland could not survive without the support of the Polish
people. In 1987, no one I spoke with even hinted of a hope that
Such dramatic change could come with such speed. The underground is now part of
and I can't wait to go back to Poland and find out what that means for people
companion Jacek and my favorite pirate, Jan Hanasz.
One thing is clear with the hindsight of history—Hanasz's
feat has all the hallmarks of a classic computer crime. It mixed
courage, impact, and significance, contributing in a spectacular
way to Poland's evolution into a formerly Communist-controlled
country. Before events in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria,
Romania, and Czechoslovakia complemented the successes of
Solidarity, this was a unique distinction in world politics.
Hanasz's faith that even Communist governments can be toppled if they lack
popular support has
vindication. His crime put one of the first cracks in the 'Iron
Curtain', helping set the stage for the opening of the Berlin Wall.
Hanasz's granddaugther (13 old) did
presentation (in powerpoint) about tv pirate Jan
wnuczka o Hanaszu.pps
Jan Hanasz, Anhänger der polnischen Arbeitergewerkschaft 'Solidarität',
entwickelt mit drei befreundeten Astronomen ein System, welches TV-Signale
produziert, die, mit den offiziellen Signalen synchronisiert, einen Aufruf zum
Wahlboykott auf dem Fernseher erscheinen läßt (BloomBecker 1990, 170ff).