Hacker Who Tapped Defense Computers Faces Mental Testing

Times Staff Writer

A UCLA student who was found guilty of using his self-taught computer skills to tap into an electronic network linking defense research agencies was sent to state prison Friday for a psychological evaluation.

Ronald Mark Austin, 21, of Santa Monica, convicted in June of 12 counts of illegal computer access, will spend up to 90 days at the California Institution for Men at Chino undergoing a diagnostic study before sentencing.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gordon Ringer, who presided over Austin's non-jury trial, ordered the procedure after it was requested by Deputy Dist. Atty. Clifton H. Garrott, who prosecuted the case.

The California Penal Code provides for such evaluations before sentencing to help judges decide whether to commit convicted felons to state prison or grant them probation.

Austin, who will be housed in the general population at Chino's inmate reception center, could face six years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 22. He had been free on bail since shortly after his arrest in November, 1983.

The judge's action Friday, Garrott said, "demonstrates that the courts are aware of the seriousness of these types of (computer-related) offenses and are conscientiously using the means available to them to ascertain an appropriate sentence."

Mark I. Bledstein, Austin's attorney, had asked Ringer to immediately place his client on probation, arguing that Austin's offense was more a "youthful or childish prank" than a serious criminal act.

Austin was accused of using a Commodore 64 home computer to break into 200 computer files at 14 military, university and private research organizations linked by the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, a computer hook-up that connects research organizations under contract to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Organizations whose computer systems were penetrated by Austin included the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, the Norwegian Telecommunication Agency, the Naval Oceans Systems Center in San Diego and the UCLA Department of Computer Science.

Officials at UCLA said at the time of Austin's arrest that the then-sophomore student had destroyed some research data, but officials at other agencies whose systems were entered said they did not lose any information.

A Defense Department spokeswoman said at the time that Austin could not have gained access to any classified information.

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