Cicada Files: The Repugnant brotherBox
by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“The problem with screen names or handles deserves some amplification. Concealing your identity behind a handle is a juvenile and silly behavior characteristic of crackers, warez d00dz, and other lower life forms. Hackers don’t do this; they’re proud of what they do and want it associated with their real names. So if you have a handle, drop it. In the hacker culture it will only mark you as a loser.”
“Sociologists, who study networks like those of the hacker culture under the general rubric of “invisible colleges,” have noted that one characteristic of such networks is that they have gatekeepers–core members with the social authority to endorse new members into the network. Because the “invisible college” that is hacker culture is a loose and informal one, the role of gatekeeper is informal too. But one thing that all hackers understand in their bones is that not every hacker is a gatekeeper. Gatekeepers have to have a certain degree of seniority and accomplishment before they can bestow the title. How much is hard to quantify, but every hacker knows it when they see it.”
-Eric Steven Raymond, How to Become a Hacker, Thyrsus Enterprises, 2001.
I publish these communications from Mr. Martin Wehrmeyer (aka brotherBox, @aBoxMaybe, @luceatnobis), who demanded that I embargo his surname and refer to him by the alias brotherBox and in no other way, using bold for the usual reasons. I break up his long paragraphs to make them easier to read. My editorial comments are few, included in parentheses, while Mr. Wehrmeyer’s statements are bracketed in quotation marks.
This article includes a response that Mr. Wehrmeyer wrote to me when I invited him to review an early draft of my article about Z 3301. I felt that his response, which immediately follows, was sane and meaningful.
Bizarrely, Wehrmeyer quickly turned execrable, extracting an excerpt from that draft, twisting it to his purposes, placing me in an impossible position: Ms. Bogaerts demanded confidentiality from me, yet she inserted herself into an argument that I was keeping her out of. When she ordered me to “leave Marcus alone,” meaning Mr. Wanners, I declined.
As Ms. Bogaerts abused an agreement of confidentiality between us, she demanded that I respect her decree that our conversation was “off the record.” I am tired of games, and Ms. Beth Bogaerts played one game too many, treating me as one of her pawns. She is accustomed to manipulate the men around her, and many of them let her get away with it. Not this one.
I described her as “the Yoko Ono of 3301,” a characterization that she adopted as one of her Twitter handles. It turns out that she herself referred to herself as Yoko in the past, during one of her endless arguments with Thomas Schoenberger.
From: brotherBox <REDACTED@REDACTED.com>
Tuesday, October 8, 2019 23:42 PM (Bangkok Local)
To: Esteban Trujillo de Gutierrez <REDACTED@pm.me>
I have written up a text file with my comments, which is attached to this email. They are not exhaustive, as I’ve restricted them to not include too much about other people. But it is a lengthy text still. As to how useful that is to you I’m not sure, but if you want information about specific topics feel free to ask. I understand your commitment to quote verbatim and in full, but I doubt it is going to be helpful if my remarks are simply attached to the bottom of the full piece. Thus I understand if you pick and choose a bit here, a shard there. As long as you keep the quotations faithful to the original meaning I’m alright with them being inlined.
“I’ve received an email notifying me of the preliminary release of this piece. In my mind it has a number of inaccuracies, but for the sake of time I will confine my remarks to the areas that concern me and the solvers group that I have been a part of. I am not going to comment on the accuracy of descriptions made by other persons and I am not going to give all my thoughts on the circumstances as they are presented here, even though they differ significantly from my first hand experience.”
“The way we (referring to the community I was a part of) reasoned about the authenticity of 3301 information was quite straightforward. What you say is irrelevant unless you can back it up somehow, and even if you can back it up you face a high threshold for credibility. Trolls are everywhere and we care about the truth.”
“The one virtually irrefutable piece of evidence for information from 3301 is the presence of the cryptographic signature. This cryptographic signature is created from a public-key pair that was created a bit earlier than the 2012 puzzle if memory serves and distributed in the early phases of that years puzzle (sic).”
“A signature inverts the typical use of a public-key pair, typically you encrypt data with the public key and decrypt it with the private key, so only the piece of data you retain for yourself is able to un-scramble a message encrypted by the private key. In the case of signatures, the private key is used to provide information to the intended recipient instead of the public key.”
“Much has been said about this key, to the point where it has become a meme in some circles. Unfortunately, the public discourse about this key is laced with falsehoods and, probably more dangerous than falsehoods, half-truths. The fact of the matter is that the underlying crypto behind the PGP key is computationally infeasible to break and it has strong provisions to advertise if a key has been compromised. There is no evidential data to believe that a party in possession of the key has flagged it as compromised as of right now.”
“In the years since information about the key became public knowledge, it was discovered that *some* PGP implementations generated weak prime numbers that rest at the core of the standard PGP protocol. However, none of the implementations that were detected to be weak appear to have been used by 3301 in the creation of their key. In at least one case, researchers have released a tool that can detect if a key is affected by the weakness they uncovered, and the test came out negative.”
“In every instance on record, communications (not necessarily data) by 3301 have been cryptographically signed. We only know that 3301 have communicated because they have signed their message. Communication that is not signed by them is just chatter in my mind, it doesn’t hold any weight on its own.”
“If you were to find a random chatlog about inconsequential stuff (on pastebin for example) your mind wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that this is in fact 3301 communication. Unless this chatlog can be verified by a cryptographic signature. Even if the chatlog was on the subject of 3301, you could not presume it to be authored or endorsed by the creators of 3301.”
“A curious thing happened roughly in May 2017 that baffled most of the core of the community. A person came forward, claiming to have found a message by 3301 on pastebin, mostly by accident. I looked into the message, the cryptographic signature was clearly present and verified without any issue. The location of this message was a bit concerning to us, as we have no evidence that 3301 ever advertised that message. As far as we know, they simply put it on pastebin, waiting to be uncovered via the search function on that website.”
“We gathered the knowledgable people in our community and subjected that message to every kind of scrutiny that we know of, but nothing suspicious or even extraordinary was ever discovered about it. Thus we made an announcement about it on the usual places. This episode goes to show that we don’t rely first and foremost on statements made by persons, but rather the facts as they surface. To this day, the integrity of that message has not been credibly challenged.”
(Mr. Wehrmeyer is referring to the April 2017 PGP Message cautioning solvers to “Beware false paths.” A screen shot appears at the top of this page).
“The second piece of evidence we would consider is testimony. If a source comes to us, making claims about 3301 and backing their information up by releasing previously unknown but signed messages, and these messages withstand our cryptographic scrutiny, we would have no basis not to believe them.”
“Whether we have permission to release that information to the public is of course up to the source, we wouldn’t want to violate agreements we have with anyone unless they themselves come forward.”
“If a source comes to us, telling us stuff that they can’t provide any actual evidence for, then thats just as good as hearsay. We haven’t really cared about hearsay. An unsubstantiated data point is virtually useless. The essence is that you can say virtually anything and change everyones mind by backing yourself up.”
“This second criterion was never discussed strongly, it is more an inference we draw from the fact that the source is in fact able to provide real evidence to back up their statements. As I said, I’m not going to discuss the statements of other people. However, it seems wise to consider these statements under the light of the guidelines we have come up with.”
“With these considerations in mind I build my perspective on the personalities that have recently spoken their minds. I have never been interested in or attracted by personalities and I don’t give credence on shallow grounds like this. My statement about gHOST3301 is entirely accurate in my opinion. I said that I don’t consider him to have been all that well informed. That was related to him stating, in your previous interview with him, that he doesn’t know who the person behind Primus Holdings LLC is.”
(Very few understood that Primus Holdings, LLC is none other than Mr. Marcus Wanners. Mr. Wanners, in fact, informed me of that fact in an email published elsewhere on this site. His statement was likewise confirmed to me by Ms. Beth Bogaerts, formerly the holder of the Cicada 3301 Trademark, in a personal interview to which I am forbidden by her to refer. Nonetheless, I discuss it in the main article in this series).
“A person who paid attention at the time would have no difficulties discerning at all who is behind it. Primius was the nickname of marcusw (Mr. Marcus Wanners) in those days, note the additional ‘i’. I suspect marcusw forgot about this detail, or perhaps I’m simply misremembering.”
(Mr. Martin Wehrmeyer here assumes that anyone “smart” knows what he knows, or they are not smart. The domination of the solving community by the cabal that Z 3301 calls “the Wikia” is on full display here. The calculus is that anyone who does not pay attention to the internal politics of the Wikia is ignorant. I politely reject this.)
“My first contact with marcusw came about in late 2012. I had been involved in several IRC groups doing funny stuff. That’s where I met an intermediary by the name of Lurker69. Lurker69 is sort of the godfather of many communities, he is the guy who can connect people and knows just the right person you need to talk to. I was leading a group at the time that Lurker came into and he introduced marcusw to us, back then he had the name primius. It was Lurker who recommended that I join the IRC group that he had started for the upcoming 2013 puzzle. At the time, it was an open secret that marcusw had in fact solved the 2012 puzzle.”
“Had gHOST3301 been informed, he would have no doubts discerning that primius/primus was in fact marcusw. I am as certain of this as I can be. When I first heard of this Primus Holdings LLC, I knew who was behind it immediately.”
(Apparently, because gHOST did not lurk on solver IRC channels, and circulate within Martin Wehrmeyer’s solving community, Mr. Wehrmeyer assumes that gHOST cannot possibly be authenticated in any other way. I am sensitive to bona fides, to lineages and patrimonies, but I am also perhaps aware of details concerning the order’s PGP Key that Mr. Wehrmeyer does not know.
There are, by all accounts, two Keyholders. This is well-known. Both Keyholders must collaborate in order to produce a PGP-signed message. Why this is so, and precisely how the Keys were separated, was never satisfactorily explained to me.
The identity of these (alleged) Keyholders is known to me, separately divulged to me in confidence by multiple sources who spoke to me independently: but I am unable for various good reasons to confirm that these identities are legitimate at this time.
The identity of the Keyholders may be the most strategic piece of information about 3301 that there is, so resolving this unsatisfactory state of affairs is among my greatest priorities.
Unfortunately, if the alleged identity of one of these Keyholders is correct, we may never be able to reach her. I cannot say more at this point without pointing to the identity of this Keyholder. The PGP Key of the order, as a consequence, may be irrecoverable, and irretrievably lost to history. This is not an exaggeration: if the identity of this Keyholder is correct, the PGP Key of the Cicada 3301 order is at risk).
Mr. Wehrmeyer continues:
“I am no longer affiliated with the wiki, the subreddit or the solving community. On the other hand, I know the people who run them very well, I’ve spent years with them. They are remarkable people all around. I support their decision to remove links to pieces like this. We want to encourage public collaboration. When I was still involved, I didn’t care one bit about interviews with people who were supposedly insiders. I don’t care about paragraphs full of unsubstantiated claims and revisionist history. In this vein, I see no reason why the platforms I helped to create should feature this piece.”
(Very well. I will display more courtesy to Mr. Wehrmeyer than he shows to me, merely by publishing his statements without redaction. And I must gently point out that nobody is demanding that the platforms that he helped create should feature this article, or any others published by me. Merely providing a sedate link to them with or without editorial comment would suffice.
I publish Mr. Wehrmeyer’s statements here because I am serving history. History will decide how Mr. Martin Wehrmeyer and his Wikia gang are remembered. There is no guarantee that my work will be remembered favorably by future critics. But I at least stepped up and published. I acted. History is written by the survivors, by the victors. Mr. Martin Wehrmeyer and his co-conspirators of the Wikia would do well to remember that. When was the last beneficial update to the Uncovering Cicada Wiki?)
Mr. Wehrmeyer continues:
“With 3301 gradually losing control of (or becoming indifferent to) their own message, combined with the ever expanding public attention to their mystery, the community is vastly different than it once was. It appears that the genuinely skilled and experienced people have left and what remains is a cloud of people without abilities that proved useful in solving 3301 when it still happened.”
(Mr. Wehrmeyer’s observation here is nuanced and I think correct: 3301, the original members, are losing control of their message, and it is possible that this is happening simply because they are indifferent to it. The order’s history long included members engaging in side projects. For many of the elders, Cicada 3301 was their side project).
Mr. Wehrmeyer continues:
“There is a beautiful essay by Eric S. Raymond, “How To Become A Hacker”, that everybody remotely interested in 3301 should read. And then read it again, because they didn’t understand it all the first time around. You will find that it doesn’t speak about 3301 at all.” (Eric S. Raymond, How to Become a Hacker, Thyrsus Enterprises, 2001).
“In some ways however, I consider that essay to be a foundational rock for any real pursuit of 3301, mostly it stresses the importance of skill, discipline and rigor. The influx of newcomers who mainly stick to the TS-ian (the Thomas Schoenberger-ian) way of thinking (which is as removed and ridiculous from the real thing as can be) simply don’t exhibit any of these traits.”
“What I have never wanted is to allow my platforms to become petri dishes for rumor, tangential inferences and lazy thinking. There is the saying that, when all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails. When you don’t have the skill that you need in order to solve a problem, and you happen to be too busy or uninterested or simply too lazy to acquire the skill, you try to circumvent the problem by looking at it “in a different light”, proving what a universal thinker you are or something. I’ve seen this more times than I can count.”
“However, the breadth of thinking (or skill, or understanding) is no replacement for its depth. You can’t conclude that several half-baked perspectives are just as good as a single thorough one and then delude yourself into believing that you’ve solved the problem when in fact you failed to meet it on its merits and ran away. That isn’t how the world works.”
“This is why I look down, with strong condescension, on tangential approaches to solving Liber Primus. When it comes down to the wire, my impression is that people employing these strategies are lazy thinkers. There is no point in being the “idea guy”. I have literally never seen a case where a successful solver had a great capability to figure out the connection between pieces without the skills to connect the pieces themselves. Unless you know the tools that enable you to connect the pieces, you haven’t understood much of anything. And you certainly won’t get the credit for it because all you did was talk.”
“Funnily enough, 3301 appears to have expressed a similar sentiment. Some may not know this, but the 2013 solo round included a programming task. Participants were required to create a program in the language of their choice, that listens to and responds several requests via the TOR network. We were supposed to send the hidden service name and the port of our server to them via email.”
“I think this is the best kind of challenge they ever made, it was deeply educational and really forced you to do what they ask you to do. There is no escaping from writing a program, no “re-framing” the problem or something. Just good old skill. This challenge itself taught and clarified to me a lot of things that I wasn’t clear on before.”
“There is a much brighter side to these comments, inflammatory as they are. As I said in the GBS (Great Big Story) piece, when I joined the community I wasn’t very skilled at all. With time and lots of practice, I consider myself to be alright today. And the people who I value for their skill would probably agree.”
“I learned an enormous amount by doing the 3301 puzzles and I believe that any motivated person can do so as well. There was an indian guy (sic) in the 3301 community, around 50 years old, working in a bank, never had much exposure to the world of computer science. He became so fascinated that, parallel to his job, he learned so many skills and gained so much experience that he is probably better than me at this point. How did he do that? He started small, solved simpler challenges, broke easy cryptograms, learned the basics. He didn’t give up. He kept advancing and advancing and now he is where he wanted to be.”
“This is the kind of attitude I truly admire and that so many “new” solvers simply lack. When faced with the hard problem of decrypting the Liber Primus runes, they make excuses rather than getting into the unrewarding, complex, challenging details. There is real value in confronting your problem head-on in that it allows for growth. Trying to reinvent the problem because your arsenal of solutions isn’t sufficient is indicative only of a lack of commitment.”
“The piece makes several allusions to a desire in us to be in the spotlight of media attention for our involvement with 3301. This could not be further from the truth. Our efforts over the years have received considerable media and press attention. There was never an instance as far as I can remember where we reached out to any media outlet, press organisation or publishing house offering our story. The media blitz in 2014, the Rolling Stone article, the GBS (Great Big Story) piece – all of these and several more happened not because we approached them, but they approached us.”
“It was with a serious degree of reluctance that I agreed to participate in the GBS series. My inhibitions stemmed from numerous bad experiences with the press, my generally introverted temperament and the worry that my appearance helps to paint an inaccurate picture of the community where only a few members made the breakthroughs in solving, when in fact it was many contributions from many people. During production I was repeatedly assured that we get to convey our thinking and our experiences as accurately as possible and that nobody was out to score a cheap Gotcha! with any of our statements.”
“There are many more comments I have on this unappetizing piece. But the ones I made here are should make enough people fume at their mouths already. And maybe, if my remarks actually lit a bulb inside your head, got you to think, then I’m well pleased.”
From: Esteban Trujillo de Gutierrez <REDACTED@pm.me>
Monday, October 14, 2019 16:22 PM Bangkok Local
To: brotherBox <REDACTED@REDACTED.com>
I am reviewing the text document that you sent to me, and I wish to convert it into a stand-alone article. Before I begin, I would like to ask whether you wish to look it over and make any changes before I begin the conversion?
It goes without saying that you will have access to all drafts, and you are welcome to make changes at any stage. I will not publish until we agree that my rendition is an accurate portrayal of your words.
I appreciate your time and consideration.
Esteban Trujillo de Gutierrez
From: brotherBox <REDACTED@REDACTED.com>
Wednesday, October 16, 2019 02:30 AM Bangkok Local
To: Esteban Trujillo de Gutierrez <REDACTED@pm.me>
I apologize for this, but for the foreseeable future I will likely have no time to respond to any of your inquiries. An urgent matter has arisen and I need to focus on resolving it. Thus I ask you to hold off on commenting on me or affairs concerning me until I have chance (sic) to respond.
I do not know what sort of personal crisis overwhelmed Mr. Wehrmeyer in mid-October, 2019, but when he believed that I was revising this article he sent Marcus Wanners the following:
He was also frantically messaging me on Twitter, but I did not know it, as he was sending from a new Twitter account. It took me a few days, and then I noticed that he sent me this:
As is apparent, I declined then and I decline now to permit Mr. Martin Wehrmeyer to hold a veto over publication of my article or his statement. Should he wish to submit additional words I would be pleased to include them here.
Mr. Wehrmeyer did unleash a rancid Twitter DM (Direct Message) exchange with me that I mostly embargo, as it was a private conversation between the two of us, and I feel no need to humiliate him.
Sadly, Mr. Wehrmeyer told me that he thought that my ethics “appear to be entirely misoriented,” and his final comment was for me to “get fucked,” which he said I was free to publish. So be it.
For the record, Mr. Wehrmeyer forbade me to publish his surname, though it was previously published in the Rolling Stone article referenced above, and he was mercilessly doxxed in the course of several brutal net conflicts between himself and others on 4chan.
I indulged him until he demonstrated that he was in fact in possession of plenty of time to interact with me through a sustained Twitter rampage in late October, 2019, and he violated the confidentiality of a draft version of my article about Z 3301.
More than any other element, it was his mystifying misuse of an extract from my Z 3301 article for unknowable reasons of his own that turned me against Martin Wehrmeyer. He apparently did it just for the sake of controversy.
Wehrmeyer, for reasons that he may some day explain, extracted an excerpt from that article and blew it up into an absurd controversy that raged over three days. In the end, he apologized, when it became obvious that his conduct was indefensible. I declined to accept his apology, and I stand by that refusal now.
I remain mystified by Martin Wehrmeyer’s manipulative misuse of that excerpt, and I cannot understand what purpose it served. He later half-heartedly admitted that he “said some very unkind words about her,” which I took to refer to Ms. Beth Bogaerts, and which others said referred to a Twitter user called Jet, for Jethro.
The controversy was over the claim by Ms. Bogaerts that she was “coerced” into transferring the Cicada 3301 Trademark. Thomas Schoenberger confirmed the allegation, saying that she reinforced this to him. I did not place great weight on this, as Ms. Bogaerts is disposed to drama and frequently manipulates the men in her orbit.
Z 3301 of course emphasized this element of coercion in his conversations with me, so much so that I went back to him after I confirmed in conversation with Ms. Bogaerts that nothing of the kind ever transpired. She did not admit to me, of course, that she made those claims to Thomas Schoenberger.
Unfortunately for her, she made the allegation to others. This is all a giant ball of stupid.
First draft completed on October 23, 2019 in 3415 words.
Revised November 28, 2019 in 4270 words.
Published: January 9, 2020 in 4361 words.
Refined: January 13, 2020 in 4368 words.
Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez