Sept. 2, 2003 — Three weeks ago, a flurry of computer viruses caused headaches for millions of Internet users worldwide and touched off a massive hunt by law enforcement for the virus programmers — a hunt that led to Hopkins, Minn., and 18-year-old Jeffrey Lee Parson. In an exclusive interview with NBC Today Show producer Eric Ortner, Parson says the government has exaggerated his role in the computer chaos of the past month.
For his first interview since his arrest on Friday, Jeffrey Lee Parson agreed to talk with the “Today” show off-camera. Parson insisted that his responses be reproduced in full.
The government does not assert that Parson wrote the original MSBlaster worm, which infected over 1 million computers. The federal complaint says that Parson was the author of MSBlaster.B, a slightly-altered variant of the original Blaster, which infected about 7,000 computers.
Still, at a news conference last week announcing Parson’s arrest, U.S. Attorney John McKay said Parson was a “key figure” in the computer worm incident.
In his interview with Ortner, Parson expresses surprise at the scrutiny he’s receiving, and said he just wants to return to his normal high school life.
‘TODAY’: There’s a perception in the media that you unleashed a virus as a malicious attack. Is this true?
Parson: “No, the malicious attack was brought forth from the original virus.”
‘TODAY’: Please explain what exactly you did do with your computer, and why you did it.
PARSON: “Until I get a lawyer that can help, I don’t want to specifically go into the details.”
‘TODAY’: Reports have said you cooperated fully with authorities. Is that true? Explain your level of cooperation.
PARSON: “When I was first approached by authorities, I never thought I was a suspect in a crime. They never read me my rights or asked me if I wanted a lawyer until a week later, and after at least 4 different interviews with investigators. After that, they read me my rights, but told me that continuing to cooperate would help me.”
‘TODAY’: Were you surprised to be arrested and charged with so serious an offense?
PARSON: “I was very surprised! To me it came completely out of the blue that I was going to be arrested and charged with this offense”
‘TODAY’: Do you feel the government has been overly vigorous in your case? So far, yours is the only arrest that has been made related to the blaster worm. Are you concerned that the government is trying to make an example of you?
PARSON: “I am extremely concerned that the government is trying to make an example of me. I understand that the government needs to catch someone for these crimes. I’m not the one they need to get!”
‘TODAY’: People in America see you as the man responsible for wreaking havoc on their e-mail. Are they right to blame you? What would you like to say to them?
PARSON: “Again, I don’t want to go into specifics until I get help from a lawyer.”
‘TODAY’: Did you realize you might have been doing something illegal? Did you know the penalty would be so severe?
PARSON: “Even now I still don’t fully understand the charges against me. I don’t even have a copy of the complaint, and don’t have a lawyer that has explained the specific charges to me.”
‘TODAY’: Are you concerned at all about the possibility of going to jail?
PARSON: “I’m more concerned about going to jail for the crimes the public believes I’ve committed, and did not.”
‘TODAY’: In cases like this, there are a lot of quick, simple characterizations of the accused given to the media — for example, he was a loner, he didn’t have friends, he was reckless, etc. How would you describe yourself?
PARSON: “I’m the complete opposite of the way I’ve been portrayed in the press. I’m not a loner. I have a very supportive close group of friends. I’m not reckless, I don’t do drugs, smoke or drink. This is the first time I have ever had a run in with the law. It’s hurtful to see the accounts of me. I’m not depressed, embarrassed about my weight, or a misfit. ”
‘TODAY’: What have the past few weeks been like for you?
PARSON: “The past few weeks have been confusing and uncertain. Time feels like it’s standing still. I’m 18, about to start high school, and I’m confined in my home. I just want this to be over with. I look forward to going to school. It’s the only place I’m allowed to go. Going there is the only thing that will make me feel normal again. I want to get on with school and move towards graduating.”
‘TODAY’: Tuesday, you’re going back to school. After all the publicity, are you concerned about being treated differently?
PARSON: “I’m more concerned about the media’s affect on the other students. I’m not worried about the other students’ reaction to me.”
‘TODAY’: Is there anything else you’d like to say at this point?
PARSON: “The media has talked to the wrong people. People who have said they were my friends were not as close as they claimed to be. I want to thank my close friends and family who wanted to defend me, but were rightfully concerned that their comments would be taken out of context. Instead of being in the media, they have stayed by my side.”
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