The Hacker: a description of his life: 3rd July 2011: Abul Taher

by Julia Evans on July 3, 2011

This material is commented on by Bruno de Florence, as his contribution to the July 2011 LacanianWorks Working Group meeting. His commentary is available here.


Reason for posting this description:

1) Why is a national newspaper publishing this information? I wonder if it is the 21st century equivalent of the Victorian freak show at a circus or the 18th and 19th century’s visits to view the inmates of mental asylums.

2) The nature of a relationship is put up for question. Are they really in a relationship with each other and in what way are they members of society?

3) The Hacker has been categorised as  ‘disruptive’ which resulted in being separated from mainstream education in a unit. Now he is categorised or diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  This affects the way he interacts with the reporter and may affect his legal rights. This classification, on the basis of symptoms defined within the medical discourse, makes him into a different sort of human being than the rest of us and means he is treated by educational and legal processes, as lacking.

The LW WG is following these questions and others in our meetings.

I thank Bruno de Florence for spotting this and leading the discussion.

Please add your comments to the bottom of this description.

The article and its availability:

The secret girlfriend of Hacker, Ryan Cleary: ‘We can’t be unfaithful because we literally don’t know anyone else’:


3 July 2011:

Daily Mail: available here

Quoted from the article:

When he was arrested last month on suspicion of hacking into the website of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, a picture emerged of teenager Ryan Cleary as the archetypal computer geek.

Rarely leaving the converted bungalow that he shared with his mother, he had retreated from the real world into a digital one.

He spent weeks on end in his darkened bedroom, surrounded by empty cigarette packets, the only light provided by the two flickering computer monitors he used to obsessively surf the internet.

He left the room only to use the bathroom. His mother had to leave his meals at the bedroom door.

He was a recluse, a nerd, a weirdo. ‘He needs to get a girlfriend,’ at least one commentator observed.

In fact Ryan, from Wickford, Essex, does have a girlfriend – 19-year-old Amy Chapman. But the notion that a partner would encourage him to lead a more conventional life has proven to be wide of the mark because theirs is a very unusual relationship.

Amy is barely 5ft compared to her boyfriend’s 6ft, yet in all other respects this is a match made in cyberspace because, astonishingly, she spends just as much time on the internet as Ryan – almost every waking minute of her life.

The couple inhabit a topsy-turvy twilight world in which they cook chips or doughnuts at 3am, converse through computers even though they are sitting next to each other, and despite the fact that in theory they have an ‘open’ relationship, are completely faithful to one another because, as Amy says, somewhat plaintively: ‘We literally don’t know anyone else.’

Amy, from nearby Basildon, is articulate but shy and diffident. Deathly pale, with natural black hair, dark mascara and wearing a black blouse and jeans, she looks like a Goth, although she insists she is not one.

I am talking to her in the large dining room of Ryan’s house. Although it is late afternoon on a sunny day, the curtains are drawn in every room.

They do this to increase their sense of isolation from the world. They have only just got up, having turned in at 5am.

Sitting on a cream sofa, at first sight they seem like any other young couple – joking, jostling each other, messing around.

However this is only because Ryan’s stringent bail conditions do not allow him to have any internet-enabled devices in the house. Otherwise they would already be surfing the net, he on his self-assembled computer with two screens, and she on her laptop.

For legal reasons, and because Ryan has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome since his arrest, I direct my questions at Amy, although Ryan frequently finishes sentences for her and nods to emphasise her points.

Amy has been going out with Ryan for two years. By ‘going out’, what she means is staying in, in Ryan’s room with him for weeks on end.

She bridles at the term ‘girlfriend’ but says they are ‘fulfilling each other’s sexual needs’.

‘Do you understand what a “relationship based on benefits” is?’ she asks. ‘There’s no requirement for either party to be faithful to each other. But because I don’t know anybody else, I can’t be unfaithful.

‘And he doesn’t know anybody either. But if he wanted to get off with someone else, I’d encourage it. I’m not in the least bit jealous.’

It appears to be a source of pride to Amy that Ryan does not have a romantic bone in his body. ‘I’m not the romantic type,’ she shrugs.

Ryan has never taken her out. He has never bought her a birthday or Christmas present, although he did once present her with a 500-gigabyte computer hard drive which delighted her in a way that another girl might have been thrilled by diamonds.

She says their relationship is based on their shared love of the internet – the only ‘reality’ she engages in.

They spend their time speaking to hundreds of other users on web forums and through MSN Messenger.

‘I would usually get up and log myself in and stay on it all day, chatting to people, and the last thing I would do is log off and leave the laptop beside me when I fall asleep,’ she says, describing a typical day.

The longest she has stayed indoors without venturing out was two weeks.

When she does leave Ryan’s house it is only to take the five-mile bus journey back to her own home, which she shares with her mother. ‘I just say “Hi, how are you” and all that, and go into my room and log on again,’ she says.

She has two elder sisters and a brother, who live and work in London, but she has lost touch with them.

She does not know her father well because he left the family when she was young but she believes he was in the clothing trade. Amy describes her mother as a ‘full-time housewife’.

The broken family background is similar to that of Ryan, who lives with his mother Rita, who is single. His elder brother Mitchell rarely visits, although he lives only a mile away.

Amy, who smokes 20 Benson & Hedges a day like her boyfriend, says she has been addicted to the internet from the age of eight. ‘We had a home computer, and I started to go on it, and started using MSN Messenger to talk to other people,’ she says.

Gradually the internet began to take up most of her time after school. ‘My mum didn’t mind as she thought I was out of mischief that way. Socialising made me feel awkward. I didn’t have much to do with other classmates.’

She knew Ryan at Wickford Junior School where they were in the same year for a period before he was taken out of school for disruptive behaviour. They met again on the internet aged 15. ‘A friend online said Ryan was on the internet, and gave me his email,’ says Amy. She contacted him on MSN Messenger.

‘I wrote “So what you’ve been doing these days?” He replied, “Computers”. So I messaged him, “What about computers?” He messaged back saying, “Stuff on computers”.’

It may lack the lyrical depth of some of Romeo and Juliet’s exchanges, but a spark was lit.

They began to talk more on the internet, and after a month Amy decided to visit Ryan at his home. They discovered that they share a dry sense of humour, and a love of American animated comedies such as South Park, Family Guy and The Simpsons.

‘I initially came round Ryan’s house for the odd day and then more regularly and then I began bunking off school and coming round for days at a time,’ said Amy.

During the time she was ‘bunking off’, Amy was doing her GCSEs, as was Ryan. While she was at Bromford School in Wickford, he was attending the Heath School in Colchester, which specialises in teaching pupils with disruptive behaviour.

Ryan achieved only two GCSEs. Amy says she cannot remember how many GCSEs she got, but she has As in three subjects including English.

She particularly enjoyed studying George Orwell’s 1984. ‘With all the surveillance going on, and with all the information on the internet about you on Facebook and stuff, we are living in a surveillance society,’ she says.

As a result of her fear of surveillance, Amy avoids conventional social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

And although she agreed to be interviewed, she is scared about her picture being published in a newspaper.

She fears that members of LulzSec – the group prosecutors allege Ryan is part of – or other ‘IT geeks’ may target her if they have a picture of her to go by. We have agreed to obscure her face to protect her identity.

Ironically, she did not study IT at school. ‘School IT is a joke,’ she says.

She realises people who do not share her profound fascination – some would call it an obsession – with the internet think her, at best, eccentric, at worst, a freak. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t see it like that. Both she and Ryan insist this sort of life is ‘normal’ now.

‘I know quite literally thousands of people on the internet. In the real world I don’t have any friends, but I have thousands of friends online. So I am a sociable person.

‘Why do you need to go out when you can talk to so many people on the internet? And the good thing is, online, if you don’t like someone, you can block them off. But in real life you can’t do that. I just have a dislike of the world. People can be annoying. I am happy this way.’

She sleeps with Ryan in a double bed in his room which is suffused with the smell of stale tobacco smoke. The smoke has yellowed the once-white walls which are bare save for a lurid picture of two women in bikinis leaning on top of a man on a bed.

The caption on the picture reads ‘teamwork’ – perhaps an example of Ryan’s dry sense of humour.

The room’s two windows are covered with foil to keep the light out. On a typical day, Ryan would be at his desk in front of his two computer screens, and Amy would either sit on the black sofa or on the bed in front of her laptop.

There would be music blaring out from a YouTube channel through four Logitech speakers mounted on the walls and connected to Ryan’s computer.

Not talking to each other, Amy and Ryan would converse with dozens of users simultaneously online, discussing everything from the latest film they watched to the music they have been listening to.

Sometimes they would even communicate with each other through MSN Messenger. ‘Ryan would message me to pass the cigarettes rather than turning around and asking for it,’ says Amy.

They have no regular meal or sleep times because surfing on the net can go on for 24 to 48 hours at a stretch.

How are they coping now without the internet? ‘We are still in our room, and we watch a lot of movies. It is bringing us closer together,’ says Amy.

She says she has no ambitions and does not know what she wants to do with her life. She can’t afford to do A-levels or go to university. ‘I’d like to do something like the Open University course from home, but even that costs money.’

She worked for a computer hardware company for a short time, but was made redundant in January. Since then she has been unable to find a new job. ‘Even if I get a new job, I’ll still go on the internet like I do now. I’ll just do my nine to five, and then come back and log on.’

Ryan was arrested at home in a joint operation by Scotland Yard and the FBI on June 20. Police suspected him of hacking into the website of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the British equivalent of the FBI.

He was charged with five offences under the Criminal Law and Computer Misuse Act and later appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court, where it emerged he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome by a psychologist since his arrest.

The court also heard that Ryan ‘infected’ 100,000 computers around the world creating a remote-controlled network called a botnet, and used these PCs to deluge SOCA’s website with data requests until it collapsed.

The court was told Ryan did the same to the websites of the British Phonographic Industry and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

He will appear at Southwark Crown Court next month. He has not entered pleas to any of the charges against him.

Amy will be there to support him. It may be a deeply strange cyberspace-age love story – but a love story is what it appears to be.

Read more here

Pictures & headings available here:

a) They just clicked: Ryan Cleary with his secret girlfriend Amy Chapman, whose face is obscured to protect her identity

b) Family home: The Essex house of Cleary’s mother

c) Virtual recluse: The teenager’s bedroom where he would use the two computers while his girlfriend Amy sat on the sofa using her laptop

d) Suspect: Ryan Cleary pictured with with his mother Rita outside Southwark Crown Court on June 27th after being charged with hacking

e) Bailed: Cleary and his mother Rita with his lawyer Karen Todner, right, after he was released on conditional bail