I know that many people love Ghost in the Wires, but this book really bothers me. It's very difficult to be sympathetic towards Kevin Mitnick, who continually prevails upon his readers to let him have it both ways.
I will leave whatever social sickness the brilliant Kevin Mitnick has to the mental health professionals, but suffice it to say that his writing in Ghost in the Wires is a terrific nonfiction example of an "unreliable narrator." Throughout the book, Mitnick does the same things over and over again and is surprised when he repeatedly gets caught. He hurts his mother, grandmother, wife, and friends over and over again with his illegal hacking activities, says he regrets doing it each time, but then turns around and does it to them again. Mitnick is upset when he is blamed for things he "didn't do" and when he is "double crossed," but he freely admits to dozens of other computer break ins and instances where he compromises the trust of others using "social engineering" techniques, ridicules them for trusting him, and then betrays that trust. Mitnick says he never took money from hacking, but now of course he's making money from writing this and other books as well as from promoting his computer security company based on his (illegally obtained) skills. Mitnick is all over the place.
In one scene Mitnick is severely critical of prosecutors who use "dirty tactics" to put him behind bars, but then he continues to use his own dirty tactics while behind those bars. For instance, Mitnick is contemptuous of being put in solitary confinement so he can't "phone freak" (a form or hacking using an ordinary telephone), but then uses his severely limited (and monitored) prison pay phone time to phone freak anyway by dialing behind his back as a guard watches, apparently just for the thrill of it and with complete disregard for any consequences.
Even after he is apprehended multiple times, Mitnick still doesn't "get it." He is condescending to and openly critical of the FBI, local law enforcement, and the media throughout the book for their lax procedures, but still doesn't seem to understand why breaking and entering highly sensitive computer systems is wrong and dangerous. When they find his stolen database of thousands of credit card numbers, he doesn't understand why he should be prosecuted for possessing them because he didn't actually use them to steal money. "That would be wrong," he says. Another instance: he spends most of the book using cloned cell phones to make "free" calls all over the world, which are billed to unaware random consumers. This form of theft, as well as repeated breaking and entering, both electronically and physically, seems to be viewed as no problem.
While on the run Mitnick takes great pains to steal and set up new identities in Las Vegas, Denver, Seattle, and Raleigh NC, but each time he goes back to his old hacking and cell phone tricks only to get discovered again and again. In one scene he finally figures out that he is being tracked electronically by the authorities when he uses his cell phone, and is actually being followed by a helicopter that zeroes in on him every time he makes a call. Does he then stop making cell calls? No. Does he stop hacking? No. Even when he is suspicious of being compromised on the phone, he still keeps calling and talking "for hours" to the informant, and yet feels betrayed when they turn over what they have to the authorities.
Mitnick seems to blame everyone but himself most of the time for having the unmitigated gall to trust him through his so called "Social Engineering," which he both repeatedly relies on and harshly criticizes his marks for falling for. He even blames others who actually create the computer systems he feels compelled to compromise. It is much more difficult to create than it is to tear down, and instead of compromising these networks for "trophies," one is left wondering what the incredibly talented Mitnick could have done if he had spent as much time and energy building systems instead of breaking into and stealing information from them.
Mitnick's behavior is deeply disturbing. He writes, "It always seems strange to me that my captors had such trouble grasping the deep satisfaction that could be derived from a game of skill....what it was worth didn't matter to me. So what was the nature of my crime, that I allegedly had access?" It is not a game, and Mitnick completely misses the point, even now, after serving years in prison and being released. Mitnick is obsessive about his own privacy, and yet is utterly indignant about others' attention to and expectation of theirs? It just doesn't wash.