Programmer Accused of Plotting to Sabotage Missile Project
Jun. 26, 1991
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Federal agents Tuesday arrested a former General Dynamics computer programmer accused of plotting to plant a ''logic bomb'' that could have wiped out irreplaceable data in a space missile project.
''He was disgruntled and didn't feel he had been given the recognition he thought he deserved,'' said William Landreth, an agent with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, which led the investigation.
Michael John Lauffenburger, 31, was taken to the federal jail and charged with one count of attempted computer fraud and one count of computer tampering. He pleaded innocent and was held in lieu of $10,000 bail.
If convicted, Lauffenburger could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.
''We've never known of a situation like this,'' Landreth said. ''This is the most egregious attempted computer sabotage I've ever seen because it involved a person in a position of trust.''
''Welcome to high technology,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Dembin, the case's prosecutor. ''Our ability to use technology has far exceeded our ethical responsibilities in using it.''
A co-worker in May uncovered the so-called computer logic bomb, a kind of computer virus that's actually an encoded bit of computer commands. The co- worker had been trying to access Lauffenburger's computer memory bank but was unable to get into one file in the computer's memory system.
The worker contacted security and the logic bomb eventually was detected and disabled, Landreth said.
Lauffenburger resigned from General Dynamics on May 29 and is accused of planning to offer his services as a consultant to help the company reconstruct the lost material and determine what happened to it, Landreth said.
Lauffenburger had been working on the billion-dollar Atlas Missile Space Program. The Atlas was first developed in the 1950s as an intercontinental ballistic missile but has been used as an unmanned launch vehicle.
''He created a lot of his work, and in essence he felt he didn't get the honor he deserved,'' Landreth said.
''It's very remote that anything like this has ever happened at General Dynamics before,'' company spokesman Jack Isabel said. ''There are security systems in place and I just don't want to comment beyond that.''
The logic bomb had been scheduled to go off at 6 p.m. May 24, over the long Memorial Day weekend, and then destroy itself, Landreth said.
The data targeted consisted of information about contracts between General Dynamics and the federal government.
''It's questionable that some of this information could have ever been reconstructed,'' Landreth said. ''It would have cost $100,000 in reprogramming work, but a lot would have been lost that could have never been retrieved.''
After leaving General Dynamics, Lauffenburger worked as a computer programmer for Community Care Network of San Diego.