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Decision on Whether Morris Will Talk To FBI Probably Not This Week

November 8, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A lawyer for Robert Morris Jr., the Cornell University graduate student who is the focus of the computer virus probe, said Tuesday he probably won’t decide this week on whether his client should talk to the FBI.

The FBI pressed forward with its criminal investigation, and the Justice Department is considering obtaining a search warrant or grand jury subpoenas for documents at Cornell which could help shed some light on the computer virus incident, federal law enforcement sources said.

The idea of seeking grand jury subpoenas or a search warrant was considered within the FBI, discarded as being unnecessary and then revived in discussions with Justice Department lawyers, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity. What course of action would be taken had not been decided late Tuesday afternoon.

Cornell will cooperate fully with the investigation, said M. Staurt Lynn, the university’s vice president for information technologies, reiterating an earlier comment.

The offices of U.S. Attorney Henry Hudson of Alexandria, Va., and U.S. Attorney Frederick Scullin of Syracuse, N.Y., are involved in the probe.

Morris’ lawyer, Thomas Guidoboni of Washington, said he hasn’t been contacted by the FBI since informing the bureau that he was representing the 23-year-old Morris.

″The ball’s in their (the FBI’s) court, we’re waiting to hear from them,″ said Guidoboni.

Prior to the Morris family’s retaining Guidoboni, the bureau had sought to question the student, said his father, Robert Morris Sr. of Arnold, Md.

Guidoboni said he didn’t think ″we’ll have enough information by the end of this week″ to make a determination on whether to talk to the FBI and that he wants to conduct additional discussions with his client before deciding what course of action to take.

″I have talked to Mr. Morris, but it’s a complex area.... I need to learn some more facts,″ said the lawyer.

The attorney and Morris’ mother, Anne, said the graduate student won’t be answering questions from the press.

Mrs. Morris said the answer to the question of when her son will return to Cornell - he is staying with his parents in Maryland - depends on the outcome of the investigation.

Charles Steinmetz, an FBI spokesman, had said Monday that the preliminary inquiry of the computer virus incident was being upgraded to a full-scale criminal investigation and that the bureau was examining possible violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.

The law carries a one-year maximum prison term on conviction for intentionally gaining unauthorized access to a computer used by the U.S. government and affecting the operation of the computer. The law also carries a five-year maximum prison term for intentionally gaining unauthorized access to two or more computers in different states and preventing authorized use of such computers or information.

The virus paralyzed more than 6,000 university and military computers nationwide last Wednesday and Thursday.

A computer virus is a tiny program that invades data processors and disrupts normal operation of the machines. A virus duplicates itself, spreading into other programs in the computer and infecting one computer after another as users share floppy disks or link up over telephone lines.

Mild viruses may do nothing more than flash a provocative message on a user’s screen; ″deadly″ forms can destroy data or cripple a computer. Some are ″time bombs″ designed to wreak havoc on a pre-programmed date.

The virus last week apparently did its damage by rapidly duplicating itself, thereby slowing computers’ processing speed and taking up their memory space.

The FBI said last Friday that it was conducting a preliminary inquiry into whether any federal laws were broken in spreading the virus through networks used by the Defense Department and research institutions.

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