Podcast Episode 138: Hacker President? Joseph Menn of Reuters talks Beto and Cult of the Dead Cow

In this exclusive interview with Security Ledger podcast, Reuters investigative technology journalist Joseph Menn talks about his upcoming book on the iconic hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow and his discovery that U.S. presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas was an early member.


Presidents have followed many different paths to office. Sure, there have been countless lawyers and generals, there have been engineers like Herbert Hoover, a Hollywood actor (Ronald Reagan) and even a haberdasher (Harry Truman). Lately, if you haven’t  noticed, a real estate developer is occupying the Oval Office.

But, to date, we haven’t had a hacker as president. That may soon change. In a blockbuster story released last week, Reuters reporter Joseph Menn let drop that one of the leading contenders in the crowded field of Democratic Party candidates for the Presidency, Beto O’Rourke, was a member of the iconic hacking group The Cult of the Dead Cow (or “CDC”) as a teenager growing up in El Paso, Texas.

Joseph Menn is an investigative technology reporter at Reuters.

Menn’s revelation is startling, if for no other reason than that it builds a bridge nobody thought could be built between the anarchic hacker and BBS online subculture of the 1980s and 1990s and button down Washington D.C., where O’Rourke served Texas’s 16th congressional district as a member of the House of Representatives.

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But to hear Joseph Menn tell it, Beto’s membership in Cult of the Dead Cow may not be that surprising, if you’ve been paying attention. Everything from O’Rourke’s positions on key policy issues to his uncanny knack for garnering media attention and an online following might be seen as the products of his formative years as a CDC member -where  he contributed as a writer, organizer and system administrator for a bulletin board system (or BBS), an early online forum.

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A published author and one of the most respected technology journalists in the business, Menn got the O’Rourke scoop as part of extensive research on CDC for a forthcoming book, Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World, due out on June 4. 

In this exclusive interview, I talk with Joe about how he first got wind about a CDC member walking the halls of congress, how he figured out that Beto was that guy and why CDC might just be a great preparation for Leader of the Free World.

Cover of Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn.
Menn discovered the O’Rourke connection to CDC as part of research on a forthcoming book, due out June 4. (Order a copy here.)

Joseph and I also talk in depth about his new book, which charts the growth and evolution of Cult of the Dead Cow from a group of misfit teenagers and repository for fiction, poetry and angst to one of the foremost hacker collectives fueling the work of independent security researchers and challenging companies like Microsoft to improve the quality of its products.


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