Early last week, before the suspects were identified in the Boston Marathon bombings, a U.S. probation officer and his supervisor visited the Manhattan apartment of programmer Stephen Watt with a question: Did Watt happen to know anything about the attack?
“He said, ‘We want to ask you about this Boston thing. I think you know what we’re talking about. I’m talking about the attacks,’” Watt recalls. “Then he said, ‘If you know any rumors that you heard about beforehand or even afterwards, please [tell us] through your lawyer.’”
They told Watt they weren’t accusing him of anything, just that he should come forward if he had any information. Watt and his wife were shocked by the random inquiry. But in some ways, it’s part and parcel of Watt’s new life as a hacker ex-con.
Watt, a striking 7-foot-tall software engineer, once had a bright future coding software for a maker of real-time stock trading systems. Then a small packet-sniffing program he wrote for a friend got him embroiled in a multi-million-dollar bank card heist that netted him a two-year prison sentence and a hefty restitution judgment. Watt went from having a promising career on Wall Street to living in a grim cell in a high-rise prison in Seattle, where blacked-out windows blocked the natural light, and the absence of outdoor exercise facilities meant he didn’t breathe much fresh air for two years.