Banjaxed! is the true story of a young Irish entrepreneur whose only dream was to become the world’s most famous Irish dressmaker. All he would have to do was bring the world’s most secretive global electronic spying network to a grinding halt.
They were the first shots in what became known as the Crypto Wars, and the NSA would go to any lengths to stop this dressmaker turned codemaker.
As a teenager growing up in Ireland in the 1970s, Neal O’Farrell had a near-perfect life already mapped out for him. Even if it was only in his imagination. He would be the third generation to take over a famous family fashion business whose clients included a who’s who of the world’s rich and famous – from Coco Chanel and Yves St. Laurent, to the Duchess of Westminster and the Queen of Siam.
But the Crock of Gold, simply known as the Crock, was more than just a business. It was a self-contained nation state. Ruled by his surly British Grand Aunt, the Crock was a small 300-year-old family estate that included a house dripping with art and antiques, a sprawling factory that employed generations of locals, a farm and gardens that kept the estate fed, and a small but devoted team of servants and staff.
If Neal’s cunning and charm worked, it would eventually all be his. He would rule his own kingdom, and the perfect isolation he needed to survive the greyness and misery of the world beyond its walls. And survive his own demons.
But when things didn’t work out as Neal had planned, he found himself drawn deeply into the shadowy world of spies and surveillance, of phone tapping scandals and government eavesdropping, and all culminating in a once-in-a-lifetime offer after a chance meeting at a London hotel with Ireland’s military intelligence.
Convinced that Neal was really an expert in the growing and secretive field of speech encryption and secure telephones, his new intelligence contacts suggested that if Neal could build a secure phone capable of defeating the NSA’s global eavesdropping apparatus, governments across the world would beat a path to his door and he would be rich beyond his wildest dreams. And Neal’s new friends could help him do just that.
What Neal didn’t know was that apart from the enormous complexity of the challenge and the nearly impossible chance that he could pull it off, he would be going up against Echelon.
Echelon, also known as Five Eyes, was the biggest and most secretive global electronic spying network ever launched by the NSA and its allies and responsible for most of the world’s phone tapping and electronic surveillance. The network had cost billions of dollars to build and was so secretive, for years the NSA had denied it even existed.
If Neal was successful in building this highly secure phone, it would likely render this massive global surveillance network almost useless. American electronic surveillance would be silenced.
What the army didn’t know was that Neal was an imposter who knew nothing about advanced encryption and was desperately trying to just build a reputation in the fledgling world of computer security. What the army also didn’t know was that Neal struggled with a trifecta of mental illnesses that clouded his judgement and impaired his impulse control. Which is why he immediately said yes to their offer.
With the help of a team of real experts from three different Irish universities, within less than 18 months and half a million dollars from the Irish government and local investors, Neal had pulled off the impossible. He and his team, codenamed Intrepid, publicly announced the launch of Milcode, the world’s most secure secure telephone, promising that anyone using the phone for phone calls, faxes, and even data communications would be completely immune to eavesdropping from all the world’s spy agencies. Including the NSA and Echelon.
Word quickly got out. Some of the world’s leading encryption experts came to Ireland to see the phone. Foreign diplomats were begging for prototypes they could test to see if Neal’s audacious claims were true. British defense companies verified Neal’s claims and offered deals worth millions of dollars. And that would be just the start. Pretty soon almost everything in the world would use or depend on encryption, and Neal would be the first and best man for the job.
Neal’s miracle dream had actually come true. He’d done it, in spite of all the odds and sceptics, he’d beaten them. Armed with all this new wealth, he could finally pursue his real dream. To bring his beloved Crock back from the ashes, reclaim his tiny kingdom, and live a life fit for any royalty.
Except there was still the NSA to deal with. When the NSA discovered just how powerful Neal’s new phone was, they launched a coordinated campaign designed to take down Neal, his startup, and his new phone by any means possible. As Neal learned later, if you can’t break the code, break the codemaker.