By ERIC NALDER AND LEWIS KAMB
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTERS
August 3, 2005
What's in Dan Ring's computer?
A lot of people want to know. Some probably do not.
His Sheriff's Office laptop was found by investigators to have a
section encrypted by a program so secure the manufacturer said it is
virtually impossible to crack.
The King County Sheriff's Office intelligence detective with an
expertise in the sex trade, and in computers, had a habit of checking
out people using powerful law enforcement databases.
He said he was just testing the system when he ran the names of
co-workers and higher-ups in the sheriff's and prosecutor's offices.
But people wonder.
When Ring was arrested on Jan. 28, 2004, at Sea-Tac Airport, a
detective read him his rights and asked for the password. Ring said he
When internal affairs investigator Capt. Cameron K. Webster questioned
Ring on Oct. 1, 2004, he again asked for the password. Ring said he
At a court hearing on Feb. 15, 2005, King County Deputy Prosecutor
Barbara Mack asked Ring for the password and his attorney Richard
Hansen objected: "It's invasion of his privacy."
In October, Webster sat Ring down in front of the laptop computer and
told him to try to open the encrypted files. But "he could not recall
the password," Webster's report said.
"He probably could have come up with the password and he didn't want
to," sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said.
Ring told Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporters he didn't remember the
password but it might be in a list seized during a search of his
property after his arrest. Webster's report indicated it couldn't be
Urquhart said the Sheriff's Office didn't require Ring to produce the
password as a condition of his retirement settlement, "because we
worked really hard to get that password from him during the
What Ring kept out in the open in his computers was enticing in
itself. Investigators copied the hard drive and examined it when Ring
turned his laptop in for repairs in the early fall of 2003.
He had revealing photographs, calendar items keeping track of his
contacts with various girlfriends and escort-service operators, and
messages to escort services in Canada.
"Dan was our biggest help in this investigation. Talk about
obsessive-compulsive," said Robin Ostrum, a King County detective who
worked on the Ring investigation but declined to detail what was in
the unencrypted portion of the computer. "He kept notes in the
computer on everything."
They tried opening the encrypted portion, time and again, but with no
The man who authored the Safehouse encryption said he can't help.
"I personally have no ability to break into this product no matter
what kind of gun is pointed to my head," said Peter Avritch, owner of
PC Dynamics Inc.
Avritch said no law enforcement agency that he knows of has been able
to crack it, but, "There's always the rumorville that the NSA
(National Security Agency) has secret ways to get into algorithms," he
A spokeswoman for the secretive agency said last week NSA has "had no
dealings with that company and that product."
Ring said one other thing to the P-I: He had inside information about
top officials in the Sheriff's Office.
Now, the hard drive from Ring's computer is under lock and key in the
sheriff's fraud unit.
What's on it? No one -- except Ring -- knows for sure.
MORE IN THIS SERIES
Read the complete special report, Conduct Unbecoming .
Sept 16-18th, 2005
San Diego, California