It used to be that the playful Defcon contest of “Spot the Fed” gave hackers and the government agents tracking them a chance interact in a less serious manner.

2013_DefCon_Snowden_contest_610x380 (1)Hackers who found a government agent among the conference attendees would wear with pride T-shirts that read, “I spotted the Fed.” The agent would be given a shirt that read, “I am the Fed.” And by flipping the cat-and-mouse dynamic for at least one weekend a year, the two groups more or less came to a greater understanding of each other.

The relationship had gotten friendly enough so that when Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency,?visited Defcon for the first last year, the conference’s founder Jeff Moss told CNET, “It’s eye-opening to see the world from their view,” and noted that he had wanted to score an official visit from the NSA since Defcon began.

It would go too far to say that the uneasy marriage of friendship between the two groups now lies torn asunder in an acrimonious divorce. Hackers, information security professionals, and security experts looking to turn their knowledge into businesses won’t stop working or communicating with the U.S. government. But the response to the scandal has driven many of them back to their more skeptical roots.

“What we need to realize that [Gen. Alexander] is asking us to destroy ourselves,” said Moxie Marlinspike, a well-known information security professional and entrepreneur who has had?equipment seized and returned and been detained but never chargedby the U.S. government.

“The types of programs that he’s developing are part of this trend of more efficient law enforcement, toward this world of 100 percent effective law enforcement,” said Marlinspike, who uses the alias to protect his legal name.

Marlinspike told CNET that he thinks the NSA is interested in hiring hackers because they tend to have an approach to critical thinking that produces an unusual mindset. Hackers are people, he said, who are “not always abiding by the letter of the law, but are not exactly harmful, either.”

“The problem is that he’s asking us to participate in the destruction of the zone where hackers exist,” Marlinspike said.?(Credit: Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

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