Here at Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog, we churned out tens of thousands of words in 2016. But who’s got time to read all that? Not you, I know. But was there a story that looked interesting, and you swore you’d read it later? You never did read it, did you? Well, here’s your second chance.

From tracking down teen hackers of the 1980s who are now living on the street, to investigating the myths behind the original self-help business guru, we looked at a lot of different stories in 2016. We even kept up my obsession with movies that have been screened by American presidents at the White House.

We examined quite a strange mix of things from history this year, but I suspect that 2017 is going to be even weirder. Just call it a hunch.

The Untold Story of the Teen Hackers Who Transformed the Early Internet

On October 12th, 1983, Bill Landreth called his friend Chris in Detroit to chat. Chris frantically explained that the FBI had raided his house. “Don’t call me anymore,” Chris said in what would be a very short conversation. Bill didn’t know exactly what was happening, but he did know this: if the FBI had come for Chris, then he might be next.

The next day, around a dozen FBI agents stormed Bill’s parents’ house just outside of San Diego, amassing piles of evidence including a computer that Bill, then 18, had hidden under his sister’s bed. Bill and Chris, who was 14 at the time, were the leaders of a coalition of teen hackers known as The Inner Circle. In a single day, the FBI conducted coordinated raids of group members across nine states, taking computers, modems, and copious handwritten notes detailing ways to access various networks on what was then a rudimentary version of the internet.

The Inner Circle was a motley group of about 15 hackers, almost all teenagers, from Southern California, Detroit, New York, and roughly five other regions of the US. Bill, Chris, and other members of their collective had been accessing all kinds of networks, from GTE’s Telemail—which hosted email for companies like Coca-Cola, Raytheon, Citibank, and NASA—to the Arpanet, which was largely used by university researchers and military personnel until Milnet was completed in the mid-1980s. Chris was fond of boasting on message boards about hacking the Pentagon. The Inner Circle wasn’t the only teen hacking group of the early 1980s, but their interference with both government networks and the email accounts of large corporations put them on the FBI’s radar. Along with the 414s, a group busted around the same time, the raids made national headlines. The Inner Circle’s actions would inspire a complete overhaul in how computer crime was prosecuted, through the introduction of the country’s first anti-hacking laws in 1984.

Read the full story.


Every Single Movie Bill Clinton Watched in the White House

“The best perk of the White House is not Air Force One or Camp David or anything else, it’s the wonderful movie theater I get here,” President Bill Clinton told Roger Ebert in 1999.

According to newly released documents obtained by Gizmodo through a Freedom of Information Act request, President Clinton did indeed love watching movies at the White House. He blew through 171 films while he was in office, not including duplicates (Clinton watched The Patriot, Braveheart, and Music of the Heart twice).

But there are some curious gaps in the record.

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Meet Guy Sims Fitch, a Fake Writer Invented by the US Government

Guy Sims Fitch had a lot to say about the world economy in the 1950s and 60s. He wrote articles in newspapers around the globe as an authoritative voice on economic issues during the Cold War. Fitch was a big believer in private American investment and advocated for it as a liberating force internationally. But no matter what you thought of Guy Sims Fitch’s ideas, he had one big problem. He didn’t exist.

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The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, the Greatest Self-Help Scammer of All Time

Napoleon Hill is the most famous conman you’ve probably never heard of. Born into poverty in rural Virginia at the end of the 19th century, Hill went on to write one of the most successful self-help books of the 20th century: Think and Grow Rich. In fact, he helped invent the genre. But it’s the untold story of Hill’s fraudulent business practices, tawdry sex life, and membership in a New York cult that makes him so fascinating.

That cult would become infamous in the late 1930s for trying to raise an “immortal baby.” But even those who know the story of Immortal Baby Jean may not know that the cult was inspired by Hill’s teachings, practically using his most famous work as their holy text. Don’t worry, the whole story of Napoleon Hill only gets weirder from there.

Read the full story.


The Man Who Invented Miller Lite Was Suspected of Being a Communist

Light beer is as American as apple pie, and Miller Lite is one of America’s favorite light beers. But what if I told you that the marketing man behind the creation of the Miller Lite brand was investigated by the FBI for being a communist? That’s the startling revelation that has come to light based on newly released documents that I obtained today from the National Archives.

When George Weissman died in 2009, he was remembered for his years as an executive at America’s largest tobacco company: Philip Morris. An expert branding man, he not only helped define the image of the now-notorious Marlboro Man character but also helped invent Miller Lite—ushering in a new wave of light beer fanaticism to the United States.

The one thing that the obituaries didn’t mention? The FBI’s file on Weissman, which details his alleged associations with the Communist Party in the 1940s, both before and after he served in the United States Navy during World War II.

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The White House Screening of The Hunt For Red October Had Celebrities, Spies, and (Maybe) a Sex Scandal

President George H. W. Bush hosted a star-studded screening of The Hunt for Red October at the White House on February 19, 1990. The guests included everyone from Tom Clancy and James Earl Jones to the CEO of Paramount and Colin Powell. Robert Gates was there, as was the director of the CIA, and men from the highest ranks of the Navy. But there are some guests who still remain a secret, even to this day.

I obtained photos of the movie screening through a Freedom of Information request to the George Bush Presidential Library. And the photos that have been withheld are nearly as interesting as the photos I got.

It’s sort of a surreal event to imagine, in retrospect. The Hunt for Red October, based on Tom Clancy’s 1984 book of the same name, is notable for being the last American film produced about the Cold War during the Cold War. And this gathering of Hollywood elites and the National Security establishment could almost be seen as both a victory lap for the Cold War and a pre-game meeting for the first Gulf War.

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Hacking a Celebrity’s Phone in the 1930s Was Actually Similar to Today

Myrna Loy was a huge movie star in the 1930s and 40s. She starred in classic films like The Thin Man (1934), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Ed Sullivan crowned her “Queen of the Movies.” But celebrity always has a dark side.

Loy was the focus of unwanted attention from overeager fans and weirdoes, as many celebrities of every era are—so much so that the FBI eventually got involved. And documents newly released by the FBI to Gizmodo reveal that invading Myrna Loy’s privacy wasn’t too different from hacking a celebrity’s phone today.

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The Future Is Just Two Years Away Forever Until You’re Dead

Did you see the Hyperloop news out of Davos? You could be zipping around in a real-life Hyperloop by 2018! It’s 2016 now, so that makes it... just two years away! Where have we heard that before?

When it comes to high-tech projects, they always seem to be just two years away. Whether it’s flying cars, or vacations on the moon, or robot servants, people on the business end of ambitious projects always say they’re just two years away. But why?

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CIA Releases File That Describes Ruthless Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet As ‘Warm’ and ‘Mild-Mannered’

Augusto Pinochet was a ruthless dictator who, with the CIA’s help, overthrew the democratically elected government of Chile in 1973. But what did the CIA really think of Pinochet? Newly released biographic reports use words like “warm,” “mild-mannered,” and “businesslike.”

I recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the CIA’s biographic reports on Pinochet from 1972 to 1976. Pinochet’s regime oversaw the torture, rape, murder, and disappearance of thousands of Chileans during his rule from 1973 until 1990. But his anti-communist attitudes were enough to make him a strong American ally for almost two decades.

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Every Single Movie That Jackie Kennedy Watched in the White House

Jackie Kennedy epitomized American style and grace during the middle of the 20th century. So it’s no surprise that the movies she watched in the White House would reflect that. From Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita to John Huston’s The Misfits, Jackie screened some true classics during her relatively short time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I’ve become obsessed with cataloguing and watching all the movies that every US president has screened while in office. Over the past couple of years I’ve compiled the complete lists for Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and a host of other presidents that I haven’t published yet (look for George W. Bush’s list soon). I’ve even looked at some of the stranger and more notable White House screenings individually, like the time that George H. W. Bush hosted a screening of Hunt For Red October with a bunch of unnamed CIA spies at the end of the Cold War. It’s truly a strange snapshot of the early 1990s.

But I’ve never examined all the movies that any First Lady watched at the White House. Until now.

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