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Aleynikov’s case is more complex then Lewis is trying to present. In no way he is a martyr. Both sides were villains so to speak. To a different degree of course with Vampire Squid being as close to an organized crime (aka mafia) as one can get. And his jailing looks more like an attempt to make even with a member of the gang defecting to a rival gang. Elements of greed in Aleynikov's case were present and probably provable to jury. So painting his as a genially uninterested in HFT "pure computer scientist" is a huge stretch.
After all this guy did not went to work to the university after GS. He went into the company which almost tripled his salary. Teza [the new high-frequency-trading firm for which Serge left Goldman] was a direct competitor of Goldman in HFT space and was genially interested in getting as much from a new employee as they can. This is why I do not buy the statement:
Aleynikov was hired to speed up Goldman’s systems, but he was largely unaware of (and seemed genuinely uninterested in) the details of their trading strategies
It contradicts his behavior in jail — for some reason he continued to develop HFT algorithms:
A few months into Serge’s jail term Masha received a thick envelope from him. It contained roughly a hundred pages covered on both sides in Serge’s meticulous eight-point script. It was computer code—a solution to some high-frequency-trading problem. Serge was afraid if the guards found it they > would deem it suspicious, and confiscate it.
At the same time it is extremely funny that the only employee of Goldman Sachs who went to jail in the aftermath of the financial crisis was Aleynikov.
August 4, 2013
Howard Beale IV::
Now let's throw some gasoline onto this fire: Guess which government entity has atually added back to the open source pool?
Yup, The the reviled NSA.
Mark P. says:
August 4, 2013 at 4:59 am
Middle Seaman wrote: "Is it possible that the algorithmic trades and their high volumes actually cause the alleged prediction to happen? Shouldn't high volume buying of solid stock cause a rise in the price of the target stock?"
Quite. And, of course, HFT represents 70 percent of all trading and 99.9 percent of all quotes on stock exchanges, last time I looked.
The general possibilities of HFT are understandable if you're already familiar with some of the strategies of the 'program traders,' which helped trigger the Black Monday crash of October 19, 1987 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Tuesday_(1987)#Causes
–and then you picture those algorithmic strategies on steroids.
Specifically,some predatory algos that will work are bandsaw (testing markets by raising and suddenly dropping prices), sharktooth (electronically front-running orders), and band-burst (creating self-perpetuating volatile equilibria in a leverage-sensitive trading space, i.e. an inherently deflationary one).
Brooklin Bridge says:
August 4, 2013 at 10:25 am
Most Open Source I have worked with allows one to write private (proprietary) code as long as it does not modify the behavior of the open source code. So you insulate your group of operations/algorithms such that the open source sections remain untouched (do not need re-compile). This is usually accomplished by a hook of some sort written especially for the purpose that DOES have to be integrated and IS therefore necessary to share. Sometimes the hooks are provided for you by the open source itself. In either case the hook is a tiny bit of code, insignificant in terms of effort; it's only job is to insulate the proprietary piece from affecting the main body of open source.
This issue has been around for a long time (over 30 years) and so most developers are familiar with the problem and are careful not to write generic modules of code (such as the two computer fail safe algorithm) that logically should be part of the open source project when working on company time. It isn't just financial companies that insist on NOT sharing. It's pretty much every damn company that exists. Perhaps that's too much of a generalization, but I imagine civic minded companies are the exception – not the rule.
The contracts I signed when starting a job with a company often had a clause about any personal code one was working on. This was a good occasion to mention a few "place holders" for just such occasions as working on open source. An other strategy – particularly for code heads of Aleynikov's caliber – is to hold off on any such efforts until one is between jobs and then briefly join the open source group and give back. Why would you want to give back? Even programmers such as Aleynikov often learn a great deal by looking at open source packages because they frequently solve very interesting and significant problems. As long as what you contribute is generic or at least not specific to your last company, you are ethically (I'm not sure of legally) in the clear.
I imagine Goldman Sachs has carried the issue far beyond anything I ever experienced, especially with someone such as Sergey Aleynikov who's code can be legitimately considered highly valuable before he even writes it. But it does seem a little odd that he was taken so much by surprise.
As a programmer in real life I found this article and the Michael Lewis article in Vanity Fair interesting but pointless. I am an rabid Lewis fan by the way. What Goldman did is not very different from what most other HiTech behemoths do when they find that you, a valuable employee who has contributed to their bottom lines with lots of intellectual property decide to jump ship. They usually sue you or threaten to sue you and the company you are planning to jump to. It started a long time back in Silicon Valley. Corporations today do whatever they want. They can sue your grandmother if you showed her your company identity card. We live in a fascist state. What is an outrage is that HFT exists at all, not that some talented programmers are running around getting thrown in jail or that GS put them there. There was a very very good Planet Money NPR segment that went into HFT in great detail. In the last decade companies have spent more and more money shortening the signal travel time between their trading computers and the computers on the exchanges. It is INSANE that this is considered legal and it is even more INSANE that somehow all this HFT BS is supposed to be adding some sort of value to Society? God's work? Greed is a Banker's occupational hazard, a doppelganger every minute of his life. This was the disease that Walter Wriston and Sandy Weil had. Day after day you lend money and see talented entrepreneurs use labor and ingenuity to transform paper money into actual material wealth and intellectual property and pretty soon you think you can do it yourself and that you need to be given a BIGGER share of the profits and the pie. From there to Casino Capitalism is a short jump. A Final Solution for diseased Bankers is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Right you are. This is a new/old form of servitude. Is it coincidence, I wonder, that so many of these serfs are foreign-born?
Making Aleynikov into a martyr is not a great strategy for Lewis. It does raise great questions, though. Like just why the Feds keep leaping to attention whenever GS whistles, and quite openly do Wall Street's bidding. If there is no political blowback for this behavior it will continue.
While Goldman Sachs attitude is extremely anti-social, I do not think you understand the GPL. "Once upon a time the Open Source community had muscle and went after companies that stole code and tried to patent or make it their own." The FSF still investigates violations of the GPL. A company can't steal something that is free. Goldman didn't try to patent anything Aleynikov wrote. Goldman's copy of the open source code IS their own if they keep it all to themselves. The GPL does not require Goldman to reveal any changes they make to the copy of the open source code they downloaded.
That said, the punishment Aleynikov received is clearly excessive. He needs a new lawyer. Seems like they underestimated who they were dealing with. Sach's nick name is not "Vampire Squid" for nothing. I do not understand how GS proved material damages. I have not seen an explanation yet for why Aleynikov copied the code. He had NO idea what might happen? Companies like GS are like "Aliens", no conscience, no remorse. They try to kill everything in their way. Aleynikov was oblivious to this? I guess there is different kinds of smarts.
September 2013 | Vanity Fair
To Sergey Aleynikov's new way of thinking, every American could benefit from some time in jail, but in the event that you are yourself actually arrested and sent away, "there are certain practical aspects to keep in mind." First, dress warmly. Detention centers tend to be freezing cold, even in summer, and so if you happen to be wearing shorts or short sleeves you're in for a spectacularly unhappy night. Second, carry no cash. "If you have money, they charge you a convenience fee," he explains. "If you don't have it, they don't charge you. The less money you have on you, the better." Third, memorize a couple of emergency contact phone numbers. On the night of his first arrest he discovered he didn't actually know his wife's cell-phone number. He'd always phoned her by name from his cell phone's address book, but his phone was one of the first things they'd taken from him.
The fourth, and final, rule was by far the most important: Don't say a word to government officials. "The reason you don't," he says, "is that, if you do, they can place an agent on a witness stand and he can say anything."
On the night of July 3, 2009, as he came off a flight from Chicago to Newark, New Jersey, he was totally unprepared, because he'd never imagined himself as the sort of person who might commit a crime. He worked too much and took only the vaguest interest in his fellow human beings, but, up to the moment of his arrest, Aleynikov had no sense that there was anything wrong with him or his situation. On the surface, his life had never been better: his third child had just been born, he had a new job at a hedge fund that paid him a million dollars a year, and he'd just moved into a big new house of his own design that he thought of as the perfect home. He'd come to America 20 years ago with little English and less money. Now he was living the dream.
For much of the flight from Chicago he'd slept. Leaving the plane he had noticed three men in dark suits, waiting in the alcove of the Jetway reserved for baby strollers and wheelchairs. They confirmed his identity, explained they were from the F.B.I., handcuffed him, and walled him off from the other passengers. This last act was no great feat. Serge was six feet tall but weighed roughly 130 pounds: to hide him you needed only to turn him sideways. He resisted none of these actions, but he was genuinely bewildered. The men in black refused to tell him his crime. He tried to figure it out. His first guess was that they'd gotten him mixed up with some other Sergey Aleynikov. Then it occurred to him that his new employer, the legendary high-frequency trader Misha Malyshev, might have done something shady. Wrong on both counts. It wasn't until the plane had emptied and they'd escorted him into Newark Airport that they told him his crime: stealing computer code owned by Goldman Sachs.
The agent in charge of the case, Michael McSwain, was fairly new to law enforcement. Oddly enough, he'd been a currency trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for 12 years. He'd ended his career on Wall Street the same year, 2007, that Serge was beginning his. McSwain marched Serge into a black town car and drove him to the F.B.I. building in Lower Manhattan. After making a show of stashing his gun outside, Serge says, McSwain led him into a tiny interrogation room, handcuffed him to a rod on the wall, and, finally, read him his Miranda rights.
Then he explained what he knew, or thought he knew: in April 2009, Serge had accepted a job at a new high-frequency-trading shop called Teza Technologies, but had remained at Goldman for the next six weeks, until June 5, during which time he sent himself, through a so-called "subversion repository," 32 megabytes of source code from Goldman's high-frequency stock-trading system. The Web site Serge had used (which has the word "subversion" in its name) as well as the location of its server (Germany) McSwain clearly found highly suspicious. He also seemed to think it significant that Serge had used a site not blocked by Goldman Sachs, even after Serge tried to explain to him that Goldman did not block any sites used by its programmers, but merely blocked its employees from porn and social-media sites and suchlike. Finally, the F.B.I. agent wanted him to admit that he had erased his "bash history"-that is, the commands he had typed into his own Goldman computer keyboard. Serge tried to explain why he had done this, but McSwain had no interest in his story. "The way he did it seemed nefarious," the F.B.I. agent would later testify.
All of which was true, as far as it went, but, to Serge, that didn't seem very far. "I thought it was like, crazy, really," he says. "He was stringing these computer terms together in ways that made no sense. He didn't seem to know anything about high-frequency trading or source code." For instance, Serge had no idea where the "subversion repository" was physically located. It was just a place on the Internet used by developers to store the code they were working on. "The whole point of the Internet is to abstract the physical location of the server from its logical address." To Serge, McSwain sounded like a man repeating phrases that he'd heard from others but that, to him, actually meant nothing. "There is a game in Russia called 'Phone Book' " (like the American game Telephone), he says. "It felt like he was playing that."
What Serge did not yet know was that Goldman had discovered his downloads just a few days earlier, months after he'd made the first of them. They'd called the F.B.I. in haste, just two days before, and then put their agent through what amounted to a crash course on high-frequency trading and computer programming. McSwain later conceded that he didn't seek out independent expert advice to study the code Serge Aleynikov had taken. ("I relied on statements from Goldman employees.") He himself had no idea of the value of the stolen code ("Representatives of Goldman told me it was worth a lot of money") or if any of it was actually all that special (he based his belief that the code contained trade secrets on "representations made by members of Goldman Sachs"). The agent noted that the Goldman files were on both the personal computer and the thumb drive he'd taken from Serge at Newark Airport. (But virtually none of those files had been opened. If they were so important, why hadn't Serge looked at them in the month since he'd left Goldman?) The F.B.I.'s investigation before the arrest consisted of trusting Goldman's explanation of some extremely complicated stuff, and 48 hours after Goldman called the F.B.I., Serge was arrested.
On the night of the arrest-without an arrest warrant-Serge waived his right to call a lawyer. He phoned his wife and told her what had happened and that a bunch of F.B.I. agents were on the way to their home to seize their computers, and to please let them in-though they had no search warrant, either. Then he sat down and politely tried to clear up the F.B.I. agent's confusion. "How could [the agent] figure out if this was a theft if he didn't understand what was taken?" Serge recalls having asked himself. What he'd done, in his view, was trivial; what he stood accused of-violating both the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 and the National Stolen Property Act-did not sound trivial at all. Still, he thought, if the agent understood how computers and the high-frequency-trading business actually worked, the matter would be quickly cleared up. "The reason I was explaining it to him was to show that there was nothing there," Serge says. "He was completely not interested in the content of what I am saying. He just kept saying to me, 'If you tell me everything, I'll talk to the judge, and he'll go easy on you.' It appeared they had a very strong bias from the very beginning. They had goals they wanted to fulfill. The goal was to obtain an immediate confession." (The F.B.I. declined to comment on Aleynikov's case.)
The court said a former Goldman Sachs programmer did not violate federal theft law when he downloaded proprietary source code
By John RibeiroApril 12, 2012 01:47 AM ET
IDG News Service - Former Goldman Sachs programmer Sergey Aleynikov did not violate the National Stolen Property Act and the Economic Espionage Act when he allegedly uploaded proprietary source code to a server in Germany, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said Wednesday in an opinion.
By uploading Goldman Sachs' proprietary source code from its high-frequency trading (HFT) system to a computer server in Germany in June 2009, Aleynikov stole purely intangible property embodied in a purely intangible format, Dennis Jacobs, the circuit's chief judge wrote in an opinion.
The Judge cited the opinion of the First Circuit that the NSPA does not criminalize the theft of intangible things, and that the theft of purely intangible information is punishable under copyright law and other intellectual property statutes.
Aleynikov subsequently downloaded the source code from the server in Germany to his home computer, and copied some of the files to other computer devices he owned, according to the charges against him.
While recognizing the high-value of the source code downloaded by Aleynikov, the Judge however observed that "We decline to stretch or update statutory words of plain and ordinary meaning in order to better accommodate the digital age."
Aleynikov was convicted, following a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, of stealing and transferring some of the proprietary computer source code used in his employer's HFT system, in violation of both NSPA and EEA. He was sentenced to 97 months of imprisonment followed by a three-year term of supervised release, and was ordered to pay a $12,500 fine. Bail pending appeal was denied because Aleynikov, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Russia, was feared to be a flight risk.
The appeals court reversed the conviction on both counts on Feb. 17 this year and indicated that an opinion would follow.
The government had argued that a 1988 amendment that added the words "transmit" and "transfer" in the NSPA reflects an intent to cover generally transfers and transmissions of non-physical forms of stolen property, but the court said in its opinion that the evident purpose of the amendment was to clarify that it covered electronic transfers of money, where money is specifically enumerated as a thing apart and distinct from "goods," "wares," or "merchandise."
The court also upheld Aleynikov's stand that the source code was not related to a product produced for or placed in interstate or foreign commerce, within the meaning of the EEA. Goldman Sachs had no intention of selling its HFT system or licensing it to anyone, and the enormous profits the system yielded for the company depended on no one else having it, the court observed. "Because the HFT system was not designed to enter or pass in commerce, or to make something that does, Aleynikov's theft of source code relating to that system was not an offense under the EEA," the court observed.
While concurring with the majority opinion, Judge Guido Calabresi said it is hard for him to conclude that in the EEA, Congress, "actually meant to exempt the kind of behavior in which Aleynikov engaged," and expressed the hope that Congress would state clearly what he believed it meant to make criminal in the EEA.
The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan could not be immediately reached for comment.
adirondax:OK, I get the notion that Goldman wanted to go after this guy. Presumably he stole proprietary trading software. Fine. Or not fine in Mr. Aleynikov's case.
What I DON'T get is how Goldman's structured finance salesmen skated away from prosecution after knowingly selling bogus mortgage-backed securities to customers for literally years. This was nothing short of fraud. And, there was a conspiracy, presumably among Goldman's senior management, to commit the fraud. Everybody on the Street knew, particularly as time went on, that this mortgage-backed securities house of cards was going to implode. How do we know they knew? Because they took out securities positions, meaning derivatives, against the very same gems that they were selling. Derivatives that would pay out once the securities that they sold went bust.
Again, I get why this poor sod is going to do time. What I don't get is why the rest of bloody Goldman Sach's management team isn't going to be sharing a cell with him!
Shame on the NYC prosecutor's office for going after Aleynikov without also going after Goldman's senior management crew. Shame on them! The Goldman management's perpetration of fraud almost brought down the global financial system. This guy Aleynikov? His crime was petty larceny at best.
If the jury unanimously believe he intentionally stole the code for profit, then he broke the law and should be punished.
On the other hand, high frequency and flash trading is the GREATEST financial crime in the history of this country. Far worse than Madoff or any Ponzi scheme because we're talking billions upon billions of dollars of millions upon millions of hard working people (essentially the same effect as Madoff, only it doesn't drain people of everything all at once). It is absurd a company should be able to review trades before they're even processed and make pennies (times many zeroes of shares). It is blatant thievery and I don't understand (and perhaps I really don't) how this hasn't been made illegal yet.
Obviously the big financial houses have the money to lobby effectively, but in the end someone has to realize it will end in financial collapse.
I assume those expensive pillows the CEO's must help them to get some sleep at night. Cause I don't see how any human being could ethically think its ok.
Can you define high frequency trading, please, for your readers? As I understand it, HFT is computerized front running, making deals before the market can see the data, and also is subject to abuse, for example, executing numerous trades to sniff out the buyer's top price thus selling at a higher amount than if the deal had been done in the open market where all buyers and sellers could see the trade.
Sergey Aleynikov, a computer programmer, is accused of stealing Goldman Sach's computer code when he left the company in July 2009. His trial is about to begin. See "What We Are Not Supposed To Know". The problem with the trial is neither the defendant nor what he did or did not do. The problem is what he allegedly stole. Many market observers are tuned into this case because they are convinced that our markets have been overtaken by fraudulent high frequency trading. See "The Market Is Cornered" for a discussion on why their concerns are warranted.
Our government, through incompetence or a conflict of interest, has effectively allowed large investment banks and hedge funds to prey on investors. Not surprisingly, high frequency traders are doing an outstanding job in their depredations. If one googles 'high frequency trading', he or she will see numerous articles and videos decrying its use in ripping off mutual funds, pension funds, and retail investors. Look at the statistically impossible consecutive winning trading days and the obscene profits generated at the proprietary trading desks of large Wall Street investment banks and you will understand why there is a crime behind every fortune. Either high frequency traders are cheating or they have developed algorithms that endow computers with psychic powers heretofore unknown to humanity. If the village idiot can figure out that high frequency traders must be cheating on a galactic scale, so should the Securities and Exchange Commission. It could not be more obvious. If the SEC is not regulating and overseeing our capital markets to ensure a level playing field, why are they still in existence? Where are the cops?
It is a natural human reaction for Americans, who struggle every day to put food on their table and a roof over their heads, to be incensed at the arrogance of Wall Street firms who insist on huge salaries and bonuses no matter how much damage they inflict on the economy. What is more difficult to stomach is the fact that our government actively protects the interests of the banksters at every turn. Americans see the injustice when banks are bailed out and given guarantees that make a complete mockery of the concept of moral hazard. Americans are offended when they see our government regulatory agencies littered with former Wall Street employees. They seethe when they watch Wall Street CEOs parade into and out of the White House as if they own the joint. Americans consider it an affront when they see representatives of the major banks sitting at the table of the Federal Reserve and dispensing advice that serve their self-interest at the expense of Main Street Americans. See "Triumph of the Plutocrats".
Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The computer source code former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. programmer Sergey Aleynikov is accused of stealing can be found on the Internet, an expert witness said on the last day of Aleynikov's trial before closing arguments start tomorrow.
Benjamin Goldberg, an associate professor of computer science at New York University and the only witness for the defense, said he compared the high frequency trading code, which Goldman Sachs and prosecutors say was proprietary, with what's publicly available on websites. They were either the same or Goldman Sachs's was slightly modified, he said.
None of code he found on Aleynikov's computers was proprietary, told a federal jury in Manhattan.
"The material he downloaded or obtained from Goldman Sachs's computers contained lots of open source software," Goldberg testified today.
Aleynikov was arrested in July 2009 and charged with stealing portions of the code from Goldman Sachs on his last day of work for the bank in June 2009.
Aleynikov is charged with violating the Economic Espionage Act and the Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property Act. If convicted, he faces as long as 15 years in prison. His attorney, Kevin Marino, argued Aleynikov broke a confidentiality rule of the company and didn't commit a crime.
'Wheel of Fortune'
Federal prosecutors in New York concluded their case today by calling witnesses who told jurors about a lawsuit against Aleynikov by the creators of the "Wheel of Fortune" TV game show. The suit claimed Aleynikov and his company created an online version of the game that violated the show's intellectual property rights.
Aleynikov entered into an agreement in December 1997 in which "he was ordered to cease infringing on the television show" and to stop publishing a game he was selling, prosecutors said. When he was arrested last year, investigators found a resume in which Aleynikov "essentially bragged about his theft of intellectual property," prosecutors said.
The government argued that the suit and the order could be considered by jurors as relevant to Aleynikov's motives for his alleged crimes against Goldman Sachs.
Aleynikov who started working as a programmer at Goldman Sachs in May 2007 is accused of copying hundreds of thousands of lines of computer source code. Aleynikov told federal investigators that he intended to copy only "open source" code not owned by Goldman Sachs, according to the prosecutors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Facciponti told jurors that after Aleynikov agreed to take a job at Teza Technologies LLC, the Chicago-based company promised him a $1.2 million salary, a bonus and profit-sharing, compared with $400,000 he was making at Goldman Sachs.
At about 5:20 p.m. on his last day of work Aleynikov sent parts of Goldman Sachs's high-speed trading code to an outside computer server, Facciponti said in opening statements to the jury.
Aleynikov sent stolen code to a code-storage website in Europe that wasn't blocked by Goldman Sachs, he said. Aleynikov then executed a program to cover his tracks, Facciponti said.
Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, who is presiding over the trial, to keep parts of the evidence secret to avoid disclosing Goldman Sachs trade secrets.
The courtroom was closed today after Marino said his expert witness would discuss the confidential evidence.
The case is U.S. v. Aleynikov, 1:10-cr-00096, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
--Editors: Fred Strasser, Peter Blumberg
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Last modified: September, 12, 2017