No matter how big the alleged Cardinals-Astros hack was, expect the feds to take it seriously

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In the end, if I were a betting man, I’d bet that one or two low-level Cardinals employees take the fall for whatever results from the FBI investigation into them hacking the Astros. And by “take the fall” I don’t mean that they’re made scapegoats. Given what we know thus far about the FBI investigation, it was not a sophisticated thing and may very well have been considered a lark or an impulsive stunt by someone who simply didn’t like Jeff Luhnow back when he was their boss. The odds of it being an organizational-wide conspiracy seem low.

But to diminish the scope of the alleged hacking of the Astros’ system is not to diminish its seriousness. Not from a legal perspective anyway. Because the infiltration of someone else’s computer system, no matter how easily and primitively it was done, is covered by a particularly pernicious federal law: the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).

The CFAA is an old law as far as tech laws go. It was developed in 1984, back when Congress was just coming to grips with the fact that computers were the future and that hacking was a potentially serious deal. Of course, as Congress tends to do when it doesn’t fully understand something, it legislated broadly and somewhat sloppily. The CFAA and its many amendments and revisions — some wound up into the Patriot Act — are now vague enough to where it has been used to prosecute people for any computer-related crime. Once it was used in a case where a woman created a fake MySpace page to cyberbully a teenage girl, which resulted in the girl committing suicide. An awful act to be sure, but one which really didn’t fit neatly into the category of Computer Fraud given that no external system was improperly accessed. It’s use in that case showed just how malleable the law is and how eager prosecutors are to use it in a media-heavy case where, well, something must be done.

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More infamously, the CFAA was used to prosecute famous hacker Aaron Swartz. Swartz was arrested and charged under the CFAA for surreptitiously installing a computer in order to download academic journal articles from a company which normally charges for the privilege of using them. While his violation, in essence, was one in which terms of service were not followed, Swartz was charged with 11 violations of the CFAA and faced a $1 million fine, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution, and supervised release. Ultimately his charges were in the process of being pleaded down, but Swartz killed himself when negotiations with the feds failed to progress.

The upshot: This may have been an impulsive or spiteful action, as opposed to some orchestrated espionage effort. It may have involved one person rather than five or 10 and may have been as simple as looking up old passwords rather than some sophisticated hackery. But, to the feds, it may be considered something highly felonious and may turn into something huge. Especially given that, unlike some CFAA cases, this one actually allegedly involved the fraudulent accessing of a computer network across state lines.

Perhaps federal investigators and prosecutors will show restraint in this instance. After all, knowing that the Astros may have wanted to trade for Ichiro Suzuki is not a big deal in the grand scheme. But when was the last time federal prosecutors showed restraint? Especially when baseball — which the Feds have always used in order to make an example — is involved.

Finally, recall that the reporter who broke this story is Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times. He’s a good reporter who broke many stories about federal steroids investigations. And he has spent more time on the national security beat in recent years. His sources tend not to be the sorts who are less-than-eager to go full-bore into federal violations.

Which is to say that someone, perhaps someone with the Cardinals, is in for a world of pain.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.