I’ve been covering the Martin Gottesfeld “guardian hacktivist” case for the last five months (though it’s been ongoing since 2014), but I’ve yet to offer any direct insight into who Martin is as a human being.
I’ve spoken with him approximately a dozen times over the phone in order to gather information for various pieces, but this time, I’ve decided to hand him the microphone for a one-on-one interview so that readers who are following his case from a clinical perspective can get a better understanding of the individual behind the coverage.
I begin by asking Gottesfeld a broad question – tell me about your childhood, and what brought you to who you are today?
Gottesfeld indeed starts right at the beginning:
I’m the biological child of a Bangladeshi immigrant and a white mother. He only married her to get citizenship, so when she became pregnant, he left.
Gottesfeld notes that his mother had dealt with “substance abuse and mental health issues” earlier in life, but while she was married, “she seemed to be on a good path.” Several years after Gottesfeld’s biological father left, however, things took a turn.
For about the first three years of my life, by all accounts, she was a very attentive, caring mother. By about age three or so, I’m told, the substance abuse and mental health issues began to creep back in, and she started taking less of an active role in my life. I started spending more time with my maternal grandparents.
From ages three to 12, according to Gottesfeld, “the situation continued to deteriorate until she ended up having a nervous breakdown.” It was after this incident that Gottesfeld asked his maternal grandparents to adopt him – and they did.
When Gottesfeld was around 15 years old, he began attending Phillips Exeter Academy, a private boarding school, as he wasn’t happy with the opportunities granted him in the local public schools in Andover, Massachusetts. It was at Phillips Exeter where he “met Mark Zuckerberg, and a bunch of other really talented people as well.”
According to Gottesfeld, he “blew the whistle” while attending Phillips Exeter.
Exeter’s recently been in the news for the sexual scandals between faculty and students. That was something because of my data security background, and because of the nature of the incident, I was aware of a lot of that stuff before it broke in the news.
I always recognized everyone’s right to privacy; I wasn’t going to out a victim before they were ready to deal with the public ramifications of it – but I ended up leaving the school during my senior year over that. I couldn’t unsee what I had seen, and the response from the administration was so awful that I don’t want the diploma anymore.
After leaving Exeter, Gottesfeld says, he finished high school elsewhere, then attended Drexel University in Philadelphia – but he was dissatisfied with the school’s computer science program. Gottesfeld was ahead of the curve due to his father’s background.
My dad was a computer programmer my entire life. He worked on Mercury, Gemini, the Apollo Project; he worked on nuclear reactors for America’s nuclear attack submarines. He’s a national treasure. When I was three, he would actually hold me on his lap while he was programming. He was doing all this defense work in FORTRAN, and because I was three, I didn’t know which way was sideways in terms of code, but I’d hit the enter key for him.
Gottesfeld claims he began writing his own programs around age five, using the GW-BASIC that came with DOS “on our Commodore 64.” As he grew older, so too did his understanding of computers and programming.
He recalls an argument he had with his adopted father when he was about 12 years old. “He was telling me about the importance of school, getting good grades, and getting into college. I’m telling him that if you can program nowadays – and I’m 12 years old at this point, so I know everything,” Gottesfeld bursts into laughter at the absurdity of it. “I’m like, I think I can get a good job now.”
After his father challenged him to find work, Gottesfeld looked to the want ads, and did his best to “look professional.” He ended up finding a commercial gig that paid $120/hr for about a four hours of work. A while later, a check arrived in the mail.
That was one of the prouder moments in my life, for sure, and the start of this idea of like, do I really need school? Of course, I then went to Exeter. During college, the relationship that started when I was 12 with that company budded out.
They introduced me to other clients; they introduced me to some of their customers – and so when I got to Drexel, and I wasn’t very happy with the computer science program, I started going through my sort of rolodex of people I had done work for, and asking if they were hiring.
A small company in Connecticut for which he’d previously done some “good work” offered to interview him, although they weren’t hiring at the time, says Gottesfeld.
“I said, okay, sure. I went through – brought my dad. I brought my dad to my first job interview.” Gottesfeld guffaws at the thought. “The owner of the company said, ‘I have guys leaving college with four-year degrees that want less money than you do. Why should I hire you instead of them?’ A very fair question. I looked him right in the eye, and said, ‘Because I live, breathe, and sleep this, and if you don’t get out of the way, someone like me is going to run you over.’ He looked at me, and said, ‘I couldn’t agree more. You’re hired.’ That was my first job.”
According to Gottesfeld, he stayed with that company until 2005.
That was the start of my career. I started at age 18 as a senior level systems engineer, and I’ve been one my entire life. I guess that’s, in a nutshell, what made me into who I am. I’ve always loved science, and taken it very seriously. I hate it when people misappropriate science.
Gottesfeld says that upon finding the “troubled teen industry,” particularly a place called Logan River, where his wife’s brother had been sent.
This was just, like, pseudoscience meets child abuse. It was the absolute nexus of the two. Fake science, defrauding people, and abusing children. It was an absolute nightmare. Dana [his wife] and I started becoming very active in that, trying to get her brother home.
I interject, asking Gottesfeld to tell me how he met Dana.
So, I was on OKCupid [a dating app], had been for a while, and one day I get a message from Dana, and we stared talking. At this point, I’m living in Somerville, Massachusetts, and Dana was finishing her bachelor’s degree in sociology at Brandeis University.
The two “hit it off” immediately, and Gottesfeld asked her out “within a week.” He went down to Brandeis, and they had their first date.
I think I knew right away – ask her, maybe it took longer – but I knew right away that she was going to be the one. So we dated until she graduated. It was after that summer that she told me about the troubled teen industry, and her brother.
I then asked about the timeframe from when he was introduced to the troubled teen industry until he became aware of the alleged “parent-ectomy” and abuse of Justina Pelletier at Boston Children’s Hospital.
I met Dana in February of 2013, and we got involved in the troubled teen industry that August or September. We got her brother home in December, and it was around that time that the stuff about Justina was starting to surface. It was initially hard to vet because there wasn’t enough out there to know who was telling the truth. Was there anything to this psychological diagnosis?
Right away, the news that the parents weren’t being allowed to seek a second opinion really, really bothered me. That is not the way science is supposed to work. It’s supposed to work based on falsification, and peer review. If you have a theory, you try to disprove it. You don’t try and prevent someone else from disproving it. You’re supposed to welcome input from the scientific community, not try to shun it. So that was a huge warning sign for me.
Then when the gag order came down – I found out there had been a gag order in America – that also was a very strong omen to me that something was very, very wrong here.
Then I started to see the track record of the hospital, the Elizabeth Wray case, etc, and the letters from Barry Pollack and Kathleen Higgins came out. I took those very seriously because Higgins was a psychiatric nurse in that very psych ward, and because Barry Pollack is a former federal prosecutor, and the longest-tenured board member of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
From that December to about February of 2014, things began to snowball for Gottesfeld, and the story began to get national attention, which is where my previous coverage begins.
In our final moments, I take a step back in time, and ask Gottesfeld what his favorite memory from childhood is. He tells me that he loved to climb trees.
“I was always up a tree. I was always scaring my parents because I’d be like 80 feet up a tree.” Gottesfeld once again laughs as he recalls his youth. “Always a little adrenaline junkie. I was always the kid that sled the fastest, or jumped off the tallest diving board. I also loved judo.”
I then ask him to tell me his favorite thing about Dana.
“Oh man, I don’t even know where to start with that,” Gottesfeld says. After a brief pause, he continues: “She was the first to message me; she knew what she wanted and was assertive.”
Gottesfeld adds that Dana is “a compassionate, very warm, lovely, devastatingly intelligent” woman.
I’d like to thank Martin Gottesfeld for speaking with me. Once again, you can read my previous coverage of his case here, here, and here. Additionally, look for more coverage in the near future. For even more information, visit FreeMartyG.com.