Romania — He reveled in tormenting members of the Bush family, Colin L. Powell and a host of other prominent Americans, and also in outfoxing the F.B.I. and the Secret Service, foiling their efforts to discover even his nationality, never mind his identity. Early this year, however, the elusive online outlaw known as Guccifer lost his cocky composure and began to panic.
He smashed his hard drive and cellphone with an ax.
That spasm of precautionary destruction, at his home in Romania’s Transylvania region, did not help him much — especially as he left pieces of what would later become evidence scattered in the mud.
Two weeks later, on Jan. 22, a global hunt for the celebrated and mysterious hacker who first revealed self-portraits painted by George W. Bush and plundered a trove of personal emails from politicians, military officers and celebrities finally ended in an early morning raid of his home.
“I was expecting them, but the shock was still very big for me,” the hacker, now serving a seven-year sentence, said. He spoke in an interview, his first, at the Arad Penitentiary here. “It is hard to be a hacker, but even harder to erase your tracks.”
In many ways, however, his two-year rampage through the email accounts of rich and powerful Americans showed how easy it can be to go rogue on the Internet and, even when armed with only rudimentary skills, to stay one step ahead of the law, at least for a while.
The hacker who signed off as Guccifer (pronounced GUCCI-fer) — a nom de guerre coined, he said, to combine “the style of Gucci and the light of Lucifer” — turned out to be Marcel-Lehel Lazar, a jobless 43-year-old former taxi driver. He had no expertise in computers, no fancy equipment, only a clunky NEC desktop and a Samsung cellphone, and no special skills beyond what he had picked up on the web.
Romanian officials say the United States has not asked Romania to extradite Mr. Lazar but has sent investigators to question him to learn how he managed to prey on so many powerful Americans. The United States Justice Department declined to comment.
Before agreeing to answer questions from The New York Times in prison, where he shares a cell with four others, including two convicted murderers, he read out a lengthy handwritten statement that he said explained the purpose of his hacking.
A potpourri of conspiracy theories about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the 1997 death of Princess Diana and alleged plans for a nuclear attack in Chicago in 2015, it said: “This world is run by a group of conspirators called the Council of Illuminati, very rich people, noble families, bankers and industrialists from the 19th and 20th century.”
Mr. Badea, the Romanian prosecutor, scoffed at Mr. Lazar’s fixation on so-called Illuminati as a ruse intended to give a political gloss to a peeping-tom hacking addiction. The hacking exploits that led to his 2011 conviction involved “no Illuminati, just famous and beautiful girls,” the prosecutor said.
Mr. Lazar denied any interest in celebrities, asserting that he had only stumbled on most of the people he hacked as Guccifer, a long list that included the actress Mariel Hemingway, the “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell, the editor Tina Brown, the comedian Steve Martin, the author Kitty Kelley and many others.
Mr. Lazar said he could have covered his tracks better if he had had more money — for a more powerful computer, for instance.
“Of course, I could have stolen money from them,” he said, distancing himself from the legions of his countrymen who have made Romania, the second-poorest country in the 28-member European Union, a global leader in Internet fraud. “I didn’t. Not a single dollar.”