Clamor as Hacktivist Gets Decade in Federal Prison

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Unrepentant about his computer attacks against law-enforcement groups and a private spy firm, a Chicago-based activist raised a fist in salute to the hacker collective Anonymous and anarchy in general after being sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison.
     “This is not the typical federal criminal case, and Jeremy Hammond is not the typical federal court defendant,” defense attorney Sarah Kunstler wrote in a 34-page sentencing memo for her client.
     Nor was anything typical about the sentencing hearing Friday, held in the ceremonial courthouse of Manhattan’s Southern District of New York because of the widespread attention of the case. More than 300 people had packed into gallery: On one side, rows of West Point cadets observed the hearing in uniform. On the other, a far less formal crew of journalists scribbled notes beside Hammond’s supporters, friends and family.
     All had come to see what sentence Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska would hand down for Hammond’s admitted hacks against several organizations, but most famously Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor.
     Hammond and four other activists were arrested in a March 2012 sting operation by the FBI based on tips from Hector Monsegur, a hacker known online as Sabu, who led a group called LulzSec before he turned informant. Just one of the hacks extracted 5 million of Stratfor’s emails, which WikiLeaks later published under the name “Global Intelligence Files.”
     The private information of 860,000 Stratfor clients were also exposed, and Hammond’s confederates racked up at least $700,000 from their credit cards in donations to political and charity groups. None of that money lined Hammond’s pockets, but he allegedly directed where it was spent.
     Pursuant to his plea deal , Hammond could get no higher than a decade imprisonment for his crime, but he hoped the plea would put him more in line with the other participants in the hack, who were all from the United Kingdom and received sentences of two years or lower in their home countries.
     To Hammond’s supporters, the young Chicago activist exposed the opaque partnership between U.S. law enforcement and unaccountable corporate spies that do not have to answer to constitutional checks and balances.
     More than 250 letters and a more than 1,000-signature petition poured into Judge Preska’s chambers asking for leniency up to a sentence of time served. The signers included Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, the digital civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation and even two self-described victims of the Stratfor hack who were on the firm’s client list.
     Kunstler, who spoke first for her client despite being two days overdue on her pregnancy, spoke of this support as she carefully approached the lectern for sentencing arguments. She began her remarks by quoting geophysicist Brad Werner who she said told an audience of thousands of scientists that “resistance” and “sabotage” could reverse the toll of the depletion of the Earth’s resources.
     Her father, self-described “radical lawyer” William Kunstler, advocated for the Chicago Seven, a group who famously turned their trials for allegedly inciting a riot in their demonstrations against the 1968 Democratic National Convention into a public referendum on the Vietnam War.
     For the younger Kunstler, Hammond’s sentencing was a reckoning for mass surveillance and secrecy, to be viewed in the same lineage as WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
     Indeed, Hammond told the court that Manning’s disclosures inspired him in his prepared remarks, which he dedicated to “all my brothers and sisters behind bars.”
     More of a political treatise than a plea for mercy, Hammond creaked out his speech in a hoarse voice, as he explained, “I’m sick right now.” That illness did not stop him from condemning what he described as the futility of “reformist” actions of conventional political dissent. He said that he came of age politically after George W. Bush “stole” the presidential elections in 2004 before exploiting anger over the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to lead the United States into “unprovoked and imperialist” wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he “naively” engaged in protests and demonstrations before resorting to computer hacking to get his message across.
     In 2006, he served a two-year sentence for attacking the website of an organization that he said harassed anti-war protestors, and he said that his time behind bars “solidified my opposition.”
     Hammond later targeted the FBI’s Virtual Academy, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, and the Jefferson County, Ala., sheriff’s office.
     Hammond spoke at length about his interactions with Sabu, whom Hammond said led him to extract certain information at the behest of his “FBI handlers.” Judge Preska interrupted as Hammond started to say that the Stratfor data to which he had allegedly been led included information about “Turkey, Brazil, Iran,” and other countries.
     Before sentencing formally began, the New York Times had fought unsuccessfully to unseal the names of those countries and others, which were subject to a protective order. Preska denied that attempt, and she refused to let it seep into the record through Hammond’s speed.
     Glossing over the names of the “other countries,” Hammond remained defiant as he asked, “When will the U.S. government be made to answer for its own crimes?”
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Rosemary Nadiry began her remarks by stating, “Jeremy Hammond was not a whistle-blower,” quoting chat logs in which the hacker spoke of wanting to “cause financial mayhem, mass mayhem.”
     Pointing his disclosure of clients’ address and credit card information, she added, “There is nothing about that that is relevant to political protest.”
     The proceedings got rowdier as Judge Preska invited any victims to come up to the podium.
     The first announced, “I’m a victim of FBI repression,” to the applause of some members of the gallery before being led out of the courthouse as it became clear that he was speaking in support of Hammond.
     The second and final victim speaker was Vince Tocce, who delivered a rambling and profanity-laced list of grievances about his alleged harassment by Hammond’s supporters that seemed unconnected to the Stratfor hack.
     “These Anonymous kids are misguided,” Tocce said, referring to members of the hacker collective.
     Tocce claimed that these supporters posted his and his family’s private information online and “pizza-bombed” and “Chinese food-bombed” him. This means that the groups of people placed food multiple deliveries to his house and left him with the check. He also alleged to be distraught by a sexual exploit with a woman supposedly connected to a hacker, and said that these experiences drove him to depression and thoughts of suicide.
     Judge Preska, a neat and prim jurist, chided the gallery to stop cackling during the speech, maintained her composure, and patiently let him finish before delivering her sentence.
     She, like the prosecutors, dismissed the notion that Hammond had “the best of intentions” while highlighting chat logs in which the young activist expressly sought Strafor’s “bankruptcy” and “collapse.” Hammond boasted in web chats that he and his fellow hackers unleashed the “digital equivalent of a nuclear bomb” on Stratfor’s servers.
     The judge added that the Arizona Department of Public Safety hack affected the state’s Amber Alert system that notifies citizens of child-abduction cases, and that Hammond’s co-defendant Jake Davis said he had been disillusioned by the “purposelessness” of the Arizona hack.
     Gasps were heard in the gallery, and dozens left the courtroom, after Preska announced the 10-year sentence.
     Hammond, however, appeared calm as he was led out of the room.
     With a fist in the air, he shouted through his ill and scratchy voice, “Long live Anonymous! Hurrah for anarchy!”

%d bloggers like this: