Hacktivist Pleads Guilty to Lesser Conspiracy Charge

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A decade in prison could await the activist who admitted Tuesday to helping hack the websites and computers of several government and corporate groups.
     Chicago-based activist Jeremy Hammond and four other activists were arrested in a Mach 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 alleged hacks extracted 5 million emails from the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, which WikiLeaks later published under the name “Global Intelligence Files.”
     The Stratfor files led to various news accounts of federal surveillance of Occupy Wall Street, the possible existence of a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange, and global media partnerships with corporate intelligence agents. In addition, roughly 860,000 Stratfor subscribers and clients had their information exposed and 60,000 credit cards were compromised, according to the government’s superseding information.
     Though the hacking collective racked up more than $700,000 in unauthorized charges, the government has not accused Hammond of personally exploiting anyone’s credit card information.
     Other targets included the FBI’s Virtual Academy, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, and the Jefferson County, Alabama, sheriff’s office.
     The four other co-defendants – Ryan Ackroyd, Jake Davis, Darren Martyn and Donncha O’Cearrbhail – were sentenced in the United Kingdom after pleading guilty on May 16.
     The longest sentence, given to the more technically adept Ackroyd, was 15 months in prison.
     By contrast, Hammond faces up to a decade in prison, and he already has been in pretrial confinement almost as long as Ackroyd, his attorney Sarah Kunstler noted.
     She cited Ackroyd’s case as a reason she will urge the court to sentence Hammond to time served at his sentencing hearing. She explained that her client chose to plead guilty to avoid prosecution in up to 10 different jurisdictions, and significantly reduce a potential prison sentence of 34 years to life.
     Hammond, who stuck to the script of his allocution in court Tuesday, explained in a statement on his website afterward that he pleaded guilty because he would “likely lose at trial.”
     Even if the “numerous problems with the government’s case” helped Hammond succeed at trial, “the government claimed that there were eight other outstanding indictments against me from jurisdictions scattered throughout the country,” he wrote.
     “If I had won this trial I would likely have been shipped across the country to face new but similar charges in a different district,” the statement continues. “The process might have repeated indefinitely. Ultimately I decided that the most practical route was to accept this plea with a maximum of a ten year sentence and immunity from prosecution in every federal court.”
     To the dozens of his supporters who gathered in court, Hammond is a freedom of information activist who brought public attention to the machinations of insufficiently accountable corporations and government agencies.
     Outside the building, the supporters carried a hand-painted banner with Hammond’s face and the slogans “15 Months Has Been Enough!” and “Bring Jeremy Home.”
     Others carried a gold-painted puppet of Lady Justice.
     Hammond noted that he hacked Stratfor and other websites “because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors.”
     “I did what I believe is right,” he added.
     Hammond is expected to comment more about his motivations during his Sept. 6 sentencing hearing.
     Michael Ratner, a lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents Assange, cast Hammond as a whistle-blower whose WikiLeaks-published disclosures caught the attention of 31 news outlets around the world.
     Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, playing upon Hammond’s online handle “Anarchaos,” portrayed the hacking spree as more about personal kicks than idealism.
     “While he billed himself as fighting for an anarchist cause, in reality, Jeremy Hammond caused personal and financial chaos for individuals whose identities and money he took and for companies whose businesses he decided he didn’t like,” Bharara said in a statement. “He was nothing more than a repeat offender cybercriminal who thought that because of his computer savvy he was above the law that binds and protects all of us – the same law that assured his rights in a court of law and allowed him to decide whether to admit his guilt or assert his innocence.”
     Hammond’s plea agreement with the government does not require him to cooperate with the prosecutors’ investigation, but it will force him to pay more than $1 million in restitution, a $250,000 fine and a $100 special assessment.
     Meanwhile, his twin brother, Jason Hammond, told reporters that he has been allowed little contact with Jeremy. He said Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center barred an in-person visit, but he added that he and his brother have exchanged letters.
     The letters show that Jeremy Hammond is “strong” and “confident that there’s a lot of people supporting him,” his brother said. Before he finished his thoughts, however, Jason Hammond’s eyes welled up with tears, and he walked away from the makeshift press conference.
     His brother’s statement echoed these obstacles.
     “I have already spent 15 months in prison. For several weeks of that time I have been held in solitary confinement,” Jeremy Hammond wrote. “I have been denied visits and phone calls with my family and friends. This plea agreement spares me, my family, and my community a repeat of this grinding process.”

%d bloggers like this: