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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Supporters Wail as Judge Denies Bail to Hactivist

MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge refused release to one of the men accused of helping Anonymous and others hack various media, government and private-spy websites last year.

Jeremy Hammond was one of five so-called hacktivists arrested in a March sting operation engineered after the FBI made an informant out of Hector Monsegur, a hacker known online as Sabu, who led a group called LulzSec.

Agents picked up Hammond at his home in Chicago, but the other defendants - Ryan Ackroyd, Jake Davis, Darren Martyn and Donncha O'Cearrbhail - were arrested in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

At a bail hearing in New York on Tuesday, Hammond's defense attorney, Elizabeth Fink, implied that investigators used entrapment to snare Hammond for the cyberattack on private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor.

Monsegur led the Stratfor attack under his Sabu alter ego while he was working for the government, Fink said.

The hack exposed the private information of 860,000 Stratfor clients, as well as 5 million emails, which WikiLeaks published under the name "Global Intelligence Files."

A criminal complaint says that hackers used the stolen credit card information to charge at least $700,000 on behalf of "dozens of charities and revolutionary organizations."

Hammond insists, however, that he did not participate in the spending sprees.

Fink compared her client's case to the so-called Newburgh Four, referring to the quartet who say that the government goaded them into the plotting the terrorist attack for which they were ultimately convicted.

She indicated that Hammond will take a similar stance.

"How much is the cooperating witness, and how much is Mr. Hammond?" Fink asked.

Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska told Fink to "feel free" to use an entrapment defense at trial, but said the point was irrelevant for the purposes of bail.

Preska, a conservative jurist appointed by President George W. Bush, often appeared frustrated at Fink, a firebrand civil rights lawyer known for representing prisoners who revolted at Attica.

"We're going to fight this case politically," Fink said at one point.

Preska replied: "It's not going to help your case to tell me that. We have the Rules of Evidence, here."

Later, Fink compared her client to slave rebellion leader Nat Turner and "the nuns who get arrested."

Preska countered: "What's the relevance of that to the bail factor?"

Defense counsel had hoped that the judge would let Hammond stay at the home of Michael Smith, a lawyer sitting on the board of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

After the hearing, Smith told Courthouse News that he and his wife were "empty nesters" who had a spare bedroom and "admired" Hammond.

Fink said the couple would have been responsible, as "officers of the court," for Hammond's compliance with bail terms.

Hammond has no passport, has never fled from a court hearing and has agreed to restrictive bail conditions that would bar him from using a computer, his lawyers said.

Prosecutor Rosemary Nidiry replied that pretrial services recommended bail denial because Hammond faced warrants twice before for alleged parole violations.

Fink replied that the pretrial services report the government gave her that morning did not include copies of these warrants.

She added that other courts eventually threw out both warrants.

"None of this resulted in any sentence," she said.

Preska replied: "So what?"

Punishment or not, the alleged violations showed a pattern, Preska said.

Fink countered: "If you look at his record, it's cannabis and demonstrating."

The criminal complaint against Hammond details his history of protesting oil companies, political figures, the Chicago Olympics and, in one instance, a Holocaust denier.

"Hammond himself stated in an interview with the FBI that he intended to use hacking to fight for social justice," the original complaint stated.

This information did not appear in his new indictment.

He told the FBI that he smoked pot every other day since the age of 16, including two days before his arrest, prosecutors said.

Sarah Kunstler, the daughter of the late, self-described "radical lawyer" William Kunstler, said that courts have freed defendants accused of computer sex crimes under similar bail conditions to those that they proposed.

Hammond's confinement at Metropolitan Correctional Center made his defense team rack up additional expenses visiting him, she said.

Current visitation restrictions could complicate a fair trial because the lawyers allegedly need Hammond to make sense of complicated computer forensic evidence.

"Even uncompressed, it's unintelligible to us," Kunstler said.

Nidiry, the prosecutor, replied: "We're happy to work with them" to give Hammond more access to his lawyers inside jail.

Adam Johnson, a staff attorney for the jail, agreed to streamline this process.

The promises did not placate Fink.

"I've heard MCC say, 'I can do any number of things' since they opened," she said.

Roughly 30 supporters of Hammond seated in the courtroom turned somber as the judge read her ruling.

The possibility of a 37-year sentence, combined with Hammond's "lack of regard for legal authority," make him a flight risk, Preska said.

She also said Hammond's peerless computer savvy puts him in a different class compared with defendants who make bail while facing other computer crimes.

"The application for bail is denied," she said.

Though crying was heard throughout the courtroom, Fink did not appear ready to concede defeat.

"I'm going to make a motion for reargument, then after that is denied, I will take that to the Court of Appeals," she told the judge.

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