This past Friday, Internet activist Jeremy Hammond stood in a federal courtroom and told Judge Loretta A. Preska why he released a trove of emails and other information uncovering the possibly illegal and certainly immoral collaboration of a major surveillance corporation called Stratfor with our government.
He also stressed what followers of his case already knew: that his activities were encouraged, organized and facilitated by an FBI informant turned operative. In short, his partner in these “violations of United States law” was the government of the United States.
He acknowledged that the Judge could sentence him to 10 years in jail but he never apologized for his actions or questioned their validity as political activism. And, in a statement remarkable for his courage and political principle (after 20 months in jail on this case), he established himself as one of the heroes of the struggle for freedom and justice.
In a world in which people often seek to defend themselves in court by questioning whether they did what they are accused of, Hammond defended himself by saying that he did what they said he did and more — and that he was right to do it.
“The acts of civil disobedience and direct action that I am being sentenced for today are in line with the principles of community and equality that have guided my life,” he told the court. “I hacked into dozens of high profile corporations and government institutions, understanding very clearly that what I was doing was against the law, and that my actions could land me back in federal prison. But I felt that I had an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice–and to bring the truth to light.”
Expecting justice from Judge Preska was probably a stretch. She had previously refused to recuse herself from the trial after it was learned that her husband was one of the targets of Hammond’s Stratfor hacks. But when she hit him with the maximum jail sentence, a decade, and then churlishly hit him with three extra years of probation upon release during which he can’t use encryption on the Internet — which essential forbids him from living a modern life — she put the exclamation point on the statement this case makes about our government. While conducting surveillance on all its citizens (and using drones and agents and wars to trample on the human rights of people world-wide), it also uses elaborate stings and agent strategies to lure Internet activists into gathering information it wants but can’t legally obtain and then puts them in jail to shut them up.
It is, without question, a chilling story.
At the age of 29, Hammond is already a seasoned, experienced and “struggle-weathered” political activist. He was an anti-war activist in High School at 18 when he launched the legendary website HackThisSite , “a free, safe and legal training ground for hackers to test and expand their hacking skills” that remains one of the most popular and respected hacking education on-line communities.
His history during the last decade is sprinkled with a series of arrests during protests against the Iraq war, the trampling of gay rights, the erosion of democratic rights and the disruptive activities of extreme right-wing groups. He’s been beaten and arrested on more than a half dozen occasions for these actions.
In fact, in 2007, Hammond was imprisoned for hacking into the website of the right-wing group Protest Warrior, known for attacking anti-war demonstrations. The hack captured all kinds of information and brought the website down. Some of that info included credit card numbers for contributors to Protest Warrior and, although no card was ever used or charged to as a result, the government charged Hammond with what amounts to card theft and jailed him to two years.
When he was released he returned to protest but, he told the court, “The Obama administration continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, escalated the use of drones, and failed to close Guantanamo Bay.” Believing more direct action was needed, he returned to hacking and began targeting police departments and law enforcement agencies “because of the racism and inequality with which the criminal law is enforced” and hitting military and police equipment manufacturers as well as surveillance and security contractors.
Then he met Sabu.
Hector Xavier Monsegur (known on-line as Sabu) was the most visible figure in LulzSec, a hacker collective known for several high-profile hacks of government and corporate sites. Monsegur, who lived in the Jacob Riis Projects of New York’s Lower East Side, had a reputation among activists as a prankster who seemed to hack power sites more for enjoyment and rebellious “rush” than for principled politics. His statements and tweets were, in fact, never that political. It’s safe to say that many on-line activists were wary of Sabu and that was well-founded because Sabu was working for the FBI.
As Assistant U.S. Attorney James Pastore said at a secret bail hearing on Aug. 5, 2011 about a month after Sabu was arrested by the FBI, “Since literally the day he was arrested, the defendant has been cooperating with the government proactively.” Sabu wasn’t just a snitch (although he appears to have given the FBI every name, email and detail about hackers and activists he knew), he was an active provocateur, using his LulzSec “cover” to ensnare other Internet activists in criminal acts.
Using FBI servers, he coordinated hacker projects that would land Internet activists, including almost the entire LulzSec collective, in jail — the equivalent of committing crimes in the FBI’s offices. He targeted dozens of other activists and even tried to involve Nadim Kobeissi , the respected Canadian technologist and author of the secure communication software Cryptocat, but Kobeissi rebuffed those overtures and that ensnarement project was dropped.
In December, 2011, Sabu hit the jackpot. He obtained exploits (programs that allowed entrance into a server) to the credit card database of Statfor, a security and surveillance contractor that works for a literal who’s who of corporations. Under FBI supervision, Sabu logged onto a private chatroom run by the hacker collective AntiSec (of which Hammond was a member) and began distributing links and passwords to Statfor’s servers. Hammond got involved, spending a week attempting access to Stratfor’s email systems and then loading the information he and others gleaned onto servers owned and run by the FBI.
The resulting information, mostly released by Wikileaks, was stunning.
The emails showed that Stratfor had spied on movements in other countries, movements and organizations in the U.S. and individual activists. It targeted PETA, the political “prankster” organization the YesMen and activists involved in the campaign against Dow Chemical over the catastrophic Bhopal, India gas leaks. It conducted, in cooperation with the government, a remarkable campaign of intense surveillance and infiltration of the Occupy movement. “And,” as journalist Chris Hedges said in an interview with the Real News Network , “we also found from those email exchanges that there was a concerted attempt on the part of security officials, both inside the government and within the private security contracting agency, to link, falsely, nonviolent dissident groups with terrorist groups so that they could apply terrorism laws against these groups.”
According to his statement, after the Statfor hack, Hammond continued using Sabu’s information to hack corporate sites and several official government sites. He also supplied Sabu and other hackers with information similarly used. “I don’t know how other information I provided to (Sabu) may have been used,” Hammond says, “but I think the government’s collection and use of this data needs to be investigated.”
Part of his statement, stricken by the Judge after Prosecution objections but made available at the Pastebin site , reads like a spy novel:font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Alfredo Lopez writes about technology issues for This Can’t Be Happening!