Sentence came before Judge Loretta Preska, who was not amused. It began when Sabu, the name used by Anonymous hacker Hector Xavier Monsegur, was turned by government agents to give up others.
Mr. Monsegur was arrested and subsequently helped law-enforcement officials infiltrate Lulzsec, an offshoot of Anonymous, the loose hacking collective that has supported an ever-shifting variety of causes, ranging from democracy in the Middle East to justice for victims of sexual crimes.
The hacker caught was Jeremy Hammond. He wasn’t a virgin, having been convicted in 2006 and served 24 months, but that didn’t dissuade him.
The 28-year-old computer programmer was charged with hacking the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting and stealing confidential information, including 60,000 credit card numbers belonging to about 860,000 clients. The federal government has alleged that Hammond and other hackers used the firm’s client’s credit cards to make over $700,000 in “unauthorized charges.” According to Wired, Hammond erased Stratfor files and databases and asked Anonymous members to use some stolen Stratfor client credit cards to make some $700,000 worth of “fraudulent donations to nonprofit groups.”
Hammond, on the other hand, saw himself as part of the fight for freedom, a whistleblower exposing government and corporate misdeeds. After federal agents infiltrated Lulsec, they were able to get Hammond to use an FBI computer to store the data taken from Stratfor. The evidence in the case was nailed down as tight as possible.
He pleaded guilty last May, 2013, to a single count, and admitted his crime:
“As part of each of these hacks I took and disseminated confidential information,” Mr. Hammond told the judge. “I knew what I was doing was against the law.”
“Now that I have pleaded guilty it is a relief to be able to say that I did work with Anonymous,” Mr. Hammond wrote in a statement on a Web site run by his supporters. “I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors.”
But Southern District of New York United States Attorney, Preet Bharara, wouldn’t concede that his motives, if not his conduct, were pure.
In a written statement, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said, “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.”
As Hammond appeared before Judge Preska for sentence, other young people adept at computers were busy turning away a three billion dollar bid to buy their company, conceived during a class at Stanford. The company barely existed a year ago, and may well be as popular with high schoolers next year as Myspace is today, but they eschewed the offer as inadequate.
Hammond told his sentencing judge, whose husband’s email was included among the hacked but still remained on the case, appearance of partiality not being a concern apparently, that his hacking was “acts of civil disobedience.”
On Friday, Mr. Hammond described Stratfor as a “deserving target,” an organization engaged in “intrusive and possibly illegal surveillance activities on behalf of large multinational corporations.” Both he and his lawyers framed his actions as noble efforts to bring greater transparency to a rapidly growing and largely unaccountable private intelligence industry.
Sound familiar? The pervasive irony within all of this is that the same tools that are being used to deprive privacy in ways unimaginable to most, likely including Judge Preska, are used to reveal the wrongdoing, and used to burn the hacker who disclosed the evil. All the while, the same skills could be bringing in billions if they capture the gnat-like attention of children for a few minutes.
But Federal District Judge Loretta A. Preska was unmoved, telling Mr. Hammond “there’s nothing high-minded or public-spirited about causing mayhem.”
“These are not the actions of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, John Adams or even Daniel Ellsberg,” she said, referring to the former analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers to several news organizations. Mr. Ellsberg had written a letter to the court praising Mr. Hammond’s hacking campaign.
Mayhem is a particularly odd choice of words for Judge Preska. as it invokes violence at its core. The concept of violence is wholly disconnected to hacking. Rather, “mayhem” was a rhetorical device to suck the motive from the act and smear the outcome. The only “violence” was to the orderly conduct of the private intelligence business. Hammond openly stated that was his purpose, and he was prepared to face the consequences:
“If Chelsea Manning fell into the abysmal nightmare of prison fighting for the truth, could I in good conscience do any less, if I was able?” he said.
The government demanded ten years of Hammond’s life. Judge Preska complied. On his way out the door, Hammond raised his fist and said:
“Long Live Anonymous!”
“Hurrah for anarchy!”
Ten years is a very long time. What will Snapchat be worth ten years from now? Will it even exist? Will technology have developed to the point where there is no aspect of a person’s life, no thought, no utterance, that won’t be held in a server somewhere? Will there be any meaning in ten years to the word “mayhem”?
Or will the American people choose to reject the machinery of intelligence gathering that people like Manning, Snowden and Hammond have revealed as part of a dystopian world being carefully constructed by our government saviors in secret for our own good?
As it turns out, Hammond may very well be properly compared to “Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, John Adams or even Daniel Ellsberg,” who weren’t nearly as appreciated at the time as they came to be later. Then again, maybe nobody will care because they’re too busy uploading kitten pictures to Snapchat, or whatever new app comes along next week.
Update: Via Mike Masnick at Techdirt, Hammonds sentencing statement (which was subject to a protective order as it disclosed targets the FBI sought to have him hack) has been leaked, and if the leaked statement is accurate, it appears that he was being used by the government for its own purposes and, when he was no longer useful, was then prosecuted. The government used him then abused him, leaving him holding the bag for ten years.