Could Hammond In Good Conscience Do Any Less? (Update)

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.

Jeremy Hammond pleaded guilty to hacking charges.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.


17 comments on “Could Hammond In Good Conscience Do Any Less? (Update)

  1. bmaz

    I vacillate on Hammond. Stratfor is a particularly screwed up and pernicious bunch, and they work for a lot of entities to which also strike me as the same. That said, Hammond’s conduct was pretty far beyond simple hacking of someone such as Weev, aka Andrew Auernheimer. Hammond destroyed significant data and flat out stole with the intent to financially harm. In rather large amounts. As pernicious as Stratfor may be to my ideology, at what point is it tolerable for citizen “anarchists” to make their own determination of what is tolerable and seek to destroy it via vigilantism?

    Either way, hard to see the sentence as anything but excessive. Also hard to see Preska as not having an obvious appearance of conflict. Her refusal to recuse is disturbing.

    1. SHG Post author

      Yes, your vacillation is clear. Hammond’s conduct was clearly destructive and, unlike Weev, clearly illegal. Whether this will ultimately be seen as righteous civil disobedience or “mayhem” is another matter. To Hammond, the situation was extreme and called for extreme action. And he will pay an extreme price for his decision.

      1. bmaz

        I also have some issue with things Hammond did here in AZ that were not a part of the plea. The activities of people like Hammond and groups like Anonymous are going to be a big issue going forward. Such internet expression is the ultimate in citizen involvement, but it is not all benign. I have similar issues with the mob action Anonymous has taken of the rape cases. Voicing is good, but threatening and trying to take justice in their own hands is troubling and really affects the due process/fair trial dynamics. Not crazy at all about that.

        1. SHG Post author

          You raise an issue (which, ironically, I plan to write about tomorrow) about how far is too far. The problem is that we can only make that decision for ourselves, not for others, even though everyone believes in their heart that they ought to be sole arbiter of universal propriety.

      2. Robert David Graham

        Civil disobedience is when you are willing to suffer for your political beliefs. Mayhem is when you cause others to suffer for their beliefs. Hammond was clearly on the side of mayhem. There’s no way that stealing $700,000 can be considered “righteous”.

        With that said, there are the problem of overcriminalization, and the FBI’s “sting” behavior.

        1. SHG Post author

          You’re very harsh here. Some might not consider transferring $700,000 to charity stealing, though it technically is. Some might not consider stealing “mayhem,” as it’s technically not. But you end up there rather easily. Interesting.

  2. Shoirca

    Hammond was likely looking at a LOT more time. They could have charged him under RICO which has a max of 20 years for every RICO count, in addition to the underlying charges. He could have been charged with separate conspiracy counts , and the govt. could have charged each credit card theft as a separate offense. Subu, the co-defendent turned snitch was co-operating and they had six other co-ds in custody. Lulzsec could easily be seen as a criminal entity for RICO purposes . Subu was looking at 140 years, Barret Brown is looking at 105 years. It is easy to see why Hammond would take the offer for 10 years.

    1. SHG Post author

      While it may (I don’t know because it’s totally not worth the time to figure out) be technically accurate, it’s not real. It’s grossly unrealistic to describe the max potential counts and sentences and gives a completely false impression of what they were facing. This is one of the threat weapons of the prosecution to coerce pleas, and it’s only serves to create great fear in the unwary and inhibit the exercise of both deeper thought and constitutional rights.

      1. Shoirca

        Sadly, more often than not the coercion works. This is one of the reason so few criminal cases go to trial, and why the U.S. incarceration rate is so high.

        1. SHG Post author

          Yes, I know. This is why I make such an effort not to add to it here. Did that not come across?

          The idea is this: Don’t make people stupider. Not, make them stupider then bemoan the stupid afterward.

      2. bmaz

        Yeah, this is like the Aaron Swartz case. Still to this day, all the little people go running around saying he was facing 35+ years in prison. Complete bullshit. I did a calc on it and WORST case scenario with a total loss at trial, looked like 3-4 yrs, and that was without “responsibility acceptance”. Frankly, he would have still been probation eligible and could easily see the court giving it to him on his facts.

        Yet the idiot max stacking number will not die.

  3. Shoirca

    Not sure if this is right but: Bank of America tried to cut off donations to Wikileaks after the Manning leaks. Anonymous then threatened to expose BoA’s dirty secrets. BoA went to the Justice Dept. DOJ directed the bank to Stratfor who threatened to take down Anonymous. Luzsec then exposed Stratfor’s dirty laundry and shutdown systems/erased data.

    1. SHG Post author

      If you’re not sure if it is right, then you shouldn’t say so. Accuracy matters, and unproven conspiracy theories tend to feed the worst of our fears rather than illuminate.

  4. UltravioletAdmin

    I heard someone else was offering 4 billion for snapchat, which is why they turned down facebook. (which also seems crazy, like 1999 precrash crazy)

  5. Robert David Graham

    You mistake Hammond’s talents: he didn’t have any. The “SQL injection” attack he used to break into Stratfor is the simplest of all attacks, one that preteends have been been known to use.

    What gives Anonymous/LulzSec hackers such power isn’t that they are geniuses, but that website developers are such idiots. It’s the website equivalent of leaving a spare key under the mat or above your car’s visor. Finding such a key doesn’t make you a genius, it makes the defender an idiot.

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