Long saga of Jeremy Hammond, self-described anarchist, comes to an end.
Jeremy Hammond, a notorious hacker and anarchist from the Chicago area, pleaded guilty this morning to hacking charges in a New York courtroom under the terms of a plea agreement.
Hammond was initially charged in March 2012 with one count of computer hacking conspiracy, one count of computer hacking, and one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud. Several others also associated with the hacker collective Anonymous and its splinter faction LulzSec were also charged that day, in connection with the guilty plea of one of their co-conspirators, Hector Monsegur aka “Sabu.”
The information that was stolen from Stratfor was then turned over to Wikileaks, which began publishing the cache in February of 2012, billing it as the “Global Intelligence Files.”
While many, including his brother, have asserted that Hammond’s actions were merely a form of non-violent protest because he did not benefit personally from it, the reality stands in contrast.
Indeed, the information that was leaked as a result of the Stratfor hack may have exposed some “secrets” about the firm, though it was largely scoffed at by people in the industry, many of whom claim that Stratfor took itself more seriously than anyone else did. Still, this was a private firm with private clients and subscribers, all of whom became victims due to the actions of Hammond.
As the original indictment in the case stated:
[Hammond] willfully and knowingly cause the transmission of a program, information, code and command, and, as a result of such conduct, intentionally caused and attempted to cause damage without authorization, to a protected computer, which caused and attempted to cause a loss (including loss resulting from a related course of conduct affecting one and other protected computers) aggregating to at least $5000 to one and more persons during any one year period, to wit, Hammond and others gained unauthorized access to computer systems used by Stratfor, a company which provides information analysis services for its clients, and, among other things, defaced Stratfor’s website; stole confidential data from Stratfor’s computer network, including Stratfor employees’ emails, as well as personally identifying information and credit card data for Stratfr’s clients; publicly disclosed at least some of that data by dumping it on certain Internet websites; and deleted data on Strafor’s computer network.
The document further details the damages inflicted by Hammond and the others’ actions.
The defendant, and his co-conspirators, among other things: (1) obtained unauthorized access to computer systems used by Stratfor, (2) stole confidential information from those computer systems, including Stratfor employees’ emails, as well as account information for approximately 860,000 Stratfor subscribers or clients; (3) publicly disclosed at least some of the stolen confidential information on certain websites; and (4) stole information for approximately 60,000 credit card users; and (5) used some of the stolen credit card data to make at least $700,000 worth of unauthorized charges without the knowledge or consent of the credit card account holders.
A document was subsequently posted online by way of a file sharing site, along with a teaser that included, in part, the following message and links to the allegedly stolen data.
We call upon all allied battleships, all armies from darkness, to use and abuse these password lists and credit card information to wreak unholy havoc upon the systems and personal email accounts of these rich and powerful oppressors.
In early January of 2012, an email purporting to be from a Stratfor executive was sent to the compromised Stratfor customer accounts that contained an attached document related to the hack, titled “Official Emergency Communique Straight from the Anonymous Hacker Underground.” It outlined the cyberattack on Stratfor and the actions that were taken to “ensure [Stratfor’s] bankruptcy.”
The Anonymous document also cited attacks on the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, and specialforces.com, a website that sells military and police equipment.
In a statement that was posted online today, Hammond accepted responsibility for but rationalized his actions.
Today I pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This was a very difficult decision. I hope this statement will explain my reasoning. I believe in the power of the truth. In keeping with that, I do not want to hide what I did or to shy away from my actions. This non-cooperating plea agreement frees me to tell the world what I did and why, without exposing any tactics or information to the government and without jeopardizing the lives and well-being of other activists on and offline. […]
Now that I have pleaded guilty it is a relief to be able to say that I did work with Anonymous to hack Stratfor, among other websites. Those others included military and police equipment suppliers, private intelligence and information security firms, and law enforcement agencies. I did this 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.
While some journalists and many in the hacktivism community have somewhat romanticized Hammond’s anarchist character and hailed him as a hero on social media, often comparing his situation to that of Aaron Swartz, Hammond has a long and sordid history.
As a freshman at the University of Illinois Chicago, Hammond hacked into the website of his computer science department, which ultimately got him in trouble at the school, where he was not allowed to return the following year.
He was a well-known figure in the circles of protest movements, including that of black-bloc anarchists. In a span of three years, he’d been arrested ten times in three different states, according to a lengthy profile in Rolling Stone magazine.
In a speech at Defcon 2004, Hammond spoke on a panel about electronic civil disobedience, citing politicians and capitalists as problems that should be addressed by hacktivism.
In the speech, he emphasized the protest tactics as non-violent actions that brought people together, rather than something that inflicted fear in people. But he then went on to name a variety of right-wing and conservative targets for hacking actions during the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York, as well as suggesting the publication of members’ emails and other contact information and encouraging harassment of those targets.
From Rolling Stone:
“We’d like to see every method of disruption possible, whether it be shutting down the power to Madison Square Garden, or defacing 10,000 different Republican websites. . . . We’d like to see RNC delegates get harassed on the streets,” he said. “Fuck ’em up! Shut ’em down!” Some people in the audience jeered, and one person asked if what Hammond was proposing amounted to terrorism. “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist,” he scoffed. “Let them call us terrorists; I’ll still bomb their buildings.”
It seems Hammond, and others like him, lost of sight of how “fear” is perceived depending upon who is doing the inflicting and who is on the receiving end. Staff at Defcon made a statement following Hammond’s speech, which can be seen on the video, denouncing any acts of violence or attempts to commit acts such as crashing systems, “because that can kill people…that’s not activism, that’s murder.”
Hammond previously spent time in prison for hacking credit card information from the right-wing website Protest Warrior, which was a counter-protest group to the anti-war protest movement. The website released details regarding the incident at the time, accusing Hammond of further using the attack to create public sympathy and to spread disinformation about the group.
In 2009, while still on probation for his prior arrest, Hammond was again arrested – this time during a protest in Chicago to oppose the proposed plan to host the Olympics, in which he burned the Olympic flag. While he could have received more prison time for violating his probation, he ended up with community service, a curfew and some very tight probation terms.
By the time the Occupy movement rolled around, Hammond, who looked up to Weather Underground bomber Bill Ayers, had grown more radical. He considered the Occupy movement too tame, and felt that stronger direct actions were needed to create change in the system of capitalism that he opposed. When he became involved in Anonymous, he saw it as an opportunity to conduct political actions that were above and beyond the group’s usual “lulz.”
Stratfor was also was not Hammond’s only digital conquest. According to Reuters, he participated in at least a few others.
Hammond also admitted to participating in a series of hacks on government and business entities including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and the Jefferson County, Alabama, Sheriff’s Office.
While Hammond and others might see some of these actions as “non-violent” and causing harm to no one, that isn’t necessarily the case. For example, during the Arizona Department of Public Safety incident, personal information about officers was posted publicly, placing them and their families in danger.
Hammond’s mother, Rose Collins, who has differing political views from her son – she is a staunch conservative who has attended Tea Parties – penned an open letter to Anonymous at the time of his indictment for the Stratfor hack. While she asked the other Anonymous activists to help her son, she also challenged the group on its beliefs and its arbitrary decision making without always getting the other side of the picture. “How would you be able to wear a mask superior to that of the government you detest?” Collins asked in her letter. “How come you buy into one part of the answer, but fail to investigate other possibilities? Could it be that Anonymous is also susceptible to propaganda?”
While Hammond was not indicted as a violent criminal, his actions were criminal nonetheless. His actions did cause damage and fear for many. This seems to be something that those who hail Hammond as a hero have forgotten.
Hammond is scheduled to be sentenced on September 6th. His plea agreement could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and millions in restitution payments.