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The Rise and Fall of Jeremy Hammond: Enemy of the State

Page 6 of 6

On the warm summer night of June 7th, 2011, two weeks before Sabu began recruiting for Antisec, Hector Xavier Monsegur, was at home in his Avenue D apartment when he heard a knock at the door. Outside were two FBI agents claiming they had enough incriminating evidence pertaining to Monsegur's Anonymous hacking, as well as to a variety of real-life petty crimes, to put him away for 122 years.

Within hours Sabu had cut a deal and agreed to work for the FBI, rolling over on his Lulzsec comrades. Over the following nine months, he helped the government gather information, often working "literally around the clock" to build the case, according to official documents. He was, in the words of the federal prosecutor, a model informant.

News of Monsegur's role as a snitch broke on the same day as the news of Hammond's arrest. At first Anons denied that such a betrayal could be true. But after Sabu's indictment and guilty plea were leaked to the press, shock quickly turned to anger, and sadness. "I just can't bring myself to hate him," says one Antisec hacker. "We will never know the extent that the FBI went to turn him into a traitor."

Some members of Anonymous would say they knew it all along. "I always sensed he was a fraud," Christopher Doyon, an Anon who goes by the name "Commander X," told me last spring. "All of that was put on to please the feds, and all I can say is that they goddamn better put the fucker in witness protection," he adds. "What really makes me want to kill him is that he did all of it so he could send these poor kids to prison."

Not everyone was trapped, however. According to several Anons, Sabu protected those he knew wouldn't be useful to the FBI. One Antisec member recalls that Sabu encouraged him and a number of others to leave the Antisec channel "because, to use his words, 'you will be charged with conspiracy.' He said that to all of us who weren't involved in hacking."

Since the revelations, a few Anons have put together an Antisec timeline, convincingly arguing that given the date of Monsegur's arrest and conversion, June 7th-8th, 2011, and his subsequent announcement of his new hacker movement on June 19th, Antisec must have been created under the FBI's watch, intended as a honey pot to lure in a myriad of political hackers, most prominently Jeremy Hammond. "I think when his name popped up in this investigation, the FBI rubbed their hands together in glee," says cyberinvestigator Steve Rambam. "They were endlessly delighted when he fell into the net."

The government's case against Hammond revolves around the nicknames he is said to have used at various times over the past year. (Neither the Justice Department nor the FBI, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation, will comment beyond their initial press release announcing the arrests.) Hammond's attorneys tell me they are in possession of nearly a terabyte of discovery material – some 20,000 bankers boxes, the equivalent of half a research library of reading material – with potentially more to come. But Hammond has been effectively locked out of his own defense. He can only view the material in the presence of his lawyers and he cannot use prison computers to do legal research, even though they are not connected to the Internet ("It's like they think he's some kind of wizard who can magically get online no matter what," says one person associated with the case). It could take years for him to review all of the discovery material.

So far, all of the alleged Lulzsec hackers, who have been arrested have pleaded guilty or are soon expected to. Hammond has not, but even if he were to accept a plea, it is likely he will spend many years in prison. Two days after Hammond's arrest, on March 7th, 2012, FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has frequently said that cyberthreat will soon overtake terrorism as the bureau's top priority, warned Congress that terrorists might recruit politically motivated hackers like Hammond into launching cyberattacks against the U.S. "You want to identify the individuals who are responsible for these crimes, investigate them, prosecute them and put them in jail for a substantial period of time," Mueller said. In early October, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, arguing for stricter laws against hacking, warned that the country is in a "pre-9/11 moment."

But some worry about what that crackdown will cost. "In this country there is an impenetrable cloud of secrecy over what the government and corporations do," says Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the attorney for Julian Assange, whose name was mentioned more than 2,000 times in the Stratfor e-mails. "Whatever technical crimes the government claims have been committed must be weighed against the good that comes from lifting the veil on corporate and government spying and corruption. We should not punish the courageous people that exposed it."

As the information contained within the Stratfor e-mails continues to leak out – the most recent suggests that the U.S. worked with the Mexican Sinaloan cartel to limit the violence in Mexico, while also allowing drugs to flow over the border – Antisec went quiet with the exception of two hacks, most recently in September, when Antisec re-emerged to announce the leak of over a million Apple user IDs they claimed were stolen from an FBI laptop. In their statement, written without the panache of those Hammond is believed to have penned, the group paid tribute to its jailed comrade as an "ideological [sic] motivated political dissident" in the same camp as Bradley Manning. Then the group went quiet again – and may remain so for a while. "We're focusing less on defacement and more on quietly taking over infrastructure," says the hacktivist who calls himself CC3. "And right now, the FBI doesn't have a clue about what we're doing – which is good."

Although Hammond's contribution was huge, some within Anonymous were happy to see him go. ("I wonder if Sabu did us a favor by cleansing Anonymous of the more radical elements," one member told me.) But even those who disagreed with Jeremy Hammond appreciate his value; those who sided with him feel his loss even more poignantly. "He pissed a lot of people off with his anarchist talk, but he was the real thing," says CC3. "He fought for what he believed his whole life. He was an idealist who even after being jailed, kept fighting at every occasion, and he never betrayed himself. Not many people can say they have never betrayed themselves."

This story is from the November 8th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

Postscript:

On November 20th, 2012, Jeremy Hammond, who had been held in a Manhattan jail for more than eight months since his arrest in March, was denied bail in a federal court. The hearing before Judge Loretta Preska was dominated by an impassioned plea by Hammond's defense counsel. "There is no way I can prepare for this trial while this man is in prison," his lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, a well-known civil rights attorney, stated, noting the hundreds of thousands of pages of discovery – much of it highly technical forensic material – that she found almost completely incomprehensible.

Preska, however, was unmoved – even with defense assurances that Hammond, who doesn't hold a passport, was not a flight risk and would remain under house arrest at the home of Manhattan lawyer Michael Steven Smith, an "officer of the court" who was willing to guarantee that Hammond wouldn't have access to a computer. But the chance that Hammond might get access "poses a very substantial danger to the community," Preska said, as did his "lack of regard for legal authority." For now, he remains at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he will likely stay until his trial, slated for late 2013, though some believe it may happen much later.

But Hammond may yet have another chance, thanks to Anonymous, which responded to the verdict by "doxing" Preska, releasing personal information on her as well as her husband, Thomas J. Kavaler, a partner at the Manhattan law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel. According to the leaked material, Kavaler, through his firm, was a client of the intelligence firm Stratfor and a victim of the Anonymous attack, all of which raises significant questions about Preska's objectivity. On December 6th, Hammond's attorney filed a motion demanding that Preska, who also worked at Cahill Gordon prior to her confirmation as a judge, recuse herself. "This personal connection to the damage allegedly inflicted by Mr. Hammond," the motion said, "is more than enough to raise the possibility in the mind of an objective observer that this Court could not be impartial in this case."

 

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