Jeremy Hammond pleaded guilty today to the infamous Stratfor hack, as well as taking responsibility for eight additional hacks of law enforcement and defense contractor websites in 2011 and 2012. As a condition of the plea, the radical hacker will face a maximum of 10 years in federal prison, and restitution costs of up to $2.5 million. After Hammond entered his plea, his legal team framed his prosecution as part of the government’s larger attempt to control the flow of information and punish those who seek to distribute it to journalists and the public.
“There’s a war going on about corporate spying and access to information,” said defense attorney Sarah Kunstler at a press conference immediately following the hearing. “Jeremy is someone who worked toward making information public.”
In a statement posted online after the plea deal, Hammond echoed this point. “I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors,” Hammond wrote. “I did what I believe is right.”
Hammond entered his plea – admitting to one count of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking – in a federal courtroom in lower Manhattan, surrounded by observers and supporters. One of those in attendance was his twin brother, Jason, who had just flown in from Chicago. When Hammond initially addressed the judge, he raised his right hand to be sworn in, and clenched his fist in a symbol of defiance.
The hack Hammond pleaded guilty to involved accessing information from the servers of Stratfor, a private intelligence company, and providing it to Wikileaks, who then published some of the information. Hammond was charged under the controversial 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the same law used to charge the late Aaron Swartz and other cyber-activists. “Included among the leaked internal documents were millions of emails that exposed Stratfor’s wide-ranging spying activities, including surveillance of Bhopal activists at the behest of Dow Chemical, of PETA on behalf of Coca-Cola, and of Occupy Wall Street under contract to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” supporters said in a statement.
Beyond Stratfor, Hammond took responsibility for eight other hacks, all of which involved either law enforcement, intelligence firms or defense contractor websites. From June 2011 to February 2012, Hammond obtained unauthorized information from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the FBI virtual academy, a marketing firm that builds websites for law enforcement called Brooks Jeffreys, Special Forces Gear, Vanguard Defense Industries, the Jefferson County sheriffs department, the Boston Police Patrolman’s Institute and a Pennsylvania firm called Combined Systems that makes tear gas. Hammond was granted immunity from federal prosecution for any of those hacks in exchange for taking responsibility for them. Kunstler said he could potentially face charges at the state level, though she said there may be some double jeopardy protection.
Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center For Constitutional Rights and lawyer for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, said that journalists should stand up for Hammond. “He should be looked at as a source, as a whistle-blower,” Ratner said after the plea deal. “He, like other whistle-blowers in this country, ought to be protected, because they’re the only thing that let us know what our government and our private security companies are doing and they’re the only things that can keep this government even close to honest.”
Earlier in the case, Hammond’s legal team made a motion for Judge Loretta Preska to recuse herself because her husband was a victim of the Stratfor leak. That motion was denied. (Full disclosure: This reporter previously spoke at a rally that called for Preska to recuse herself.)
Other hackers in the Anonymous-affiliated group called Lulzsec who were charged in similar leaks – but were tried in the U.K. – have received much lighter sentences, from 20 to 32 months. Jason Hammond has asked supporters to sign a Change.org petition on his brother’s behalf calling for Judge Preska to sentence Hammond to time served. Jeremy Hammond’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 6th.