Hammond calls his 10-year sentence a 'vengeful, spiteful act’ by US authorities eager to put a chill on political hacking
Jeremy Hammond, the Anonymous hacktivist who released millions of emails relating to the private intelligence firm Stratfor, has denounced his prosecution and lengthy prison sentence as a “vengeful, spiteful act” designed to put a chill on politically-motivated hacking.
Hammond was sentenced on Friday at federal court in Manhattan to the maximum 10 years in jail, plus three years supervised release. He had pleaded guilty to one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) flowing from his 2011 hack of Strategic Forecasting, Inc, known as Stratfor. In an interview with the Guardian in the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York, conducted on Thursday, he said he was resigned to a long prison term which he sees as a conscious attempt by the US authorities to put a chill on political hacking.
He had no doubt that his sentence would be long, describing it as a “vengeful, spiteful act”. He said of his prosecutors: “They have made it clear they are trying to send a message to others who come after me. A lot of it is because they got slapped around, they were embarrassed by Anonymous and they feel that they need to save face.”
Most pointedly, Hammond suggested that the FBI may have manipulated him to carry out hacking attacks on “dozens” of foreign government websites. During his time with Anonymous, the loose collective of hackers working alongside WikiLeaks and other anti-secrecy groups, he was often directed by a individual known pseudonomously on the web as “Sabu”, the leader of the Anonymous-affiliated group Lulzsec, who turned out to be an FBI informant.
Hammond, who is under court orders restricting what he says in public, told the Guardian that Sabu presented him with a list of targets, including many foreign government sites, and encouraged him to break into their computer systems. He said he was not sure whether Sabu was in turn acting on behalf of the FBI or other US government agency, but it was even possible that the FBI was using Sabu’s internet handle directly as contact between the two hackers was always made through cyberspace, never face-to-face.
“It is kind of funny that here they are sentencing me for hacking Stratfor, but at the same time as I was doing that an FBI informant was suggesting to me foreign targets to hit. So you have to wonder how much they really care about protecting the security of websites.”
In the interview, conducted in a secure prison meeting room hours before the 28-year-old Chicagoan was sentenced, he was sanguine about his prospects. “I knew when I started out with Anonymous that being put in jail and having a lengthy sentence was a possibility. Given the nature of the targets I was going after I knew I would upset a lot of powerful people.”
Dressed in a brown prison jump suit, and with a long wispy goatee and moustache (he planned to shave both off before the sentencing hearing), Hammond was scathing about the way the CFAA was being twisted in his view for political ends. “They are widening the definition of what is covered by the Act and using it to target specifically political activists,” he said.
He invoked the memory of Aaron Swartz, the open-data crusader who killed himself in January while awaiting trial under the CFAA for releasing documents from behind the subscription-only paywall of an online research group. “The same beast bit us both,” Hammond said. “They went after Aaron because of his involvement in legitimate political causes – they railroaded charges against him, and look what happened.”