NEW YORK – A self-described anarchist and “hacktivist” in the U.S. was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for illegally accessing computer systems of law enforcement agencies and government contractors.
Prosecutors said the cyberattacks were carried out by Anonymous, the loosely organized worldwide hacking group, and that participants stole confidential information, defaced websites and temporarily put some victims out of business.
Jeremy Hammond, 28, was caught last year with the help of Hector Xavier Monsegur, a well-known hacker known as “Sabu” who helped law enforcement infiltrate Anonymous.
More than 250 people, including Daniel Ellsberg, who famously leaked U.S. Defense Department documents during the Vietnam war, wrote letters of support for Hammond. His lawyers had asked that he be sentenced to time served, 20 months.
But U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said Hammond’s previous hacking conviction and arrests for other smaller crimes demonstrated his disrespect for the law. She also said she was imposing the sentence sought by prosecutors because Hammond’s own words from online chats revealed his motive was malicious.
In one chat, Hammond wrote that he hoped to cause “financial mayhem” with one of his cyberattacks. “I’m hoping for bankruptcy, collapse,” he said.
Hammond defied the judge by naming countries that had been victimized by the hacks moments after she had ruled they shouldn’t be disclosed. He later smiled and waved to his supporters in the courtroom as deputy U.S. marshals led him way through a rear door.
He told the judge he hacked into law enforcement-related sites in retaliation for the arrests of Occupy Wall Street protesters.
“Yes I broke the law, but I believe sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change,” he said. He said his hacking days are over but added, “I still believe in hacktivism as a form of civil disobedience.”
Hammond’s “motivation was always to reveal secrets that he believes and still believes the people in our democracy have a right to know,” the defense wrote in court papers.
The secret-spilling group WikiLeaks published much of the material Hammond is accused of having stolen. WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange had responded to Hammond’s guilty plea with a statement saying, “The Obama administration’s treatment of Jeremy Hammond is a disgrace.”
In its court filings, the government said Hammond had a previous hacking conviction and “caused harm to numerous businesses, individuals and governments, resulting in loses between $1 million and $2.5 million, and threatened the safety of the public at large.”
A criminal complaint said he took information of more than 850,000 people via his attack on Strategic Forecasting Inc., a publisher of geopolitical information also known as Stratfor. He also was accused of using the credit card numbers of Stratfor clients to make charges of at least $700,000.
On Friday, Hammond said he had targeted Stratfor because it “works in secret to protect government and corporate interests at the expense of individual rights.” He claimed the credit card charges were for donations to charities.
During his guilty plea, Hammond admitted he “took confidential information” from law enforcement agencies and contractors. In a 2005 feature article about Hammond’s hacking skills, he told the Chicago Reader he was a “hacktivist” who sought to promote causes but never for profit.