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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Hero and The Villains

The Jeremy Hammond Sentence

By Alfred Lopez
Counter Punch
November 20, 2013

This past Friday, Internet activist Jeremy Hammond stood in
a federal courtroom and told Judge Loretta A. Preska why he
released a trove of emails and other information uncovering
the possibly illegal and certainly immoral collaboration of
a major surveillance corporation called Stratfor with our
government.

He also stressed what followers of his case already knew: that
his activities were encouraged, organized and facilitated by an
FBI informant turned operative.

In short, his partner in these “violations of United States law”
was the government of the United States.

He acknowledged that the Judge could sentence him to 10 years
in jail but he never apologized for his actions or questioned their
validity as political activism.

And, in a statement remarkable for his courage and political
principle (after 20 months in jail on this case), he established
himself as one of the heroes of the struggle over for freedom
and justice.

In a world in which people often seek to defend themselves in
court by questioning whether they did what they are accused
of, Hammond defended himself by saying that he did what they
said he did and more, and that he was right to do it.

“The acts of civil disobedience and direct action that I am being
sentenced for today are in line with the principles of community
and equality that have guided my life,” he told the court.

“I hacked into dozens of high profile corporations and government
institutions, understanding very clearly that what I was doing was
against the law, and that my actions could land me back in federal
prison. But I felt that I had an obligation to use my skills to expose
and confront injustice–and to bring the truth to light.”

Expecting justice from Judge Preska was probably a stretch.

She had previously refused to recuse herself from the trial after it
was learned that her husband was one of the targets of Hammond’s
Stratfor hacks.

But when she hit him with the maximum jail sentence, a decade,
and then churlishly hit him with three extra years of probation
upon release during which he can’t use encryption on the Internet,
which essential forbids him from living a modern life, she put
the exclamation point on the statement this case makes about our
government.

While conducting surveillance on all its citizens (and using drones
and agents and wars to trample on the human rights of people
world-wide), it also uses elaborate stings and agent strategies to
lure Internet activists into gathering information it wants but
can’t legally obtain and then puts them in jail to shut them up.

It is, without question, a chilling story.

At the age of 29, Hammond is already a seasoned, experienced
and “struggle-weathered” political activist.

He was an anti-war activist in High School at 18 when he launched
the legendary website HackThisSite [2], “a free, safe and legal
training ground for hackers to test and expand their hacking skills”
that remains one of the most popular and respected hacking
education on-line communities.

His history during the last decade is sprinkled with a series of
arrests during protests against the Iraq war, the trampling of
gay rights, the erosion of democratic rights and the disruptive
activities of extreme right-wing groups.

He’s been beaten and arrested on more than a half dozen occasions
for these actions.

In fact, in 2007, Hammond was imprisoned for hacking into
the website of the right-wing group Protest Warrior, known
for attacking anti-war demonstrations.

The hack captured all kinds of information and brought the website
down.

Some of that info included credit card numbers for contributors to
Protest Warrior and, although no card was ever used or charged to
as a result, the government charged Hammond with what amounts
to card theft and jailed him to two years.

When he was released he returned to protest but, he told the
court, “The Obama administration continued the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, escalated the use of drones, and failed to
close Guantanamo Bay.”

Believing more direct action was needed, he returned to hacking
and began targeting police departments and law enforcement
agencies “because of the racism and inequality with which
the criminal law is enforced” and hitting military and police
equipment manufacturers as well as surveillance and security
contractors.

Then he met Sabu.

Hector Xavier Monsegur (known on-line as Sabu) was the most
visible figure in LulzSec, a hacker collective known for several
high-profile hacks of of government and corporate sites.

Monsegur, who lived in the Jacob Riis Projects of New York’s
Lower East Side, had a reputation among activists as a prankster
who seemed to hack power sites more for enjoyment and rebellious
“rush” than for principled politics.

His statements and tweets were, in fact, never that political.

It’s safe to say that many on-line activists were wary of Sabu
and that was well-founded because Sabu was working for the
FBI.

As Assistant U.S. Attorney James Pastore said at a secret bail
hearing on Aug. 5, 2011 about a month after Sabu was arrested by
the FBI, “Since literally the day he was arrested, the defendant has
been cooperating with the government proactively.”

Sabu wasn’t just a snitch (although he appears to have given the FBI
every name, email and detail about hackers and activists he knew),
he was an active provocateur, using his LulzSec “cover” to ensnare
other Internet activists in criminal acts.

Using FBI servers, he coordinated hacker projects that would land
Internet activists, including almost the entire LulzSec collective,
in jail, the equivalent of committing crimes in the FBI’s offices.

He targeted dozens of other activists and even tried to involve
Nadim Kobeissi [3], the respected Canadian technologist and
author of the secure communication software Cryptocat, but
Kobeissi rebuffed those overtures and that ensnarement project
was dropped.

In December, 2011, Sabu hit the jackpot.

He obtained exploits (programs that allowed entrance into a server)
to the credit card database of Statfor, a security and surveillance
contractor that works for a literal who’s who of corporations.

Under FBI supervision, Sabu logged onto a private chatroom run by
the hacker collective AntiSec (of which Hammond was a member)
and began distributing links and passwords to Statfor’s servers.

Hammond got involved, spending a week attempting access
to Stratfor’s email systems and then loading the information
he and others gleaned onto servers owned and run by the FBI.

The resulting information, mostly released by Wikileaks, was
stunning.

The emails showed that Stratfor had spied on movements in other
countries, movements and organizations in the U.S. and individual
activists.

It targeted PETA, the political “prankster” organization the
YesMen and activists involved in the campaign against Dow
Chemical over the catastrophic Bhopal, India gas leaks.

It conducted, in cooperation with the government, a remarkable
campaign of intense surveillance and infiltration of the Occupy
movement.

“And,” as journalist Chris Hedges said in an interview with the Real
News Network [4], “we also found from those email exchanges that
there was a concerted attempt on the part of security officials both
inside the government and within the private security contracting
agency, to link, falsely, nonviolent dissident groups with terrorist
groups so that they could apply terrorism laws against these groups.”

According to his statement, after the Statfor hack, Hammond
continued using Sabu’s information to hack corporate sites and
several official government sites.

He also supplied Sabu and other hackers with information
similarly used.

“I don’t know how other information I provided to (Sabu) may
have been used,” Hammond says, “but I think the government’s
collection and use of this data needs to be investigated.”

Part of his statement, stricken by the Judge after Prosecution
objections but made available at the Pastebin site [5], reads
like a spy novel:

“Sabu also supplied lists of targets…At his request, these websites
were broken into, their emails and databases were uploaded to
Sabu’s FBI server, and the password information and the location
of root backdoors were supplied. These intrusions took place in January/February of 2012 and affected over 2000 domains,
including numerous foreign government websites in Brazil, Turkey,
Syria, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Nigeria, Iran, Slovenia, Greece,
Pakistan, and others. A few of the compromised websites that I
recollect include the official website of the Governor of Puerto
Rico, the Internal Affairs Division of the Military Police of Brazil,
the Official Website of the Crown Prince of Kuwait, the Tax
Department of Turkey, the Iranian Academic Center for Education
and Cultural Research, the Polish Embassy in the UK, and the
Ministry of Electricity of Iraq.”

According to Hammond, Sabu also infiltrated a group of hackers
that had access to hundreds of Syrian systems including government
institutions, banks, and ISPs.

“The FBI took advantage of hackers who wanted to help support the
Syrian people against the Assad regime, who instead unwittingly
provided the U.S. government access to Syrian systems undoubtedly
supplying useful intelligence to the military and their buildup for
war.”

“All of this happened under the control and supervision of the FBI.”
he adds.

“…However, the full extent of the FBI’s abuses remains hidden.
Because I pled guilty, I do not have access to many documents
that might have been provided to me in advance of trial, such
as Sabu’s communications with the FBI. In addition, the majority
of the documents provided to me are under a ‘protective order’
which insulates this material from public scrutiny…I believe the
documents will show that the government’s actions go way beyond
catching hackers and stopping computer crimes.”

Sometimes the stunning nature of a story actually blinds us to its
real meaning and this may be one such case.

What shines here is, of course, that the U.S. government engaged
in criminal behavior.

One of its agents facilitated Hammond’s “crime” by giving
him necessary information, then encouraging him to use it
and supporting him as he did.

The government itself helped Hammond load the huge amount
of information by giving him access to government servers.

The FBI then encouraged and facilitated Hammond’s continued
hackactivism against many other sites including those of other
governments, there’s no way of telling how much information
on other governments it ended up with but, given recent NSA
surveillance revelations, nothing would surprise.

If you did what the government did, you would be in jail.

After doing what it did, the government is throwing someone
else in jail.

But the more important issue is why.

It’s clear that the U.S. government was using Hammond and other
progressive activists to spy and gather data on other governments
world-wide.

Coupled with recent revelations about the NSA’ Muscular and
Prism programs, these facts paint a picture of a government
that conducts surveillance on the world through the Internet
circumventing the normal channels of law and courts that are
built to restrict this kind of activity.

While information providers like Chelsea Manning and Edward
Snowden have demonstrated how the government uses information
technology to spy on the world (and its own citizens), Hammond’s
revelations show that it uses Internet activists to do the same and
then, to shut them up, punishes them for doing it.

What’s more, Hammond’s case exposes the almost non-existent
lines between intelligence agencies of this government and the
network of contractors it hires to do some of its work.

While the government can be slapped for ignoring the laws of
privacy that it has consistently violated, these companies are
immune to such criticism because they don’t operate under those
laws.

Finally, though, it’s not what Hammond did but what he is and
what he represents.

Other well-known whistle-blowers are often people working for
governments or involved in Internet data work who suddenly see
the sins of the United States’ immoral and destruction policies,
and then act on those light-bulb moments.

But Jeremy Hammond is an activist first and foremost, a person
whose activities have been as much “on the streets” as in front
of a computer.

In that sense, he is much more representative of the Internet
activists who serve the progressive movement of this country and
others throughout the world: people who believe in democracy and
justice and then use their computer skills as a logical extension of
those beliefs.

To a repressive government likes ours involved in a frenzied search
for a way to maintain its control over a decaying and dismantling
system, they are the greater danger.

Whether through hack work like Hammond’s or through the
facilitating of movement communications and organizing on-
line, these are the people who manage, design and protect the
tools of movement communication.

Jeremy Hammond’s arrest and conviction appear to be a chilling
message to us but the most powerful message is the warming one
he gave us in his court statement.

“I took responsibility for my actions, by pleading guilty, but when
will the government be made to answer for its crimes?” he told
the court. “The U.S. hypes the threat of hackers in order to
justify the multi billion dollar cyber security industrial complex,
but it is also responsible for the same conduct it aggressively
prosecutes and claims to work to prevent. The hypocrisy of ‘law
and order’ and the injustices caused by capitalism cannot be cured
by institutional reform but through civil disobedience and direct
action. Yes I broke the law, but I believe that sometimes laws must
be broken in order to make room for change.”

A person who makes that statement facing ten years in jail is a “hero”…without qualification.



Alfredo Lopez writes about technology issues for This Can’t Be
Happening!

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/11/18/the-hero-and-the-
villains-the-jeremy-hammond-sentence

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