Is A Hacker-Turned-Informant Helping The FBI Spy On Foreign Countries?

Another delay for the sentencing of former Anonymous hacker Sabu Monsegur is raising questions about his true role.
By @FrederickReese |
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    In this Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, photo, protestors wearing Guy Fawkes masks hold the logos of the international hacker group Anonymous during a demonstration against Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, ACTA, in Budapest, Hungary.  The shadowy world of Internet hackers and pranksters was rocked by news Tuesday, March 6, 2012, that Hector Xavier Monsegur, 28, one of the world’s most-wanted and most-feared computer vandals has been an FBI informant for months and helped authorities build a case against five alleged comrades. (AP Photo/MTI, Janos Marjai)

    Protestors wearing Guy Fawkes masks hold the logos of the international hacker group Anonymous during a demonstration in Budapest, Hungary Feb. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/MTI, Janos Marjai)

    At 10 a.m. August 23, sentencing for Anonymous hacker Hector “Sabu” Monsegur — which was scheduled for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York — was adjourned without explanation. Monsegur has become an old hand with these delays, as his sentencing has been delayed multiple times — the previous delay was in February — since his guilty plea to 12 criminal charges was entered in August 2011. The charges include multiple counts of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking, computer hacking for the purpose to defraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.

    In a prepared statement in advance of Monsegur’s sentencing, Jeremy Hammond — a LulzSec member currently facing sentencing for an arrest based on information provided to the FBI — alleged that the FBI is using Monsegur to attack foreign governments.

    Hammond’s statement reads:

    It is widely known that Sabu was used to build cases against a number of hackers, including myself. What many do not know is that Sabu was also used by his handlers to facilitate the hacking of targets of the government’s choosing – including numerous websites belonging to foreign governments.

    What the United States could not accomplish legally, it used Sabu, and by extension, me and my co-defendants, to accomplish illegally. The questions that should be asked today go way beyond what an appropriate sentence for Sabu might be: Why was the United States using us to infiltrate the private networks of foreign governments? What are they doing with the information we stole? And will anyone in our government ever be held accountable for these crimes?

    These allegations cannot currently be verified independently. While it is known that Monsegur has infiltrated the computer networks of other countries, it cannot be definitively proven that he did it under the employment or direction of the federal government. However, the nature of the government’s relationship with Monsegur — which has led to multiple arrests, critical testimony in two computer crimes cases and a near-total subversion of LulzSec and Anonymous — deserves examination, in light of the government’s third request to postpone sentencing for the former Lulzsec leader.

    Hammond’s allegation came at a bad time. On Monday, the United Nations warned the U.S. that the nation has a responsibility to respect the “inviolability” of foreign diplomatic missions.

    It follows revelations that the U.S. allegedly spied on foreign nations via its National Security Agency-operated electronic surveillance program. As host nation of the United Nations, the United States is obligated by international law to respect the sovereignty of national and international missions, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Farhan Haq, told reporters at a daily U.N. news briefing.

    Monsegur, according to court documents, did indeed play a role in attacks on computers belonging to the Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria and Zimbabwe governments in 2010 and 2011. While it is unclear if Monsegur was involved as an informant at the time of the attacks or if the attacks continued, it is clear that the FBI will not let go of Monsegur until it has extracted his full value as an informant — including testimony in the upcoming trial of Matthew Keys, a journalist accused of computer crimes after allegedly asking Anonymous to attack his former employer’s website.

     

    The perfect informant

    According to court documentation, Monsegur proved to be an eager, exceedingly cooperative witness for the government. In the Aug. 5, 2011 bail hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Pastore categorized Monsegur as helpful and willingly working around the clock to help the government build its cases. “Since literally the day he was arrested, the defendant has been cooperating with the government proactively,” said Pastore.

    Monsegur’s sentencing has been rescheduled for October 25. He is expected to receive leniency for his cooperation with the FBI from the maximum sentence of 124 years he faces.

    Monsegur, immediately after being apprehended by the FBI, agreed to turn informant — going so far as to continue being “Sabu” in conversation with other Anonymous members while in custody. Information obtained from Monsegur has led to the 2012 arrests of five LulzSec members and a sixth Antisec hacker. LulzSec was on the FBI’s hit-list for attacks on Sony, the CIA, the U.S. Senate and the FBI itself. The government was also able to stop more than 300 attacks and identify more than 150 security vulnerabilities due to Monsegur’s assistance.

    LulzSec, which Monsegur co-founded, was ultimately a short-run operation. In June 2011, the group disbanded, as announced via Pastebin:

    “It’s time to say bon voyage. Our planned 50 day cruise has expired, and we must now sail into the distance, leaving behind — we hope — inspiration, fear, denial, happiness, approval, disapproval, mockery, embarrassment, thoughtfulness, jealousy, hate, even love. If anything, we hope we had a microscopic impact on someone, somewhere. Anywhere.”

    It was at this time the FBI started its investigation, eventually finding Monsegur.

     

    United States v. Jeremy Hammond

    One of the LulzSec hackers arrested due to information Monsegur gave the FBI was Hammond. Hammond, 28, is currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to the Anonymous attempt to hack private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor). In 2011, Anonymous successfully hacked Stratfor’s email servers, revealing that the company was contracted to surveil on political protesters and activists, including Occupy Wall Street and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

    WikiLeaks, who published the emails as part of its “Global Intelligence Files,” wrote:

    The emails expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.

    Hammond’s group would later release the personal information of thousands of Stratfor’s subscribers and publish a second set of emails pointing to the company’s establishment of a secret nationwide facial recognition surveillance network on Christmas Eve, 2011.

    Hammond plead guilty, in large part due to perceived government bullying. “There were numerous problems with the government’s case, including the credibility of FBI informant Hector Monsegur,” Hammond wrote in a statement to the Free Jeremy website, which continued:

    However, because prosecutors stacked the charges with inflated damages figures, I was looking at a sentencing guideline range of over 30 years if I lost at trial. I have wonderful lawyers and an amazing community of people on the outside who support me. None of that changes the fact that I was likely to lose at trial. But, even if I was found not guilty at trial, the government claimed that there were eight other outstanding indictments against me from jurisdictions scattered throughout the country. If I had won this trial I would likely have been shipped across the country to face new but similar charges in a different district. The process might have repeated indefinitely. Ultimately I decided that the most practical route was to accept this plea with a maximum of a ten year sentence and immunity from prosecution in every federal court.

    Now that I have pleaded guilty it is a relief to be able to say that I did work with Anonymous to hack Stratfor, among other websites. Those others included military and police equipment suppliers, private intelligence and information security firms, and law enforcement agencies. I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors.

    “I did what I believe is right,” concluded Hammond.

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