The leak suggested that Stratfor had spied on nonviolent activists for Dow Chemical and monitored Occupy Wall Street protests for the DHS.
Internet activist and hacker Jeremy Hammond, 28, pleaded guilty in a federal court on Tuesday for his role in a campaign that accessed sensitive information and publicized internal emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor. Hammond will now await sentencing that could force him to serve as much as 10 years in prison and pay up to $2.5 million in restitution.
The Stratfor leak was carried out by the online activist group LulzSec, an offshoot of the hacktivist organization Anonymous. The group accessed Stratfor’s servers and obtained passwords, credit card numbers and other information on the company’s clients. The group later published internal Stratfor emails on WikiLeaks.
Included in the leaked emails was evidence suggesting that Stratfor spied on non-violent activists for Dow Chemical, monitored Occupy Wall Street activity for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and kept tabs on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on behalf of Coca-Cola.
Hammond and the other hackers were caught after a LulzSec-leader-turned-FBI-informant helped the government track them down.
Hammond pleaded guilty as part of a non-cooperating plea agreement to one violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Before his plea agreement, Hammond had been faced a possible sentence of 30 years in prison.
In a statement, Hammond said the plea agreement “frees me to tell the world what I did and why, without exposing any tactics or information to the government and without jeopardizing the lives and well-being of other activists on and offline.”
“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,” Hammond wrote. “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.”
Hammond said the decision to plead guilty was difficult, noting that “there were numerous problems with the government’s case, including the credibility of FBI informant Hector Monsegur.” However, he said the decision was best for himself, his family and his friends.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Hammond has been held at the Manhattan Correctional Center in New York City since March 2012. He has been denied visits and phone calls from family and friends, and has been held for weeks in solitary confinement, he said.
Abi Hassen, mass defense coordinator for the National Lawyers Guild, said Hammond’s case demonstrated that corporate-government surveillance is one of the most rapidly expanding threats to civil liberties today.
“The Stratfor leak is a glimpse into a secret world of corporate spying that is incompatible with this country’s democratic values,” Hassen said in a statement published by The Sparrow Project. “(Tuesday’s) hearing should be a springboard for further investigation of Stratfor, not an opportunity to condemn a young man to a decade in prison for his political activism.”
Jason Hammond, Jeremy Hammond’s twin brother, is circulating an online petition calling for Jeremy Hammond to be sentenced to time served and released.
“Jeremy has taken responsibility for what he’s done, but he should not face such a harsh sentence for an act of protest from which he did not personally benefit,” said Jason Hammond. “I’m glad he’s moved one step closer to freedom but today I’m asking for the judge to consider a sentence appropriate to what is nothing other than a non-violent political protest.”
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 6.
Earlier this year, two British Internet activists received prison sentences for their involvement in LulzSec leaks, while another was ordered to complete 3,000 hours of community service.
Earlier Mint Press News reporting on the Jeremy Hammond case can be found here.