Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond’s Message to the World

The Sparrow Project November 15, 2013

Portrait of Jeremy Hammond by Molly Crabapple.

Jere­my Ham­mond, a 28-year-old polit­i­cal activist, was sen­tenced today to 10 years in prison after plead­ing guilty to par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Anony­mous hack into the com­put­ers of the pri­vate intel­li­gence firm Strate­gic Fore­cast­ing (Strat­for). The Cer­e­mo­ni­al Court­room at the Fed­er­al Court for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York was filled today with an out­pour­ing of sup­port by jour­nal­ists, activists and oth­er whistle­blow­ers who see Jere­my Hammond’s actions as a form of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, moti­vat­ed by a desire to protest and expose the secret activ­i­ties of pri­vate intel­li­gence corporations.

The fol­low­ing is Ham­mond’s final state­ment to the New York court:

Good morn­ing. Thank you for this oppor­tu­ni­ty. My name is Jere­my Ham­mond and I’m here to be sen­tenced for hack­ing activ­i­ties car­ried out dur­ing my involve­ment with Anony­mous. I have been locked up at MCC for the past 20 months and have had a lot of time to think about how I would explain my actions.

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to rec­og­nize the work of the peo­ple who have sup­port­ed me. I want to thank all the lawyers and oth­ers who worked on my case: Eliz­a­beth Fink, Susan Kell­man, Sarah Kun­stler, Emi­ly Kun­stler, Mar­garet Kun­stler, and Grainne O’Neill. I also want to thank the Nation­al Lawyers Guild, the Jere­my Ham­mond Defense Com­mit­tee and Sup­port Net­work, Free Anons, the Anony­mous Sol­i­dar­i­ty Net­work, Anar­chist Black Cross, and all oth­ers who have helped me by writ­ing a let­ter of sup­port, send­ing me let­ters, attend­ing my court dates, and spread­ing the word about my case. I also want to shout out my broth­ers and sis­ters behind bars and those who are still out there fight­ing the power.

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. 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.

Could I have achieved the same goals through legal means? I have tried every­thing from vot­ing peti­tions to peace­ful protest and have found that those in pow­er do not want the truth to be exposed. When we speak truth to pow­er we are ignored at best and bru­tal­ly sup­pressed at worst. We are con­fronting a pow­er struc­ture that does not respect its own sys­tem of checks and bal­ances, nev­er mind the rights of it’s own cit­i­zens or the inter­na­tion­al community.

My intro­duc­tion to pol­i­tics was when George W. Bush stole the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2000, then took advan­tage of the waves of racism and patri­o­tism after 911 to launch unpro­voked impe­ri­al­ist wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. I took to the streets in protest naive­ly believ­ing our voic­es would be heard in Wash­ing­ton and we could stop the war. Instead, we were labeled as trai­tors, beat­en, and arrested.

I have been arrest­ed for numer­ous acts of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence on the streets of Chica­go, but it wasn’t until 2005 that I used my com­put­er skills to break the law in polit­i­cal protest. I was arrest­ed by the FBI for hack­ing into the com­put­er sys­tems of a right-wing, pro-war group called Protest War­rior, an orga­ni­za­tion that sold racist t‑shirts on their web­site and harassed anti-war groups. I was charged under the Com­put­er Fraud and Abuse Act, and the intend­ed loss” in my case was arbi­trar­i­ly cal­cu­lat­ed by mul­ti­ply­ing the 5000 cred­it cards in Protest Warrior’s data­base by $500, result­ing in a total of $2.5 mil​lion​.My sen­tenc­ing guide­lines were cal­cu­lat­ed on the basis of this loss,” even though not a sin­gle cred­it card was used or dis­trib­uted – by me or any­one else. I was sen­tenced to two years in prison.

While in prison I have seen for myself the ugly real­i­ty of how the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem destroys the lives of the mil­lions of peo­ple held cap­tive behind bars. The expe­ri­ence solid­i­fied my oppo­si­tion to repres­sive forms of pow­er and the impor­tance of stand­ing up for what you believe.

When I was released, I was eager to con­tin­ue my involve­ment in strug­gles for social change. I didn’t want to go back to prison, so I focused on above-ground com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing. But over time, I became frus­trat­ed with the lim­i­ta­tions, of peace­ful protest, see­ing it as reformist and inef­fec­tive. The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion con­tin­ued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, esca­lat­ed the use of drones, and failed to close Guan­tanamo Bay.

Around this time, I was fol­low­ing the work of groups like Wik­ileaks and Anony­mous. It was very inspir­ing to see the ideas of hac­tivism com­ing to fruition. I was par­tic­u­lar­ly moved by the hero­ic actions of Chelsea Man­ning, who had exposed the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. She took an enor­mous per­son­al risk to leak this infor­ma­tion – believ­ing that the pub­lic had a right to know and hop­ing that her dis­clo­sures would be a pos­i­tive step to end these abus­es. It is heart-wrench­ing to hear about her cru­el treat­ment in mil­i­tary lockup.

I thought long and hard about choos­ing this path again. I had to ask myself, if Chelsea Man­ning fell into the abysmal night­mare of prison fight­ing for the truth, could I in good con­science do any less, if I was able? I thought the best way to demon­strate sol­i­dar­i­ty was to con­tin­ue the work of expos­ing and con­fronting corruption.

I was drawn to Anony­mous because I believe in autonomous, decen­tral­ized direct action. At the time Anony­mous was involved in oper­a­tions in sup­port of the Arab Spring upris­ings, against cen­sor­ship, and in defense of Wik­ileaks. I had a lot to con­tribute, includ­ing tech­ni­cal skills, and how to bet­ter artic­u­late ideas and goals. It was an excit­ing time — the birth of a dig­i­tal dis­sent move­ment, where the def­i­n­i­tions and capa­bil­i­ties of hack­tivism were being shaped.

I was espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in the work of the hack­ers of LulzSec who were break­ing into some sig­nif­i­cant tar­gets and becom­ing increas­ing­ly polit­i­cal. Around this time, I first start­ed talk­ing to Sabu, who was very open about the hacks he sup­pos­ed­ly com­mit­ted, and was encour­ag­ing hack­ers to unite and attack major gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate sys­tems under the ban­ner of Anti Secu­ri­ty. But very ear­ly in my involve­ment, the oth­er Lulzsec hack­ers were arrest­ed, leav­ing me to break into sys­tems and write press releas­es. Lat­er, I would learn that Sabu had been the first one arrest­ed, and that the entire time I was talk­ing to him he was an FBI informant.

Anony­mous was also involved in the ear­ly stages of Occu­py Wall Street. I was reg­u­lar­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing on the streets as part of Occu­py Chica­go and was very excit­ed to see a world­wide mass move­ment against the injus­tices of cap­i­tal­ism and racism. In sev­er­al short months, the Occu­pa­tions” came to an end, closed by police crack­downs and mass arrests of pro­tes­tors who were kicked out of their own pub­lic parks. The repres­sion of Anony­mous and the Occu­py Move­ment set the tone for Anti­sec in the fol­low­ing months – the major­i­ty of our hacks against police tar­gets were in retal­i­a­tion for the arrests of our comrades.

I tar­get­ed law enforce­ment sys­tems because of the racism and inequal­i­ty with which the crim­i­nal law is enforced. I tar­get­ed the man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of mil­i­tary and police equip­ment who prof­it from weapon­ry used to advance U.S. polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic inter­ests abroad and to repress peo­ple at home. I tar­get­ed infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty firms because they work in secret to pro­tect gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate inter­ests at the expense of indi­vid­ual rights, under­min­ing and dis­cred­it­ing activists, jour­nal­ists and oth­er truth seek­ers, and spread­ing disinformation.

I had nev­er even heard of Strat­for until Sabu brought it to my atten­tion. Sabu was encour­ag­ing peo­ple to invade sys­tems, and help­ing to strate­gize and facil­i­tate attacks. He even pro­vid­ed me with vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of tar­gets passed on by oth­er hack­ers, so it came as a great sur­prise when I learned that Sabu had been work­ing with the FBI the entire time.

On Decem­ber 4, 2011, Sabu was approached by anoth­er hack­er who had already bro­ken into Stratfor’s cred­it card data­base. Sabu, under the watch­ful eye of his gov­ern­ment han­dlers, then brought the hack to Anti­sec by invit­ing this hack­er to our pri­vate cha­t­room, where he sup­plied down­load links to the full cred­it card data­base as well as the ini­tial vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty access point to Stratfor’s systems.

I spent some time research­ing Strat­for and review­ing the infor­ma­tion we were giv­en, and decid­ed that their activ­i­ties and client base made them a deserv­ing tar­get. I did find it iron­ic that Stratfor’s wealthy and pow­er­ful cus­tomer base had their cred­it cards used to donate to human­i­tar­i­an orga­ni­za­tions, but my main role in the attack was to retrieve Stratfor’s pri­vate email spools which is where all the dirty secrets are typ­i­cal­ly found.

It took me more than a week to gain fur­ther access into Stratfor’s inter­nal sys­tems, but I even­tu­al­ly broke into their mail serv­er. There was so much infor­ma­tion, we need­ed sev­er­al servers of our own in order to trans­fer the emails. Sabu, who was involved with the oper­a­tion at every step, offered a serv­er, which was pro­vid­ed and mon­i­tored by the FBI. Over the next weeks, the emails were trans­ferred, the cred­it cards were used for dona­tions, and Stratfor’s sys­tems were defaced and destroyed. Why the FBI would intro­duce us to the hack­er who found the ini­tial vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and allow this hack to con­tin­ue remains a mystery.

As a result of the Strat­for hack, some of the dan­gers of the unreg­u­lat­ed pri­vate intel­li­gence indus­try are now known. It has been revealed through Wik­ileaks and oth­er jour­nal­ists around the world that Strat­for main­tained a world­wide net­work of infor­mants that they used to engage in intru­sive and pos­si­bly ille­gal sur­veil­lance activ­i­ties on behalf of large multi­na­tion­al corporations.

After Strat­for, I con­tin­ued to break into oth­er tar­gets, using a pow­er­ful zero day exploit” allow­ing me admin­is­tra­tor access to sys­tems run­ning the pop­u­lar Plesk web­host­ing plat­form. Sabu asked me many times for access to this exploit, which I refused to give him. With­out his own inde­pen­dent access, Sabu con­tin­ued to sup­ply me with lists of vul­ner­a­ble tar­gets. I broke into numer­ous web­sites he sup­plied, uploaded the stolen email accounts and data­bas­es onto Sabu’s FBI serv­er, and hand­ed over pass­words and back­doors that enabled Sabu (and, by exten­sion, his FBI han­dlers) to con­trol these targets.

These intru­sions, all of which were sug­gest­ed by Sabu while coop­er­at­ing with the FBI, affect­ed thou­sands of domain names and con­sist­ed large­ly of for­eign gov­ern­ment web­sites, includ­ing those of XXXXXXX, XXXXXXXX, XXXX, XXXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXXXXX, XXXXXXX and the XXXXXX XXXXXXX. In one instance, Sabu and I pro­vid­ed access infor­ma­tion to hack­ers who went on to deface and destroy many gov­ern­ment web­sites in XXXXXX. I don’t know how oth­er infor­ma­tion I pro­vid­ed to him may have been used, but I think the government’s col­lec­tion and use of this data needs to be investigated. 

The gov­ern­ment cel­e­brates my con­vic­tion and impris­on­ment, hop­ing that it will close the door on the full sto­ry. I took respon­si­bil­i­ty for my actions, by plead­ing guilty, but when will the gov­ern­ment be made to answer for its crimes?

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.

In the immor­tal word of Fred­er­ick Dou­glas, Pow­er con­cedes noth­ing with­out a demand. It nev­er did and it nev­er will. Find out just what any peo­ple will qui­et­ly sub­mit to and you have found out the exact mea­sure of injus­tice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will con­tin­ue till they are resist­ed with either words or blows, or both. The lim­its of tyrants are pre­scribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

This is not to say that I do not have any regrets. I real­ize that I released the per­son­al infor­ma­tion of inno­cent peo­ple who had noth­ing to do with the oper­a­tions of the insti­tu­tions I tar­get­ed. I apol­o­gize for the release of data that was harm­ful to indi­vid­u­als and irrel­e­vant to my goals. I believe in the indi­vid­ual right to pri­va­cy — from gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance, and from actors like myself, and I appre­ci­ate the irony of my own involve­ment in the tram­pling of these rights. I am com­mit­ted to work­ing to make this world a bet­ter place for all of us. I still believe in the impor­tance of hac­tivism as a form of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, but it is time for me to move on to oth­er ways of seek­ing change. My time in prison has tak­en a toll on my fam­i­ly, friends, and com­mu­ni­ty. I know I am need­ed at home. I rec­og­nize that 7 years ago I stood before a dif­fer­ent fed­er­al judge, fac­ing sim­i­lar charges, but this does not lessen the sin­cer­i­ty of what I say to you today.

It has tak­en a lot for me to write this, to explain my actions, know­ing that doing so — hon­est­ly — could cost me more years of my life in prison. I am aware that I could get as many as 10 years, but I hope that I do not, as I believe there is so much work to be done.


Note: A por­tion of the text (all ital­ic X’s) remains redact­ed upon request of Judge Pres­ka. It rep­re­sents for­eign gov­ern­ments that Ham­mond alleged­ly hacked.

Reprint­ed with per­mis­sion from The Spar­row Project. For more infor­ma­tion, please vis­it http://​free​je​re​my​.net.

The Spar­row Project is a bou­tique pub­lic­i­ty and cre­ative direc­tion agency. We help grass­roots projects for social change claim their own media nar­ra­tives, through dis­trib­ut­ing tar­get­ed press releas­es, spe­cial­ized event pro­mo­tions and impec­ca­bly sub­ver­sive art direction.
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