Meet Jeremy Hammond, Arrested Chicago Hacker

Matt Muchowski March 9, 2012

On March 6, 2012 FBI agents arrest­ed five hack­ers alleged to be active in groups relat­ed to Anony­mous.  They are accused of break­ing into a num­ber of cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment web­sites and net­works and shar­ing the infor­ma­tion online.I could be described as a friend to Chica­go-based hack­er Jere­my Ham­mond.  We met doing stu­dent anti-war orga­niz­ing in 2004, and I once drove to Tole­do, Ohio to bail Ham­mond and a num­ber of oth­er activists out of jail.  They had trav­eled to Ohio to protest against a neo-Nazi group and been arrest­ed under a dra­con­ian judi­cial decree that out­lawed any gath­er­ing of 3 or more peo­ple with­out a per­mit.Ham­mond, 27, has been charged with one count of com­put­er hack­ing con­spir­a­cy, one count of com­put­er hack­ing and one count of con­spir­a­cy to com­mit access device fraud. Each charge car­ries a max­i­mum ten-year prison sen­tence. The Anon/​LulzSec leader-turned-FBI-infor­mant, a man who went by the alias “Sabu,” helped the FBI track and iden­ti­fy Ham­mond and oth­er hacktivists.
Pri­or to his arrest this week, Ham­mond spent two years in prison for hack­ing into the web­site of the con­ser­v­a­tive pro-war group Protest War­rior.’ That a fel­low hack­er was also involved in his pre­vi­ous arrest also has led to a fair amount of deri­sion.“Like a lot of hack­ers, [Ham­mond] com­bines brains, ide­al­ism, and stu­pid­i­ty in equal mea­sures,” writes Whet Moser in a Chica­go mag­a­zine pro­file.But Ham­mond was in many ways a per­son well ahead of his time. Groups like Anony­mous were prac­ti­cal­ly based on the work he did and the phi­los­o­phy of hack­tivism’ that he tout­ed.  Ham­mond ran the hack­er train­ing web­site Hack This Site and was a key per­son in Hack This Zine. Inspired by groups like the Elec­tro-hip­pies who take cred­it for crash­ing the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion’s web­site dur­ing the 1999 protests, Ham­mond played an impor­tant role in pro­mot­ing the use of hack­ing for Anar­chist caus­es.In a video from the Hack­er con­fer­ence Def-Con in 2004, Ham­mond describes his phi­los­o­phy of “elec­tron­ic civ­il dis­obe­di­ence” and chal­lenges the author­i­ties’ des­ig­na­tion of hack­ing as cyber-ter­ror­ism: Ter­ror­ism seeks to put fear into the pop­u­la­tion and hack­tivism would rather unite peo­ple, bring them togeth­er and empow­er peo­ple, to give them the abil­i­ty, that togeth­er we can make a dif­fer­ence, that we can put peo­ple on top of unjust cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ments.”Ham­mond is accused of hack­ing into Strate­gic Fore­cast­ing, Inc. or Strat­for. Strat­for is known as a for-prof­it cor­po­rate ver­sion of the CIA. The files, con­sist­ing of e‑mails and inter­nal doc­u­ments was post­ed on Wik­iLeaks.In describ­ing the Strat­for doc­u­ments, the Guardian has described a num­ber of eth­i­cal and pos­si­ble legal vio­la­tions the com­pa­ny had made. The mem­o­’s show that Strat­for had been seek­ing to prof­it by dis­rupt­ing jour­nal­ists and activist groups,” includ­ing groups like the Bhopal Med­ical Appeal, which sought to protest DOW Chem­i­cal for not clean­ing up the tox­ic waste in Bhopal as a result of the Union Car­bide gas explo­sion in 1984.The Guardian also points out that Strat­for’s process of buy­ing infor­ma­tion from gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate insid­ers and then seek­ing to prof­it from that infor­ma­tion could attract unwant­ed atten­tion from the Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion:By its very nature, of course, such infor­ma­tion is secret and often pro­tect­ed by gov­ern­ment order. Noth­ing short of a major con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tion will be able to drill down into this intel­li­gence-indus­tri­al car­tel to assess not just the qual­i­ty of the infor­ma­tion and the way it was obtained, but whether or not any of it serves the pub­lic interest—or the very oppo­site. That is, unless Anony­mous or Wik­iLeaks gets there and does the work first.In many ways, who­ev­er hacked Strat­for was liv­ing up the Hack­er Cre­do that Infor­ma­tion Wants to be Free.” It has led to a num­ber of ques­tions about the oper­a­tions of a com­pa­ny that might put prof­it over ethics and legal­i­ty.Ham­mond is also charged with charg­ing the cred­it cards of Strat­for’s clients to var­i­ous pro­gres­sive groups. This has led some to call him a dig­i­tal Robin Hood.  While some activists may cheer releas­ing cor­po­rate infor­ma­tion, many balk at using those cor­po­rate clients cred­it cards with­out autho­riza­tion. How­ev­er. the his­to­ry of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence has shown that finan­cial tolls on pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ments are often the most effec­tive form of protest. No one has accused Ham­mond of using the mon­ey for him­self.  A free­gan” who protests the waste­ful­ness of the food indus­try by dump­ster div­ing and eat­ing food that has been thrown away, he could have bought much nicer things for him­self.  Although, if he had used the mon­ey on him­self, he might have been able to evade cap­ture by the author­i­ties by mov­ing out of the coun­try.If Ham­mond did hack Strat­for, it is entire­ly pos­si­ble that he was a vic­tim of entrap­ment.  A tar­get by the FBI because of his pol­i­tics and pre­vi­ous arrests, he may have been per­suad­ed and pres­sured into hack­ing a com­pa­ny that he might not have known of before. Con­sid­er­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of cor­rup­tion in Strat­for, Ham­monds arrest should only fuel the dis­trust of the gov­ern­ment from many in the Anony­mous and Occu­py movements.
Matt Muchows­ki works for Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union and enjoys defeat­ing anti-union leg­is­la­tion. He lives in Chica­go and for a brief but mem­o­rable time was asso­ciate pub­lish­er of In These Times.
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