A self-described anarchist and "hacktivist" from Chicago was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for illegally accessing computer systems of law enforcement agencies and government contractors.
Prosecutors said the cyberattacks were carried out by Anonymous, the loosely organized worldwide hacking group, and that its participants stole confidential information, defaced websites and temporarily put some victims out of business. Jeremy Hammond was caught last year with the help of Hector Xavier Monsegur, a famous hacker known as Sabu who helped law enforcement infiltrate Anonymous.
More than 250 people, including Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, wrote letters of support for Hammond; his lawyers had asked that he be sentenced to time served, 20 months.
Hammond told the judge he hacked into law enforcement-related sites in retaliation for the arrests of Occupy Wall Street protesters.
"Yes I broke the law, but I believe sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change," he said. He said his hacking days are over but added, "I still believe in hacktivism as a form of civil disobedience."
Hammond's "motivation was always to reveal secrets that he believes and still believes the people in our democracy have a right to know," the defense wrote in court papers.
In its court filings, the government noted that Hammond had a previous hacking conviction.
Hammond "is a computer hacking recidivist who ... went on to engage in massive hacking spree during which he caused harm to numerous businesses, individuals and governments, resulting in loses between $1 million and $2.5 million, and threatened the safety of the public at large, especially law enforcement officers and their families."
A criminal complaint said Hammond pilfered information of more than 850,000 people via his attack on Austin, Texas-based Strategic Forecasting Inc., a publisher of geopolitical information also known as Stratfor. He also was accused of using the credit card numbers of Stratfor clients to make charges of at least $700,000. He bragged that he even snared the personal data of a former U.S. vice president and one-time CIA director, authorities said.
During his guilty plea, Hammond admitted he "took confidential information" from law enforcement agencies and contractors.
Hammond once rallied against plans to hold the 2016 Olympics in Chicago because he felt it would hurt low-income people; another time, he protested against neo-Nazi groups.
In a 2005 feature article about Hammond's hacking skills, he told the Chicago Reader he could program video games before he was 10. He told the newspaper he was a "hacktivist" who sought to promote causes but never for profit.
A website for supporters, freehammond.com, has described Hammond as "one of the few true electronic Robin Hoods."
But prosecutors called him a menace: In one online chat, regarding Stratfor, Hammond allegedly wrote, "Time to feast upon their (email databases)."
Hammond, who used online aliases such as "credible threat" and "yohoho," once described himself as "an anarchist communist," the complaint says.
He has been previously arrested for marijuana possession and involvement in a protest where an Olympic banner was torn down, according to court papers.
The secret-spilling group WikiLeaks published much of the material Hammond is accused of having stolen. Wikileaks chief Julian Assange had responded to the May guilty plea with a statement saying, "The Obama administration's treatment of Jeremy Hammond is a disgrace."