NEW YORK – An unrepentant self-described “hacktivist” was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for illegally accessing computer systems of law enforcement agencies and government contractors.
Before hearing his sentence, Jeremy Hammond told a Manhattan federal judge that his goal was to expose injustices by the private intelligence industry when he joined forces with Anonymous, the loosely organized worldwide hacking group that has stolen confidential information, defaced websites and temporarily put some victims out of business.
“Yes I broke the law, but I believe sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change,” he said. The Chicago computer whiz and college dropout insisted his hacking days are over but added, “I still believe in hacktivism as a form of civil disobedience.”
More than 250 people wrote letters of support for Hammond, including Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame. Defense lawyers asked that Hammond be sentenced to time served, 20 months.
But U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said Hammond’s previous hacking conviction and arrests for other smaller crimes demonstrated his disrespect for the law. She also said she was imposing the sentence sought by prosecutors because his own words from online chats revealed his motive was malicious.
In one chat, Hammond wrote that he hoped to cause “financial mayhem” with one of his cyberattacks. “I’m hoping for bankruptcy, collapse,” he said.
Hammond, 28, defied the judge by naming countries that had been victimized by the hacks moments after she had ruled they shouldn’t be disclosed. He later smiled and waved to his supporters in the courtroom as deputy U.S. marshals led him way through a rear door.
The FBI caught Hammond last year with the help of Hector Xavier Monsegur, a famous hacker known as Sabu who helped law enforcement infiltrate Anonymous.
Prosecutors described Hammond as “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.”
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.
On Friday, Hammond said he had targeted Stratfor because it “works in secret to protect government and corporate interests at the expense of individual rights.” He claimed the credit card charges were for donations to charities.
Hammond also told the judge he hacked into law enforcement-related sites in retaliation for the arrests of Occupy Wall Street protesters.
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 hacked 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.”
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.”