Jeremy Hammond pleaded guilty today in federal court to a single count of conspiracy. Hammond had been facing 30 years to life in prison for his part in the hacking of the corporate spy agency Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, in 2011. Today’s plea is part of a deal with prosecutors under which Hammond will face a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Dressed in a navy blue prison jumpsuit, Hammond raised his right hand in a fist when Judge Loretta Preska asked him to raise his hand and swear to tell the truth. He then read a statement admitting to his part in the Stratfor hack and the subsequent release of private Stratfor e-mails to Wikileaks.
Hammond also admitted his participation in several other hacking incidents between June of 2011 and March of 2012, when he was arrested, including the unpermitted accessing of the websites of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the FBI’s “virtual academy,” Brooks-Jeffrey Marketing, Special Forces Gear, Vanguard Defense Industries, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, the Boston Police Patrolman’s Association, and Combined Systems, Inc. Under the terms of Hammond’s deal with prosecutors, he won’t face prosecution for any of those incidents. Hammond’s lawyers said the daunting prospect of fighting those cases in addition to the Stratfor charges was a significant factor in his decision to take a plea.
“The real problem was there were all of these other threats of other prosecutions in different jurisdictions,” said Gráinne O’Neill, a member of Hammond’s legal team. “The idea that if we won at trial, we would then have to go to another jurisdiction and another state and face a whole new set of charges was a big challenge for him and for the defense.”
In addition to prison, Hammond’s deal also carries the possibility of $250,000 in fines and potentially millions of dollars in restitution–money Hammond certainly doesn’t have. “Jeremy will pay what he’s able to pay in a time frame he’s able to pay it,” said Sarah Kunstler, another of Hammond’s lawyers. Kunstler repeated the contention of the defense team that Hammond’s case is fundamentally a political prosecution. “There’s a war going on in this country over corporate spying, about access to information,” Kunstler said. “This case falls at the heart of that.”
Hammond will be back in court for sentencing on September 6. While he faces up to 10 years in prison, his supporters are hopeful that the judge will sentence him to the 18 months he will have already have served by then. Three other members of the Lulzsec hacktivist group who pleaded guilty to similar charges in the United Kingdom and Ireland were sentenced to 15 months in prison, one year in prison, and 300 hours of community service, respectively. “Fifteen months is a long time for a non-violent political action,” said Hammond’s twin brother, Jason, after the hearing. Jason has launched a petition on freejeremy.net asking Judge Preska to sentence Jeremy to time served.
The e-mails from Stratfor, a corporate intelligence company with corporate clients and deep ties to federal intelligence agencies–contained a number of disturbing revelations about the efforts of corporate and government intelligence groups to go after peaceful activists. It was through the Stratfor leak that the world learned of a secret federal indictment against Julian Assange. The e-mails also showed that the Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the Occupy Wall Street movement, and that Texas law enforcement had planted an undercover operative in Occupy Austin.
Alexa O’Brien, one of the plaintiffs in last year’s lawsuit over the broad and threatening language of the National Defense Authorization Act, said Hammond’s leak of Stratfor documents was key to making her case.
“A leaked e-mail from Stratfor revealed that private security contractors were trying to connect a campaign finance group that I helped found to Islamic fundamentalists,” O’Brien said. “If Jeremy Hammond ever doubts that what he did didn’t have an effect, didn’t have an impact, we won in the Southern District of New York a permanent injunction against the National Defense Authorization Act, and one of the submissions was that e-mail that was published on the Wikileaks website.”
Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Michael Ratner, the former president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the lawyer representing Wikileaks and Julian Assange, said the prosecution of Hammond is part of a larger war on transparency activists.
“He is a source for journalists,” Ratner said. “When they released the Stratfor e-mails, 31 major media organizations all over the world — McClatchey, Rolling Stone, and others, published material from Stratfor,” Ratner said. “He should be looked at as a source, as a whistle-blower. He, like other whistle-blowers in this country, ought to be protected, because they’re the only thing that let us know what our government and our private security companies are doing and they’re the only things that can keep this government even close to honest.”
Following his plea, Hammond released a statement saying that he undertook the Stratfor hack “because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors.” The full statement is reprinted below:
A Statement from Jeremy Hammond Regarding His Plea Agreement
May 28, 2013
Today I pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This was a very difficult decision. I hope this statement will explain my reasoning. I believe in the power of the truth. In keeping with that, I do not want to hide what I did or to shy away from my actions. This non-cooperating 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.
During the past 15 months I have been relatively quiet about the specifics of my case as I worked with my lawyers to review the discovery and figure out the best legal strategy. There were numerous problems with the government’s case, including the credibility of FBI informant Hector Monsegur. However, because prosecutors stacked the charges with inflated damages figures, I was looking at a sentencing guideline range of over 30 years if I lost at trial. I have wonderful lawyers and an amazing community of people on the outside who support me. None of that changes the fact that I was likely to lose at trial. But, 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. 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.
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. 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.
I have already spent 15 months in prison. For several weeks of that time I have been held in solitary confinement. I have been denied visits and phone calls with my family and friends. This plea agreement spares me, my family, and my community a repeat of this grinding process.
I would like to thank all of my friends and supporters for their amazing and ongoing gestures of solidarity. Today I am glad to shoulder the responsibility for my actions and to move one step closer to daylight.