In June of 2011, over the course of a single day, Hector “Sabu” Monsegur went from being one of the most prolific hackers affiliated with Anonymous and offshoot group Lulzsec to helping the FBI bring them down. In Federal District Court in Manhattan yesterday, Monsegur, who was potentially facing two years in prison for his own hacking activities, was sentenced instead to time served, in light of what court documents and Judge Loretta A. Preska called his “extraordinary” cooperation with federal authorities.
Monsegur got a visit from the FBI on June 7, 2011 at his grandmother’s apartment in the rundown Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side, where he lived with his two young nieces. At the time, he was caring full-time for the two girls; their mother had gone to prison and their grandmother had passed away.
And, on his own and with other people believed to be linked to Anonymous, Lulzsec and Antisec, he was hacking — releasing data on the structure of Senate.gov, the United States Senate’s official website, posting an article on PBS saying Tupac was alive, paying his household bills with stolen account information, participating in Wikileaks-related hacks on Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal, and hitting multiple government websites in the countries of Algeria, Zimbabwe, Yemen and Tunisia. He’s also been implicated in the hack of Internet security firm HBGary, among numerous other targets.
According to court documents, which we’ve posted in full below, when Monsegur was confronted by the FBI in 2011 he “immediately” agreed to cooperate with the authorities.
“It was not a difficult choice for him,” his attorneys Peggy Cross-Goldenberg and Philip Weinstein wrote in a pre-sentencing report to the judge. “Whatever his beliefs, his family came first. He would do whatever he had to do to protect the girls and avoid their placement in the foster care system.”
Between 2011 and 2012, there was a good deal of speculation as to whether Monsegur was cooperating with the FBI. In March 2012, it was publicly confirmed, after five other Lulzsec and Anonymous hackers were arrested, including Jeremy Hammond, wanted for a cyberattack on Stratfor, a “global intelligence” company.
Following his plea, his lawyers say, Monesegur kept up “round-the-clock proactive cooperation” with the FBI, helping secure evidence against other Lulzsec folks and helping avert “national and international crises.” They say he helped law enforcement prevent the takeover of “the water supply of a major U.S. city and of a major foreign energy supply company,” as well as preventing attacks on the U.S. federal court system and U.S. Congress websites.
“His work not only enhanced national security,” they write. “It prevented millions, if not billions, of dollars in loss.” His work each day only ended when he went to pick up his nieces from school, they add. He also managed to get arrested once more, in February of that year, for telling NYPD officers he was an FBI agent . He was charged with misdemeanor criminal impersonation for that one, but did no jail time.
After he was outed as an informant on March 6, 2012, the attorneys say, “his world came crashing down again.” Following the arrests of other Anonymous hackers, government documents revealing his cooperation were unsealed, and various anonymous government officials told reporters as much in multiple interviews. On March 7, he got a call from a foster care agency, saying that his nieces would be taken from him. After several hours of meetings between his attorneys and the agency, they agreed to instead hand over custody to the girls’ mother, who’d recently been released from prison.
Facing a “barrage of publicity,” Cross-Goldenberg and Weinstein say, Monsegur couldn’t return home. He faced threats from other Anonymous members, and the FBI ultimately moved him and several of his family members to an undisclosed location. He continued working for the feds, but the “crushing publicity” took its toll, his lawyers say, and in the spring of 2012 he made several unauthorized posts online. His bail was revoked and he spent seven months at the Metropolitan Detention Complex, (where he taught computer skills classes to other inmates).
Monsegur’s attorneys say that since his re-release in December 2012, he’s been unable to find work because of the pending charges against him, as well as a provision restricting his computer use. Although he faced 21 to 26 months in prison, the New York Times reports that the office of U.S. District Attorney for New York’s Southern District Preet Bharara asked for a much lower sentence, in light of his work for the government.
They got it: Monsegur received time served and one year of probation, in which his computer activities will be monitored.
“I assure you I will not be in this courtroom ever again,” he reportedly told the judge. “I’m not the same person you saw three years ago. I’m ready to move on.”
His lawyers say he has a bright future ahead of him. “Mr. Monsegur has incredible computer skills that can be put to good use,” they wrote in the pre-sentencing report. “He would like to use his skills as both a systems adminstrator and a teacher. As his friend [redacted] puts it, Mr. Monsegur is “truly a great asset to the human race as a whole.'”
But, they add, he’ll be “forever marred” by this case. Not long ago, Monsegur and a friend were at a gas station, where he was identified by two people in a car next to him, who “called out to him while looking at information about him on their smartphones.”
“The extraodinary publicity that came along with his cooperation,” the attorneys conclude, “will follow him forever.”
Anonymous-affiliated Twitter accounts have, of course, long denounced Monsegur as a “snitch” and a traitor. Yesterday, though, Your Anon News, one of the more “official” mouthpieces for the group (as much as such a thing is possible) had a more muted reaction, tweeting this at Monsegur’s old Twitter handle:
.@anonymouSabu What a long, strange trip it’s been
— Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) May 27, 2014
Monsegur’s pre-sentencing report is on the following page. It has been partially redacted. Not by us.
Send your story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.