A Brave Hacker Willing to Spend a Decade in Prison for Exposing the Workings of the Corporate State
NEW YORK—I was in federal court here Friday for the sentencing of Jeremy Hammond to 10 years in prison for hacking into the computers of a private security firm that works on behalf of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and corporations such as Dow Chemical. In 2011 Hammond, now 28, released to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications some 3 million emails from the Texas-based company Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor.
The sentence was one of the longest in U.S. history for hacking and the maximum the judge could impose under a plea agreement in the case. It was wildly disproportionate to the crime—an act of nonviolent civil disobedience that championed the public good by exposing abuses of power by the government and a security firm. But the excessive sentence was the point. The corporate state, rapidly losing credibility and legitimacy, is lashing out like a wounded animal. It is frightened. It feels the heat from a rising flame of revolt. It is especially afraid of those such as Hammond who have the technical skills to break down electronic walls and expose the corrupt workings of power.
“People have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors,” Hammond told me when we met in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan about a week and a half before his sentencing.
I did not hope for justice from the court. Judge Loretta A. Preska is a member of the right-wing Federalist Society. And the hack into Stratfor gave the email address and disclosed the password of an account used for business by Preska’s husband, Thomas Kavaler, a partner at the law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel. Some emails of the firm’s corporate clients, including Merrill Lynch, also were exposed. The National Lawyers Guild, because the judge’s husband was a victim of the hack, filed a recusal motion that Preska, as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, was able to deny. Her refusal to recuse herself allowed her to oversee a trial in which she had a huge conflict of interest.
The judge, who herself once was employed at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, fulminated from the bench about Hammond’s “total lack of respect for the law.” She read a laundry list of his arrests for acts of civil disobedience. She damned what she called his “unrepentant recidivism.” She said: “These are not the actions of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela … or even Daniel Ellsberg; there’s nothing high-minded or public-spirited about causing mayhem”—an odd analogy given that Mandela founded the armed wing of the African National Congress, was considered by South Africa’s apartheid government and the United States government to be a terrorist and was vilified, along with King and Ellsberg, by the U.S. government. She said there was a “desperate need to promote respect for the law” and a “need for adequate public deterrence.” She read from transcripts of Hammond’s conversations in Anonymouschat rooms in which he described the goal of hacking into Stratfor as “destroying the target, hoping for bankruptcy, collapse” and called for “maximum mayhem.” She admonished him for releasing the unlisted phone number of a retired Arizona police official who allegedly received threatening phone calls afterward.
The judge imposed equally harsh measures that will take effect after Hammond’s release from prison. She ordered that he be placed under three years of supervised control, be forbidden to use encryption or aliases online and submit to random searches of his computer equipment, person and home by police and any internal security agency without the necessity of a warrant. The judge said he was legally banned from having any contact with “electronic civil disobedience websites or organizations.” By the time she had finished she had shredded all pretense of the rule of law.