Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating. Nominate our next Truthdigger here.
The national security state claimed another victim, and the international struggle for civil liberties a living martyr Friday when Anonymous-affiliated computer hacker and political activist Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison for liberating 3 million email exchanges that indicate the U.S. government routinely uses anti-terrorism laws to criminalize nonviolent protesters and falsely link dissidents to international terrorist groups. Simultaneously, Hammond committed the dubious and plainly illegal act of accessing 60,000 credit card numbers that were then used at his urging by his supporters to make reportedly as much as $700,000 in fraudulent donations to charity groups.
The emails were contained in the computer servers of Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, a private security firm that does work for the Department of Homeland Security and other security arms of the U.S. government. The messages confirmed the company infiltrated and spied on participants of Occupy Wall Street on behalf of other corporations and the state. Hammond, who says he was goaded into the hack by an FBI informant, called his sentence a “vengeful, spiteful act” intended to intimidate others who would consider hacking as a form of political action.
Hammond says he became a radical committed to direct resistance after he saw that protests against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, protests that he participated in, had no effect on the government’s actions. Then in his mid-teens, he had already been programming for almost a decade. He was expelled in 2004 during his first year of college after bringing a vulnerability in the computer department’s website, which he had found through the benevolent “white hat” practice of hacking to detect vulnerabilities, to the attention of faculty.
Hammond’s status as a man apart and opposed by American society seems to have been decided by this point. In 2006 he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for breaking into the site of an anti-protest group. His latest sentence of 10 years, the maximum available to the judge after Hammond pleaded guilty to one count against the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), is one of the longest given out for criminal hacking offenses in U.S. history. Though Hammond’s zeal for social justice is well documented, including a testament from a former teacher who called him “old beyond his years,” Judge Loretta Preska dismissed the defendant’s claim that good will motivated him and insisted instead that he intended to wreak “maximum mayhem.” “There is nothing high-minded and public-spirited about causing mayhem,” Preska said, quoting comments Hammond made online under various Internet usernames about his goal of “destroying the heart, hoping for bankruptcy, collapse.” An apparent die-hard legalist, the judge criticized what she described as his “unrepentant recidivism—he has an almost unbroken record of offenses that demonstrate an almost total disrespect for the law.”
Though unrepentant, Hammond has expressed a willingness to bear the punishment the state has ordered for him. If indeed he does not respect the law, what is it he does respect? In a statement to the court made before his sentence was read, he said: “The government celebrates my conviction and imprisonment, hoping that it will close the door on the full story. I took responsibility for my actions, by pleading guilty, but when will the government be made to answer for its crimes?”
He continued: “The U.S. hypes the threat of hackers in order to justify the multibillion dollar cybersecurity industrial complex, but it is also responsible for the same conduct it aggressively prosecutes and claims to work to prevent. The hypocrisy of ‘law and order’ and the injustices caused by capitalism cannot be cured by institutional reform but through civil disobedience and direct action. Yes I broke the law, but I believe that sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change.”
“In the immortal words of Frederick Douglass, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.’ ”
“This is not to say that I do not have any regrets. I realize that I released the personal information of innocent people who had nothing to do with the operations of the institutions I targeted. I apologize for the release of data that was harmful to individuals and irrelevant to my goals. I believe in the individual right to privacy—from government surveillance, and from actors like myself, and I appreciate the irony of my own involvement in the trampling of these rights. I am committed to working to make this world a better place for all of us. I still believe in the importance of hactivism as a form of civil disobedience, but it is time for me to move on to other ways of seeking change. My time in prison has taken a toll on my family, friends, and community. I know I am needed at home. I recognize that 7 years ago I stood before a different federal judge, facing similar charges, but this does not lessen the sincerity of what I say to you today.”
He concluded: “It has taken a lot for me to write this, to explain my actions, knowing that doing so—honestly—could cost me more years of my life in prison. I am aware that I could get as many as 10 years, but I hope that I do not, as I believe there is so much work to be done.”
Taken together, Hammond’s statement and his ill-fated acquisition of evidence of wrongdoing by corporations and government, exemplify a commitment to a higher moral imperative than laws written by and for our ruling class, a calling that Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges is only one of the latest voices in a long line of figures exhorting all people of conscience to take up. In a land where bankers who turn the public treasury into their personal piggy bank are allowed to roam free while those who steal information are sentenced to a decade in prison, it is no stretch to call Hammond a political prisoner. For taking the voices of conscience seriously and paying for it with a part of his life, we honor Jeremy Hammond as our Truthdigger of the Week.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
AP/Cook County Sheriff's Department