On Tuesday hacktivist Jeremy Hammond pleaded guilty to involvement in the infamous LulzSec Stratfor hack. His plea agreement, to one violation under the (dangerously broad) Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, is a non-cooperating plea, which could land the 28-year-old with a 10-year sentence.
As noted here earlier this month, three young hackers in Britain convicted of similar charges relating to the Stratfor hack received sentences that pale in comparison to what Hammond faces and highlight the U.S.' overreach when it comes to cybercrime prosecutions. The longest sentence handed down in the U.K. cases carried a maximum of 15 months jail time. Meanwhile, as Hammond expressed in a statement Tuesday, he could have faced 30 years in prison were he to have been found guilty at trial. His supporters and legal team are now asking his presiding judge to hand down a sentence far less harsh than the possible 10 years his plea agreement can carry.
Hammond, who has already spent 15 months in federal detention (regularly held in isolation) with little access to his loved ones, explained in his statement why he chose to take the plea. Notably, aside from fearing a 30-year sentence, Hammond is now embracing the chance to explain his involvement in the Stratfor hack and the ethics underpinning his actions:
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.