March 5, 2013. New York. They call him the Electronic Robin Hood, and one could fill volumes explaining why. Currently, Jeremy Hammond is rotting away in solitary confinement inside a NYC prison. Facing life behind bars, he’s charged with the same crimes the late Aaron Swartz was charged with before being pushed to suicide, and some of the same internet crimes you and I unknowingly commit almost every day. Now, Jeremy Hammond speaks out about the death of Aaron Swartz.
Aaron Swartz (1986 - 2013)
On January 11, 2013, 26 year-old Aaron Swartz took his own life while in the midst of a criminal prosecution by the US federal government. According to his friends and family, including Swartz’ own father, he was murdered by the Justice Department. Swartz alleged crime consisted of electronically breaking into the library archives and virtual store called JSTORE from MIT.
A library of knowledge Swartz had access to via his work at Harvard University, as well as MIT, the ‘freedom of knowledge’ advocate strongly believed this information should be available to everyone, not just the rich and powerful. He subsequently downloaded the entire archive and released it publicly to the whole world. Soon after, MIT changed its policy and made the information available to anyone.
But for his crime, he was charged with 13 counts including 11 charges of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Facing 35 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines, Aaron Swartz hung himself after two years of terror, persecution and prosecution at the hands of federal authorities. In a public statement, his father accused federal prosecutors of murdering his son.
A fellow kid from Chicago, just like this author, the death of Aaron Swartz was a tragedy for mankind. Just a brief glimpse into his accomplishments through this early stage in his young life guarantees the tech genius was destined for bigger and better things. At age 13, Aaron won a contest for creating an educational website and received a prize that included a trip to MIT, the same school at the center of his death.
At age 14, Swartz was one of the individuals who collaborated on the invention of RSS technology – the mechanism that automatically displays news feeds on websites around the world. He launched a Wiki-type ‘open library’ site called Infogami that merged with a tiny, unknown website called Reddit in 2005. For the next seven years, Aaron Swartz carried out a number behind-the-scenes campaigns that changed the world.
As one example, in 2006 he acquired the entire Library of Congress bibliographic dataset. The Library charged fees for this, but Swartz felt it should be available to all Americans, even poor people. And he posted it online so it would be. Since it was legally considered a government document, there was no copyright protection. But it was selfless acts such as this that eventually led to his prosecution and death.
Jeremy Hammond – the Electronic Robin Hood
27 year-old Jeremy Hammond’s crimes are similar, but much more real. While Aaron Swartz dealt with the world of education, knowledge and an equal opportunity for learning, Jeremy Hammond immersed himself in the world of espionage, sedition, war and treason – none of which were committed by him. Another Chicago native like Swartz and your author, Hammond is accused of breaking into the computer servers of the world’s most notorious and secretive corporate mercenary spy agency – Stratfor.
The reason for the two young men’s different adversaries – Swartz fought for free knowledge while Hammond fought against tyranny – might be due to the reversal of their lifelong paths. Aaron Swartz started with educating the people, and that led him to fighting tyranny and terrorism within our own government. Hammond began his activist career by protesting government tyranny and terrorism, and that led him to his final crime of educating the people.
Beginning at age 18, Jeremy Hammond made headlines by leading a 2003 anti-war protest that was officially sanctioned by his high school in the Chicago suburbs. He then went on to take part in street demonstrations, as well as the often ensuing violent conflicts, on behalf of causes such as gay rights, anti-war, and the decriminalization of marijuana. But it didn’t stop there. He also began to dabble in ripping off billion-dollar multi-national corporations for petty, everyday items such as free photo copies. After numerous run-ins with the law, Hammond was ordered by a judge to stay away from two things – computers and marijuana. He didn’t do either one.
Taking on the terrorists, defending WikiLeaks
Hammond’s first battle against what he considered the world’s tyrannical overlords was a break-in of an ultra-conservative company’s servers and the theft of 5,000 credit card numbers. Allegedly, his goal was to make third-party donations to groups like the ACLU using the accounts. But he never followed through, some suggesting he couldn’t figure out how to do it without getting caught. He was caught anyway and sentenced to two years in federal prison, three years’ probation and a $5,358 fine.
In a 2007 Chicago Magazine expose on Jeremy Hammond, the publication interviewed Jeremy’s father and asked him if he was proud of his son. “Yes,” his father strongly replied, “Not that I agree with everything Jeremy does, but his social conscience, his empathy for people, his values are right where they should be.” After his release from prison, Hammond picked up right where he left off.
Summing up four years of secret activities between thousands of people, hundreds of underground corporations and dozens of US rebel groups, a recent Whiteout Press article sums up the entire episode in one long-winded paragraph:
‘Beginning with WikiLeaks’ repeated acts of exposing criminal activity at the highest levels of governments and corporations, Wall Street retaliated by freezing the organization’s assets and refusing to process any future payments or donations. In reply, Anonymous and LulzSec launched a salvo of attacks against those same Wall Street financial firms. In response, US and UK officials enlisted private mercenary armies like Stratfor in their war against the cyber hackers. Trading blow for blow, Anonymous and LulzSec went after the mercenary corporations and exposed Stratfor as one of the largest and allegedly criminal espionage rings in the world. The slugfest came to a climax on March 6 when Jeremy Hammond was charged with the Stratfor attacks and threatened with life in prison.’
Read the two-part report ‘Anonymous Leaders are Kids, facing Life in Prison’ for more information.
Thanks in large part to Jeremy Hammond, allegedly, WikiLeaks released 5 million pages of Stratfor corporate communications and other documents. What they found within those pages was mind-blowing, including futuristic espionage technology that bordered on time travel. Stratfor proved to be the most advanced, and possibly sinister, spy corporation in the world. Loaded from top to bottom with former CIA agents, the company is funded by multi-national corporations and protected by the US federal government.
Read the articles ‘Trapwire and Time Travel, Denzel movie Deja-vu is real’ and ‘Trapwire Thought Crime and Spying on each other’ for additional details.
Now, for the crimes of exposing the possibility of illegal espionage within our own government and crimes against the American people, Jeremy Hammond sits in solitary confinement in a New York prison facing life behind bars. His judge in the case – the spouse of a Stratfor client, his alleged victim. Think he’ll get a fair hearing?
"The news shouldn't be left wing or right wing, conservative or liberal. It should be the news. It should be independent" - Mark Wachtler, Whiteout Press founder
Jeremy Hammond speaks out about the death of Aaron Swartz
Brothers of the same struggle and travelers on the same path, one can’t help but notice all the glaring similarities between the lives of Aaron Swartz and Jeremy Hammond. Many like this author truly pray they don’t meet similar fates. Two weeks ago, from his darkened prison cell, Jeremy Hammond penned the following letter to the world. In it, he proudly joins hands with his rebellious cyber-brother, calling him a ‘hero’ and attempting to warn the American people about, ‘the danger inherent in our criminal justice system.’
Below, compliments of Citizens for Legitimate Government, is the text of Jeremy Hammond’s February 22, 2013 letter to the world, written from solitary confinement in a government prison:
“The tragic death of internet freedom fighter Aaron Swartz reveals the government's flawed "cyber security strategy" as well as its systematic corruption involving computer crime investigations, intellectual property law, and government/corporate transparency. In a society supposedly based on principles of democracy and due process, Aaron's efforts to liberate the internet, including free distribution of JSTOR academic essays, access to public court records on PACER, stopping the passage of SOPA/PIPA, and developing the Creative Commons, make him a hero, not a criminal. It is not the "crimes" Aaron may have committed that made him a target of federal prosecution, but his ideas -- elaborated in his "Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto" -- that the government has found so dangerous. The United States Attorney's aggressive prosecution, riddled with abuse and misconduct, is what led to the death of this hero. This sad and angering chapter should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to acknowledge the danger inherent in our criminal justice system.
Aaron's case is part of the recent aggressive, politically-motivated expansion of computer crime law where hackers and activists are increasingly criminalized because of alleged "cyber-terrorist" threats. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting me and my co-defendants in the Lulzsec indictment, has used alarmist rhetoric such as the threat of an imminent "Pearl Harbor like cyber attack" to justify these prosecutions. At the same time the government routinely trains and deploys their own hackers to launch sophisticated cyber attacks against the infrastructure of foreign countries, such as the Stuxnet and Flame viruses, without public knowledge, oversight, declarations of war, or consent from international authorities. DARPA, US Cyber Command, the NSA, and numerous federally-contracted private corporations openly recruit hackers to develop defensive and offensive capabilities and build Orwellian digital surveillance networks, designed not to enhance national security but to advance U.S. imperialism. They even attend and speak at hacker conferences, such as DEFCON, offer to bribe hackerspaces for their research, and created the insulting "National Civic Hacker Day" -- efforts which should be boycotted or confronted every step of the way.
Aaron is a hero because he refused to play along with the government's agenda, instead he used his brilliance and passion to create a more transparent society. Through the free software movement, open publishing and file sharing, and development of cryptography and anonymity technology, digital activists have revealed the poverty of neo-liberalism and intellectual property. Aaron opposed reducing everything to a commodity to be bought or sold for a profit.
The rise in effectiveness of, and public support for, movements like Anonymous and Wikileaks has led to an expansion of computer crime investigations – most importantly enhancements to 18 U.S.C § 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Over the years the CFAA has been amended five times and has gone through a number of important court rulings that have greatly expanded what the act covers concerning "accessing a protected computer without authorization." It is now difficult to determine exactly what conduct would be considered legal. The definition of a "protected computer" has been incrementally expanded to include any government or corporate computer in or outside the U.S. "Authorization," not explicitly defined by the CFAA, has also been expanded to be so ambiguous that any use of a website, network, or PC that is outside of the interest, agenda, or contractual obligations of a private or government entity could be criminalized. In Aaron’s case and others the government has defined violating a service's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), Terms of Service (TOS), or End-User License Agreement (EULA) as illegal. Every time you sign up for a service like Gmail, Hotmail, or Facebook and click the "I agree" button that follows a long contract that no one ever reads, you could be prosecuted under the CFAA if you violate any of the terms.
The sheer number of everyday computer users who could be considered criminals under these broad and ambiguous definitions enables the politically motivated prosecution of anyone who voices dissent. The CFAA should be found unconstitutional under the void-for-vagueness doctrine of the due process clause. Instead, Congress proposed bills last year which would double the statutory maximum sentences and introduce mandatory minimum sentences, similar to the excessive sentences imposed in drug cases which have been widely opposed by many federal and state judges.
The "Operation Payback" case in San Jose, California is another miscarriage of justice where 16 suspected Anonymous members (including a 16 year old boy) allegedly participated in a denial-of-service action against PayPal in protest of it's financial blockade of Wikileaks. Denial-of-service does not "exceed authorized access," as it is virtually indistinguishable from standard web requests. It is more akin to an electronic sit-in protest, overloading the website's servers making it incapable of serving legitimate traffic, than a criminal act involving stolen private information or destruction of servers. PayPal's website was only slow or unavailable for a matter of hours, yet these digital activists face prison time of more that 10 years, $250,000 in fines, and felony convictions because the government wants to criminalize this form of internet protest and send a warning to would be Wikileaks supporters.
Another recent case is that of Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer, who last November was convicted under the CFAA. Andrew discovered that AT&T was publishing customer names and email addresses on its public-facing website, without password protection, encryption, or firewalls. Instead of acknowledging their own mistake in violating customer privacy, AT&T sought prison time for Andrew. Andrew has defended his actions saying, "We have not only a right as Americans to analyze things that corporations publish and make publicly accessible but perhaps a moral obligation to tell people about it."
I am currently facing multiple computer hacking conspiracy charges due to my alleged involvement with Anonymous, LulzSec, and AntiSec, groups which have targeted and exposed corruption in government institutions and corporations such as Stratfor, The Arizona Department of Public Safety, and HB Gary Federal. My potential sentence is dramatically increased because the Patriot Act expanded the CFAA's definition of "loss." This allowed Stratfor to claim over 5 million dollars in damages, including the exorbitant cost of hiring outside credit protection agencies and "infosec" corporations, purchasing new servers, 1.6 million dollars in "lost potential revenue" for the time their website was down, and even the cost of a 1.3 million dollar settlement for a class action lawsuit filed against them. Coupled with use of "sophisticated means" and "affecting critical infrastructure" sentence enhancements, if convicted at trial I am facing a sentence of 30-years-to-life.
Dirty trial tactics and lengthy sentences are not anomalies but are part of a fundamentally flawed and corrupt two-tiered system of "justice" which seeks to reap profits from the mass incarceration of millions, especially people of color and the impoverished. The use of informants who cooperate in exchange for lighter sentences is not just utilized in the repressive prosecutions of protest movements and manufactured "terrorist" Islamophobic witch-hunts, but also in most drug cases, where defendants face some of the harshest sentences in the world.
For Aaron Swartz, himself facing 13 felony CFAA charges, it is likely that it was this intense pressure from relentless and uncompromising prosecutors, who, while being aware of Aaron’s psychological fragility, continued to demand prison time, that led to his untimely death.
Due to widespread public outrage, there is talk of congressional investigations into the CFAA. But since the same Congress had proposed increased penalties not even one year ago, any efforts at reform are unlikely to be more than symbolic. What is needed is not reform but total transformation; not amendments but abolition. Aaron is a hero to me because he did not wait for those in power to realize his vision and change their game, he sought to change the game himself, and he did so without fear of being labeled a criminal and imprisoned by a backwards system of justice.
We the people demand free and equal access to information and technology. We demand transparency and accountability from governments and big corporations, and privacy for the masses from invasive surveillance networks.
The government will never be forgiven. Aaron Swartz will never be forgotten.”
Support Jeremy Hammond by dropping him a letter, card, or postcard:
Jeremy Hammond – #18729-424
Metropolitan Correctional Center
150 Park Row,
New York, NY 10007
CLG's Free Jeremy Hammond page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FreeJeremyHammond
Special thanks to Jeremy Hammond and Citizens for Legitimate Government.
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