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Justice Department To Force Imprisoned Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond To Testify Against WikiLeaks

FBI informant Hector Xavier Monsegur was instrumental in targeting and carrying out a cyberattack on the private intelligence firm, Stratfor, in 2011. The FBI allowed several individuals to submit stolen information from the firm to WikiLeaks, and it ultimately led to the prosecution of hacktivist Jeremy Hammond, who was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2013.

Now, the Justice Department has transferred Hammond from the Federal Correctional Institution Milan in Michigan to the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia so they can force him to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.

In a statement put out by the Jeremy Hammond Support Committee, the group declared, “Given the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, we don’t know the nature or scope of the grand jury’s investigation. However, our assumption is that this is the same grand jury that Chelsea Manning is currently being incarcerated for refusing to testify before.”

“The government’s effort to try to compel Jeremy to testify is punitive and mean-spirited. Jeremy has spent nearly 10 years in prison because of his commitment to his firmly held beliefs. There is no way that he would ever testify before a grand jury. The government knew this when they gave him immunity in every federal jurisdiction in exchange for his guilty plea,” the group added.

Hammond was arrested in March 2012. He was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), and co-defendants were arrested at the same time as well. At no point did Hammond turn on any of the people who were allegedly involved in hacking, including but not limited to the actions encouraged by Monsegur, who was known to them as “Sabu.”

He pled guilty in May 2013 to one count of violating the CFAA simply because prosecutors threatened him with the prospect of indictments in various other jurisdictions in the United States if he was found not guilty. The non-cooperating plea agreement granted him immunity from future prosecution and freed him to speak about the tactics he engaged in to expose what he viewed as corruption by government and corporate actors.

Manning has been jailed for 175 days and fined $66,000 for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Her principled opposition stems from concerns about the process itself and how it is used to target activists. And Hammond appears to hold the same views.

If Hammond refuses to testify, a judge is likely to hold Hammond in contempt. When he is sent to jail for contempt, the judge may have Hammond serve time consecutively because he still has not completed his federal prison sentence.

The Justice Department does not need testimony from either Hammond or Manning to prosecute WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who was charged in May with violating the Espionage Act. They already submitted an extradition packet to a court in the United Kingdom and a hearing is scheduled for February.

That suggests the government is not only pursuing charges against Assange but also charges against other journalists and staffers who worked on publications for WikiLeaks.

Manning Support Network co-founder David House was subpoenaed to testify in 2018. He said he was asked questions that seemed to relate to the Afghanistan or Iraq War Logs.

The Justice Department also tried to question former WikiLeaks staffer Daniel Domscheit-Berg in Germany during 2018.

When it comes to Manning and Hammond, there is nothing they know that the U.S. government does not—or should not—know already.

Hammond was the target of an FBI operation. As the Dell Cameron previously reported for the Daily Dot, chat logs, surveillance photos, and government documents showed it was Monsegur who introduced Hammond to a hacker named Hyrriya, who “supplied download links to the full credit card database as well as the initial vulnerability access point to Stratfor’s systems.”

According to Hammond, he had not heard of Stratfor until Monsegur brought the firm to his attention. Monsegur transferred the details for at least two stolen credit cards.

In December 2011, Monsegur gave “AntiSec” or the group of hackers targeting Stratfor access to the private intelligence firm’s systems. He pushed Hammond and others to “unknowingly transfer ‘multiple gigabytes of confidential data’ to one of the FBI’s servers. That included roughly 60,000 credit card number and records for Stratfor customers that Hammond was ultimately charged with stealing,” according to Daily Dot.

Anthropologist Gabriella Coleman wrote in her book, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, that AntiSec went to the WikiLeaks internet relay chat server. Monsegur was largely unaware. A deal was made to provide files from Stratfor to WikiLeaks.

”When talking to WikiLeaks,” Hammond recounted to me, “they first asked to authenticate the leak by pasting them some samples, which I did, [but] they didn’t ask who I was or even really how I got access to it, but I told them voluntarily that I was working with AntiSec and had hacked Stratfor.” Soon after, he arranged the handoff. When Sabu found out, he insisted on dealing with Assange, personally. After all, he told Hammond, he was already in contact with Assange’s trusted assistant “Q.”

“Q” was an Icelandic teenager named Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson. It turns out that he, too, was a paid FBI informant who was handing over WikiLeaks chats and documents to law enforcement.

Monsegur had “conversations with [WikiLeaks] about getting some cash for the leaks,” according to Hammond, but by that time WikiLeaks already had the documents and were well on their way to processing them for release,” Coleman added.

Through forensic files obtained during the investigation that eventually led to the destruction of Stratfor, the Justice Department should be able to glean whatever information Hammond would provide in testimony.

Note, Monsegur was apparently trying to convince Assange to commit a crime by paying for the Stratfor files. Assange did not pay for the files that were published as the “Global Intelligence Files” in February 2012.

Finally, compounding the repressive nature of hauling Hammond before a grand jury to testify against a media organization, which has already had its editor-in-chief jailed and charged with crimes, is the reality that Hammond was participating in a residential drug abuse program (RDAP) that involves 500 hours of substance abuse rehabilitation over a span of nine months.

When a prisoner completes this program, they are able to reduce their sentence. Hammond was offered a 1-year sentence reduction. However, because the Justice Department shipped him to Alexandria to force him to testify, he will no longer be released from prison in December.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."