Only hours before a federal judge dismissed concerns over a possible conflict of interest and refused to step down in the case against hacker Jeremy Hammond, the defendant issued a strong-worded assault critiquing the government that’s prosecuting him.
On Thursday, US Federal Judge Loretta Preska denied a motion for disqualification entered in the court two months earlier by attorneys for Hammond, a 27-year-old political activist awaiting trial for his alleged role in a high-profile series of hacks. And although the judge acknowledged this week that her husband of over 30 years was victimized in one of those hacks, Preska said the defense’s request for recuse was based off of insubstantial and insufficient speculation.
“Upon review of the record, Defendant has fail to carry his substantial burden of showing that a reasonable observer, with knowledge and understanding of the relevant facts, would ‘entertain significant doubt that justice would be done absent recusal,’” Judge Preska told the court [.pdf].
The federal government has accused Hammond of participating with the shadowy hacktivist movement Anonymous and two offshoots — LulzSec and AntiSec — in a laundry list of cyber escapades that have targeted, among others, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, security firm HBGary Federal and Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor — a private intelligence company that has been called a “Shadow CIA” by some. With regards to the Stratfor hack, Hammond and others are attributed with swiping data from the company’s servers in December 2011 and then publically releasing internal emails, client lists and subscriber credit card information. Two months ago, it was discovered that the name and email address of Judge Preska’s husband, attorney Thomas Kavaler, were included in the files pilfered from Stratfor and then circulated by members of Anonymous and the media. The internal correspondence, some of which has led to significant news breaks in their own right, has also been continuously published by the WikiLeaks whistleblower site.
Mr. Kavaler’s information was indeed released through the hack, the judge admitted, but no other sensitive information of his had been compromised. Further, Judge Preska dismissed concerns that both she and her husband maintained professional relationships with others who were victimized, vaguely or otherwise, in the hack.
“The reasonable observer would conclude that any appearance of this court’s interest in Mr. Kavaler as a victim of the crime is too insubstantial to require disqualification,” the judge wrote.
In regards to other possible connections between the court and the Stratfor victims, Judge Preska wrote, “[the] Defendant’s attempt to draw such a link is futile.”
With Judge Preska’s latest ruling, the case will remain stagnant until the next hearing on April 10. At that point, however, Hammond will have been imprisoned for over 13 months without trial. This ongoing detention has earned Hammond the unique title of being “The Other Bradley Manning” by some members of the press, drawing comparisons to the Army Private and fellow alleged WikiLeaks source who has so-far spent over 1,000 days in confinement without going to trial. But unlike Private Manning, who has maintained little public correspondence with those outside prison, Hammond penned an open letter critiquing multiple prongs of the government that was published this week just before Judge Preska’s ruling. And while Preska may have the last word for now, Hammond’s opining offers a sharply-worded assessment of the Justice Department and Washington in general that all but predicts the ongoing persecution he is expected to endure in a court of law. Also, though, it attacks the escalating rhetoric from Washington about the emerging threat of cyberwar, a warning made as the United States' own sophisticated attacks on foreign nations are waged.
In his letter, obtained and published this week by Sparrow Media, Hammond assaults the government’s relentless attack on alleged computer dissidents, condemning Washington’s willingness to let an abuse of power put information activists in prison for so-called crimes of conspiracy and thievery. In particular, Hammond implored for justice in wake of the recent death of info activist Aaron Swartz, who passed away of an apparent suicide last month while awaiting trial for a controversial computer crime case.
“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,” Hammond writes. “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.”
Hammond goes on to call the prosecution of Swartz just another installment in the “recent aggressive, politically-motivated expansion of computer crime law where hackers and activists are increasingly criminalized because of alleged ‘cyber-terrorist’ threats.” Elsewhere, he accuses the government of unimaginable hypocrisy by waging a war on politically-minded hacktivists while training America’s future military elite to engage in war over the Internet, not on the battlefield.
“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,” says Hammond.
Later, Hammond offers words of support for other victims of the government’s witch-hunt that have so far managed to escape punishment like what he has been forced to endure. In regards to the so-called PayPal 14, hacktivists that will soon go in court over a 2010 protest against the online payment site in retaliation for their blacklisting of WikiLeaks, Hammond says, “these digital activists face prison time of more [than] 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.”
Also name-checked is Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who is currently appealing a recent conviction obtained through an odd interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA.
“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,” writes Hammond. Auernheimer, writes Hammond, simply exposed a security-flaw that was quickly patched by AT&T.
“Instead of acknowledging their own mistake in violating customer privacy, AT&T sought prison time for Andrew,” Hammond writes.
According to the Jeremy Hammond Solidarity Network, Judge Preska will have a chance to recuse herself from the trial once again when hearings resume on April 10. Meanwhile, though, the government’s highly-critiqued assessment of the CFAA could lead to other jail cells to soon be full of so-called computer criminals.
“What is needed is not reform but total transformation; not amendments but abolition,” writes Hammond.