Jeremy Hammond, True Patriot for Balance of Power in the Digital Age

Open Letter to Judge Preska

Dear Judge Preska,

I became aware of Mr. Hammond’s case through the 2012 defining Rolling Stone article on him. I saw a young person full of idealism and a sense for justice, which are admirable qualities in anyone. The ending remark of the article summarizes how I see him. It reads: “[Hammond] was an idealist who even after being jailed, kept fighting at every occasion, and he never betrayed himself.” This statement captures the essence of why I support leniency for Mr. Hammond.

Hammond has helped the public become aware of the insidious surveillance network that has been conducted in the dark by the private intelligence firm and government contractor Stratfor. The information he revealed showed that the company was spying on human rights activists on behalf of the US government. I feel strongly that this act by a private company in service to the federal government is unconstitutional and is an unjustified violation of basic privacy. The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Whether these actions by the Federal Government are illegal or unconstitutional needs to be considered by the Supreme Court and the American people should be engaged in this debate. Mr. Hammond provided crucial information, showing us potential wrongdoing intentionally hidden behind a veil of secrecy. Information such as this needs to be out in the open for citizens in a Democracy to make informed decisions.

With that said, I am aware that Mr. Hammond plead guilty to a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and is now facing a maximum sentence of ten years, along with the prospect of paying up to $2.5 million in restitution to Stratfor. I would like to show how his case and sentencing needs to be seen from three points; first in consideration of the inherent flaws and flagrant abuse of the law itself, second by placing his action in a larger Constitutional and moral context and lastly, with questions concerning all the parties responsible for committing his alleged crimes.

1. The Inadequacy of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

The CFAA, a federal anti-hacking law, was written before the internet became the primary communication medium for the world. This law makes it illegal for individuals to intentionally access a computer without authorization or in excess of authorization. The law is ambiguous in that it does not clearly spell out what ‘without authorization’ means, allowing prosecutors to take advantage and selectively criminalize actions by ordinary citizens that governments and corporate executives dislike. It gives disproportionate power to corporations such as Stratfor as opposed to individuals who might be affected by their surveillance and allows prosecutors to criminalize a broad range of online activities. The legislation was used to prosecute the late Aaron Swartz. This law is outdated and overdue for reform.

Mr. Hammond’s co-defendants overseas in Ireland and the UK will spend no more than 16 months in prison. On the contrary, Mr. Hammond was in jail for more than a year before his trial began. He was denied bail, held in solitary confinement and cut off from communication with his family. Now he is looking at 10 years in prison. I think he has paid more than enough already.

2. The Constitutional and Moral Context of His Action

The larger context through which to see Mr. Hammond’s act calls us to look at his real motives. Mr. Hammond is an idealist who never betrayed himself. I see a young man who stood up for the basic principle of balance of power and checks on abuse of people by their government. Specifically, he revealed a hidden structure of power where private corporations collude with government and where governments use corporations to hide their own egregious abuse of power and violations of the Constitution.

Mr. Hammond acted on the basic belief that leaders should be held accountable and working for the people. Instead of being apathetic and careless like so many of us, through his actions he called for the integrity of political leaders and rightly challenged the legitimacy of their authority.

From this perspective, he has followed in the footsteps of the prominent whistleblowers of our age. Chelsea Manning saw wrongdoing of the government in light of illegal wars and abuse of power. Manning believed that this information belongs to the public and wanted us all to see what our government was doing in our name. Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower also acted on the same principle. He believed the public ought to know the levels of spying the government is hiding from them in order to make informed decisions about their government and their own lives. He hoped his disclosures would stir up public debate. It is important to remind ourselves that there has been no evidence of anyone coming to harm as a result of these disclosures.

It is clear to me that Mr. Hammond acted out of this same motive of calling for democratic debate and accountability. In pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy for hacking into the computers of Stratfor, he stated that “people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors” and indicated clearly that he did what he believed was right. His actions were selfless. He didn’t pursue financial gain or enhance himself in any way. If anything, he sacrificed himself to try to close the gap between the public interest and the misdeeds of elected officials.

The recent revelations of NSA spying have brought to light the severity of destruction of the Fourth Amendment by this government and these corporate contractors. We now know, thanks to Mr. Snowden’s disclosures that what Mr. Hammond revealed was only the tip of the iceberg and those disclosures clearly vindicated what he did.

I see Hammond’s action as similar to those of the signers of the Declaration of Independence 240 years ago in violation of King George’s acts of suppression. Those men were clearly breaking British law at the time. They were treasonous from the point of view of that government. Hammond was simply seeking for a balance of power in an age of egregious corporate-government collusion against the people of the United States. His act harmed no one, but only shed light on abuse of power.

In this sense, he is a true patriot of the digital age, striving to right the scales of power that are dangerously tipped toward the wealthy corporate and corrupt political class in this country. Jefferson once said, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty”. Mr. Hammond’s deed belongs to the great tradition of rightful civil disobedience demonstrated by figures such as highly acclaimed civil right leader Martin Luther King Jr. and the great writer Henry David Thoreau who refused to pay poll taxes as a protest against slavery in 1846.

Civil disobedience is the active professed refusal to obey certain laws and commands of the government in order to uphold a higher principle that contradicts existing laws. Mr. Hammond knowingly violated the law in order to expose greater crimes. This was an act to truly uphold the Constitution and it needs to be looked at from our larger obligation to the spirit and letter of the highest law of the land.

3. Who Is Responsible for the Alleged Crimes?

Along with his motivation for justice, I would like to address the nature of the FBI entrapment that lies at the heart of this case. It has come to light that the original plan of hacking Stratfor was orchestrated and carried out initially by the FBI, using former LulzSec leader and FBI informant “Sabu”, real name “Hector Xavier Monsegur”.

Mr. Hammond has been aware of this. In advance of Sabu’s sentence that was scheduled to take place on August 23, 2013, he wrote “What the United States could not accomplish legally, it used Sabu, and by extension, me and my co-defendants, to accomplish illegally”. It should be noted how Mr. Hammond’s case itself reveals the trend of the government going above the law through outsourcing their crimes, which was the very thing that was exposed through the Stratfor email leaks.

The 14th Amendment of the Constitution grants all people in the US equal protection under the law. The FBI was apparently the primary actor that planned the Stratfor hacking and carried it out. So, minimally the head of the FBI and Sabu should be in jail and treated in the same way as Mr. Hammond. If not, Mr. Hammond should be released. We are not a nation of laws if the law is not applied equally.

Judge Preska, I ask for leniency for Mr. Hammond. All he was doing was standing up for the principles upon which our country was founded. Child molesters, rapists and murderers quite often do not get anywhere near a 10 year sentence. Also, bankers and criminals on Wall Street who steal billions are mostly not even charged or prosecuted.

Perhaps what sets Mr. Hammond apart from the rest of us is that he is idealist who took great risks to act on his hope for a true democracy and he never betrayed himself. I am an immigrant and when I came here, I took my commitment and oath to the Constitution seriously. To me, Mr. Hammond’s actions stand as a living example of what it means to be an American.

I believe it is only reasonable for a judge who vows to uphold the highest law of this land to recognize this man’s heroic deed and exonerate him. I sincerely hope you would be able see in Jeremy Hammond what I see. He is good man with a conscience who has a lot ahead of him in life. He can accomplish much more for others and inspire the generations to come. I hope you make the right decision for the Constitution and for the people of the United States. Thank you for taking time to read this.

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is an essayist and author of WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening (Libertarian Books, 2018). Find her on twitter @nozomimagine. Read other articles by Nozomi.