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Jeremy Hammond, American Political Prisoner

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Jeremy Hammond is a well known Chicago (h)ac(k)tivist. Today he took a non-cooperating plea bargain of 10 years for his involvement in the intrusion of the private intel security firm Stratfor. He also pled to intruding into government, law enforcement and other corporate websites.

(H)ac(k)tivist is a combination of the word activist and hacker. Hammond is both an on-the-ground activist and an online one, or Hacktivist, fighting for anti-war, social justice and environmental causes. He put his hacking skills in service of his activism. (Full disclosure: I am currently making a movie about the targeting of activists, hacktivists and journalists by the government, and the nexus between the private intelligence security firms and the surveillance state. I combine the two words in the title of my film. Hammond is one of my subjects. Stratfor is one of the private intelligence firms at the nexus.)

In order to understand Jeremy Hammond's case, it is important to explain what private intelligence security firms are. They are for-profit firms that contract with corporations and governments. They are mercenary intelligence outfits. They offer their services to the highest bidder nations and corporate clientele. China, Korea, and the United States all contract with these firms. US government agencies routinely outsource what used to be done in-house. The FBI, CIA, DoD, and Homeland Security contract with these firms. After 9/11, outsourcing skyrocketed. It is estimated that 70% of US intelligence work is done with outside, contracted companies. Those are the estimates from 2006 and the trend continues to grow. Gone are the days when the CIA and FBI were in charge of intelligence and law enforcement.

Outsourced intelligence work has no kind of congressional oversight or regulation, or any other kind for that matter. These companies operate in the shadows and, as the Stratfor hack revealed, are involved in criminal behavior. When under contract for the US government, they do what would be illegal for the government to do itself. A convenient byproduct: the government is given the ultimate plausible deniability, which simply means they can outsource whatever they do not want to know.

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Jeremy Hammond is a political dissident. He violated the Computer Fraud and Authorization Act in order to make a political statement. His motivation was not personal or pecuniary enhancement. It was political. He wanted the public to know about the criminal behavior that our government colludes to keep out of our reach. When Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus she did so knowing she was in violation of the law. Similarly, Jeremy Hammond knowingly violated the law in order to expose greater criminality. He is oft quoted saying that he must work quickly before the government stops him.

In his words today, Hammond explains his motivations:

"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."

The case of Jeremy Hammond is illustrative of a trend to target, overcharge and come down hard on those the state perceives as threatening. The supposed threats are due to their beliefs and/or actions toward information freedom and transparency. In the increasingly growing number of (h)ac(k)tivist cases, Hammond's case is most closely associated with that of Barrett Brown. Brown is a journalist and satirist, facing charges totaling 105 years for his journalistic work. He was also involved in exposing the criminality of Stratfor and other private intelligence firms. Other related cases are those of information activist Aaron Swartz and Internet troll Andrew "weev" Auernheimer. weev was sentenced to 41 months for embarrassing a corporation.

In Latin America, there is a distinction made in the prison system between common criminals and political prisoners. Sadly, the cases of Jeremy Hammond, Barrett Brown, Aaron Swartz and Andrew "weev" Auernheimer seem to indicate that we should begin making that distinction in the United States as well.

At Jeremy Hammond's hearing today, Michael Ratner from The Center for Constitutional Rights introduced me to the New York Times reporter he was talking to, Colin Moynihan. They were speaking about the Fox reporter, James Rosen, who was surveilled by the government. I took the opportunity to pitch him the story of incarcerated journalist and publisher of ProjectPM, Barrett Brown. He politely demurred and said, "The New York Times does not take on crusades." That is not entirely accurate. It would be more accurate to say that the NYT chooses its crusades. No doubt the crusade to shield the corporate media from the illegal activities and harassment of Obama's DOJ will be among them. Maybe if they would have written about the case of Barrett Brown and other independent journalists and (h)ac(k)tivists, they would not now find themselves in the crosshairs.

My co-producer, Peter Ludlow, wrote about these cases in the NYT in his excellent article "Hacktivists as Gadflies." With the exception of Aaron Swartz, this is the only time their names have appeared.