This article originally ran in print on May 29, 2013.
Jeremy Hammond, a prominent Chicago computer hacker, faces up to 10 years in prison after confessing that he broke into websites belonging to law enforcement agencies, military companies and a private intelligence firm.
Hammond, 28, who lived on the South Side until his arrest in March of last year, appeared in Manhattan federal court Tuesday to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking. He has been held without bail in New York since his arrest.
Hammond, who has a history of political protest and a string of arrests, said in an online statement that his cybercrimes were motivated by noble causes, not for personal gain.
"I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors," he said, according to a statement posted on a site run by his supporters called FreeJeremy.net. "I did what I believe is right."
Federal prosecutors in New York described Hammond's activities as much more than electronic civil disobedience.
"While he billed himself as fighting for an anarchist cause, in reality, Jeremy Hammond caused personal and financial chaos for individuals whose identities and money he took and for companies whose businesses he decided he didn't like," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of New York said in a statement.
Hammond admitted that he worked with a loose, international network of computer hackers known as Anonymous who have attacked corporate and government websites. People who know Hammond describe him as a highly intelligent man who has always had an interest in computers. Federal authorities said he worked under several aliases, including "Anarchaos," "burn" and "crediblethreat."
In December 2011, he and other hackers targeted Strategic Forecasting Inc., also known as Stratfor, a Texas-based intelligence contractor that supplies analysis to the U.S. security establishment. According to federal authorities, Hammond and others stole 60,000 credit card numbers and released millions of the company's emails to Wikileaks.
Hammond told friends he wanted to use Stratfor's stolen credit card information to make donations to liberal organizations, although he had not done so, court documents said.
Hammond was caught with the help of Hector Xavier Monsegur, a hacker who turned federal informant after he was arrested in 2011, according to court records. This is the second time Hammond has been convicted of computer hacking. In 2006, he was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing credit cards numbers from a website called Protest Warrior, a conservative group best known for organizing counterprotests in support of the Iraq War.
Hammond said in his statement he entered the plea agreement because he was looking at a prison sentence of more than 30 years if he lost at trial. The statutory maximum sentence for the single count of conspiracy is 10 years.
Hammond also said he did not turn over any information on other hackers to prosecutors. In the plea agreement, he admitted his involvement in attacks on other computer systems, among them the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Virtual Academy.
His sentencing hearing is set for Sept. 6. His twin brother, Jason, is circulating an online petition calling for Jeremy to be sentenced to time served and released.