Chicago super-hacker rousted from prison for grand jury grilling

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A convicted hacker from Glendale Heights who's serving 10 years in prison for breaking into corporate and government computer systems has been subpoenaed to appear in front of a federal grand jury in Virginia.

Supporters of Jeremy Hammond, an idolized member of the Anonymous hacking group, say that prosecutors want Hammond to testify against his will to a grand jury in Alexandria.

Hammond disciples believe the subpoena is related to a federal investigation of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. The appearance is apparently set for next Tuesday.

Assange is under indictment in Alexandria and the U.S. is seeking extradition. The Hammond development would suggest U.S. Justice Department officials may be considering additional charges against Assange.

Although authorities have not commented, and grand jury proceedings are secret, Hammond was unexpectedly moved last weekend from a federal prison in Memphis, Tennessee where he had been serving his sentence. He is now at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons processing center in Oklahoma City, a waypoint for federal inmates who are being transferred. Hammond's next stop would be a facility in Alexandria, Virginia for his grand jury appearance.

Hammond, who attended Glenbard East High School and the University of Illinois - Chicago, was arrested in 2012 at his Chicago-Bridgeport apartment. The next year he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for carrying out cyber attacks targeting Stratfor, a Texas-based geopolitical intel firm, the FBI's Virtual Academy, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, and the Jefferson County, Alabama, Sheriff's Office.

Hammond, now 34, claimed at his sentencing that the hacks were civil disobedience to expose the pervasiveness of government and private surveillance.

His supporters, who have elevated him to near-mythical status on the internet and sell buttons, t-shirts and other merchandise bearing his name and picture, say he was scheduled to be released at the end of the year after receiving credit for ongoing participation in a drug-abuse program. That participation has now been disrupted and his supporters worry his incarceration could now be extended by more than two years.

"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 Hammond support group said in its statement.

Five years ago the I-Team reported that Hammond, who considers himself a "hacktivist" explained in his own words, from behind prison walls, what drove him to break into crucial computer systems and why he thought he was caught.

Under the nickname "Anarchaos," Hammond penetrated some of the world's most important computer systems, and supposedly, the most secure.

"From the start, I always wanted to target government websites, but also police and corporations that profit off government contracts. I hacked lots of dot-govs," he told a reporter from the Associated Press in 2014.

Hammond said that he was motivated by the 9/11 attacks, and what he saw as the government intrusion that followed.

When he broke into the computers at security think tank Stratfor, costing the company more than a million dollars, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security knew they had a problem because DHS was a Stratfor client.

But Hammond downplayed his conduct.

"I mean, I didn't kill anybody," he said in the interview.

When Hammond attended UIC on a full scholarship, he said he hacked into a UIC website and then revealed to university administrators what he did and why they were vulnerable. That got him thrown out.
Copyright © 2022 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.