Suburban Chicago 'hacktivist' vows to stonewall grand jury after contempt order

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After claiming he was "unexpectedly dragged in chains and planes" from a federal prison where he has been doing hard time, suburban Chicago computer hacker Jeremy Hammond now pledges "silence over freedom" and refuses to answer grand jury questions.

Hammond's vow of continued silence comes after he was found in contempt last Wednesday, when first appearing before the grand jury.

Hammond, 34, a Glendale Heights native, is serving 10 years in prison for breaking into corporate and government computer systems. The ABC7 I-Team first reported last month that he was subpoenaed to appear in front of a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia. It is believed the grand jury is looking into additional criminal charges in the WikiLeaks case. The website's founder Julian Assange is under indictment in Alexandria and the U.S. is seeking his extradition from Britain.

As the I-Team initially reported, Hammond was suddenly moved in late August from a federal prison in Memphis, Tennessee where he had been serving his sentence. He was sent through a U.S. Bureau of Prisons processing center in Oklahoma City, a waypoint for federal inmates who are being transferred.

"I am outraged that the government is threatening additional jail time if I do not cooperate with their grand jury investigation" Hammond said in a statement after being found in contempt. "Their draconian intimidation tactics could never coerce me into betraying my comrades or my principles. In the spirit of resistance and with great contempt for their system, I am choosing silence over freedom," Hammond said.

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 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.

With Hammond rejecting testimony in front of that grand jury, the government is running into its second roadblock along the highway to an expanded WikiLeaks investigation. Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning also refused to talk to the Virginia grand and remains jailed for contempt. The investigation is related to diplomatic cables and war logs leaked by Manning to WikiLeaks that were published in 2010.

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 © 2019 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.