Eastern District of Virginia – Imprisoned anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond has been summoned to testify in front of a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia. It is unclear what matters the federal grand jury is investigating but it is largely presumed to be same grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Chelsea Manning, a previous WikiLeaks source, is currently being held in contempt for refusing to answer questions in front of the grand jury.
Normal protections provided by the criminal justice system to protect civil liberties do not apply to a grand jury. All grand juries meet in secret and can investigate almost any matter that a prosecutor decides. Even the knowledge that a grand jury has been impaneled is kept under secret, ostensibly to protect the integrity of the investigation. When called to testify, a witness is first asked to be truthful under penalty of perjury. Since witnesses are not on trial in relation to charged crimes they are not afforded protections against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. Witnesses are also not allowed lawyers to advise them during their testimony.
Hammond, a prolific activist and hacker from Chicago, was arrested in early 2012 after a series of high-profile hacks as part of Anonymous. As part of Anonymous, Hammond and others hackers calling themselves LulzSec dumped documents, defaced websites and targeted police departments during their operations.
The FBI was able to learn Hammond’s identity after turning one of the hackers in LulzSec into an informant. In the years following Hammond’s arrest it was revealed that Hector Xavier Monsegur worked “around the clock” for the FBI under his alias “Sabu ” and even directed Hammond and other hackers to both specific and indiscriminate targets inside numerous countries at the behest of the FBI.
Hammond is currently incarcerated for pleading guilty to a single hacking charge against Stratfor, a Texas-based corporate intelligence firm. In a report, journalist Dell Cameron reviews the forensic evidence that Hammond did not actually develop the hack into Stratfor, as the government accused him. Monsegur facilitated the hack which originated from a third party while under close supervision of federal agents, according to the forensic evidence. (The FBI also failed to warn Stratfor that its informant was facilitating an attack against the company.)
It is unclear what, if anything, the federal government investigating WikiLeaks hopes to learn by compelling Hammond’s testimony in front of the grand jury. The US government has previously charged Julian Assange of WikiLeaks with one charge of conspiracy to hack a computer network and seventeen additional charges of violating the Espionage Act. However, in formal extradition paperwork submitted by the US to the British government has stated that the US had no plans for additional charges for Assange.
Due to the nature of grand jury secrecy, it is impossible for the public to learn what questions the government wants answered with Hammond’s testimony. A statement posted online by his solidarity committee has stated that Hammond has no plans to testify in front of any grand jury.
Hello, everyone. Thank you all for the overwhelming support already shown to Jeremy. Just as Jeremy had no intention of cooperating with the government during his original trial, he has no intention of testifying before this or any other grand jury he may be called in front of.
— Jeremy Hammond Support Committee (@FreeJeremyNet) September 3, 2019
Typically grand juries are created to investigate crimes, sit for approximately eighteen months and then recommend charges filed under seal. The Department of Justice has previously declined to recommend charges to WikiLeaks under Obama.
Grand juries have historically been used to probe and punish participants in social movements. Unicorn Riot reported former acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was linked to grand jury activity targeting leftist activists in “Green Scare” investigations in Iowa, after the aftermath of the 2008 Republican National Convention. Similarly to the current Wikileaks probe, open-ended imprisonment without charges was a tactic used in a failed attempt to compel testimony from a suspected witness.
It has been widely reported that the Trump DOJ revived the long-dormant investigation into WikiLeaks. Given that Hammond was not involved in any potential case surrounding the conspiracy to hack charges, there is rampant speculation about why Hammond was called to testify.
The wide latitude given to grand juries and their unfettered latitude to compel testimony has been met with widespread silence among activists. Organized under the banner of “grand jury resistance”, activists have refused to answer any and all questions asked.
From a practical perspective, witnesses are unaware what the grand jury has already learned and any testimony could be a potential perjury trap. Secondly, anarchists like Hammond are committed to non-compliance with engaging with the legal system in any capacity and see it as a moral duty to refuse to answer any questions.
Jerry Boyle, a movement lawyer based in Chicago intimately familiar with the Hammond case, made the following comment to Unicorn Riot:
“Grand juries were designed to be a check on the power of the state to charge crimes, but they have instead evolved into tools of state oppression. The secrecy surrounding grand juries illustrates the point. Grand jury secrecy in theory protects the reputation of persons investigated but not charged. But in practice it allows a prosecutor to conduct a wide-ranging investigation in secret without any meaningful judicial oversight. And any witness who refuses to cooperate faces indefinite detention for contempt of court. So we now see Chelsea Manning back in prison for contempt of court, for an investigation we know nothing about. And Jeremy Hammond now apparently faces the same fate.” – Chicago Attorney Jerry Boyle
The work of grand juries is supposed to be overseen by judges; when individuals refuse to testify in front of the grand jury, they can be brought in front of the judge who authorized the grand jury. A judge could then hold them in contempt since an officer of the court formally ordered their testimony.
After Chelsea Manning refused to answer any questions in front of two grand juries she was ordered held in contempt of court where she has been held for over 170 days. One prospect for releasing a grand jury resistor is to convince the judge that any further detention would not compel testimony which could take over 250 days.
While Manning remains in civil contempt for refusing to answer questions, it remains too early to tell what the fate of Hammond will be. Before being transferred to the grand jury in Virginia, Hammond was in federal program named RDAP that would have seen him released from Federal prison earlier than 2022. Having left the prison that administers the RDAP program makes it far unlikely that Hammond will be given credit for his program making a previous release date in December of 2019 unlikely. Any time held in civil contempt, which could be 18 months, for grand jury resistance, will likely not be counted toward time served for his federal charges.
Update [September 4, 10:30 CDT]
A message was made public via Jeremy Hammond’s support committee,
“Jeremy was given the paperwork revoking the time off he would have received had he completed RDAP at FCI Memphis. In the highly unlikely event that his sentence isn’t suspended for refusing to testify in front of the grand jury, removing him from FCI Memphis before his RDAP time was completed to bring him before a grand jury the government had to know he wouldn’t speak to still adds a minimum of 9 months to his sentence. This in and of itself is cruel, punitive, and outrageous.”
We will continue to provide updates on this story as they come in.
[Photo: Sparrow Media]