Threat Management

Why the AP phone records seizure and the LulzSec sentences are related


Earlier this week, The Associated Press stunningly revealed that the U.S. Department of Justice secretly obtained "records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to the AP and its journalists" covering "a full two-month period in early 2012." Presumably the feds were interested in finding out who had leaked to the AP information about a foiled al-Qaeda plot in Yemen, and Attorney General Eric Holder justified the snooping in the name of national security, an argument that, as the days pass, is growing increasingly dubious.

Four days later, four members of the provocative, ostentatious and now-defunct LulzSec hacktivist clan were sentenced in London after a two-day hearing. The LulzSec members – who were responsible for leaving a trail of mayhem and embarrassment in the wake of their mid-2011 attacks against organizations like the CIA, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Sony and 20th Century Fox – received relatively light sentences, ranging from 20 to 32 months, with two of the defendants only expected to serve half of that time, one sentenced to a youth facility and the other expected not to see the inside of a jail cell at all, assuming he stays clear of trouble. 

The AP probe and LulzSec punishments may not, on the surface, appear connected. But they are, especially when one considers the case of Jeremy Hammond, the accused Anonymous and LulzSec-linked hacktivist who is charged with looting the computer systems belonging to the Arizona Department of Public Safety (allegedly done to protest tough immigration laws) and at HBGary Federal and global intelligence firm Stratfor (allegedly done to expose the inner workings of the so-called intelligence industrial complex). The Stratfor hack resulted in millions of emails being unearthed and, according to Rolling Stone, "focused worldwide attention on the murky world of private intelligence after Anonymous provided the firm's emails to WikiLeaks, which has been posting them ever since."

But unlike his counterparts in the U.K., Hammond has been handled far more aggressively here in the United States, having been held in prison in New York without bail since last March, often in solitary confinement, while being denied visitors as he awaits trial. A judge has determined him a flight risk.

It's clear that the United States wants to make an example of Hammond, and by throwing the proverbial book at him and essentially declaring him an enemy of the state, even before he stands trial, federal prosecutors are fully aware that this will discourage other people from engaging in similar acts that seek to expose government or corporate corruption and impropriety. The same applies to what the DoJ has done to the AP. In many ways, Hammond really is no different than the person or persons who tipped off the news agency about the counter-terrorism operation in Yemen. Or any whistleblower or press leaker for that matter. Hence, they all face similar treatment.

Although President Obama pledged to maintain the "most transparent administration" in history, his actions have proven otherwise. The events of this week is further proof that the U.S government -- and the corporations for which it looks out -- is more interested than ever in preserving its cloak of national security secrecy. And if that means instituting press or source intimidation, or waging aggressive prosecutions against activists...well, you might want to get used to it.

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