A 27-year-old Chicago man pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges stemming from a major hack on the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), a company the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks later called a "private CIA" following startling claims in the firm's stolen emails.

Prosecutors claim that Jeremy Hammond, known online as "Anarchaos," worked with the hacktivist group "LulzSec," which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had infiltrated. Agents claim they were able to flip the alleged ringleader, a 28-year-old Hector Xavier Monsegur, known online as "Sabu," into helping bring the whole group down. Hammond was one of five others indicted in March for the "LulzSec" hacks and remains the highest profile arrest in the case so far. He's been behind bars, held without bail, in Manhattan ever since.

A website launched to raise money for Hammond's defense calls him a "political activist," and carries a number of allegations about Stratfor. "The hack revealed that Stratfor employs a network of paid informants that include government employees and journalists," the site claims. "The hack also revealed that Stratfor client Dow Chemical paid for spying on activists working to seek redress for the Bhopal environmental disaster. Stratfor was also hired by the Texas Department of Public Safety to infiltrate Occupy Austin."

An updated indictment filed against Hammond in May called him the "mastermind" of the Stratfor hack, adding that he also broke into an Arizona law enforcement database, which resulted in a trove of secret documents being published online and selectively fed to the media.

Hammond allegedly stole some 60,000 credit card numbers from Stratfor, then ran up more than $700,000 in charges using the grifted accounts. Along with stealing the cards, he's accused of illegally accessing the personal information of over 860,000 Stratfor clients, including a former CIA director and a former U.S. vice president, whose names were redacted in the complaint.

Stratfor CEO George Friedman told an audience in Austin, Texas on March 13 that he had mixed emotions about knowing that the FBI was actively guiding LulzSec's alleged leader even as they watched Hammond essentially demolish his company's servers.

Emails stolen from Stratfor included talk of a potential sealed indictment for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and a claim that Osama bin Laden's body was not actually dumped into the ocean. When WikiLeaks published a trove of Stratfor's emails, Assange called the group a "private CIA," explaining that it operates as part of an underground corporate spying apparatus.

Friedman has since rejected the accusations, saying Stratfor is merely a subscription-based publishing house, and that certain sensitive information seemingly contained in their emails was merely part of an "orgy of speculation" that often transpired inside the firm following major news events. He's also suggested that Hammond and other like him are leading the Internet on a "death march" toward repression by the most powerful corporations in the world, who are losing unprecedented sums due to hackers running amok.

"Those who don’t want that to happen have to find a way to secure the Internet, because Joe McCarthy’s ghost is sitting out there waiting," Friedman said.


Photo: A "propaganda" illustration published to a website dedicated to raising money for the defense of alleged LulzSec hacker Jeremy Hammond. Creative Commons licensed.