FBI puts top Anonymous ‘hacktivist’ Jeremy Hammond on terrorism watchlist
The prominent Anonymous “hacktivist” Jeremy Hammond, who participated in some of the hacking collective’s most audacious cyber acts, was placed by the FBI on a terrorism watchlist, the Daily Dot reported on Monday.
The internet news website obtained a leaked document from the New York state division of criminal justice services that shows Hammond was classified as a “possible terrorist organisation member”. The document is marked “destroy after use” and includes the instruction: “Do not advise this individual that they are on a terrorist watchlist.”
The document obtained by the Daily Dot, which is dated just weeks before Hammond’s arrest, suggests that he was put on a central terrorism watchlist compiled by the FBI known as the Terrorist Screening Database. The documents do not spell out what justification, if any, the federal agency offered for including Hammond on the list, raising the possibility that the FBI designated him a possible terrorist by dint of his role as a so-called “hacktivist” within Anonymous.
Civil liberties groups said they were concerned that a hacker with no apparent history of terrorist behaviour or affiliations should be classified in this way.
“This raises questions about the US government’s definition of terrorism and whether they have expanded it to including hackers,” said Hanni Fakhoury, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Fakhoury said he was curious to know the identity of the “terrorist organisation” mentioned in the documents.
“If it was al-Qaida or Islamic State that would pose no problem for me, but if they were referring to Anonymous that would be a different proposition,” he said.
Hammond was arrested in March 2012 and sentenced in November the following year to 10 years in prison for his part in a series of high-profile hacks carried out in the name of Anonymous. One of the largest of those breaches in which Hammond played a leading role was the release of five million emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor.
He was prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). There was never any suggestion during the proceedings that he was involved in any activities related to terrorism or terrorist organisations.
Hammond has always insisted he is an activist and not a criminal, let alone a terrorist. In a recent opinion article for the Guardian, he argued that he and his fellow hackers were misunderstood.
“We are condemned as criminals without consciences, dismissed as anti-social teens without a cause, or hyped as cyber-terrorists to justify the expanding surveillance state. But hacktivism exists within the history of social justice movements,” he wrote.
A representative of the Terrorist Screening Center, which administers the database, said the centre “does not publicly confirm nor deny whether any individual may be included in the US government’s Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). Disclosure of an individual’s inclusion or non-inclusion in the TSDB would significantly impair the government’s ability to investigate and counteract terrorism.”
The guidelines governing terrorism watchlists are overseen by an inter-agency committee within the US National Counterterrorism Center. They are cast very wide to include “acts dangerous to human life, property or infrastructure” that are “intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population” or “affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction”.
Hugh Handeyside of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project said the US government’s approach to the watchlists was problematic on several levels.
“It involves a very broad definition of terrorism, has a poorly defined standard of ‘reasonable suspicion’ that has numerous exemptions, and has no meaningful way to seek redress,” he said.