By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Chicago computer hacker tied to the group known as Anonymous was sentenced on Friday to 10 years in prison for cyber attacks on various government agencies and businesses, including a global intelligence company.
Jeremy Hammond, 28, was handed the maximum term for the December 2011 hacking of Strategic Forecasting Inc, an attack his lawyers contend was driven by concern about the role of private firms in gathering intelligence domestically and abroad.
Prosecutors say the hack of Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, resulted in the theft of 60,000 credit card numbers and records for 860,000 clients, which were then uploaded online. Hammond admitted being behind it in May.
He also admitted to hacking several law enforcement agencies and organizations, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, releasing personal details of officers as part of an attack by the Anonymous-affiliated group LulzSec.
Hammond's lawyers argued their client should be sentenced to only time he had already served since his March 2012 arrest, portraying him as a political activist and whistleblower.
As part of the Stratfor attack, Hammond's lawyers said he turned over company emails to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which has since selectively released documents revealing the firm's dealings with clients including Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Coca-Cola Co.
"As a result of the Stratfor hack, some of the dangers of the unregulated private intelligence industry are now known," Hammond said in court.
But Chief Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan imposed the 10-year term followed by three years of supervised release, citing his "total lack of respect for the law."
"There was certainly nothing high-minded or public spirited about his hacking," Preska said.
The sentence was the maximum allowed under the single charge of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking that Hammond pleaded guilty to in May.
Hammond's sentencing drew more than 250 letters of support from family, friends and activists, including Daniel Ellsberg, the former U.S. military analyst who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers, the top secret report on the United States' role in the Vietnam War.
Roughly 150 people packed the courtroom to watch the sentencing. A crowd gathered afterwards outside the court with signs reading "Free Jeremy Hammond" and "Outrage."
Following the sentence, Hammond, with shoulder-length hair and wearing blue prison garb, raised his hand in a fist as he was escorted out of the room, saying, "Long live Anonymous."
The case follows a series of hacks by Anonymous-associated groups AntiSec and LulzSec that Hammond, who went by the nickname "Anarchaos," began participating in 2011.
Anonymous and other loosely affiliated hacking groups have claimed credit for attacks against the CIA, Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency and companies including Japan's Sony Corp.
Several key players have been arrested, including Hector Xavier Monsegur, an Anonymous leader going by the name "Sabu," who has been cooperating with the FBI.
The hacks at issue in Hammond's case began about a month after his supervised release finished following a two-year prison term on an earlier federal hacking charge, prosecutors said.
Among the attacks was one Hammond organized in December 2011 of Stratfor, stealing 200 gigabytes of confidential information he then caused to be disclosed, prosecutors said.
As part of the attack, which supporters hyped on Twitter, Hammond also deleted all the data on Stratfor's computers, causing the company to remain offline for six weeks. In online chats quoted by prosecutors, Hammond said the goal was to destroy Stratfor.
"I'm hoping bankruptcy, collapse," he wrote.
At Friday's hearing, Hammond said he had never heard of Stratfor until Monsegur brought it to his attention. He called the fact Monsegur had been cooperating with the FBI during the hack a "great surprise."
A spokesman for Stratfor, which is based in Austin, Texas, declined to comment. Hammond's other hacking targets included the FBI, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association and the Jefferson County, Alabama, Sheriff's Office.
Hammond's lawyers had argued his actions should be put in context of a long history of political activism. Hammond said he wanted to be like Chelsea, formerly Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier sentenced in August to 35 years in prison for leaking documents to WikiLeaks.
Sarah Kinstler, a lawyer for Hammond, told the judge that "motivations matter," and nothing he did was for personal gain. She called his actions a "new form of protest."
But prosecutors said Hammond's actions harmed thousands of people. The cited the example of a retired Arizona police officer and his wife, whose unlisted home phone number was released, resulting in hundreds of harassing phone calls.
"His sentence underscores that computer hacking is a serious offense with damaging consequences for victims, and this office is committed to punishing the perpetrators of such crimes," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Philip Barbara)