Friday, March 9, 2012

Meet Jeremy Hammond, Arrested Chicago Hacker

This was originally on In These Times ITT List.


On March 6, 2012 FBI agents arrested five hackers alleged to be active in groups related to Anonymous.  They are accused of breaking into a number of corporate and government websites and networks and sharing the information online.

I could be described as a friend to Chicago-based hacker Jeremy Hammond.  We met doing student anti-war organizing in 2004, and I once drove to Toledo, Ohio to bail Hammond and a number of other activists out of jail.  They had traveled to Ohio to protest against a neo-Nazi group and been arrested under a draconian judicial decree that outlawed any gathering of 3 or more people without a permit.

Hammond, 27, has been charged with one count of computer hacking conspiracy, one count of computer hacking and one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud. Each charge carries a maximum ten-year prison sentence. The Anon/LulzSec leader-turned-FBI-informant, a man who went by the alias “Sabu,” helped the FBI track and identify Hammond and other hacktivists.

Prior to his arrest this week, Hammond spent two years in prison for hacking into the website of the conservative pro-war group 'Protest Warrior.' That a fellow hacker was also involved in his previous arrest also has led to a fair amount of derision.

“Like a lot of hackers, [Hammond] combines brains, idealism, and stupidity in equal measures,” writes Whet Moser in a Chicago magazine profile.

But Hammond was in many ways a person well ahead of his time. Groups like Anonymous were practically based on the work he did and the philosophy of 'hacktivism' that he touted.  Hammond ran the hacker training website Hack This Site and was a key person in Hack This Zine. Inspired by groups like the Electro-hippies who take credit for crashing the World Trade Organization's website during the 1999 protests, Hammond played an important role in promoting the use of hacking for Anarchist causes.

In a video from the Hacker conference Def-Con in 2004, Hammond describes his philosophy of “electronic civil disobedience” and challenges the authorities’ designation of hacking as cyber-terrorism: "Terrorism seeks to put fear into the population and hacktivism would rather unite people, bring them together and empower people, to give them the ability, that together we can make a difference, that we can put people on top of unjust corporations and governments."
Hammond is accused of hacking into Strategic Forecasting, Inc. or Stratfor. Stratfor is known as a for-profit corporate version of the CIA. The files, consisting of e-mails and internal documents was posted on WikiLeaks.

In describing the Stratfor documents, the Guardian has described a number of ethical and possible legal violations the company had made. The memo's show that Stratfor had been "seeking to profit by disrupting journalists and activist groups," including groups like the Bhopal Medical Appeal, which sought to protest DOW Chemical for not cleaning up the toxic waste in Bhopal as a result of the Union Carbide gas explosion in 1984.

The Guardian also points out that Stratfor's process of buying information from government and corporate insiders and then seeking to profit from that information could attract unwanted attention from the Securities and Exchange Commission:

By its very nature, of course, such information is secret and often protected by government order. Nothing short of a major congressional investigation will be able to drill down into this intelligence-industrial cartel to assess not just the quality of the information and the way it was obtained, but whether or not any of it serves the public interest—or the very opposite. That is, unless Anonymous or WikiLeaks gets there and does the work first.
In many ways, whoever hacked Stratfor was living up the Hacker Credo that "Information Wants to be Free." It has led to a number of questions about the operations of a company that might put profit over ethics and legality.

Hammond is also charged with charging the credit cards of Stratfor's clients to various progressive groups. This has led some to call him a digital Robin Hood.  While some activists may cheer releasing corporate information, many balk at using those corporate clients credit cards without authorization.

However. the history of civil disobedience has shown that financial tolls on powerful corporations and governments are often the most effective form of protest. No one has accused Hammond of using the money for himself.  A "freegan" who protests the wastefulness of the food industry by dumpster diving and eating food that has been thrown away, he could have bought much nicer things for himself.  Although, if he had used the money on himself, he might have been able to evade capture by the authorities by moving out of the country.

If Hammond did hack Stratfor, it is entirely possible that he was a victim of entrapment.  A target by the FBI because of his politics and previous arrests, he may have been persuaded and pressured into hacking a company that he might not have known of before. Considering the possibility of corruption in Stratfor, Hammonds arrest should only fuel the distrust of the government from many in the Anonymous and Occupy movements.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Catholics (Including Those He Went to School With) Ambivalent About Santorum

This article was originally posted on In These Times ITT List.


In recent days, national polls have shown Rick Santorum leading Mitt Romney for the first time in the GOP race. Santorum is 15 points ahead in Romney's home state of Michigan, and enjoys almost twice as much support as Romney among conservatives, Tea Party supporters and white evangelicals.
Santorum has been playing to the evangelical base of late, picking up the endorsement of evangelical leaders in January. But signs of support among the Catholic community from which he hails are so far decidedly more mixed.
In a Huffington Post article entitled, “Is Rick Santorum an Evangelical or a Catholic?” David Brody, the chief political correspondent for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, is quoted as insisting that “Rick Santorum is an evangelical at heart.”

Many of his positions are also more in line with those of evangelicals. As a House member and Senator, Santorum built a career on social conservative issues while citing his Catholic faith.  He opposed LGBTQ rights, teaching evolution, contraception and a woman's right to choose. But he has recently been asked to account for some key areas where his positions diverge from those of the Church—including health care and immigration reform.
Some clues to Santorum’s political apostasy come from his roots in Illinois, where he graduated from Carmel Catholic High School. Last weekend, the school held its annual fundraiser, where far-flung alumni gathered and criticism of Santorum abounded.

Many Catholics who attended Carmel Catholic aren't connecting with Santorum’s brand of socially conservative Catholicism.  Over 300 alumni and students of his own high school have joined a facebook page "Carmel Catholic Alumni Against Rick Santorum."  John Beltramo, an alumni from Santorum's class of 1976 said, "I find him to be an embarrassment to our graduating class and to the school as a whole.  Catholic faith notwithstanding, there's no room for this brand of bigotry and exclusion in public service."

Perhaps Santorum's disconnect has to do with his few ties to the Catholic community he came from.  His father worked for the VA and moved the family around often (as a result, Santorum attended Carmel Catholic for only his senior year).  Few alumni even remembered him.  He wasn't active in clubs or sports.

Martha Ann Cahill Weaver, class of 1967, is active with her local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) "I'm embarrassed that Santorum attended Carmel. . . I am deeply saddened that he could so easily write off an entire group of human beings."
Santorum cites his Catholic faith as guiding his social conservatism, yet there is no requirement for one to be opposed to LGBTQ rights in Catholicism.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Pope have issued statements condemning the LGBTQ movement, but the Pope has never given an official declaration of infalliability regarding LGBTQ issues or abortion.  The teachings of bishops on these issues are not at the level of Church dogma, which you must believe in order to be considered Catholic by the Church.

Indeed, as has been widely noted, most American Catholics have far more liberal views on social issues than do the bishops.  In addition to the widely-cited finding that 98% of sexually active Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives, the latest Public Religion Research Institute poll shows that a majority of Catholics believe employers should be required to provide for health insurance that covers contraception. (Though this poll was taken before Obama's proposed compromise.)

A similar poll from the PRRI showed a high level of Catholic support for gay rights.   71% of Catholics support civil marriage equality and 56% do not consider same-sex relationships to be a sin.

Santorum has picked and chosen which statements of Catholic Bishops he agrees with.  While he agrees with their statements against gay rights, he diverges when it come to his support for the war in Iraq, immigrant and labor rights, and even evolution, something that the Pope has spoken in support of since the 1950's.  The current Pope, Benedict XVI called the debate between creationism and evolution science "absurd," as faith and science can coexist. Benedict explained that "there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.”

Jim Wilkins, a 1976 Carmel Catholic alumni (the same class as Santorum) said, "two key things I was taught at Carmel & Santa Maria were that you treat everyone fairly & equally and how you treat the most disadvantaged among us defines you as a person. Santorum fails on both points."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Following Politicized Dismissal, Norm Finkelstein Gives Details of Tenure Battle

This article was originally posted on the ITT List on In These Times.


Norman Finkelstein’s lecture at DePaul's Lincoln Park campus last week marked the first time that the political science professor has returned to the Chicago university since his controversial departure in 2007. The now-infamous decision by DePaul to deny Finkelstein tenure resulted in part from conservative academics’ campaign to paint Finkelstein, whose research was critical of Israel, as a Holocaust denier.

Speaking to a crowded lecture hall on January 17, Finkelstein discussed the experience and for the first time revealed some of the details of his settlement with DePaul.

"DePaul's plot to deny me tenure had nothing to do with my faults,” Finkelstein said. "In fact, and ironically, it viciously attacked me and destroyed my career because of my virtues. Which, although few in number, they still found threatening."

Full disclosure: I was a student of Finkelstein's prior to his departure from DePaul.

Finkelstein taught political science at DePaul University, the largest Catholic University in the U.S., for six years. He is the author of several books and has lectured around the world about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His parents survived the Nazi Holocaust, and he frequently criticizes what he sees as attempts to use the Holocaust as cover for Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip.

When he was denied tenure in 2007, he consistently had among the highest student evaluations of any teacher in the political science department at DePaul. Many of his students were outraged, and camped out in the office of the President of DePaul for three days and two nights in protest. Many have commented that Finkelstein's problem was that he touched the third rail of American politics—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—before he had obtained the protection of tenure.

When a university denies tenure to a professor, the professor is usually allowed to finish one more year at the school in order to seek other employment. Finkelstein's tenure-track contract actually had another year on it, but DePaul refused to allow Finkelstein to teach that year. As a result, Finkelstein reached a settlement with the school, much of which is still confidential--but part of which was that he would be barred from campus.

Finkelstein returned to campus, however, after asserting that DePaul had violated the terms of the settlement, which he said he had fully documented. "I have 500 pages of correspondence. I feel completely confident that if I am challenged on any word spoken today, I can carry the day in the court of public opinion."

Asked why he was "reopening the wound," Finkelstein replied, "I did not reopen the wound. The wound never healed, and it can not heal. I can not move on. DePaul destroyed my professional calling. There's no where else to move."

Citing the precedent that had been recently set where DePaul president Fr. Holtschneider reversed a denial of tenure for chemistry professor, Quinetta Shelby, Finkelstein made a proposal to DePaul's administration and board of directors: "if you acknowledge your wrongdoing in my case, if you apologize for the wrongdoing, and grant me the tenure that I earned, and that I deserve, then I would consider the matter closed." So far, the administration has not taken Finkelstein up on this offer.

Finkelstein went on to assert that the events in 2007 had constituted a “plot” to destroy his professional career, saying that many of those who participated in it had gone on to receive promotions.

While he did not name the attackers, it was clear to this writer and those assembled from the DePaul community who he was talking about.
He described the Dean of Liberal Arts and Science, Charles Suchar, who recommended against tenuring Finkelstein, even after the College of Liberal Arts and Science tenure committee voted unanimously to grant him tenure. Suchar then spread rumors to faculty that he had "secret information" on Finkelstein.

Finkelstein said that "after the settlement agreement had been signed and in flagrant breach of it," a DePaul administrator told an outside professor that Finkelstein had been denied tenure because of the “secret information.”

One might ask, what was this "secret information" that tainted the tenure process?

Another DePaul administrator accused Finkelstein of violent assault and of promoting "bestiality, incest and rape" in his classes, which could have been referring to a lecture on John Stuart Mill's book, On Liberty, taken horribly out of context. Finkelstein described how DePaul's provost dropped all the charges when he threatened to go public with this "filthy frame-up."

Then there are the rumors and claims associated with Alan Dershowitz. Finkelstein had angered the Harvard law professor by repeatedly challenging Dershowitz's scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Dershowitz, a supporter of legalizing torture and apologist for Israel's worst war crimes in the occupied territories, launched an effort to smear Finkelstein's reputation.

According to Finkelstein, the chair of the political science department, Pat Callahan, entered into a correspondence with Alan Dershowitz and "conspired with him to prevent me from getting tenure." Dershowitz claimed that Finkelstein was a Holocaust minimizer at best, a Holocaust denier at worst. This charge was issued despite the fact that Finkelstein's parents had survived the Holocaust and Finkelstein had dedicated many of his books to their memory.

DePaul's law school launched their own investigation of Finkelstein, with information from Dershowitz that mischaracterized many of Finkelstein's positions and took his statements out of context. "Two DePaul law professors told the law school faculty that I was a Holocaust denier. That I was a part of the Iranian-Venezualian worldwide conspiracy to deny the Holocaust," said Finkelstein.

Despite this heavy-handed intervention, Dershowtiz claimed at the time that he had only intervened in DePaul's tenure process when he was asked to by Callahan.

Later, however, Fr. Holtschnieder told students supporting Finkelstein that in fact Dershowitz had repeatedly sent letters and attempted to meet with him--attempts that, according to Holtschnieder, were turned down.
The smear campaign against Finkelstein was so effective that his department chair called Finkelstein’s book, Beyond Chutzpah, “worthless.” This same chair ranked Finkelstein as the worst professor in the department, despite having among the highest student evaluations of any professor in the department.

Finkelstein invited the chief figures involved in his tenure case to the lecture, and offered them the full right to reply. None of them attended or spoke.

This episode with Finkelstein has also highlighted broader problems with DePaul’s tenure system as it impacts academic freedom. DePaul's denial of tenure of a range of professors who didn't fit a particular mold stands as a bleak reminder of who actually controls high education today. In one example, the school denied tenure to Melissa Bradshaw, who spearheaded the foundation of the school's LGBTQ studies program, the first of its kind at any Catholic university.

The school also has an established pattern of denying tenure to faculty of color. According to attorney Lynne Bernabei, "Over a 20 year period prior to 2009-2010, minority applicants for tenure at DePaul were twice as likely as white applicants to be denied."

Namita Goswami, a philosophy professor hired to teach post-colonial theory, was  denied tenure for not teaching enough “continental” (read: European) philosophy.

Despite having his teaching career ruined, Finkelstein is pushing ahead with plans to publish three books this year, including one about Ghandi and his lessons for the struggles to end the Israeli occupation. He has even been invited to speak to the oldest Jewish society at Yale, whose last speaker was former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Upon his return to campus, DePaul alumni Stephanie Willding told Finkelstein,
On behalf of some of your former students, everything you said is horrific, they have robbed you of something. But what they can't rob you of is the impact that you had on all of us, who had the honor and privilege of being your students. There are very few big moments of my life where I don't think of something you said in class, or remember the things you taught me. The few classes that I took with you have had a bigger impact on me that probably most things in my life, and that's something that DePaul's administration can never take from any of us, or you.

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