Lauri Love is accused of stealing large amounts of data from US government agencies, including the Federal Reserve, the Army, the Department of Defense, NASA and the FBI, in a series of hacks in 2012 and 2013.
US authorities allege that Love is part of a network of hackers that infiltrated government networks to protest the treatment of Aaron Swartz, the entrepreneur and hacktivist who committed suicide after being arrested for downloading academic journals and facing 35 years in prison.
Love is charged with placing hidden “shells” or “backdoors” within networks, allowing for confidential data to be stolen. This has allegedly caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage. He is under indictment in the US District Court in New Jersey, in the Southern District of New York, and in the Eastern District of Virginia. As a result, the US is seeking his extradition, which he is fighting.
Love, who has British and Finnish citizenship, lives in the UK, and has argued that, with his serious mental and physical health conditions, a jail term in the US could drive him towards a mental breakdown or suicide. However, a UK court has ruled that Love could be cared for by “medical facilities in the United States prison estate.”
In this exclusive conversation with Barrett Brown, Love compares the criminal justice systems of the UK and the US. He also draws parallels between himself (and his work) and others who have been accused of similar crimes.
Also this week, Brown talks about the increasingly fragile efforts of private citizens to make a difference in the current political environment, and how his “Pursuance project” just might be a game changer.
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|Barrett Brown:||This is Barrett Brown. Thanks for listening to our WhoWhatWhy Podcast. We’re joined today by Lauri Love. Love is a technical specialist and a hacker in some regards based out of the UK. He’s been in the news over the past couple of years, because the US government is trying to extradite him to America to face a variety of flimsy charges.|
|In the course of that, they’ve had to make the case to the British that the US is capable of engaging in a fair trial for an activist and is capable of providing what the western world considers to be humane detention facilities. I happen to know that both of those things are false, given my own background, and so does anyone who’s explored these issues or given a brief glance at what academics and the government’s own bodies have found out about the US prison systems.|
|Lauri, let’s say the scenario was different and you were facing charges in the UK. Based on your knowledge of how things have gone down with activists in the US, in the UK respectively, how much different do you think a courtroom, a trial for you would be in the UK versus the US?|
|Lauri Love:||I mean the major difference is there would be a trial, because in the UK we don’t try to bully people into pleading guilty when they don’t feel they’re guilty, so people who are accused of things generally get tried. Then, only when they’re found guilty, through a process of adversarial argument, and the fact-finding exercise by a jury, then they are convicted.|
|Whereas in America they have a much more efficient system and 97, 98% of people don’t have any trial rights at all because they bargain them away for a fairer deal. That would be the major difference.|
|The second main difference is the length of the likely sentencing, so for the offenses of which I’m accused in the US, I’ve not been charged with any offenses in the UK, because they somehow failed to do that. If I was charged with the same offenses in the UK, and if I was convicted, the maximum custodial sentence would be 36 months.|
|Whereas in the USA, I am facing a potential maximum sentence of 99 years. It’s unlikely to be that way, but the fact that it’s even plausible that it could reach to nearly three figures makes it kind of a bit of a joke. That’s the main difference.|
|Barrett Brown:||What do you think is, to the extent that you can determine it, what do you think is going on in the heads of the those in the US who are trying to bring you over here even in the face of all this difficulty for them? What do they hope to achieve by this?|
|Lauri Love:||Yeah, I think the same thing that they hope to achieve by locking you up, and they hope to achieve by locking up, for instance, Jeremy Hammond, Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling, [Maddock 00:03:19?], various other people, that’s to set an example to create a deterrent to prevent people from engaging in whistleblowing activity, hacktivist activity, information transparency, activism or generally being a nuisance to those in power.|
|This is their main strategic objective with the prosecutions of hacktivists is to convince people not to engage in activities that question power and seeks to bring information to the public. Also because if you end up in the right prison then some people make some money. Some of that money goes back to the people that make the laws and the people that administer the laws so there’s a bit of a profit motive.|
|In terms of what the purpose is I think there’s a … There has been, for the last 10 years, especially in the last five years, a concerted effort by the US government to put the lid back on the internet, put the genie back in the bottle and stop people using it as a tool for organizing and achieving social justice or just exposing corruption.|
|Barrett Brown:||Do you think that the activist community, and the information transparency community, and all these things that have kind of existed off and on for the past 10 years, do you think it strongly positions to make a comeback and start revving up activity to the extent it did in 2010, 2011?|
|Lauri Love:||Yeah, I think there’s a natural tendency for these things to happen in waves, because the power of this is in collective action, the only thing the internet … I say the only thing, the main thing the internet did was allow more people to connect and take action collectively without having to meet and organize in geographic proximity. The reason they come in waves is because everyone is feeding off of everybody else’s energy.|
|The reason, as I mentioned earlier, that the US engages in these crackdowns, in these vindictive, punitive, example-making exercises of the ones that they do capture, or at least that they can get into their justice system, is that it does have an effect at dissuading people.|
|We’ve seen since 2011, 12, 13, there’s been less activity. I don’t think that’s permanent. I think the activity is probably already starting to ramp up again in response to this current administration. To a certain extent, there’s a need for infrastructure, a need for organization and facilitation.|
|Then that’s another thing that the government has been quite effective at is highlighting, identifying, the points around which people are self-organizing and making it difficult for them to self-organize at those places.|
|The old networks, where people would discuss and plan various endeavors are less popular now for various reasons. None of that is permanent. I imagine we’re going to see another wave and another wave, and if the right lessons are learned from the last time, then we’ll see more effective organization and more effective action.|
|Barrett Brown:||4chan, and the B-sub channel in particular, was unique in the history of the internet, because it gave birth to two oppositional but very energetic waves of dissent, one of which was a left, essentially left wing, Anonymous. The other which was essentially right wing, which was this alt right thing, which I think to some extent did come out of 4chan, from what I’ve been told.|
|Do you think of anything else existing on the internet as infrastructure that could give birth to these bizarre, energetic impulses? Is there another 4chan out there that’s going to be complicating things further and sending out previously just sort of unpredictable movements like we’ve seen out of that?|
|Lauri Love:||Yeah, so I think the reason why 4chan became this cultural font of means and ideas and rapid manifestations of collective action was because it was a … new spin on a forum … It completely eradicated the barrier to entry. You didn’t have to log in.|
|It was actually discouraged to have an account, an identity. Things would move very quickly, so a thread would either get replies or it would fall to the back, and so encourage people to drive off each other in a way that they hadn’t done to the same extent with the older forums, the bulletin boards, et cetera.|
|I imagine we’ll see that again. You saw that with IRC as well, that IRC enables a kind of collaboration that say for instance open-software development, and a lot of people sit on IRC and they want to talk to each other about what’s wrong with this software or this program language in a way that was not possible.|
|From that we kind of saw, it was between that and news groups we saw, Linux arising, which has gone on to change the internet in quite a significant way. That probably wouldn’t had come about had it not been for that. There’s constant evolution.|
|I don’t know what the next thing’s going to be after the image board, but there’s probably things already happening that are variations of change, the dynamic, or as Marshal McLuhan would say], the medium affecting the kind of message or the kind of song and dance that you can have between the messages.|
|Barrett Brown:||Lauri, thank you for joining us. Obviously, we wish you good luck in your continued battle with the US empire.|
|Lauri Love:||Thanks for having me on. It’s been nice to talk to you and good luck with your project.|
|Barrett Brown:||Thank you. Over 40 years ago, a vastly criminalized presidential administration was brought down through a combination of leaks, reporting, and congressional action. Watergate came to serve as a sort of founding myth of American civics. Any transgressions supposedly, I guess in norms of democracy and our constitution itself, would surely be discovered by an intricate press corps and punished by an attentive and responsible Congress.|
|45 years later, two former Nixon administration officials, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, managed to take firm control of yet another presidential administration. This one too was marked by revelations of unconstitutional and criminal acts, including torture, mass surveillance, the unprecedented negligence of emergency preparedness functions, the politically motivated firings of US attorneys and the most disastrous military engagements since Vietnam.|
|The second of these two wars, incidentally, was originally billed as a natural outgrowth of Iraq’s intransigence, but a memo, which later became public, confirming the suspicion, that it was in fact planned from the start by Rumsfeld, with the ostensible issue of WMDs [Weapons of Mass Destruction] having been listed as one of several convenient pretexts by which this might be accomplished.|
|10 years later, many now regard the Bush administration with actual nostalgia. In 10 years from today, will we look back at 2017 with the same longing? It has become more and more difficult, as the years proceed, to maintain the fiction that the American republic is fundamentally sound. An associated myth that the great majority of the American electorate are decent people, who are entirely capable of overseeing the single most powerful apparatus in history, has also become less viable.|
|The establishment, as we may as well join in terming it, has likewise lost credibility for reasons ranging from nonsensical to inarguable. The end result is a crisis of moral authority and even of amoral authority. This is a society that cannot even produce a proper strongman, but it can certainly produce a disaster, for ourselves and for the world.
And so that we can place the idea of disaster in its proper context, recall that the baseline of 21st century America involves a sort of constitutional police state – with unprecedented incarceration rates, increasingly militarized law enforcement, a non-accountable intelligence community with a long history of unconstitutional behavior, and a judicial and legislative culture that, all told, has officially rendered 10s of millions of Americans criminals by a prohibition on drugs, prostitution and gambling.
|Meanwhile, due to unchecked growth in federal statutes of extraordinary broadness, it has been convincingly estimated that the average American unwittingly commits three felonies a day. This is a country that can only continue to exist above the level of a fully mobilized gulag state to the extent that its laws are not actually enforced.|
|This is the situation prior to the current administration. It will remain the situation after this administration is gone, regardless of how it goes. Do not be taken in, as many were after Watergate, by the idea that a successful dislodging of a criminal presidency will signal renewed commitment to the rule of law.|
|Rumsfeld understood the real lesson of Watergate. The risks of violating our constitution are vastly eclipsed by the rewards. A theory may be tested by its ability to predict. The Rumsfeld doctrine has proven correct time and time again. Consider whether there was any realistic scenario by which things may improve. Watergate provides another useful precedent.|
|Just six years after the fall of Nixon, another man became president, who had solidified his following by his continual denunciations, not of the criminal conduct of that administration, but of the investigation that had brought these things to light. Naturally, further crimes were organized under Reagan. Even those that were discovered and pursued by congress led to no real consequences for anyone involved.|
|Meanwhile, the intelligence apparatus continued to expand with the aid of every president. It still expands today. What is the proper role then for the citizen who takes citizenship seriously and counts it as a duty to defend the rights, not just of Americans, but of those populations abroad who ultimately bear the brunt of our civic failings?|
|For many the answer is to continue the hard work of engaging within the system: voting, working for better candidates, donating time and money to the organizations that do what they can, to prevent things from deteriorating even further. This is entirely appropriate.|
|But even the reformers are likely to recognize now that this may not be sufficient in the face of the political conditions we face and that the consequences of a morally failed American republic, continuing on its present course for even just another decade, would be reparable.|
|No competent observer of our current trajectory can today disregard the scenario or others far worse, that this problem is now widely recognized as the first of two reasons why a solution is now in reach. This is a selection from the announcement article I put up yesterday at Vice regarding the Pursuance System, which is a platform that we’ve been working on for a number of years to help the citizenry better engage in the kind of things the citizenry has to do.|
|It’s based, in large part, on the idea that for the first time in human history, any individual can theoretically collaborate with any other individual without an intermediary. This has all come about very suddenly. The information age just arrived, in historical terms, relatively recently. We don’t yet know exactly what the internet means and what it can do.|
|There hasn’t been enough energy and talents directed at that question. But we’ve seen some very interesting phenomena, in the past 10 years especially, where the internet has fueled revolutions in places where revolutions were previously unlikely. Tunisia is one good example. We’ve seen massive campaigns against things like SOPA [The Stop Online Piracy Act]|
|It’s a very deleterious legislation that the US was pushing a few years ago. It was countered by a previously unimaginable makeshift coalition of internet literate citizens from around the world. We’ve seen things like this over and over again. They tend to be very haphazard. This is sort of a testing period.|
|But it’s very hard to imagine that we can’t take these lessons and take what’s worked and take the tactics and evolve them and come up with a framework that can combine the talents and energy and existing institutions that are out there doing important work, and|
|give them more leverage in a world system in which we’re opposing entrenched interests, which we’re opposing criminalized nation states, powerful organizations, things that have the advantage in a pre-internet age. It’s my belief that the internet offers a way forward, even past this morass that we’ve found ourselves in the US in particular.|
|The Pursuance System, you can learn more about at Pursuanceproject.org. Russ Baker, the founder of WhoWhatWhy is a board member. We’re very excited to be setting forth recruiting journalists in particular to use this for crowdsourced journalists, non-profits,|
|to help them mobilize their users, and just random people with talents and energy who don’t have access to the institutions that are out there currently taking the brunt of this work, but who could properly mobilize, given the right tools, could think up ideas, could engage in successful campaigns, just like we’ve seen in the past two years.|
|If you are serious about your citizenship, and if you do believe that, because of what’s been done in the past to secure our rights, that you owe some duty to the future to secure their rights and ours, then I hope you’ll go to Pursuanceproject.org and sign up to be considered for participation. Thanks again, and thank you for listening to our WhoWhatWhy.org Podcast.|
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Barrett Brown (courtesy of Barrett Brown) podcast studio (pxhere).