The Sabu Effect: An Interview with Jay Leiderman

Jay Leiderman

Jay Leiderman

The knock at the door. The blinding lights, the shouted orders, the helmets, the uniforms, the guns, the confusion, the melee.

The raid.

When it’s all over, and the FBI is sifting through everything from your Friends list to your Playstation, who do you call? If you’re a hacker or a member of Anonymous, California criminal defense lawyer Jay Leiderman is going to be somewhere on that list. Whether on the top or on the bottom depends on what you think of his existing client list and a (confidential) advisory list which includes a significant percentage of the hacktivists you’ve heard of over the past three years.

“It feels really exciting at first, like you’re this spy lawyer,” Leiderman told the Ventura County Star. “But then you get serious and get to work about it. It all gets normal very quickly.”

Leiderman’s been called Anonymous’ lawyer of choice, and has defended or advised Anons from political refugee Commander X through LulzSec, AntiSec, incarcerated Anonymous spokesman Barrett Brown, and more. We asked him why he chose this field rather than something that might buy him a yacht or at least the ability to sleep at night. He replied that it was certainly anything but a calculated careerist move, and less his choice than the inevitable result of recent changes in the way the courts are used by The Powers That be.

Jay Leiderman:

DoJ [Department of Justice] is not supposed to be used to send messages. It’s supposed to be used to specifically target actual criminality, not to be this theoretical law creation machine where they want to push and twist the law so far to the point where it’s unrecognizable and use that to chill dissent. That’s when our country looks its most evil, and it really does. It’s an ugly picture of the US government, the US justice system when you look at it through the lens of Barrett’s case.

So I changed from this idealistic “I can help shape the future” to all of a sudden I’m in the middle of this frame where we’re literally fighting for our freedoms, for our information, for our privacy. It may be taken from us in a manner that we’re just never gonna get it back. That’s what’s really changed between the last few times I’ve been interviewed and now: This is a matter of immediacy, this is a matter of danger, this is a matter of peril to our liberty.

It’s scary as hell, living through these times, because we don’t know how this is going to play out. Our times are fraught with peril and I’m glad that I started this when I did and I intend to see it through to completion and I don’t know what that means: in terms of taking on more clients, in terms of taking on more pro bono cases, in terms of more work and being away from my family and having harm come to my business. Clearly I’m not making the authorities pleased with me. I could be where Barrett is [Barrett Brown is at  FCI Seagoville federal prison, where he has been for almost two years awaiting trial]. So that’s where we are.

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.”

Those are the words of Thomas Paine, and they are taken, in this case, from Leiderman’s blog post pleading for letters of support for anarchist activist and AntiSec member Jeremy Hammond. That should give you a clue that he’s not exactly a typical suit. Hammond, who claimed responsibility for the Stratfor hack widely publicized by WikiLeaks as “The Global Intelligence Files” isn’t even officially his client. When you realize that, you begin to know just how different Leiderman really is.

Leiderman, who is one of a handlfull of lawyers worldwide who specializes in hacktivist cases, is also a founder of the Whistle Blower’s Defence League, a legal activist organization which “from the pre-indictment phase through trial will litigate for their clients aggressively, speak out on their behalf, and go to war for them in the court of law and public opinion,” according to co-founder Jason Flores-Williams. So far, they’ve mostly been active in relation to the case of KYAnonymous, Deric Lostutter, the controversial Anon who led KnightSec and has become a mainstream media darling and consequently anathema to many Anons.

Leiderman first rose to public prominence over the Commander X case; X, whose civilian name is Christopher Doyon, was facing up to 15 years in prison for hacking a county website in retaliation for the county’s abolishment of a tent city for the homeless.  Leiderman had been about to fight the case pro bono when his client abruptly departed the US for Canada without undergoing the formality of informing his attorney. Leiderman subsequently assisted in Jeremy Hammond’s plea bargain, unsuccessfully defended LulzSec hacker Raynaldo “Royal” Rivera, and managed the defense fund for Deric Lostutter (KYAnonymous), who was behind OpRollRedRoll which took on rape culture in Steubenville. He’s currently representing journalist Matthew Keys, charged with giving Anonymous hackers access to the website of the Los Angeles Times, where they posted a false story.

We first caught him on the cell at an airport thanks to a delayed flight from a location he is not allowed to disclose. Because that’s just how he rolls. Heck, the man has his own Anonymous trading card. Next, we played Facebook and Twitter and email tag for some time, but finally re-connected via Skype; this time he was able to disclose that he was in his office, something we at the Cryptosphere had already surmised because his receptionist answered the phone. This interview has been stitched together from emails, PMs, DMs, calls via Skype, and calls via actual telephone over the course of some months. It’s a long read: get yourself a beverage and comfortable chair. It’s worth it.

The Cryptosphere: Let’s dive right in. In light of Snowden’s revelations and the treatment of many incarcerated hacktivists, how do you think our current civilization differs from its self-image?

I get that I’m a little bit of an anomaly in terms of a lawyer in that a lot of lawyers don’t do the things I do, aren’t interested in the things I’m interested in. What drew me to it initially was this idea of dissent online and moving protests forward to a new generation, a new way of thinking, a new philosophy, a way to redress our grievances to the government that was unique and novel, and to have them actually listen to us about the things that are important to us. Chief among them of course was the preservation of our privacies as we move forward into the digital age, into the complete ubiquity of digital technology pervading our lives.

Second to that was the free flow of information by the people. Privacy for people with free information, transparency for the state, with the allowance of free information.  Two years ago, these were just lofty concepts; these were literally abstract ideas; they were Philosophy.

Then all of a sudden we see that the NSA is really spying on us. Like, really, REALLY spying on us. Everything we’re doing is being preserved in giant data centers in Utah.

More than that, those who seem to assail the surveillance state, like Barrett Brown, have become political prisoners. It almost turned it up on its head. What interested me was this philosophy of how to move our ideal world forward, and it’s become this complete nightmare in that not only are we not moving it forward, but the government has become the enemy that we feared.

In the worst, deepest recesses of our minds we didn’t really think they would do the things they were doing. It was like paranoid, crazy talk.

And of course we found out they were doing that and so much more.

Each time they’re like, “Well, we were only doing this. We were only doing that.” And then it keeps leaking out that no, they’re doing more than that. No, you’re spying on every aspect of our lives and the only thing that saves us is that you’re going to be collecting so much data that you don’t even know how to sift through it yet.

Although we’ll probably find out that that’s not true either.

Now that all the news about the NSA and private security contractors is out in public what is the point of locking up Barrett Brown now? Barn door, horse, all that jazz?

Well isn’t that a great question? All the stuff that Barrett alleged turned out to be true! People made fun of him! “He’s a crackpot, saying these things,” but they actually were happening. Let him take a lesser plea to making the FBI videos and give him credit for time served and let’s let him go to trial for that and fight for the free speech issue. To ratchet the prosecution up by bringing the gag motion in and trying to freeze his legal defence fund, going after Project PM [Brown’s effort to index and investigate private security and intelligence contractors, which has been the victim of massive DDoS attacks off and on since his arrest] all of that stuff, it seems as though it’s prosecution intentionally tailored to make the point that activism of this sort will not be tolerated in the US.

Hacktivism, Anonymous, the NSA. It’s a fraught field, so there aren’t many cheerful topics, are there?

It’s been one thing after the other: Bad or Catastrophic!

Speaking of Catastrophic, let’s talk about FBI informant Sabu (Hector X. Monsegur). After Jeremy Hammond’s arrest several sources told us that Sabu had been present at Hammond hearings and rallies, even acting as a court official, and the Metropolitan Correctional Center confirmed that he had been in custody at times, but was not still in MCC when we contacted them. Beyond that they would not give details.

I was in and talked with Jeremy [Monsegur’s former AntiSec team member]. First of all he’s definite that people he saw [in prison] saw Sabu. They had the Rolling Stone article [which carried pictures of Sabu] matched up the pictures, there’s no question about it, it was him. Thin guy. Those pictures which are in the public domain of him are obviously old because he’s like 300, 400, 500 pounds now [which was confirmed when Monsegur showed up to testify at Hammond’s trial] and the guys were saying that in addition to eating the lousy chow that he’s given when he’s in prison, he was eating five honey buns a day smeared in peanut butter, which by the way is not good for keeping off weight.

Was it a deliberate attempt to change the way he looks, or did he just let himself go?

Could be. He was described as fat to the point that he had neck rolls, where there’s a roll of fat on the back of the neck and that’s Seriously Obese fat. The old lover boy blowing a kiss to the camera has passed and it’s now Jabba the Sabu.

That’s got to be a huge change in his mindset, because he was a vain man.

Yeah, what happened with this guy is he went [down] from sort of cult leader. There’s that point in my discovery from Rivera, where he is like, “Sabu, you are the GOD!” And Sabu bought into that and LIVED that and the next thing he knows, he’s everything that he hated.

He apparently tried to buy into the FBI “Now I’m a cop” thing, but I don’t think he could change his mindset. The FBI isn’t going to give him the love and the praise that he needs. This was a nobody who rose to be somebody and all of a sudden wasn’t just nobody again but was detestable scum, the less than nobody. No name in the parlance of Anonymous , no name carries with it the connotation of Sabu now.  It is equivalent to human excrement. He’s the lowest of the low, and for a guy with an ego like Sabu, that’s gotta be the worst blow of all of it. “I was a god once to you people, why don’t you still worship me? Oh yeah, because I betrayed everything I stood for and betrayed all of you personally as well. Oh yeah, that. The deception, the treachery. The Judas kiss.”

There are persistent rumors Sabu is still around, operating as an influential Anon under a different name.

I don’t think so. I think Jeremy got his deal and Matthew Keys’ case was filed when it was because they were Done with Sabu. I have to assume for the same reasons that caused him to go into the MCC [Metropolitan Correctional Center] to begin with. He was repeatedly using unauthorized mchat [chat software]…there was that leaked chat with Sanguinarious [in which Sabu was still apparently attempting to encourage another person to illegal actions]… He was still trying to have some personal time out there and get to the community without FBI sanction. And I think he probably DID some shit. You know, whether it was that he threw a dirty drug test, gone back to dealing credit cards to get by. It could have been anything; we don’t know.

But my sense is the FBI cut him loose because he was trying to go back online and trying to go back to being who he was, and that just didn’t work for them. They used him for as long as they could.

What do you think his life is like right now?

That’s a good question. None of us knows whether he’s in the Witness Protection Program or he was just released into the wild in New York. Nobody likes a rat, except the cops, And for a guy that pretends to be a street tough (and I say “pretends” because we know now it was all an act) he can’t go back to his old life; everyone knows he’s a piece of shit.

But he was living in the projects and dealing weed, and he didn’t get much blowback from that.

No, he can’t go back. Look, I’m from New York. He can’t go back to that neighborhood. They won’t accept him back because of what he did.

I heard he was in the Carolinas. I heard he was in Iowa. I heard all kinds of things like that, and I think they might have all been true.

Were those moves voluntary on his part, decided by some government agency, or what was going on with that?

Well the thing about what he was doing is: it’s internet-related. Quite plainly, the internet is everywhere.

Do you think he’s still being of service to the FBI or other agencies?

The deal he made with the Devil was filed under seal so we don’t know for sure. My best guess is No, that they might call him up from time to time to ask what he thinks, but No. I think he probably did his penance and that was it. He brought home what they needed.

To be plain, I’ve seen this over and over again in my practice, which is why I don’t represent snitches. The cops use them and abuse them. They don’t particularly like them as people. They understand that they, the snitches, betray their morals and anyone close to them, and once they’re used up, they’re discarded.

Kahuna was sentenced to three years, which he has been serving since Thanksgiving of 2013. What kind of reaction within Anonymous has there been to this Cabin Cr3w sentence?

He was nineteen [when he did the hack]. Thirty-six months is a lot for a first offence. He was classed as a snitch without any evidence to support that, from what I’ve seen. He did all this stuff [hacking police sites] in the name of Anonymous and he’s not being supported by the community. The community does what the community does, and that’s their choice, but I have great sympathy for him and I wish him well. He did sound like a real nice kid when we talked. He had good intentions through activism; it was clearly criminal, I’m not trying to excuse his criminality, but he had good intentions for his activism. It’s sad that it played out this way, both in terms of three years and also that he’s lost the community as well.

When Higinio Ochoa III (w0rmer) and John Anthony Borell III (Kahuna) of C4bin Cr3w were sentenced they both got almost the same amount of time and there were rumours one or the other was a snitch. It did serve for a very long time to keep the families apart and to keep Anonymous divided over the case and over who to support.

I do this stuff for a living. I was able to take a look at the two cases and it seemed to me that neither one was a snitch. It was terribly divisive for Anonymous, and that hurt me. You don’t like to see that, you don’t like to see people hating each other. I think Kahuna got more time than w0rmer because Kahuna had a bunch of cases and got caught doing a bunch more stuff.

What’s happening to w0rmer [on which Sue Crabtree and Jahba Don reported last week] is not necessarily uncommon.

You’re not really entitled to that early release date that they tell you you’re getting, and it’s always kind of a surprise when you get it. They don’t like to talk about prisoner transfer. They like to keep everyone off-balance and it’s really usually a question of when local probation or parole is ready for him. When a halfway house has a bed. Things like that. Those things kind of change day by day and let’s be honest, releasing a prisoner is not BOP’s top priority.

I’m reading the comments on Facebook and elsewhere and even people who hate Anonymous are saying “This poor guy has gotten shafted at every turn.”

That’s in no question.

You’re saying this is routine?

This is routine, yes. Prisoners do get shafted at every opportunity by BOP. Well, not every defendant; there are a few exceptions. But for the most part, BOP isn’t there to be nice to prisoners. They’re there to imprison them.

They’re not so good at letting them out.

Yes. And that’s consistently painful for families, and that’s one of the really ugly parts of incarceration. I have a feeling they kind of do things like that because…well, it’s one of those things where “you don’t like it? Oh, then don’t come back!”

So they’ll get jerked around so badly that it forms a disincentive to commit any further crimes.

A lot of people have read our coverage of w0rmer’s situation, but the biggest article we have right now is a thank you to Anonymous and OpFerguson from the people of Ferguson.

That’s a great thing to see, because those people are working a lot, not coming up for air, and you can’t say thanks enough for that.

In the way this op came out, it seemed to go back to basics, to the safety of the Hive rather than branching out into self-identified crews. I remember arguing with Sabu about sacrificing that safety for the sake of branding, sticking your neck out. He said he wanted to be more efficient than the hive, and they got shit done, yes, but at a cost.

But wasn’t that the lesson of LulzSec? With the glory and the individual publicity comes the “special” attention from people you don’t want attention from.

It’s kind of refreshing to see OpFerguson, because there hasn’t really been a large-scale op handled in a professional manner and really righteous like this in a little while. It’s nice to see. I hesitate to call it an old school op because what are we going back to, like early 2012??? But it’s nice to see a little bit of a revival of the way it was.

There were a lot of growing pains for Anonymous that came out of LulzSec, c4bin cr3w, and then horror stories like KnightSec and lother things like that which fractured the collective. This one seems to be a bit more cohesive, more working together, there isn’t a lot of dissent in this op and it’s nice to see. It’s nice to see everybody back on the same page, supporting the same thing.

It’s really sad to see that it took the death of a young man to do this.

We don’t know how long these protests are going to last, especially with the crazy police presence last night. It’ll be great while it lasts.

OpFerguson’s faildox, released by TheAnonMessage, caused them to cast him out of the collective, out of the op.

If someone’s not a snitch, and if they’re just an idiot, yeah, they get excommunicated for a minute but they can always find redemption by doing good acts. I think the only unforgivable sin in Anonymous, because Anonymous is so chaotic, is snitching. He clearly put a black eye on the op for a minute. But nine days later I couldn’t even remember his name. It took me a minute.

And now everyone who gets arrested, unless they’re facing 100 years, automatically is assumed to be a snitch. In the c4bin cr3w arrests the prosecutors played the families against one another expertly, but they were taking advantage of a societal reflex that was already in place. It’s a community defence mechanism.

“The Sabu Effect.” The initial thought is to say that someone is getting reasonable treatment because they’re a snitch. They thought that [now-free Lulzsec member] Raynaldo “Royal” Rivera was one…he was in every way entitled to a lower sentence than his co-defendant but for the fact that he refused to snitch on anyone. In the final analysis he should have gotten 6-12 months rather than his 12 month sentence. It should have been no time or six months, but he got that sentence because he refused to snitch on anyone. But people are scurrilous, [saying] “Well, he was a snitch.” No, that was his co-defendant. He suffered for his refusal to snitch. People need to get that right, before they go casting aspersions like that.

Let’s discuss this in light of the fracturing of the Payback 13. Like the Paypal 14 they all faced the same charges, they are all trying to get on with their lives, but half have decided to testify not only to crimes in which they participated, but to others of which they were aware involving the other PB 13 members.

The PayPal defendants set a clear precedent and formed a perfect model of how defendants in political cases should hold together for the good of all.  “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately,” said Benjamin Franklin.  It seems the #Snitch7 have chosen to let the #Payback6 hang separately so that they can get their precious misdemeanors.  Don’t join a potentially illegal political action if you can’t handle the heat that may come with it.  A misdemeanor might mean little on a record, but the label snitch is a black spot on your record for life worse than a felony and some prison time.

It’s a very useful tool from some peoples’ perspective, this “snitch reflex” in the Collective, and the old trick of playing one half against the other.

Yes. The government thrives on that. If they can create chaos and sow the seeds of dissent and distrust in the community, they’ve prevailed to some degree. I get that that’s the point.

Really, this community of all communities of activists or all communities that exist should be careful with their identities, should be careful with the secrets that they’re sharing, with people they perceive as their brothers and sisters in protest, in philosophy. They should be the MOST secure.

Some of it is a good thing in that it’s teaching the community, and this is a very smart community: the hacktivist community, the online dissent community, is filled with brutally brilliant people. As it goes forward into its next wave of activity they’re going to have learned a really good lesson from Sabu and all of this. It’s going to be beneficial. I look at is as a glass half full thing; there is a benefit to it and that’s that everyone’s gotten smarter about what they say, what they share with people, even people perceived to be their friends.

Being quiet should be the default.


Categories: Anonymous, Barrett Brown, c4bin cr3w, CabinCr4w, FBI, Hacktivism, Higinio Ochoa, Informants, Interviews, Jeremy Hammond, LulzSec, NSA, Paypal 14, Prisoners, Sabu

11 replies

  1. Jay is great! Very willing to lie for me under penalty of perjury, did a stellar job pretending to be Nadia Naffe’s lawyer.


  2. I think that Sabu jumped bail and 2 rouge agents took control of his boxes, leaving Sabu to watch the massacre from a far. The ruse tallied up when Sabu returned from his bail jumping adventure because of pressure to his grandmother and watching the slaughter.
    BB is on extended vacation from his deep cover assignment. .



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