Jon Cowden is the most famous Anonymous member of which nobody has heard.
#RetiredAnonymous Gave my freedom to help others obtain theirs. #ITWASWORTHIT #OpFreePalestine #OpSlayDay #OperationIranAide
Not in Khaki Jumpsuits anymore
He was sentenced in March of last year for hacking into Israeli websites as part of the ongoing Anonymous Ops against Israel and in favour of Gaza. By cracking the websites, he gained access to information which he then posted freely online. Contrary to reports that he served one month, he says, “I was sentenced last year and served 13 months and two days. Not one month at all. I got sentenced to 15 months but served 85% of that.” That number doesn’t cover the (increasingly routine) pretrial custodial period, nor the period during the trial, when he was also in custody.
Interestingly, even the online report of his specific exploits have been censored out of existence. It’s almost FBI self-parody.
We caught up with Cowden, now out and looking for employment, via email. As a newly released prisoner, he was eager to speak about the challenges facing someone wishing to put his past behind him and contribute to society in legally sanctioned ways.
Can you introduce yourself and sum up the charges against you?
I was found guilty of attacking a state-run Israeli site that dealt with immigration. I was also found guilty of hacking Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis to prevent police brutality during the Occupy camp evictions. In the search warrant, many other sites which I attacked were mentioned, but solid proof was not found. In addition, Capitol One and Bank Of America was mentioned. The White House site was discussed with me by the Secret Service, yet there was no mention of that on paper.
I was looking at 3-5 years [but] was offered 21-27 months. I was sentenced by the judge, a Jewish woman (I mention that because of the nature of my crime) to 15 months, of which I served 13 months and 2 days [one month after sentencing; the rest was all pre-trial]. I got a reduced sentence due to … a prior diagnosis of bi-polar and manic depression as well as alcoholism, which awarded me variances to my sentencing.
What kind of restrictions and bans have you faced since your release?
I am not banned from using any electronics. I had my lawyer make sure of that. During Pre-Trial (pre-sentencing probation) I was allowed to have only my personal laptop monitored. I was able to keep all work stuff separate. However, now I have to have every electronic device attached to the internet as well as air-gapped computers [monitored].
In addition to monitoring, I have been punished with a Full-Disclosure/3rd Party Risk clause, where I have to fully disclose my activities and punishment with any prospective employer. Also, any “work-around” that my probation officer offers (ie: company only giving me a laptop which is monitored, so that I am not constantly connected to any ONE network for any given time, thus enabling me to fill my Monitoring Clause while not having customers or employers data fully exposed to the feds) I still have to let the clients or employer know that they are subject to Federal Search and Seizure of all electronics, should I decide to break the law again. This would result in significant financial loss as well as making the customers and employers subject to Public Disclosure Laws, where they would have to notify the public as a whole to what happened.
I still have not got monitoring started. At most, My probation officer watches my Twitter feed and has let me know I should not talk with any Anonymous Affiliated people. I have explained to him my reasons for affiliating with Free Anons as well as seeking out and participating in interviews, and he has expressed his understanding.
Have you discussed your job options with your parole officer? Is there anyone from the system who has offered to help you find work?
Yes I have. He is a cool guy (as cool as one can be in his line of work.) He is willing to try to work with me as much as possible. But of course, he will not break any rules and has to fulfill the stipulations to my plea agreement.
What were suggestions about finding work? You mentioned construction I think and manual labour. What about restaurants?
He just said he would see what he could do. I cannot do construction and manual labor any longer due to injuries from … construction and manual labor in the past. As well, most all kitchens are “wired” so full disclosure would have to come into play.
What specifically does the restriction say? Can you do things like scan things as a cashier? Is it only internet-connected computers that are affected?
Restrictions deal with monitoring of every internet-connected devices as well as air-gapped devices. I cannot use any electronic or computer without letting the employer be aware of 3rd Party Risk and other various laws mentioned previously.
What kinds of jobs have you been applying for so far? What kind of work would you like, if there were no restrictions at all? What are you good at?
I have been applying for what I have a degree in and 9 years professional experience as well as 21 years total experience … IT … Be it Systems Engineer or IS Security … IT has not gone well thus far. If there were no restrictions, I would have a career by now. I have been on over 30 interviews. One position even was offering relocation to Los Angeles with $125k to start.
They pulled their offer once I let them know of the stipulations.
Given that 35% of workers are information workers and that’s growing, and that for most of the others a computer is involved in their day at some point whether it be computers in a car, bus or truck, or computers on the phone, or wherever, it seems as if the options open are limited and shrinking. Do you think this is a deliberate strategy to force convicted Anons into the underclass ie poverty?
It is not just Anons. It is felons in general. Federal Prison is now a BIG BUSINESS. One company, CCA, is just an example. CCA stands for Corrections Corporation of America. Another is GEO, owned by The Geo Group, Inc. Did you know that they want the 67% of convicts to reoffend. It create[s] more capital. And they want white-collar offenders such as hackers to graduate into bigger crimes like; Robbery(physical or electronically), Extortion, Drug Trafficking, Drug Dealing, and more. People who have had a decent life, only to have it ripped from them and thrown into prison, only to be released and unemployable losing even more than when incarcerated, will do whatever it takes to pay the bills. I know, because I have fought those thoughts.
I honestly think it was better INSIDE prison compared to how I am living now. I don’t eat three meals a day now. I did inside… Sad, huh?
Are you on welfare or something now? You said you were at work before: did you lose that job because of restrictions, and what was the job? Can you tell me the company or industry?
I am toying with the idea of getting on SSI Disability since I have diagnosis and currently take medication for Bi-Polar Disorder, Manic Depression and General Anxiety. With that, I am toying with the idea of going to school to get my Masters and DCompSci/DIT/PH.D in Technology. However, disability will take up to a year or more to obtain.
Have you asked your lawyer about this? Are you going to appeal it or just work within the limitations?
I cannot afford to have any lawyer work on this and get the stipulations amended. My lawyer was paid up until I was sentenced, then he was off my case.
What do you think that the future holds for you? Will you go back to school?
I don’t know. I am between a rock and a hard place. See above regarding school. I will probably go back and have Fed pay for it with disability exploits.
Thanks for showing your care and interest in me and my goings-on. Hopefully I can help others by sharing my experience. I do NOT take back what I did. I did it for a belief and reason. What I did potentially helped hundreds of thousands of people. However, it does suck to live with the consequences of said actions. I just wish some of the people whom I helped (From St. Louis or from UC Davis where I d0xed Officer Pike as well as held University data hostage until Pike was dismissed, which he was) But again, I did what I did … Not anyone else.