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TJX Hacker Claims US Authorized His Crimes 159

doperative writes "Convicted hacker Albert Gonzalez is asking a federal judge to throw out his earlier guilty pleas and lift his record-breaking 20-year prison sentence, on allegations that the government authorized his years-long crime spree. From the article: 'The government has acknowledged that Gonzalez was a key undercover Secret Service informant at the time of the breaches. Now, in a March 24 habeas corpus petition filed in the US District Court in Massachusetts, Gonzalez asserts that the Secret Service authorized him to commit the crimes. “I still believe that I was acting on behalf of the United States Secret Service and that I was authorized and directed to engage in the conduct I committed as part of my assignment to gather intelligence and seek out international cyber criminals,” he wrote. “I now know and understand that I have been used as a scapegoat to cover someone’s mistakes.”'"
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TJX Hacker Claims US Authorized His Crimes

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  • It's illegal... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:12AM (#35780004)
    It's illegal if the gov't does it too. They can't "authorized" illegal activity, and "following orders" is not a legal defense.
    • Re:It's illegal... (Score:4, Informative)

      by masterwit ( 1800118 ) * on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:19AM (#35780032) Journal

      Yes but perhaps his sentence will be taken into consideration considering these new facts (if they are true). That is why these sentences have a range of penalties...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes but perhaps his sentence will be taken into consideration considering these new facts (if they are true). That is why these sentences have a range of penalties...

        Seems like government agents breaking laws like these (theft and fraud) should be subject to harsher penalties. Something's seriously wrong if they get lighter ones.

        • Re:It's illegal... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jurily ( 900488 ) <jurily@gmail.COLAcom minus caffeine> on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:40AM (#35780168)

          Seems like government agents breaking laws like these (theft and fraud) should be subject to harsher penalties to the people who ordered them.

        • Re:It's illegal... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by darth dickinson ( 169021 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @10:56AM (#35781562) Homepage

          Seems like government agents breaking laws like these (theft and fraud) should be subject to harsher penalties. Something's seriously wrong if they get lighter ones.

          So, you're saying that narcs should get jail time for buying illegal drugs, in order to catch dealers "in the act"?

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Yes, they should. You cant break the law and then fine/jail people for breaking the very same law.

          • A resounding YES. Undercover cops buying drugs is not quite entrapment, but IMO they're just exploiting a loophole so it may as well be. The war on drugs is a farce anyhow.

        • by Jawnn ( 445279 )
          Boy, you must be new here. Here in the US of A, we allow our wealthiest citizens and corporations to break the law almost at will. If they're stupid enough to get caught, we make sure that the penalties are anything but "harsh". That's the way our system works and if you don't like it, you're a god-danged socialist.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes. Possibly he has accomplices in Government who should also be behind bars but I don't see how that undermines his own conviction.

    • Re:It's illegal... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ComputerGeek01 ( 1182793 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:27AM (#35780092)
      Yeah it kind of is, It's called the Nuremburg Defense. It's still illegal but what this guy is saying is that it was is (CO? Handler? I'm not sure of the terminology in this instance) commiting the crime based on the Command Responsibility doctorine.
      • Definitely not a correctional officer, Idk what a Handler is. He's saying it was a federal agent, the equivalent of a detective or higher but federal instead of state, directed him to commit these crimes. Idk.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Unless he has documented proof that he was receiving these directions (e-mails, recorded conversations (legally recorded or not), etc.) I think his status declines from "government agent" to "sucker."

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It is called the Nuremberg defense because it was invoked there, not because it was successful. In fact the the key thing to remember about the Nuremberg defense is that those using it was found guilty anyway, and sentenced to death.

        • by tsm_sf ( 545316 )

          From what I can tell, Nuremberg is the only instance where this defense didn't work.

          (only very slightly sarcastic here)

      • He may well have a duress defense if he was blackmailed into it with threats of a bigger sentence.

    • Re:It's illegal... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:33AM (#35780126)

      I'd be very doubtful unless he has good proof he was working for the government.

      the government can do a lot of things and authorize it's agents to do a lot of things which would be illegal otherwise.

      For a trivial example:The executioner is not guilty of murder for executing a person sentenced to death.

      Police can take someone against their will and lock them up overnight for very flimsy reasons without the same penalties as a kidnapper who does the same thing for the same reasons.(Just try locking up your neighbor in your basement against his will to punish him for being drunk in public and see how it turns out for you)

      If someone believes their actions are at the behest of their government it shouldn't be a total defense but intent is important.

      • Re:It's illegal... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:58AM (#35780262) Journal

        I'd be very doubtful unless he has good proof he was working for the government.

        According to the article, the government has already admitted that he (Gonzalez) worked for them.

        The strange thing about this is that Gonzalez signed a plea bargain and is now trying to break it. I'm not clear on all the details. Maybe it was one of those situations where someone in the government told him: "Plead guilty and we'll get you a suspended sentence and then you can continue to work for us" but then the judge, not wanting to appear weak on a "cyber" criminal, dropped the 20-bomb on him. That's a long bit for a young nerd to do, even someone who played with Russian mobsters.

        Again, I'm not clear on the details, but I could see the government playing with a guy's life like that, especially someone who was already breaking the law when he first got involved with the Feds.

        • Re:It's illegal... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by RobertLTux ( 260313 ) <> on Monday April 11, 2011 @09:59AM (#35780942)

          actually the break goes the other way if he was promised a suspended sentence and the Judge gave him a "couple dimes" then the state broke the agreement.

          • actually the break goes the other way if he was promised a suspended sentence and the Judge gave him a "couple dimes" then the state broke the agreement.

            That's a good point. Either way, it looks like he really was doing work for the Secret Service, who told him they'd look the other way and "don't get caught". But he got caught.

            If the Secret Service hadn't gotten their mitts on him in the first place, he'd still be boosting credit card numbers. It's not like I don't think he should be in jail, just that

          • No, the prosecutor and judge are from separate branches of the government. Separation of powers means the "government" wasn't making a deal, the administrative branch was. By custom, judges seldom impose a sentence longer than the prosecutors recommends. Any deal would be to have the prosecutor recommend a particular sentence. The judge can accept or reject that recommendation.

      • Re:It's illegal... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @09:18AM (#35780444)

        I'd be very doubtful unless he has good proof he was working for the government.

        Uhm.. the government ALREADY ADMITTED that they were using him as an undercover informant.

        One of those things about the word "undercover" is that unless you are participating in what is going on, chances are the people you are trying to inform on will peg you real quick. "Hey, don't talk to that guy, everyone he talks to gets busted by the feds."

        The Secret Service is no different than any other law enforcement agency. The dirtiest, most corrupt wing is always "Vice", simply because in order to find the guys they're trying to bust the cops have to get very, very, very dirty themselves. Sometimes they go native [], sometimes they really go native [], sometimes they get really freaking insane [] (more here []. Sometimes it's even worse. Undercover cops on major mafia infiltration cases have had almost carte blanche to participate in anything that went on, so long as they testified later.

        Am I completely convinced he's telling the truth? No. Is it reasonably plausible that someone in the Secret Service gave him verbal instructions to do certain things in order to keep his credibility up so as to set up future busts, but then decided he wasn't worth it and used him as a scapegoat? Absolutely.

        • yes you're correct, I only skimmed it before.
          It shouldn't be too hard at all to prove if he was actually receiving the 75K pay etc.

          His story certainly is plausible though he may have been doing far more than his handlers knew: multiple online identities and all.

          Though I would have thought that once you busted someone and had them working for you things such as hardware keyloggers with some hardened hardware and reqirements like only using authorized hardware would be part of the deal to allow auditing to ma

        • His handler told him to go ahead and clear the debt, "just don't get caught." I think that makes it clear that the Secret Service was telling him that they would not go after him for anything he did, but that they would be unable to protect him from other law enforcement organizations. Of course, the other problem with his use of this defense is that he turned out to be one of the two biggest sources of credit card numbers for the guy they were after (or at least one of the guys they were after). In other w
      • That's called a citizen's arrest.

        The problem with not being a cop is strict liability if you fuck it up.

      • by comm3c ( 670264 )

        I have been close to this case for various reasons, but this dude's exploits were only detected after the card brands detected massive fraud. The Secret Service might have authorized breaches, but I am sure the Secret Service didn't authorize CC fraud or divulging cardholder data to random people for them to commit fraud.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          My understanding is that he wasn't "authorized" to commit any crime, but that he was encouraged to commit crimes if they helped get him in deeper into "the scene" so that the feds could get bigger fish. They didn't order him to do what he did, but they encouraged him to break the law with the promise of protection.
      • by zill ( 1690130 )
        Pleas allow me to summarize your argument:

        The Government is authorized to commit illegal acts A,B,C
        Therefore the Government is also authorized to commit illegal acts C,D,F

        I'm pretty sure there is a logical fallacy in there somewhere. Unfortunately I'm not well verse enough on the subject matter to name it.

        There is a huge difference between publicly carrying out the execution of a convicted criminal and secretly attacking your own people with a computer virus.
        • The point is: given the other examples, ABC it's not absurd for someone to believe that the government can give them permission to do C,D and F as well.
          Agents under cover in criminal organizations appear to have some protection when it comes to things they have to do while under cover.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      dude, you made a typo. I think you meant its legal if the gov't does it.

    • by Hydian ( 904114 )

      The government does things that would be illegal for the average citizen all the time in the process of law enforcement or intelligence gathering. We entrust them with this power and even put in some checks and balances to prevent it from being abused (stop laughing.) By its very nature, having someone go undercover pretty much demands that some illegal activities are committed in order to get the information required to catch the bad actors before they do something worse. The difference here (if we beli

    • by AC-x ( 735297 )

      It could well count as entrapment tho depending on the details of the case.

    • by Myopic ( 18616 )

      Don't be silly. Of course the government can authorize illegal activity []. In fact it happens all the time, and we even have an entire theory of the constitutional presidency [] which justifies it. Whether they did in this case, though, I don't know.

    • They can't "authorized" illegal activity, and "following orders" is not a legal defense.

      Unless it is illegal warrantless wiretapping, and you are a big telco.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Undercover cops are allowed to commit illegal, criminal activities in order to "fit in".

    • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

      It's illegal if the gov't does it too. They can't "authorized" illegal activity, and "following orders" is not a legal defense.

      Be that as it may, the CIA director has admitted to his department supplying drugs to the LA street gangs. When does this trial begin?
      This "cracker" is nothing more than a dupe. Therefore, plausible deniability.

    • It's only illegal if the law says it's illegal. A lot of the "anti-hacking" laws have provisions that basically say "This law not applicable to Law Enforcement and the US Government". So "It's illegal if the gov't does it too" isn't always true.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      "But doesn't might make right?" chorus G.W. Bush and the leader of China.

      Things may be against the law but that doesn't matter if you have somewhere like China where the rule of law takes second place to expedience. We are getting a lot like China where we pretend the rule of law is important but instead act like a medieval King John before Magna Carta. Nobody is supposed to be above the law - not even a President and those who follow him. Nobody is supposed to be below the law - not even some prisoners
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      You haven't really been following the changes in the legal landscape during the Bush era, have you ?
    • Didn't a bunch of phone companies get away with illegal wiretapping on the grounds that the government told them to do it?
    • But what does this story have to do with Microsoft, and why is there are Bill the Borg icon attached to it?

      I mean... I know it's a samzenpus post but still... Wouldn't a script do his job cheaper and more effectively?

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      "Entrapment" would be a legal defense.

      Rule 1 of doing anything for the government: get that shit in writing. Their verbal promises are expressly voided by the fine print in the contract you didn't sign.

    • Following orders from government agents is a valid defense in a lot of criminal trials. We have volumes case law on entrapment.
    • You're right, but that doesn't mean it isn't a mitigating factor that can be used during sentencing. If he can get a 20 year sentence reduced to a 10 year sentence, that would be a huge win for him.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wow, if you read the article this gets weirder and weirder.

    "Gonzalez’s former attorney, Rene Palomino, disputes assertions that the Secret Service approved Gonzalez’s crimes."

    Does being his 'former' attorney mean that client-attorney confidentiality no longer applies? And how the hell does Rene Palomino know the details of whether or what the Secret Service approved of - was he in on it too?

    • Lawyers and judges are often cozier than we'd like to imagine. Judges were lawyers. It sounds like if Palomino was Gonzalez's attourey, he must have recused(sic?) himself from the case. My guess is that Palomino didn't want to present what he saw as a ridiculous defence that would probably do Gonzalez more harm than good (by pissing off the judge). Just a guess though.
    • Essentially saying his attorney F'd up. The attorney has a right to defend himself against false charges of malpractice. Otherwise, every single criminal defense attorney who lost a case could be sued with no defense. I think the theory here is, lawyers have a duty of confidentiality about what they are told, but no such duty about what they weren't told, and no duty to further propagate lies clients tell them. On the contrary, there is a crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege.

      • by mangu ( 126918 )

        I think the theory here is, lawyers have a duty of confidentiality about what they are told, but no such duty about what they weren't told, and no duty to further propagate lies clients tell them

        -"Counselor, did your client ever tell you he was innocent?"


        Lawyers have a duty of confidentiality, period. They cannot reveal, directly or indirectly, what their clients told them. And, except for sworn statements, they can tell lies, if that's in the client's best interests. Obviously, law enforcement people also tell lies, if they think it will help convict the suspect.

        It's only on the witness stand that they have the duty to answer every question truthfully, although even there they don't have (a

        • -"Counselor, did your client ever tell you he was innocent?"


          Cute, but of course, not analogous to claiming, after you've admitted guilt in court, "I told my lawyer about a defense and he didn't use it."

          Lawyers do have a right to defend themselves from claims of malpractice, unless you have some new case law I haven't seen that was passed in the last week; I've been pretty busy lately.

          Lawyers have a duty of confidentiality, period.

          No, it isn't "period." There is a well-settled crime-fra
    • by alen ( 225700 )

      as a rule lawyers cannot introduce false evidence into court. since this is probably a lie the former lawyer can talk about it all he wants.

      you can defend your client, but have to do so within the bounds of factual evidence or dispute the government's evidence

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )

      Does being his 'former' attorney mean that client-attorney confidentiality no longer applies?

      For one, obviously, the former (or present) attorney has no obligation to keep confidential the narrative of the plea bargain.

  • by unassimilatible ( 225662 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:35AM (#35780136) Journal
    After seeing the agent in charge of Gonzalez [], now I'm thinking there might be some truth...out there.
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @08:42AM (#35780180)

    Sorry, but this sounds really implausible to me. I'd need to see some solid proof before Id' accept this. For one, I can't see what the Secret Service would hope to gain. I mean if they need records for credit card transactions at stores they've got a far easier way to get them: Just subpoena the CC processors. They can have whoever the stores use (companies like Paymentech or the like) hand over all the records. Not only is that legal, but it is also much more covert since the companies themselves are not compromised.

    This would be how investigations work. They just get a court order for the people who have the info to hand it over, they don't hire some random guy to try and hack your shit. They get a subpoena or a warrant (depending on what they need, in some cases they might want to monitor traffic live for that they'd have a wiretap warrant) and they go to the people with the info. It's legal, maintains the chain of evidence, and gets much more guaranteed results than hacking.

    Also I find it hard to believe that if he really was working under orders from the SS that he wouldn't have told his lawyers and they wouldn't have done something. In my experience federal public defenders aren't morons. It is a good job, they can get good people. I can't imagine if he had opened up with "Guys I didn't think I was doing anything wrong! The Secret Service told me to do this!" they wouldn't have investigated that.

    To me, sounds like something he invented in a way to try and get out of jail. I'm not saying it is impossible, but I find it rather beyond credibility.

  • He made $75.000,00 a year but couldn't pay off a debt of $5000,00?

    He's convicted for millions of dollars worth of fraud, but can't afford a ticket to Turkey for his lawyer?

    Can someone explain, please.

    • by mangu ( 126918 )

      He made $75.000,00 a year but couldn't pay off a debt of $5000,00?

      He's convicted for millions of dollars worth of fraud, but can't afford a ticket to Turkey for his lawyer?

      Can someone explain, please.

      Google for "frozen assets" or "impounded assets"

    • My reading of the story is that his debt was incurred prior to the Secret Service salary of 75k, and it's easy to imagine Gonzalez short on ready cash and concerned about his credibility (or safety) in the criminal community. It doesn't sound like the Secret Service was concerned enough to pay this relatively meager debt. The Lithuanian "carder" allegedly tortured in Turkey (Yastremskiy) is not the same man as the Secret Service employee (Gonzalez) convicted of credit card theft, and Turkish prison wards
  • Didn't he ever watch "Patriot Games"? He should have known he needed his piece of paper.
  • Keep him in prison, and throw the people from the Secret Service who "authorized" him in with him.

  • what are the laws for informants / uncover?

    uncovers cops break the laws all the time (just on a basic level of having a fake ID what happens in a traffic stop?) to much more as part of being uncover.

    and informants are in some of same place what happens if a beat cops gets them with drugs on them at are part of being a informant? or they get fingered by the people they are informing one as part of deal to get off easy and not all cops know they are a informant / it's for a different crime?

    • by gknoy ( 899301 )

      I'm not a lawyer, and don't know much about it, but I'd imagine that anyone in a situation like that is royally screwed.

  • Has the secretary disavowed all knowledge of his actions?

    If not, then I don't believe it

  • RTFP =Petition? :)

    Most of the things he attests to actually seem plausible. My guess would be he did participate, with their knowledge and consent on SOME operations. (He probably did very little, but is exagerating to make it seem that he was lead to believe he was now an ACTUAL agent himself)

    But, where he fails is that it all look quite a while before the crime for which he was convicted. Like three years later...

    Summary- I think he did turn informant on some earlier crimes, but did this well after.

  • IANALOC ( I am not a lawyer or criminal) , but in most countries except the shadiest ones, if you are directed by tge government to commit illegal activities, with it you also get a letter of immunity from prosecution which you carry with you on all times.

    Does such a letter or written authorization exist in this case?

    • Yes, but Jack Bauer was too busy making his TV show and couldn't hand deliver the letter. Ask again in 24 hours.

  • by MrSenile ( 759314 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @10:45AM (#35781468)

    Having had... friends... involved in similar situations, I can attest to the case that if this guy worked for the Government, and was a scapegoat, they basically set him up for failure.

    If he succeeded and was able to hide his tracks of hacking, the Government got their information and won.

    If he failed and was unable to hide his tracks of hacking, the Government got partial information and won.

    If the guy failed gloriously, the Government got what information they could, and have an instant scapegoat. Just add press. And won.

    Win win for the government, and they can say at any time plausible deniability.

    The friend in question I had was an excellent hacker. He hacked into banks for shits and giggles, went into government systems like a person would skip in the park. One day, he screwed up, the government found out, the guy disappeared. No jail time, no newspaper/press of him hacking. And all his college entrance and time spent at college disappeared as well. For all intents and purposes the guy never went to college, and I'll be surprised if there was anything other than a clean-record of the guy other than being born, his SS#, and place of residence. White-washed history for government signed-on hacker. And because of the dirt the government now had on this guy, he became Uncle Sam's bitch.

    How the good ol' government gets these people to accept said positions of scapegoatness is fairly simple.

    They find dirt on someone exceptionally good at computer espionage, or if they can't find legit dirt, they create some and seed it throughout the gold ol' internet and stack false records against them, at least in such a way to make it... difficult... for the target individual to live a decent life without cow-towing to the government officials.

    Said person signs documentation that makes them 'legally' work for said government that is their 'get out of jail free' card. Except, the documentation doesn't really exist unless it is in the best interests of the government. Ergo, they have the hacker by the balls. The hacker continues to do a good job, and can cover their tracks enough to not point a finger at the government in -any way- or can hide their existance in such a way to be not backtraced, any and all possible ability to nail the guy goes up in smoke. All logs, all reports, disappear. If they can point their finger in anyway at either the hacker or the government, the 'get out of jail free' card becomes toilet paper and the guy's head goes to the block as the scapegoat.

    May sound like bullshit, but as I've seen this shit first hand, it's not a pleasant experience.

    It's not paranoia when they really are out to get you.

    Just food for thought.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      If he worked for the government he'd have a paper trail. Check deposits, orders, emails, etc.

      He'd keep the evidence.

      If he has no evidence, it never happened, or might as well have never happened.

      If he just let someone else convince him he was working for the Secret Service, then it's a hilarious example of social engineering.

      Bravo to whoever crocked a l33t h4xx0r like that.

    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

      Yes, it does sound like bullshit. It sounds like you've been listening to stories at hacker conventions, and adopting them as first-hand knowledge.

      I don't believe for a minute somebody's college info would be wiped out like that -- and why would it need to be? And the claim about being framed, well which is it, was this guy caught in a crime as you said, or was he framed? Since you claim the former, this latter bit is just making stuff up that fits your worldview.

      Sorry, but your story isn't credible. I migh

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Monday April 11, 2011 @11:40AM (#35782128) Journal

    don't do the crime.

    You got busted, you stoled people identities and ruined credit. ain't no one going to believe you, or be on your side. If you were smart, you would of kept records of your involvement with the government, so when the shit did hit the fan, like it was going to, then you got your ass covered. You didn't.

    Sleep with your back to the wall.

    Don't drop the soap.

  • So, tell me, why didn't he bring this up at his original trial? Blaming one of his attorneys for failing to prepare a “Public Authority” defense [from the article] is lame and a little dubious to say the least.
  • I thought only the enemies of America, like the nefarious Chinese communists and the Iranian ayatollahs, did evil things like hire hackers to do their bidding.
  • I would think serving as George Bush's attorney general would earn the man a presidential pardon for something like this.

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.