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Hacker linked to WikiLeaks says he's been brought to Virginia for testimony

Washington

JEREMY Hammond, a hacker who admitted stealing files from an intelligence firm, has been brought to Virginia to testify before a grand jury that he believes is the panel investigating WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, Hammond's representatives said in a statement.

The move is a new indication that prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia are expanding the WikiLeaks investigation even as Assange fights extradition from England.

"The government's effort to try to compel Jeremy to testify is punitive and mean-spirited," the Jeremy Hammond Support Committee said in a statement. "Jeremy firmly believes that grand juries are repressive tools of the government, used to investigate and intimidate activist communities and are abused by prosecutors to gain access to intelligence to which they are not entitled." A spokesman for the Eastern District of Virginia declined to comment on Tuesday.

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Hammond was moved over the weekend from federal prison in Memphis, the committee said. He was set to be released later this year but could serve more time because of the move, which imperils his participation in a drug treatment programme.

Working with an anonymous-affiliated group called LulzSec, Hammond, a well-known Chicago hacker and anarchist activist, stole millions of internal e-mails from the intelligence firm Stratfor and released them to WikiLeaks, which published them in February 2012. The hack also exposed tens of thousands of credit card numbers of Stratfor clients, which include governments and major corporations that pay for analysis of international threats and trends.

He pleaded guilty to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 2013 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with immunity from prosecution in other districts.

It's unclear what authorities hope to learn from Hammond or how they would use the information. Assange is fighting extradition from jail in the United Kingdom; he has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and conspiracy to hack into a government computer. All the charges against him are related to WikiLeaks' 2010 publication of war logs and diplomatic cables leaked by Army private Chelsea Manning.

A formal extradition request was issued in June, and grand juries cannot be used to bolster existing charges.

Manning is currently in jail in Alexandria, Virginia, for refusing to testify before a grand jury; prosecutors claim her testimony is "relevant and essential to an ongoing investigation into charges or targets" beyond Assange. WP