Is a prosecution in Australia linked to the Lauri Love case in the U.S.?

Is a young man’s prosecution in Australia somehow connected to hacking charges filed against Lauri Love in the U.S.? It may be.

This is Part 2 of a series, “Three men affiliated with Anonymous Australia facing jail time.” Part 1 described the case of Mathew Hutchison (“Rax”).  In this part, DataBreaches.net looks at the prosecution of “Absantos,” whose real name is not being used because of his age at the time of his arrest and the fact that his case is still open in the courts there.

“@Absantos,” also known as “Juzzy,” “Avictus,”  and “Blahgr” in chat, and @Op_Australia on Twitter, was 15 when he first became aware of Anonymous in 2011. Until then, his hacking had been mostly curiosity-driven and confined to finding bugs and issues in online games. According to statements provided to DataBreaches.net through an intermediary, as Absantos learned about Anonymous’s ideology, he began to feel that he had found kindred spirits and a purpose. By April, 2012, he was involved in a variety of small operations oriented to human rights in areas such as Bahrain. From that point on, he claims, he focused on issues-driven hacktivism, never engaging in any hacks just ‘for the lulz’ or for personal gain.

November, 2012: The First Raid 

On November 5, 2012, when members of Anonymous were engaging in a number of operations worldwide, the Australian Federal Police raided Absantos’s home and seized his computers, phone, and drives. He was 16 at the time. The basis for the 2012 search warrant was never disclosed publicly, but of note, when the AFP came knocking, they were not alone –  a field agent from the FBI came along.

On April 5, 2013  – after they had months to examine his drives and devices -Absantos was charged by the Australian authorities in Children’s Court with 20 counts that could have resulted in 25 years in prison. According to information obtained by DataBreaches.net, those charges stemmed mainly from three incidents that included the hack of a major Australian telecom, a DDoS attack on an Australian government agency involved in surveillance, and an attack on a U.S. Department of Justice site.

Absantos eventually pled guilty to reduced charges and was sentenced as a juvenile to a 12-month Good Behaviour Bond and to 12-months probation. He would be one month shy of completing probation when he would be raided and arrested again. But in May, 2013, while Absantos was still waiting to learn what his sentence would be, over in the U.S., a criminal complaint was being filed against Lauri Love. And as DataBreaches.net’s investigation suggests, the timing probably was not coincidental.

The Lauri Love Connection

Lauri Love, a U.K. resident, was indicted in a U.S. federal court in New Jersey in October 2013, but  there had actually been a sealed complaint filed against Love on May 16, 2013 – the month after Absantos was first charged in Australia.  That sealed complaint referred to co-conspirators “Alias 1, Alias 2,” etc. When the grand jury indictment of Love was made public in October, 2013,  the “Alias” designations were replaced with “CC” designations for “Co-Conspirator.” CC#1 was described as “a co-conspirator who is not charged as a defendant herein,” and who “resided in or near New South Wales, Australia.”

Two days later, a sealed affidavit in support of a complaint would also be filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Love would be indicted in July, 2014. In February, 2014, Love would also be indicted in the Southern District of New York.

In looking into the Love indictments, DataBreaches.net noticed what appeared to be a pattern: whenever Absantos was charged in Australia or his charges were revised, Love was subsequently charged in the U.S. or his charges were revised. The presence of the FBI at Absantos’s questioning on two occasions (after the 2012 raid and after a second raid in 2014) and the 2013 charges also suggested a connection between Absantos and Love, or at least between their two prosecutions.

When asked whether he was “CC#1” in the New Jersey case against Lauri Love, Absantos responded that it was his understanding that yes, he is “CC#1” in the Love indictment in New Jersey. Federal prosecutors did not reply to an inquiry on that point.

Love’s indictments in Eastern Virginia and Southern New York also mention co-conspirators “known and unknown to the government,” but provide no additional details on the co-conspirators, so it is not clear if Absantos is also considered a co-conspirator in those prosecutions of Love.

The 2014 Raid

Having escaped a jail sentence after the 2012 raid and the subsequent charges filed in April 2013, Absantos returned to AnonOps.com in 2013, but he was raided again on May 21, 2014 and his computer, phone, and devices were seized again. And once again, an FBI agent was present during questioning by the AFP.

Absantos was initially charged in May, 2014, with two counts, but on February 20, 2015, and according to  FreeAnons.org, those charges against Absantos were revised and expanded to almost 400 counts, over 330 of which for were attempts to access or modify data.

Once again, revised charges against Absantos were followed by new charges against Love: in March, U.S. Federal prosecutors in New Jersey filed a superceding indictment against Love.

Absantos was scheduled to return to court on April 28, 2015, but the hearing was delayed until May 26. In the interim, charges against Absantos were revised yet again, this time downward to 24 counts:

  • 4x Unauthorised modification of data to cause impairment.
  • 1x Attempted unauthorised modification of data to cause impairment.
  • 17x Attempted unauthorised access to restricted data
  • 2x Unauthorised access of data with intent to commit serious offence being unauthorised modification of data to cause impairment

On May 21, 2015 – the same day news broke that the U.K.’s NCA had returned 25 of 31 seized items to Love, and shortly after the charges against Absantos had been revised again,  a superseding indictment in Love’s Eastern Virginia case was filed and a new arrest warrant was issued for Love.

On June 23, Absantos returned to court, although DataBreaches.net has yet to learn the specifics of what transpired during that hearing. On July 15, Love was arrested in the U.K. on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Pressure to Flip Fails

Like Mathew Hutchison, Absantos reports that he was  pressured to provide evidence against others, but claims to have consistently resisted all of law enforcement’s efforts, responding “No Comment” to the majority of questions put to him.

Although developments in his case appear connected to Lauri Love’s case – unless this is one massive cosmic coincidence – Absantos reportedly does not believe that law enforcement obtained any information from him or his devices that could be used against Love. Both he and Hutchison claim that the chat logs obtained by U.S. federal prosecutors and quoted in Love indictments did not come from their devices. Both suspect an informant, a suspicion that is shared by others.

To DataBreaches.net’s knowledge, Lauri Love has not been charged with anything in Australia, and it is not known to DataBreaches.net whether Absantos has been charged with any U.S. hacks in his current case in Australia. When DataBreaches.net queried federal prosecutors in New Jersey several months ago about whether they might seek to extradite Absantos to the U.S., they did not reply. But since Absantos was already charged once in Australia for hacking a U.S. government agency, it’s possible that the charges against him in his current case also include one or more U.S. hacks.

Waiting… and Worrying

Law enforcement officials on two continents may see him as a criminal hacker, but one person who claims to know him well describes Absantos as a “good kid” who is cut from the same cloth as Aaron Swartz: “a young genius, a sponge for information, a natural teacher who helps others freely, and someone with boundless enthusiasm who inspires others.” And like Aaron Swartz, Absantos has been living for the past year with the threat of a very long prison sentence hanging over his head.  The Children’s Court gave Absantos a break as a teenager, but Absantos is not being tried in Children’s Court this time.

Absantos returns to court on October 15. DataBreaches.net understands that he expects to plead guilty at that time.  Exactly what charges he will plead guilty to are unknown to this site at this time, as is the possible length of any jail sentence he might face.  His friends and supporters in FreeAnons.org hope the court will see his potential and give him probation and community service, if that’s an option.

In the meantime, expect Lauri Love to vigorously defend against the extradition warrant from the U.S. According to the superceding indictment, the charges against him in New Jersey include hacking

the United States Army and numerous other agencies of the United States, including the United States Missile Defense Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (collectively the “Government Victims”). The data stolen from the Government Victims included the PII of hundreds of thousands of individuals, including military servicemen and servicewomen and current and former employees of the federal government. The attacks collectively resulted in millions of dollars in damages to the Government Victims.

And of course, if the U.S. government can get Love extradited to New Jersey, federal prosecutors in Eastern Virginia and the Southern District of New York will also be eager to prosecute him for hacking crimes in their areas.

So far, the U.S. has not had much success trying to extradite people from the U.K. to stand trial in the U.S. for hacking, in part because of the severe prison sentences they might receive. Given the scope of the hacks against the U.S. government, however, the U.K. might cooperate with the request to extradite Love. Love’s next court date is September 1.

Absantos’s case and Love’s case will be updated as more information becomes available. Hutchison, whose case was described in Part 1, returns to court next month.

In Part 3 of this series, DataBreaches.net will discuss Lorax’s case, such as it is – or isn’t. As the most non-anonymous face of Anonymous, the Australian authorities appear to be really trying to weaken Anonymous in Australia by cutting off one of their heads – and Lorax has been a very articulate and effective communicator for the headless organization. Lorax, too, returns to court next month. 

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