One of the most prolific hackers in US history is currently appealing his 20-year prison sentence and asking for his guilty plea to be thrown out on the grounds that he was acting with the permission of Secret Service officials.
Albert Gonzalez was convicted last year of hacking in the computer systems of TJ Maxx, Barnes & Noble, Office Max, and other retailers, and making off with 130 million customer credit and debit card numbers. He is claiming that his attorney had never discussed a Public Authority defense, and that he never would have pled guilty had he known what his options were. Gonzales is now legally representing himself.
“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,” Gonzalez wrote in a 25-page petition filed in a Massachusetts district court on March 24th. “I now know and understand that I have been used as a scapegoat to cover someone’s mistakes.”
“All of this inflated my ego and made me feel very important and made me feel like I was really a part of the Secret Service with the backing and support of the government agency,” he continued. “One day I was unknown and nothing and the next day I am being hailed as a genius and giving presentations to Secret Service agents in Washington, D.C. All of this was mind-boggling for me.”
Rene Palomino, the attorney who represented Gonzalez at his original hearing, disputes the claims that the hacking was approved by the Secret Service.
“He was given the opportunity of a lifetime to work for the Secret Service,” Palomino says. “He chose to become a criminal, bottom line, and become a double agent working both sides — the criminal side and the legal side.” Palomino also claims that he had exhausted all of Gonzalez’s legal options. “We researched the issue regarding the evidence, and there were no grounds for suppression. Everything that was legally possible that could have been done for him was done for him. Nothing was left undone.”
There are also claims that Secret Service officials told Gonzalez to commit crimes in order to pay off some debts, but not to get caught. The Secret Service has not yet issued a statement about the case.
Gonzalez’s story sounds pretty unlikely, but who knows? We’ve seen stranger things come out of the confidential files that have come out via WikiLeaks. This will be an interesting case to watch.