A 28-year-old Texas man with ties to Anonymous, says he was punished by the FBI for refusing to be an informant.
Fidel Salinas, a 28-year-old man from Southern Texas with ties to Anonymous, says he was punished by the FBI for refusing to be an informant.
According to him, it all began after he was arrested in 2012 for continually scanning the Hidalgo County website for vulnerabilities. He was taken into custody, his computer equipment was seized, and he was then released on bail. In May 2013, the FBI called him in for questioning. They attempted to recruit him to be an informant against drug cartels and local politicians who took bribes from traffickers. Salinas says they interrogated him for six hours, bringing up his past as a hacker. As Wired reports:
“They asked me to gather information on elected officials, cartel members, anyone I could get data from that would help them out.”
He says they told him:
“ ‘We think you can help us…You can help us stop some of this corruption and stop the cartels.’ ”
But he didn’t want to be a snitch.
It should be noted that Salinas has no proof of this exchange. His wife was forced to sit in the waiting room and he had no lawyer or recording device present.
Sure enough, however, four months after Salinas’ alleged refusal to help the FBI, he was hit with a single computer fraud and abuse charge. Six months after that, prosecutors filed 13 more counts with a superceding indictment. Only a month later, they added another 30 charges, bringing the total to 44 felonies. 18 of the charges were for alleged cyber-stalking unnamed victims. The 44 offenses carried a potential penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Salinas believes the charges were at first an attempt to coerce him into assisting them:
“I think with the first charge they thought I would cop a plea and help them, but I didn’t…”
When it didn’t work, they continued to mount the offenses:
“I do believe they were upping the charges to put pressure on me, out of spite for not helping them out.”
When Salinas’ pro-bono attorney, Tor Ekeland, fought back against the charges, they dropped to 28. They were then reduced to the single misdemeanor, for which he entered a plea deal. He was sentenced to 6 months in prison and a $10,600 fine (Salinas chose to remain silent about the FBI’s involvement until after he had made his deal, afraid that if he spoke out it might affect the outcome of his case).
The Department of Justice stood by all of its conduct and charges while the FBI denies the entire story. It claims Salinas
“was never asked to conduct any investigative activity on behalf of the government.”
Nevertheless, the FBI has a history of using the justice system to coerce hackers into complying.
Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation says
“I’ve represented many defendants who were propositioned by the government to come into a room and cooperate.”
With regard to Salinas, Fakhoury said,
“To proposition him first and punish him after is much rarer and would be much more problematic…If this is true, it’s very troubling and very improper.”
Though Salinas received a relative break from the system, others are not as fortunate. Ekeland said,
“I feel sorry for all the people that don’t have the support that Fidel had … There are a ton of Fidel Salinases out there that aren’t as lucky.”
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