A 24-year-old North Carolina man accused by federal prosecutors of hacking into CIA Director John Brennan’s personal AOL email account and posting sensitive government information on WikiLeaks pleaded guilty on a felony charge Friday in court.
Justin Liverman, of Morehead City in eastern North Carolina, was arrested in September 2016 along with another North Carolina man from Wilkes County, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
FBI officials in Charlotte helped investigate the case.
Liverman avoided federal indictment by entering a plea, in return for a reduced sentence, according to a news release from the Courage Foundation, a group that raises money for defendants who it says are valuable whistleblowers. The organization has also raised money for Edward Snowden’s legal defense. Snowden is best-known as the former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about NSA’s once-secret, mass surveillance programs.
In Liverman’s case, Sarah Harrison, acting director of Courage, said his actions revealed Brennan “did not take adequate precautions around his own security clearance questionnaire.” She blamed high-level U.S. officials for “leaving the front door wide open” to cyberattacks.
A co-defendant from the same hacking investigation – Andrew Boggs, age 22, of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina – will appear in federal court on Tuesday to enter a guilty plea for his role, according to a news release Friday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Federal officials have previously said that Boggs and Liverman – known online as hackers “INCURSIO and D3F4ULT” – were arrested on charges related to computer hacking and had targeted several high-level U.S. officials and government systems. The Department of Justice said in 2016 the two men were affiliated with other hackers in the United Kingdom and operated in a group that called itself “Crackas With Attitude.”
Documents filed in federal court accuse Boggs and Liverman of not only hacking U.S. government officials and their families but also making harassing and threatening phone calls to their victims and impersonating them on social media. The hacking, according to court documents, resulted in hundreds of threatening voicemails left on victims’ phones and text messages containing lewd images.
Liverman’s sentencing hearing is expected to be held in May, according to the Courage Foundation.
One of his lawyers, Marina Medvin, said in a statement Friday that Liverman and his fellow hackers didn’t just “crack” into a computer.
“What they also did was ‘crack’ our over-trusting, optimistic perception of the American government ... I personally believe that significant good will come of this; that our government will implement stronger and more secure data policies – hopefully strong enough to keep kids from reading it and redistributing it,” Medvin said.