US government told me to hack TJX

A cracker who masterminded the largest credit card robberies in US history, is appealing against his 20 year sentence on the grounds that he was ordered to carry out his crime spree by the US government.

According to Wired, Albert Gonzalez has asked a federal judge to throw out his earlier guilty pleas that he and his chums hacked into TJX, Office Max, Dave & Busters, Heartland Payment Systems and other companies to steal more than 130 million credit and debit card numbers.

The US government has admitted that Gonzalez was a key undercover Secret Service informant at the time of the breaches and now the cracker insists that he was obeying Secret Service orders.

He told the Judge that he believed he was authorised and directed to engage in the conduct  he committed as part of his assignment to gather intelligence and seek out international cyber criminals. Apparently his time inside has made him twig that he was used as a scapegoat to cover someone’s mistakes.

Gonzalez said that his briefs had never discussed a Public Authority defence with him. Had he known the option existed, he would never have pleaded guilty.

While working closely with the Secret Service for more than four years to put other carders behind bars, he was simultaneously running a criminal enterprise he dubbed “Operation Get Rich or Die Tryin’.”

The day he was arrested in May 2008 by Miami police, he “was expecting the Secret Service to come and squash the charges.” I

However he might have a bit of a problem with this defence. Gonzalez’s former attorney, Rene Palomino, disputes assertions that the Secret Service approved Gonzalez’s crimes.

Palomino said that his former client chose to become a criminal, bottom line, and become a double agent.

You can tell there is a bit of bad blood between the two. Gonzalez faults Palomino and co-counsel Martin Weinberg with failing to file a notice of appeal. He also claims his former brief did not do enough to file a motion to suppress evidence obtained from a Ukrainian carder’s laptop after his arrest in Turkey.

He claims that the carder, Maksym “Maksik” Yastremskiy, had been tortured by Turkish officials in order to obtain the passphrase to decrypt his computer.

Yastremskiy was considered the top card vendor in the underground and was lured to a meeting in Turkey with an undercover operative, where he was arrested.

But Gonzalez says prior to Yastremskiy’s arrest, he had been passing information about the carder’s activities to his government handlers. Secret Service agent Steve Ward told him that the Turks had “beat Yastremskiy’s ass and made him give up the passphrase.”

However data gleaned from the laptop, along with other information, allowed authorities to zero in on two hackers who appeared to be Yastremskiy’s biggest suppliers of stolen card data from top retailers such as TJX, OfficeMax and Dave & Busters. One of the suppliers, turned out to be Gonzalez.