The international hacker who allegedly accessed personal emails and photographs belonging to the family of former president George W. Bush and whose cyber-mischief revealed that Hillary Clinton was using a private email address appeared in a U.S. court for the first time Friday.
Marcel Lehel Lazar — better known by the moniker “Guccifer” that he is said to have affixed to the materials he stole — is charged with cyber-stalking, aggravated identity theft and unauthorized access of a protected computer in a nine-count indictment filed in 2014 in federal district court in Alexandria, Va. He was extradited to the United States recently from Romania, his home country, where he had been serving a sentence for hacking.
Lazar, 44, wore a black graphic T-shirt and blue jeans in a brief court appearance Friday and spoke in hushed tones with an interpreter. He confirmed through the interpreter that he wanted a “court appointed” lawyer and asked whom that person would be. A magistrate judge told him he would learn later.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that Lazar, a cabdriver, was responsible for a range of high-profile hacks.
According to an indictment, he accessed the email, Facebook account and other online accounts of a member of the Bush family, a former Cabinet member and a former member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. He then blasted messages with personal information from those accounts to media organizations or congressional staffers, according to the indictment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maya Song said in court Friday that the charges Lazar faces collectively carry with them a possible sentence of more than 100 years. Such a term, though, is highly unlikely. U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in a statement released after the appearance: “Mr. Lazar violated the privacy of his victims and thought he could hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. No matter where they are in the world, those who commit crimes against U.S. citizens will be held accountable for their actions, pursued by our investigators and prosecutors, and brought to justice.”
In a wide-ranging, in-prison interview with journalist Matei Rosca last year, Lazar said he welcomed extradition to the United States and added, “I’ll plead guilty, no problem.”
Of his methods, he said: “I’m an autodidact but not a programmer. There are 100 million programmers. I use any possible method to break electronic correspondence, including contact lists and metadata, like the NSA programs do, only that’s artificial intelligence. I also use Kabballah, numerology and the occult. Jung’s archetypes. Social engineering. It’s not the technology but the human factor that makes the difference.”
The indictment does not name any of the people whose accounts were compromised. But much of the alleged hacking was already public because the hacker shared some of the materials he had accessed with media organizations.
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell acknowledged in 2013 that he was aware that his Facebook and personal email accounts had been breached, and the Secret Service had confirmed previously that it was investigating the theft of numerous personal emails from members of the Bush family.
Those emails briefly became the subject of gossip because they included paintings by George W. Bush, including apparent self-portraits in the shower and bath. The indictment claims that Lazar was behind both intrusions.
The revelation of Clinton’s private email account — which occurred after Clinton stepped down as secretary of state — was somewhat more roundabout.
Lazar claimed to have compromised the email account of former Bill Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal and released memos Blumenthal sent to Hillary Clinton. Gawker noticed that the notes were directed to a private, nongovernmental email account. The New York Times later reported that Clinton exclusively used a personal account to conduct government business.