Adrián Alfonso Lamo Atwood (February 20, 1981 – March 14, 2018) was an American threat analyst and hacker. Lamo first gained media attention for breaking into several high-profile computer networks, including those of The New York Times, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, culminating in his 2003 arrest. Lamo was best known for reporting U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning to Army criminal investigators in 2010 for leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks. Lamo died in March 2018 at the age of 37.
Early life and education
Adrian Lamo was born in Malden, Massachusetts near Boston. His father, Mario Ricardo Lamo, was Colombian. Adrian Lamo attended high schools in Bogotá and San Francisco, from which he did not graduate, but received a GED and was court-ordered to take courses at American River College, a community college in Sacramento County, California. Known as the "Homeless Hacker" for his reportedly transient lifestyle, Lamo claimed that he spent much of his travels couch-surfing, squatting in abandoned buildings, and traveling to Internet cafés, libraries, and universities to investigate networks, sometimes exploiting security holes. Despite performing authorized and unauthorized vulnerability assessments for several large, high-profile entities, Lamo claimed to have refused to accept payment for his services.
Activities and legal issues
Lamo first became known for operating AOL watchdog site Inside-AOL.com.
In December 2001, Lamo was praised by Worldcom for helping to fortify their corporate security. In February 2002, he broke into the internal computer network of The New York Times, added his name to the internal database of expert sources, and used the paper's LexisNexis account to conduct research on high-profile subjects. The New York Times filed a complaint, and a warrant for Lamo's arrest was issued in August 2003 following a 15-month investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. At 10:15 a.m. on September 9, after spending a few days in hiding, he surrendered to the US Marshals in Sacramento, California. He re-surrendered to the FBI in New York City on September 11, and pleaded guilty to one felony count of computer crimes against Microsoft, LexisNexis, and The New York Times on January 8, 2004.
In July 2004, Lamo was sentenced to two years probation, with six months to be served in home detention, and ordered to pay $65,000 in restitution. He was convicted of compromising security at The New York Times, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and WorldCom.
When challenged for a response to allegations that he was glamorizing crime for the sake of publicity, his response was: "Anything I could say about my person or my actions would only cheapen what they have to say for themselves". When approached for comment during his criminal case, Lamo frustrated reporters with non sequiturs, such as "Faith manages" and "It's a beautiful day."
At his sentencing, Lamo expressed remorse for harm he had caused by his intrusions. The court record quotes him as adding: "I want to answer for what I have done and do better with my life."
He subsequently declared on the question and answer site Quora that: "We all own our actions in fullness, not just the pleasant aspects of them." Lamo accepted that he had committed mistakes.
On May 9, 2006, while 18 months into a two-year probation sentence, Lamo refused to give the United States government a blood sample, which they had demanded in order to record his DNA in their CODIS system. According to his attorney at the time Lamo had a religious objection to giving blood but was willing to give his DNA in another form. On June 15, 2007, lawyers for Lamo filed a motion citing the Book of Genesis as one basis for Lamo's religious opposition to the giving of blood.
On June 20, 2007, Lamo's legal counsel reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice whereby Lamo would submit a cheek swab in place of the blood sample.
WikiLeaks and Manning
In February 2009, a partial list of the anonymous donors to the WikiLeaks not-for-profit website was leaked and published on the WikiLeaks website. Some media sources indicated at the time that Lamo was among the donors on the list. Lamo commented on his Twitter page, "Thanks WikiLeaks, for leaking your donor list ... That's dedication."
In May 2010, Lamo reported to U.S. Army authorities that Chelsea Manning claimed to have leaked a large body of classified documents, including 260,000 classified United States diplomatic cables. Lamo stated that Manning also "took credit for leaking" the video footage of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, which has since come to be known as the "Collateral Murder" video.
Lamo stated that he would not have turned Manning in "if lives weren't in danger ... He [sic] was in a war zone and basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air." WikiLeaks responded by denouncing Lamo and Wired Magazine reporter Kevin Poulsen as "notorious felons, informers & manipulators", and said: "journalists should take care."
According to Andy Greenberg of Forbes, Lamo was a volunteer "adversary characterization" analyst for Project Vigilant, a Florida-based semi-secret government contractor, which encouraged him to inform the government about the alleged WikiLeaks source. The head of Project Vigilant, Chet Uber, claimed, "I'm the one who called the U.S. government ... All the people who say that Adrian is a narc, he did a patriotic thing. He sees all kinds of hacks, and he was seriously worried about people dying."
Lamo was criticized by fellow hackers, such as those at the Hackers on Planet Earth conference in 2010, who labeled him a "snitch". Another commented to Lamo, following his speech during a panel discussion, saying: "From my perspective, I see what you have done as treason."
In April 2011, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called Lamo "a very disreputable character", and said it was not right to call him a financial contributor to WikiLeaks, since Lamo's monetary support amounted to only US$20 on one occasion. Assange said it was "mischievous to suggest the individual has anything to do with WikiLeaks."
Lamo characterized his decision to work with the government as morally ambiguous, but objectively necessary, writing in The Guardian: "There were no right choices that day, only less wrong ones. It was cold, it was needful, and it was no one's to make except mine," adding to The Guardian's Ed Pilkington: "There were hundreds of thousands of documents – let's drop the number to 250,000 to be conservative – and doing nothing meant gambling that each and every one would do no harm if no warning was given."
The Taliban insurgency later announced its intention to execute Afghan nationals named in the leaks as having cooperated with the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. By that time, the United States had received months of advance warning that their names were among the leaks. Manning was arrested and incarcerated in the U.S. military justice system and later sentenced to 35 years in confinement, which President Barack Obama commuted to a total of seven years at the end of his term, including time served. Lamo responded to the commutation with a single post on Medium and an interview with U.S. News & World Report.
Greenwald, Lamo, and Wired magazine
Lamo's role in the Manning case drew criticism from Glenn Greenwald of Salon. Greenwald suggested that Lamo lied to Manning by turning Manning in, and then lied after the fact to cover up the circumstances of Manning's confessions. Greenwald places the incident in the context of what he calls "the Obama administration's unprecedented war on whistle-blowers". Greenwald's critique of Wired has drawn a response from that magazine which suggests that Greenwald is writing disingenuously: "At his most reasonable, Greenwald impugns our motives, attacks the character of our staff and carefully selects his facts and sources to misrepresent the truth and generate outrage in his readership." In an article about the Manning case, Greenwald mentions Wired reporter Kevin Poulsen's 1994 felony conviction for computer hacking, suggesting that "over the years, Poulsen has served more or less as Lamo's personal media voice." Greenwald is skeptical of an earlier story written by Poulsen about Lamo's institutionalization on psychiatric grounds, writing: "Lamo claimed he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a somewhat fashionable autism diagnosis which many stars in the computer world have also claimed." In an article entitled "The Worsening Journalistic Disgrace at Wired", Greenwald claimed that Wired was "actively conceal[ing] from the public, for months on end, the key evidence in a political story that has generated headlines around the world."
On July 13, 2011, Wired published the logs in full, stating: "The most significant of the unpublished details have now been publicly established with sufficient authority that we no longer believe any purpose is served by withholding the logs." Greenwald wrote of the newly released logs that in his opinion they validated his claim that Wired had concealed important evidence.
Criticism of Anonymous
Lamo had been critical of media coverage of the hacker collective Anonymous, saying that media outlets have over-hyped and mythologized the group. He also said that Anonymous is not the "invulnerable" group it is claimed to be, and he can see "no rational point in what they're doing."
Film and television
On August 22, 2002, Lamo was removed from a segment of NBC Nightly News when, after being asked to demonstrate his skills for the camera, he gained access to NBC's internal network. NBC was concerned that they broke the law by taping Lamo while he (possibly) broke the law. Lamo was a guest on The Screen Savers five times beginning in 2002.
Hackers Wanted, a documentary film focusing on Lamo's life as a hacker, was produced by Trigger Street Productions, and narrated by Kevin Spacey. Focusing on the 2003 hacking scene, the film features interviews with Kevin Rose and Steve Wozniak. The film has not been conventionally released. In May 2009, a video purporting to be a trailer for Hackers Wanted was allegedly leaked to or by the Internet film site Eye Crave. In May 2010, an earlier cut of the film was leaked via BitTorrent. According to an insider, what was leaked on the Internet was a very different film from the newer version, which includes additional footage. On June 12, 2010, a director's cut version of the film was also leaked onto torrent sites.
Lamo also appeared on Good Morning America, Fox News, Democracy Now!, Frontline, and repeatedly on KCRA-TV News as an expert on netcentric crime and incidents. He was interviewed for the documentaries We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks and True Stories: WikiLeaks – Secrets and Lies. Lamo reconnected with Leo Laporte in 2015 as a result of a Quora article on the "dark web" for an episode of The New Screen Savers.
Lamo wrote the book Ask Adrian, a collection of his best Q&A drawn from over 500 pages of Quora answers, which have so far received nearly 30,000,000 views.
Personal life and death
In the mid-1990s, Lamo volunteered for the gay and lesbian media firm PlanetOut Inc. In 1998, Lamo was appointed to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth Task Force by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 1999, Lamo was ordained a minister in the Universal Life Church. In 2001, he overdosed on prescription amphetamines.
In a 2004 interview with Wired, an ex-girlfriend of Lamo's described him as "very controlling", alleging "he carried a stun gun, which he used on me". The same article claimed a court had issued a restraining order against Lamo; he disputed the claim, writing: "I have never been subject to a restraining order in my life".
Lamo said in a Wired article that, in May 2010, after he reported the theft of his backpack, an investigating officer noted unusual behavior and placed him under a 72-hour involuntary psychiatric hold, which was extended to a nine-day hold. Lamo said he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the psychiatric ward.
For a period of time in March 2011, Lamo was allegedly "in hiding", claiming that his "life was under threat" after turning in Manning. During this time, he struggled with substance abuse but later claimed that he was in recovery and that his security situation had improved.
Lamo died on March 14, 2018, in Wichita, Kansas, at the age of 37. Nearly three months later, the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center reported that "Despite a complete autopsy and supplemental testing, no definitive cause of death was identified."