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Adrian Lamo, computer hacker who turned in whistleblower, found dead

LamoAdrian Lamo, a prolific computer hacker whose reputation was cemented with the public outing of a soldier-turned-whistleblower in 2010, was found dead earlier this week inside his Kansas apartment.

News of his death was first announced by his father, Mario Lamo, in a closed Facebook group on Friday. A spokesperson for the Wichita Police Department told The Desk by phone that officers found Lamo’s body in his apartment on Wednesday.

Police say the death is not considered suspicious. The coroner serving the Kansas community where Lamo lived is still investigating and did not have information about the cause as of Friday afternoon.

Charley Davidson, a spokesperson with the Wichita Police Department, told The Desk a 52-year-old female called police about Lamo on the day he was found dead. Davidson was unable to identify the relationship of the woman who made the call. On Friday, the technology website ZDNet reported a neighbor located the body of the 37-year-old and called police.

Lamo was known in tech circles for his computer proficiency, which earned him a high degree of notoriety among hackers and security experts. He volunteered his security and website building skills to a number of services and companies in the mid-1990s and early 2000s before turning to mischief with his hacking of a New York Times database in 2002.

The latter earned him a federal computer hacking conviction in 2003. He plead guilty and was sentenced to six months of probation, two years of supervised release and ordered to pay the newspaper company more than $60,000 in restitution. After his sentencing, Lamo served time in jail after refusing to allow the U.S. Marshals to collect his DNA — a standard practice for federal convicts, but one Lamo objected to on “religious grounds.”

He served out his probation in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael where he lived with his parents while attending court-ordered classes at American River College. While there, he wrote regularly for the school newspaper. His work in publishing would play a small but important role later in life when he encountered a former U.S. Army soldier who had secrets to spill.

It was a news profile that led Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, to reach out to Lamo in 2010. Manning has been leaking thousands of stolen government records to the whistleblower website Wikileaks when she read about Lamo and decided to make contact.

Manning was lonely, broken and depressed. She wanted a friend to confide in. Lamo played on these emotions. He was quirky. He was friendly. He was funny. He told Manning she could trust him.

“I’m a journalist and a minister,” Lamo wrote to Manning. “You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection.”

How he interacted with Manning is known because Lamo logged all of his conversations. Eventually those logs would be published by Wired, but not before Lamo handed over his cache to the FBI.

He justified his decision to turn in Manning only to later say he regretted it. His regret didn’t extend to his social media activities, where he routinely antagonized people in an effort to bring more attention to himself. The limelight was his favorite place to bask and it didn’t seem to matter whether the attention he brought on himself was negative or positive. Attention in any form was the dopamine Lamo craved.

Manning was arrested, tried, convicted, imprisoned and pardoned. Lamo, on the other hand, was a patriot only to his government. In the court of public opinion, he too was tried and convicted. But he was never forgiven. He was found in death much the same way he lived out his final years: alone.


This story has been updated to add additional information about Manning and Lamo’s online conversations and for clarity and style. 

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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