Controversial genius: Little is known about the death of hacker Adrian Lamo

Called a cyber criminal by some, a hacker patriot by others, former ARC journalist is remembered

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the April 5, 2018, issue.

The famed “homeless hacker” Adrian Lamo, an American River College graduate, died of unknown causes March 14. He was 37 years old. News of his death was first shared by his father, Mario Lamo, on Facebook. “A bright mind and compassionate soul is gone—he was my beloved son,” Mario wrote.

The Wichita Police Department told SN&R the cause of death didn’t appear to be suspicious. An official coroner’s report is still weeks from release.

Lamo came to prominence in 2003 after his hacking of The New York Times, Microsoft and Yahoo!. He was convicted of cyber crimes, fined $65,000 and put on probation for two years while living in Carmichael.

Lamo is best known for his involvement in the Chelsea Manning case. In June 2010, Manning, then an army intelligence analyst known as Bradley Manning, was arrested after Lamo turned her into the FBI. Lamo’s information helped convict Manning of leaking U.S. Army combat footage and classified State Department records to WikiLeaks.

In 2010 and 2011, WIRED published a series of chats between Lamo and Manning, in which Lamo assured Manning their conversations would never be published. In one interaction, Manning admitted she couldn’t believe what she was confessing to Lamo. Lamo would later admit that he regretted outing Manning to the FBI.

For years, Lamo has been criticized for “snitching” on Manning, but Catherine Fitzpatrick, author of Privacy for Me and Not for Thee, thinks Lamo should be remembered as a patriot.

“It’s rare that a hacker, who usually feels himself to be beyond [the] organic law of civilization and only views ‘code as law,’ to take an act of conscience on behalf of his country as Adrian did,” Fitzpatrick said. “I view his reporting of Manning to the FBI to be absolutely the right thing to do, and he should be viewed as a hero and patriot for this.”

As part of his 2003 hacking conviction, Lamo attended court-ordered classes at American River College and spent over two years working on the American River Current, the campus newspaper. College spokesman Scott Crow said the campus sends its thoughts and condolences to Lamo’s family.

Matthew Keys, a former news reporter for FOX40 and friend of Lamo, indicated that Lamo was one of the smartest people he ever met, despite his ethical flaws.

“He could’ve worked for any intelligence agency he wanted to,” Keys said. “He could’ve worked for any government agency he wanted to. He could’ve worked for any technological corporation on the planet. But his biggest setback was how he treated people.”