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Regaining Control By Ending Life

Jonathan Joseph James (December 12, 1983 – May 18, 2008) was responsible for hacking the website of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the age of 17, and committed suicide when he was not even 25 years of age. Despite his demise at such a young age, Jonathan’s life can be compared to a thriller movie. Jonathan, who was born at Pinecrest in Florida on December 12, 1983, had an insatiable fascination for computers and their components since childhood. Incidentally, he was the first juvenile incarcerated for cybercrime in the US.

Jonathan had reportedly claimed that he was an ethical hacker. However, it was seen that he somehow got involved in unethical hacking from shortly after the beginning, and had committed his first cybercrime at the age of 15. He served his first jail term at the age of 16 for allegedly hacking several websites, including those of the BellSouth and Miami Dade schools websites, in August-October 1999. He caught the attention of US intelligence agencies through his (criminal) activities.

The intelligence officials had started considering the online activities of Jonathan as a potential threat. The teenager had no idea that the intelligence officers started monitoring his movements. In the meantime, Jonathan kept peeking at the website of the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a Department of the US Ministry of Defence. After realising this, the detectives detained and interrogated him. During interrogations, Jonathan revealed that he had used an illegal system on a computer in Dulles, Virginia, which allowed him to view more than 3,000 messages sent to DTRA employees. He also admitted that he was monitoring 10 DTRA computers.

Then, NASA, too, started gathering evidence against Jonathan. The independent agency of the US Federal Government responsible for the civil space programme, aeronautics research and space research claimed that the software Jonathan was using controlled critical components of NASA’s International Space Station. According to NASA, that particular software used to control the temperature and humidity of the International Space Station and other physical environments.

Officials of the US Defence Department, NASA and the Pinecrest Police Department conducted a raid at Jonathan’s residence on January 26, 2000. He was convicted six months after the concerned authorities gathered all the evidence against him. The Court announced Jonathan’s sentence on September 21, 2000. He was sentenced to house arrest until the age of 18 due to lack of malicious intent and his age. The Court also ordered Jonathan to write letters of apology to NASA and the Defence Department, apart from asking him not to use the computer. However, he was eventually sentenced to six months in jail for using a computer, and for consuming drugs. The Court also mentioned in its order that had Jonathan been an adult, he would have been awarded a jail term for a minimum of 10 years.

Jonathan was visibly upset, after coming out of prison. Sometimes he used to consume drugs. However, he kept himself away from hacking. On January 17, 2008, hackers targetted the website of TJX departmental store, exposing the personal information of millions of customers. The same group of hackers also hacked the websites of Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Inc., Sports Authority, Forever 21, DSW, OfficeMax, and Dave & Buster’s. Albert Gonzalez was the leader of this group. Albert’s team included several members who were friends and acquaintances of Jonathan.

As a result, the intelligence officers interrogated Jonathan yet again, to trace the culprits. They also raided the places of Jonathan’s girlfriend and his brother. Although the detectives failed to find any link between Jonathan and the group of hackers, the interrogation continued.

Jonathan was discovered dead, shot in his bathroom on May 18, 2008. An autopsy revealed that he had committed suicide by a gunshot to his head. The Police also found a suicide note next to the body of 24-year-old Jonathan. In his note, Jonathan wrote: “I honestly, honestly had nothing to do with TJX. I have no faith in the justice system. Perhaps my actions today, and this letter, will send a stronger message to the public. Either way, I have lost control over this situation, and this is my only way to regain control.

Later, Jonathan’s father claimed that his son had been suffering from depression since his release from prison, and made several attempts to commit suicide thereafter. However, the detectives continued the investigation and detained Albert, the main culprit. Many believe that Jonathan had to commit suicide, as he had come to know various secret information about NASA.

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