Monday, July 10, 2017

Gottesfeld update

On the day Boston Children's Hospital celebrated being named "the number one pediatric hospital in the nation" by U.S. News & World Report, I was interviewing Dana Gottesfeld in nearby Somerville, Massachusetts. Dana is the young wife of Martin "Marty G" Gottesfeld, an imprisoned technology engineer/activist who used his skills to fight against medical child abuse committed at Boston's Children's Hospital.

"That is so Boston," Dana observed Tuesday in response to the new ranking — which is already splashed in multiple gold medallions across the hospital's website.

It's all about power, prestige and pull in the top echelons of the Bay State's medical community, many New Englanders have informed me. BCH's teaching affiliate is Harvard Medical School. The ties between and among influential and wealthy alumni in the realms of health care, politics and the courts are innumerable.

It's a network that's "practically untouchable," Dana explained.

And like the third rail, those who dare challenge these renowned institutions risk great danger to their freedom and their lives.

Dana's husband, Marty, faces felony charges of computer hacking and conspiracy related to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in April 2014 against Boston Children's and the nearby Wayside Youth and Family Support Network residential treatment. Marty had organized a social media army to knock the computer networks of both institutions offline to protest the medical kidnapping of then-15-year-old Justina Pelletier. Hackers from the loose-knit collective, Anonymous, allegedly participated in the campaign.

Justina's plight had become international news in Marty's backyard. One fateful winter day in February 2013, Justina traveled with her mom to BCH from her West Hartford, Connecticut, home, seeking relief from a severe case of the flu. Ordinary sickness compounded Justina's rare medical conditions, including mitochondrial disease and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. But those illnesses hadn't stopped her from participating in school, competitive ice skating and an active family life.

Instead of receiving top-notch care and attention at BCH, however, Justina was snatched from her parents and recklessly re-diagnosed with a psychological condition, "somatoform disorder." She was dragged from BCH's neurology department to its infamous psych ward, where she was reprimanded for being unable to move her bowels or walk unassisted in her weakened state. At Wayside, she was harassed by a staffer while taking a shower. The physical and mental torture lasted 16 months.

The family is now suing the gold medallion-adorned, scandal-plagued Boston Children's Hospital.

"They tried to break us all," Justina's dad, Lou, told me at his West Hartford home, where Justina fights to recover from post-traumatic stress and physical deterioration suffered while she was held hostage...

Marty G's DDoS attacks were an instrumental catalyst at a time when Justina's family faced a gag order for speaking out.

"I never imagined a renowned hospital would be capable of such brutality and no amount of other good work could justify torturing Justina," Marty wrote in a recent online explanation of why he intervened.

"BCH calls what it did to her a 'parentectomy,' and there had been others over at least the past 20 years. I knew that BCH's big donation day was coming up, and that most donors give online. I felt that to have sufficient influence to save Justina from grievous bodily harm and possible death, as well as dissuade BCH from continuing its well established pattern of such harmful 'parentectomies,' I'd have to hit BCH where they appear to care the most, the pocket book and reputation."

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Boston finally set a court date in Martin "Marty" Gottesfeld's case. After more than a year behind bars without bail (including about 80 days in solitary confinement and a stint in the same detention center as Mexico's notorious drug cartel kingpin "El Chapo"), Marty now faces trial in January 2018. He was barred from attending his beloved adoptive father's funeral in April.

"It was the right thing to do," Dana told me through tears as she cradled a Homeland Security storage bag with Marty's wedding ring. She recently lost her job as a result of her advocacy for Marty. But the couple, who have never met Justina or her family, will keep fighting medical kidnappings. Relentless as ever, Marty stressed in a brief phone conservation with me the need for state and federal "Justina's Laws" to protect wards of the state from being used as research guinea pigs by prestigious medical institutions.

Both the supporters of Justina and Marty remain aghast at the brutal treatment of their loved ones while the real menaces breathe free.

Marty's message from prison in Massachusetts: "Human rights abuses aren't just happening in North Korea. They're here."

Justina's message from her wheelchair in Connecticut: She hopes her torturers "get what they deserve."



  1. As publicity surrounding Justina's case reached its height, Martin Gottesfeld, a 30-year-old computer security expert who had no relation to Justina or her family, decided to act – during one of the hospital's biggest fundraising periods of the year. According to the indictment from the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, Gottesfeld attacked the computer servers of Children's and the nearby Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, the residential treatment facility where Justina was moved after Bader 5. Though no patients' records were compromised or harmed, the hospital claimed the attack, which lasted several days and temporarily downed the website, "disrupted day-to-day operations as well as research being done." Children's claimed the attack cost $300,000 to mitigate, and resulted in another $300,000 in losses due to the hospital's donation website being shut down.

    But the attack largely achieved Gottesfeld's intended effect: It put the institution overseeing her care on the defense and raised awareness of Justina's story. The feat also landed Gottesfeld behind bars. He is currently awaiting trial inside a federal detention center in Plymouth, Massachusetts, charged with conspiracy and intentional damage to a protected computer, under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, a law written during the Reagan administration to protect government computers from "unauthorized access."

    The CFAA faces widespread criticism for being both outdated and overzealously applied. Most notably, this happened in the case of activist Aaron Swartz, the Harvard research fellow who was charged with illegally downloading several million journal articles from the online academic database JSTOR, which he reportedly intended to make openly available to the public. Though Swartz was fighting for freedom of information, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz famously declared "stealing is stealing," charging him under the CFAA with felony counts that carried a maximum sentence of 35 years and potential fines of $1 million. Refusing to take a plea, Swartz committed suicide in January 2013. (continued)

  2. (continued)If convicted, Gottesfeld could face up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. His case, currently awaiting a trial date, has launched its own campaign and hashtag #FreeMartyG. And it's raising an increasingly crucial question: What are the bounds of protest in the digital age?

    As Gottesfeld awaits the answer that will determine his fate, I visit him on an overcast day in March. Stocky, dark-haired, in a green prison jumpsuit, his eyes redden as he clutches his black phone on the other side of the Plexiglas barrier. "I don't want any activist to go through what I went through for trying to do the right f****** thing," he says...

    On the side, Gottesfeld maintained a budding passion for human rights causes, supporting Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. But it wasn't until he started dating Dana Barach – a thoughtful Brandeis student with wavy long red hair whom he met online – that he found a way to fuse his worldview with his programming skills.

    In July 2013, Barach visited her 16-year-old brother at the Logan River Academy, a so-called "troubled teen" facility in Utah where he'd been living since February. Dana's parents had sent him there for the typical reasons: he was smoking pot, playing guitar late into the night and failing at school. Dana returned from Utah with allegations of gross mistreatment that struck a nerve with Gottesfeld. He says he called the Utah police, Human Rights Watch, even the FBI, but to no avail. "I was pretty much roundly and flatly ignored," he says. But after posting about Logan River on Facebook, he got a message from someone claiming to be part of the hacker collective Anonymous: "Would you like some help?"

    Gottesfeld had never interacted with Anonymous, and only knew of its "mystique," as he puts it. By 2013, the decentralized group had become notorious for international campaigns against targets from the Church of Scientology to Middle Eastern dictators during the Arab Spring. But the Anonymous hacker (whose name Gottesfeld does not want to reveal) told Gottesfeld that he had also been fighting to liberate kids from troubled-teen centers, and that he himself had suffered a brain injury while residing at one. If Gottesfeld needed media attention on the problems at Logan River, the hacker told him, then Anonymous could deliver. "We'll take any help we can get," Gottesfeld replied...

    On March 20th, 2014, as public outrage grew over Justina's story, an Anonymous operation, #OpJustina, was declared, demanding Pelletier's release. "We will punish all those held accountable and will not relent until Justina is free," the mission statement that circulated online read. It included the home address and phone numbers of the judge and Children's administrator overseeing the case, as well as technical information about the hospital's computer server.

    For Gottesfeld, the DCF's decision felt like a punch to the gut – and an urgent call to hack on Justina's behalf. "Eighty percent of my thought process was centered around, 'I don't want this girl to die,'" he recalls, "and the other 20 percent was, 'OK what do I have to do technically to make this happen.'" That day, Gottesfeld crippled the website of Wayside, the residential treatment facility where Justina was being held, with a DDOS attack. He found that Children's was fund-raising in April, and decided to wait until then to go after their site. "I'd have to hit Children's where they appear to care the most, the pocketbook and reputation," he later wrote. "All other efforts to protect Justina weren't succeeding and time was of the essence. Almost unbelievably, they kept their donation page on the same public network as the rest of their stuff. Rookie mistake."