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Thread: Barrett Brown Is Out of Jail

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    Default Barrett Brown Is Out of Jail

    Journalist Barrett Brown Is Out of Jail — and Has Big Plans

    Journalism, Activism, Hacktivism and a New Civic Platform

    Barrett Brown superimposed over Jefferson Memorial. Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Mark Fischer / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) and Theta00 / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).
    Barrett Brown thinks big.
    Brown was released from federal prison on November 29 after four years of incarceration for hacking the private intelligence firm Stratfor. The hack — for which the hacker group Anonymous took credit — revealed that Stratfor was one of many companies hired to spy on activist groups for US corporations.
    In his first interview since being released from a halfway house in Dallas, Brown tells WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman about his desire to pick up where Anonymous left off, and his ambitious plans for what he calls the “Pursuant System.”
    What he envisions is a new technology-driven civic platform to replace traditional democratic government. Brown also talks about his history with billionaire Trump advisor Peter Thiel, whom he considers one of the most dangerous men in America.
    At his trial, Brown originally faced 100 years in prison for charges stemming from the hacking of Stratfor.
    Despite renouncing ties with the shadowy hacking group that calls itself Anonymous in 2011, Brown was charged with being the spokesperson for Anonymous and co-conspirator in its illegal actions.
    Brown ultimately accepted a plea deal and, after two years of pretrial incarceration, he was sentenced to 63 months in prison. While incarcerated, he wrote award-winning columns — and thought long and hard about his future and that of the future of his country.
    Barrett Brown and Jon P. Alston, authored Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Easter Bunny. (Sterling & Ross, Cambridge House Press, 2007) Now available in Kindle.

    Full Text Transcript:

    As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.
    Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy, I’m Jeff Schechtman.
    Journalism is under siege. Activism is reaching new levels. And if the first week of the Trump administration is any indication, access journalism and a free press will have to fight along with activists every day just the way my guest Barrett Brown did. After four years behind bars, journalist and activist Barrett Brown was released from federal prison on the morning of November 29th, 2016 and ordered to report to a halfway house in
    Dallas, Texas. Brown faced a hundred years in prison in 2013 for charges stemming from the hacking of the private intelligence firm Stratfor. The hack for which the hacker group Anonymous took credit, revealed Stratfor was hired to spy on activist groups for major corporations. Barrett was pegged as a spokesman and co-conspirator for Anonymous, despite renouncing ties with the group in 2011. And the most controversial charge brought against him by the Department of Justice was for linking to hacked data.
    That charge was eventually dropped. Subsequently Brown accepted a plea deal under which he pled guilty to lesser charges for threatening an FBI agent, and also pled guilty to being an accessory to a cyberattack and to obstruction of justice for putting his laptops in a kitchen cabinet. After over two years of pretrial incarceration, he was sentenced to 63 months in prison. While incarcerated, Brown wrote award-winning columns where he denounced prison life in administration. He wrote about the endless stream of abuses and misconduct by the Bureau of Prisons, all of which resulted in multiple stints in solitary confinement and restrictions on his access to the press and the use of email. Today Barrett Brown is out of prison and planning his next act. It is my pleasure to welcome Barrett Brown to Radio WhoWhatWhy. Barrett thanks much for joining us.
    Barrett Brown: Thank you for having me.
    Jeff: I want to go back a little bit and talk a little bit about the work that you were involved in, going back to something that was called Project PM which was a combination of journalism and hacktivism at the time. It was really at a cutting edge of a certain kind of activity. Tell us a little about that.
    Barrett: Project PM grew out of my dissatisfaction with the press at large, and particularly with the opinion industry. Many of the pundits, the highest rated pundits from this country, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Thomas Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, people who have won Pulitzers. But if you go back and look at their output over the past fifteen years, they’ve been demonstrably wrong about their predictions about many of our major issues we face as a country, particularly military engagements.
    It didn’t look like there was any negative feedback in the media for the most part and Project PM was originally intended to provide the negative feedback by bringing together some of the more cogent journalists and bloggers, forcing these issues into attention by bringing to a head these failures in a way that they couldn’t be ignored. And then when I started talking to Anonymous, I had been approached by Gregg Housh who sort of functioned as one of the main organizers in recent years. I got involved with Anonymous at the end of 2010. And when the Tunisian revolution started they were heavily involved in that and then from there, things just kind of took their own momentum, and pretty soon I was one of the figures who was heavily involved in strategy, heavily involved in explaining to the press what we were doing, why it had to be done.
    When the HBGary incident occurred, when Anonymous hacked this company and revealed this extraordinary conspiracy against journalists like Glenn Greenwald had been set in motion by the DOJ and perpetrated by several very prominent intelligence contracting firms — most notably Palantir under Peter Thiel — things again sort of accelerated again and I got into this long drawn out conflict with this entire intelligence contracting sector.
    So at that point Project PM sort of shifted gears and our main area of responsibility was to take these stolen emails that Anonymous had acquired from HBGary and a few other firms. They included correspondence with government agencies, included correspondence with other firms, as they went about creating these technologies and perpetrating these really indefensible conspiracies. Our job was to take all this information that for the most part was quickly forgotten by the press in the immediate wake of the story. It created this picture of this otherwise opaque industry, the cyber intelligence complex that we call it, so that the other journals could proceed with this, they could take the next step, look at individual issues that we could only do so much on. And there’s a lot more to it but that was our key issue, because it was a fundamental issue.
    If we have this clandestine network of status in the government and outside the government, working together against activists and journalists in a way that strikes at the citizen’s right to know, in a way that’s patently illegal. And if there’s no consequences for it, even when they’re discovered, no one really suffers. Obviously they keep doing it, and they did keep doing it. We later stumbled upon other similar instances of this kind of conduct by similar actors. So it took on the character, less of an investigation, more of this outright warfare. And this went on for about a year. Finally I was arrested and then I shifted gears again to prison reform, and now I’m out, there’s several things that all are going to have to be addressed as a whole and that’s what I’m working on now.
    Jeff: Talk a little bit about what you think are the central things that have come out of this that need to be addressed now, that you want to address now, that perhaps might be even clearer to the public in light of what has transpired over the past seven or eight years.
    Barrett: Well we know, first of all, we know that there are many in the government in both parties that are happy to work with these companies in ways that are not provided for by the Constitution or by the individual policies, the stated policies of these government agencies.
    We know the FBI, we know the DOJ, we definitely know the NSA and CIA have transgressed against the American public and against people of the world over and over again for decades. We know that has not ceased and we know that now that the Trump administration has taken power, I think it might be easier for us to make this case that these are dangerous technologies, these are dangerous capabilities, these are dangerous precedents that have been established over the past few years when you have these people being caught and unpunished for these acts.
    Now I think they can more clearly see what the danger is. It’s no longer an abstract issue of, “Oh, years from now, maybe these technologies will be misused by some less than reputable administration.” But now we have that administration. So I think people who were not too uncomfortable knowing what the Obama administration had and what they had already allowed to be done, and what the U.S. government as a whole is acquiring in terms of information operations, I think all of that, again, is less of an abstract issue now, less of an issue of what could happen someday.
    Now we’re going to see perhaps a necessary conflict occur between elements of the press and between the U.S. government, and that’s a conflict that probably should’ve been a little bit more forcefully executed years ago. Now here we are.
    Jeff: You think that the role of the mainstream press will be different this time around? You think the way the mainstream press responds will be different in this atmosphere?
    Barrett: Yes, I think we’ve already seen that within the last few days. Obviously we’re seeing an unprecedented degree of just outright, frankly, bizarre dishonesty coming out of the White House in a way that’s not unprecedented in a fundamental way. I suppose in a matter of extent, it’s more visible, it’s more shameless. And the press corps is reacting in a way they really should have years ago when we had these same issues on a lesser scale when you had one party making demonstrably false claims over and over again, making these claims because the dynamics were such that you could… there was not necessarily a pragmatic reason to stick to the truth when you’re reporting both sides and you’re not doing the analysis.
    You’re not telling your readers, “You know, this one, these people are lying. These people are lying, what they’re saying is completely untrue.” You know, when you don’t do that it makes sense for people without any moral center to conduct themselves in that dishonest way. And now it’s just gotten so blatant and the people it concerns, the Trump administration, are so openly hostile to the press that now we’re seeing this conflict arise, and we’ll probably see a more or less permanent change in how the press views itself vis-à-vis the State.
    Jeff: Will we see a difference in the behavior of some of these big companies that have been part of what you referred to earlier as this cyber intelligence complex, be they Apple, Google, AT&T or whomever?
    Barrett: Well now they’re operating in an environment in which, you know, the standard is being set by the President on down, and retaliation against your personal enemies. The use of new methodologies and technologies by which to interfere with the information flow, by which to obscure things, by which to discredit the enemy. All of these things will be more and more commonplace. That was already where we were going, because again, without consequences, without negative feedback against that industry. And given that that industry offers a very valuable service to a lot of these companies.
    The ability to obfuscate the public’s understanding, the ability to target, harass, discredit, infiltrate even standard law-abiding activists and journalists, as they’ve been caught doing, you know, that creates a climate, and that climate sort of perpetuates itself. So even as things get better in some ways, even as more of this becomes more obvious, more plain, you’re going to have several different sort of competing factors, other aspects will get worse.
    There’ll be more poor behavior, you might call it, among more government agencies as Trump puts in this very strange post-ideological right-populist contingent. It’s kind of settling in. We’ll see all kinds of very unusual incidents come up. And we’ll see a lot of leaking, see a lot of, people of opposition. We’ll see more active civil disobedience than you have since the 70s. That’s all, I think, pretty clear. I think that’s pretty set.
    But beyond that, you look at the details, start trying to predict how will these things happen. That’s where it gets difficult. This is the age of non-state actors. This is the age in which a few people here and there — if they’re clever enough, and if they have the will to do so — can check things up to an extent that would’ve been, again, impossible just a generation ago.
    That’s all thanks to the Internet. Thanks to the fact that we live in an information age in which for the first time in human history any individual can collaborate with any other individual on the planet. That’s extraordinary. That’s an extraordinary change in how we arrange our affairs. And when that becomes better understood, when the implications start becoming clear, as they will, people learn by example. You’re going to see a very chaotic period come into play.
    Jeff: What do you see as the platform, the method by which so much of this research and investigation might take place? Sort of the more modern equivalent of what you were trying to do with Project PM.
    Barrett: Well, it’s a necessary reaction to a complicated situation in which traditional journalism is not able to do the job. Even when it does do the job at the level of individual journalists or individual outlets, when things get caught in the noise, there is a necessity to start thinking about how do we better assess the informational environment? How do we react to it? How do we compete with all of these different factions, all of these different actors, all sort of fighting it out over the daily news cycle, you know, for dominance.
    So there is going to be a clearer and clearer need for new ways of organizing journalism, new ways of crowdsourcing the capabilities of people out there who would like to contribute, who are expert in their field or who are capable of doing research. We need to figure out ways in which to channel their talents and energies in a way where we can gain some degree of civilization in a period in which civilization is deteriorating in very fundamental ways.
    That’s my main focus still, to pull off what I call the “Pursuant system,” which was announced in Wired two months ago after my release, this sort of platform we’ll be rolling out gradually on an invitation basis by which people can create their own civic platforms, evolve them in different ways, arrange them in very clear formats whereby anyone can create their own little group, anyone can join whichever groups are available and be a part of something.
    A civic entity that, unlike a nation-state you’re born into, has clear moral direction, and has the agility that we saw from Anonymous, has the ability to bring people quickly into an operation, achieve something, whether limited or abroad, and move forward. That’s the kind of emphasis we need to have when we start thinking about where we go from here.
    Are we going to stick with traditional institutions and hope they lead the way? Are we just going to, you know, write our congressmen? Or are we going to finally start thinking about what is now possible? There have been so many people with, I think, deleterious effects on society, you know, whether it be Trump or whatever, who are in some ways using the Internet, you know, things like Breitbart in new ways by which to gain greater control over the conversation.
    We need to have more honest, benevolent, policy-oriented people thinking along those same lines – not doing things the same way but likewise taking advantage of this environment in ways that they haven’t yet before.
    Jeff: And what do you see as the potential risks down the road to the people that are doing that?
    Barrett: The risks are legion. You know, again, there’s nothing, there’s no good reason for a company or government agency not to resort to illegal and amoral disinformation operations by which to target their enemies. There’s no reason whatsoever on a practical scale yet. So anybody who plans to have a real impact right now has to understand what’s out there in terms of what these companies do, what they can do, what they’ve done before, what they can probably do at this point, extrapolating from the capabilities that we came upon four years ago, when the HBGary emails were revealed.
    You have to be aware that these are people who play dirty, and they have every advantage, in the traditional standpoint in terms of government links and the fact that they generally have a great deal of money, the people who we’re operating against.
    There are ways to counter that. It just requires that we think through the information available.
    And that’s unfortunate that even the information we do have, the things that were revealed a few years ago, didn’t quite get the attention that they needed to. And so part of what we have to do is just sort of re-summing up what happened several years ago. What happened with Anonymous, and what the results were and what was learned so that people understand at least where we’re at and can start building from there.
    Jeff: What were the things that did work with respect to Anonymous? What were the things that you look back on and say this is something positive we can learn from?
    Barrett: In terms of operations, there was probably about half a dozen that you could point to and analyze and say these were really extraordinary efforts by people around the globe to come together and strike blows against criminalized institutions. And broadly, what Anonymous was able to do was integrate large numbers of early adapters, erudite people, people with different skill sets and get them working on these efforts very quickly in ways that allow people with the expertise or the charisma or the technical skills or whatever to get their ideas in motion.
    It was a chaotic process. It was very haphazard. Anonymous started out as something entirely different. It’s sort of a goofy Internet troll group, happened to become an activist group over time — almost by accident. But once it was, you know, it was still using what we would call, Internet relay chat rooms, just big chat rooms where you have lots of people. And you had sub rooms where people could go into for work on various operations.
    Ultimately you’re using a platform that’s not intended for activism, it was created for chatting. You know, it’s such that kind of lends, just the format itself, the medium itself, brings its own problems. You have lots of in-fighting, you have lots of periods in which you’re kind of waiting for the shoe to drop. You don’t know what people are going to do. You don’t know who’s there. You don’t know to what extent you’re being infiltrated on an active basis. Which, it turns out, we were by a number of different parties, most notably the FBI.
    We can take a lot of those dynamics and harness them, and keep that agility, and keep that capability to integrate citizens very quickly. But we have to be a bit more rigorous about it. We have to look at these sort of specific lessons we could learn. We have to look at what was useful and what the problems were and try to use that to build something new.
    Jeff: Talk a little bit about somebody like Peter Thiel who sort of fits on both sides of the story. How does he fit into all this right now?
    Barrett: Well, Thiel came to my attention, again after HBGary, the Team Themis conspiracy. There were several firms including HBGary, Endgame Systems, Berico and Palantir, that had sort of come together to create this very mercenary information operations division called “Team Themis.” Palantir was a key player in that, and their engineer Matthew Steckman was one of about seven employees who were, as the emails show, in on this operation that included their own lead counsel.
    So this wasn’t something that, from Palantir’s standpoint, just some regular rogue engineer did without the blessing of the higher-ups. As we see from emails, they were happy with Team Themis, thought it was a great new business model to assist corporations going after their enemies.
    So Thiel had an opportunity after this came to light to make a real apology and to ensure this doesn’t happen again. What he did, instead, was to put this Matthew Steckman guy, the one who was hardest to detach from the Team Themis scandal, the one who’s most visibly culpable, put him on leave briefly, and then when the media moved on a few months later, brought him back as an employee. And later promoted him, made him head of business development in DC.
    So that is very telling, and that was the first thing I learned about Thiel. I didn’t know who he was previous to that, and since being incarcerated I happened to see a number of magazine profiles about him, and I don’t remember one mentioning Team Themis, which is an unfortunate oversight.
    Because we need to know what are the implications of a firm like Palantir. What are the implications of a person like Peter Thiel who has very, very dystopian ideas and is in an unusual position to effect those ideas, not just by virtue of being a billionaire but by virtue of happening to run a company that does deal in information at a time in which information is king, and who now has very strong ties to this authoritarian White House. That’s Peter Thiel in broad strokes.
    There’s any number of particular quotes you can look at, actions he’s taken that kind of fill those a little bit more. But I think that’s enough such that Peter Thiel should be very high on everyone’s list of concerns right now. He’s one the most dangerous men in the world at this point, and I don’t see any particular reason to think he’s going to become any less dangerous in the coming years.
    Jeff: And talk, Barrett, finally about what’s next for you. How do you see yourself fitting into all this? What you want to do next?
    Barrett: I’m going to take some of the principles that we’ve been able to observe and act upon. Try to coalesce them into something that we can move forward with. The Pursuant system is based on something we designed years and years ago before I got involved with Anonymous. And, you know, I’m sort of in a position to draw upon more lessons than I had learned at that early point in kind of fleshing it out. It’s a sort of framework by which people can create these civic institutes that we call “pursuances,” and they can be for a number of things.
    They can be used for pursuing traditional activism. Be used to unite and to better integrate different activist groups. More to the point, anyone can create their own pursuance. Anyone can join a pursuance that has active membership. They can have them organized in different ways. It’s something that will channel that same agility from Anonymous while also bringing in sort of a degree of necessary rigor, something that can grow and coalesce and develop as these pursuances connect among themselves and share resources and share leadership and share direction. Something that can ultimately develop into a sort of global superorganism. Something that, if we present it right, if we make our case properly, can be adapted as sort of a parallel state, a non-state, a process at war with the system, something that will much better organize the efforts of the huge numbers of people who I think over the next few years are going to be interested in activism, simply because activism looks like the only way forward now.
    When we have that demand, when that demand starts to arise for radical politics, we have to be in a position to fulfill that demand in a way that inspires people to maybe accept that there are different ways forward beyond our democratic nation states.
    There are other things we haven’t tried yet which involve less force, involve less coercion, involve less inertia, building upon institutions that have come down to us within the axis of history. We can build something new, especially if we show that we’ve already done some of these things, they’ve already worked. It’s not like a whacky pipe dream. This is something that we’ve been sort of coalescing around as a movement, I think, for a long time. We just want to formalize it.
    So the Pursuant system will be rolled out over the next year. The book that I’ve signed a deal on with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, will be very much centered on the Pursuant system. It will be a memoir and a manifesto, but ultimately it’s going to be about making the case for what I call “process democracy” for a non-static democratic association by which we can maybe move forward as a society, as our old society collapses.
    Jeff: Barrett Brown, I thank you so much for spending time with us today on Radio WhoWhatWhy.
    Barrett: Thank you for having me.
    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  2. #2

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    Barrett Brown superimposed over Jefferson Memorial. Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Photo credit: Mark Fischer / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) and Theta00 / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).
    Day after day headlines blare throughout the world about the attempts of governments to stifle freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom of people to associate online and off with whomever they choose.
    The story of Barrett Brown, his work as both an activist and a journalist, should be better known, since it is one of the most telling illustrations of how we got to today’s climate of fear. In 2013, when few in the mainstream media were even noticing, WhoWhatWhy sat up, took notice and published this remarkable and prescient account of one man’s battle against government overreach.
    Now that Brown is out of prison and once again speaking out — and doing regular podcasts for this site — we thought it was a good time to go back and take a look at our account of the nightmare that changed everything for him.
    As we mentioned previously, Brown felt the story below truly reflects his experience:
    “The piece published by WhoWhatWhy in 2013 was the first to provide a comprehensive explanation of what it was that my associates and I had uncovered to prompt one of the most bizarre and draconian criminal investigations in public memory. Four years later, that article remains the single most comprehensive summary of the private-public intelligence nexus that my Project PM organization documented. Well before The New York Times and its ilk came to understand what my case meant for the country as a whole, WhoWhatWhy had already told the story best.”
    – Introduction by WhoWhatWhy Staff

    Alleged “hacktivist” Barrett Brown, the 31-year old mislabeled “spokesman” for the shadowy hacker collective known as Anonymous, faces federal charges that could put him away for over a hundred years. Did he engage in a spree of murders? Run a child-sex ring? Not quite. His crime: making leaked emails accessible to the public — documents that shine a light on the shadowy world of intelligence contracting in the post-9/11 era.
    A critically acclaimed author and provocative journalist, Brown cannot be too easily dismissed as some unruly malcontent typing away in the back of a gritty espresso lounge. He is eccentric. And he was clearly high on something, if only his own hubris, when he made a threatening video that put him in the feds’ crosshairs. But that’s not the real reason for the government’s overreaction. Evidence indicates it has a lot more to do with sending a message to the community he comes from, which the government sees, correctly, as a threat.
    The Barrett Brown case is simply the latest in a string of prosecutions in which the government pursues anyone involved in making information “liberated” from governmental or corporate entities easily accessible to the public. Those targeted are not necessarily accused of the illegal entry itself (the “hack”) or violating contracts (as in the case of a “leak”). These are people performing a function analogous to that of a newspaper — yet they can face prison sentences longer than those prescribed for murderers, rapists, and terrorists.
    NSA
    whistleblower Thomas Drake

    The Obama administration’s assault on accountability is dual-pronged: attack the messenger (as in the case of Brown, WikiLeaks, even New York Times reporters) and attack the source (Bradley Manning, John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake, etc.). In fact, seven of those sources have been indicted as traitors under the 1917 Espionage Act during the Obama years alone — more than double the “espionage” charges against whistleblowers by all previous presidential administrations combined.
    The Espionage Act is a draconian relic from World War I designed to prevent infiltration by foreign agents, like those of the Kaiser’s Germany. It has a sordid history as an instrument against American dissenters who leak to the media, including Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, but has been used sparingly hitherto — until Barack Obama’s administration.
    The government’s position is that revealing this information to the media enables “enemies” to see it. Thus, whoever blows the whistle is “aiding the enemy.” But in these cases, the enemy is the American people.
    ***
    Brown, in federal custody since September 2012, has been jousting with the feds for quite some time.
    Round one of his travails began on March 6, 2012, when FBI agents raided his Dallas apartment, looking for evidence related to the 2011 hack of emails belonging to Stratfor — a private firm with substantial links to the American intelligence community. Brown sought refuge at his mother’s, but special agents arrived there as well, later in the evening. Although the feds found no incriminating evidence, they continued to harass Brown and his family, threatening to file obstruction of justice charges against Brown’s mother for hosting her son during the raid. This prompted Brown to record an ominous YouTube video threatening the special agent in charge of the investigation. He was arrested that evening and held for weeks without indictment, under the claim he was an imminent threat to the agent’s safety. In early October 2012, he was finally charged on a number of counts related to harassment of a federal officer.
    CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou

    In December of that year, while still in custody, he was indicted on an additional charge: “trafficking” in stolen material. Had he been shipping purloined goods across state lines? Hardly. His “trafficking,” according to the government, consisted of posting a link in a chat room.
    On January 23 of this year came the coup de grâce. Brown was hit with a third round of federal charges — this time for allegedly concealing evidence during that initial March 2012 raid on his apartment
    Officially unrelated to these charges is the real nut of the government’s dispute with Brown: his personal initiative known as ProjectPM.
    Barrett’s Baby
    ProjectPM is a crowd-sourced research effort with several aims. First, to study 75,000+ emails pilfered by Anonymous from military and intelligence contractor HBGary Federal, and its parent company HBGary. Second, to post these raw, primary-source documents to a website where readers can edit and contribute further information. Third, to use these documents to map out the relationships between private contractors and the federal government that form our current national security state.
    Brown’s work is a potential bonanza for journalists, as one of the few efforts to come to grips with the explosive growth of the private intelligence industry in the last decade.
    From February 2011 until Barrett’s arrest in September 2012, ProjectPM had publicly identified the following revelations within the hacked emails:
    – A conspiracy by lobbying and cybersecurity firms to engage in a disinformation and sabotage campaign against critics of the Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America.
    – An operational mass surveillance and data-mining program targeting the Arab world.
    – An unnamed project to utilize online “Persona Management with the intent of manipulating information or perception, conducting data mining, [and] infiltrating social organizations.”
    – The employment of American PR firms to discredit and sabotage dissidents from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.
    ***
    It isn’t hard to see the parallel with the case of free-information activist Aaron Swartz. On January 17, WhoWhatWhy wrote about the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, whose avid prosecution of Swartz preceded his suicide, and focused attention on federal tactics and objectives. At the time he took his life, Swartz was facing a potential sentence exceeding 50 years — for attempting to release scholarly articles to the public. We laid out a number of other non-hacker related instances of prosecutorial overreach by Ms. Ortiz. The article concluded that Swartz’s treatment wasn’t anomalous, but “a symptom of the entire disease” that underlies America’s singular status as the world’s jailer — of those who anger formidable interests, and those without friends in the right places. Brown’s case is even more egregious. As even the government itself concedes, ProjectPM comes under the definition of the legitimate practice of journalism. Brown simply harnessed information gathered from someone else’s “criminal” hack. Then he used it to expose the foul and potentially illegal activities of some of the world’s leading corporations — in partnership with secretive sectors of the government.”
    Brown punctured a wall of secrecy, constructed over the past decade, that shields the state from accountability to its citizens. For that, he is threatened with a century behind bars.
    His tale deserves to be told, not just because of the injustice involved. It also shows the awesome power of the Internet in adjusting the balance sheet between the big guys and the small ones. And the lengths the insiders will go to keep their advantage.
    Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
    In a YouTube “confession” on September 12, 2012, Barrett Brown begins by explaining why he is “angry at the FBI.” A wiry redhead, Brown speaks in a sonorous baritone with a hint of Southern twang. After nervously admitting that he has a “case of the giggles” and is a recovering heroin addict, he composes himself and chronicles the story of ProjectPM and his assorted run-ins with the FBI.
    Brown describes a March 2012 FBI raid on his residence in connection with alleged activities of the Internet hacker group Anonymous. With visible anger, he grouses that the criminal investigation now extends beyond him to an uninvolved member of his family.
    Having received a vague warning the day prior, Brown sought haven at his mother’s house while government agents raided his apartment. Once the FBI realized the laptop they were seeking was not at Brown’s flat, they headed to Ms. McCutchin’s place (Brown’s parents are divorced), confronted her son, and — according to Brown — asked if he had any laptops he “wanted to give them.” When he responded in the negative, they left in a huff, only to return later with another search warrant — this time confiscating the sought-after laptop. As the investigation continued over the next few months, the feds could find no evidence on that laptop or anywhere else that related to criminal activity. That’s when they initiated a charge of obstruction of justice against his mother.
    In his video, Brown lashed out, announcing unquestionably ominous sounding plans.
    “I know what’s legal, I know what’s been done to me… And if it’s legal when it’s done to me, it’s going to be legal when it’s done to FBI Agent Robert Smith — who is a criminal.”
    “That’s why [FBI special agent] Robert Smith’s life is over. And when I say his life is over, I’m not saying I’m going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids… How do you like them apples?”
    The FBI didn’t. Later that evening, special agents, interrupting a video-chat session he was having, took Brown away in handcuffs. He was held without charge for several weeks until the Justice Department unveiled the first of three indictments against him. Thus began his ordeal, and his time in custody, now approaching half a year. In the YouTube recording, Brown does not explicitly advocate violence against FBI Agent Smith, although his menacing fury does seem at the very least cause for investigation. But for purposes of comparison, it is worth noting that not long ago a Houston man received just 42 months for threatening to blow up FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. And a Pennsylvania man was recently sentenced to just a year and a half for threatening to kill an FBI agent. Aside from “threatening a federal officer,” the most serious charges against Brown were laid down in the second indictment, handed up by a grand jury in December 2012. These charges related to the Stratfor hack.
    The name Stratfor will be familiar to our readers. It has been in the news in the past. WhoWhatWhy recently produced an exclusive investigation with new revelations on General David Petraeus’s career-ending affair — based on documents obtained by the whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks from the same Stratfor email reserve to which Brown linked.
    Brown was never indicted for the infiltration, per se. Instead, he was charged with “trafficking” in stolen material and “access device fraud” — as mentioned, for posting, in a chat room, a link to the e-mail cache. Apparently, buried in the thousands of emails was the private credit card information of a number of Stratfor employees.

    It was not clear how Brown’s act was singular. That same link had been previously posted innumerable times across the Internet.
    All of this raises suspicions about some larger agenda in the government’s Javert-like pursuit of this young man. To understand that, we might well start by looking at how Brown came to be on the government’s radar in the first place.
    Click to next: 2/4

    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

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