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Barrett Brown is a writer and founder of the intelligence contracting industry wiki Project PM. Brown has often been treated as a spokesperson for the ad-hoc group of Internet known as Anonymous by several news media outlets.
In April 2000, Brown began writing for America Online’s features department, where he remained employed for the next four years. In April 2007, he began writing freelance for the satirical news publication The Onion. In August of 2009, he began contributing articles to the news site True/Slant and The Huffington Post.
Affiliation with Anonymous
In early 2010, Anonymous launched a massive DDoS attack against several Australian government websites to protest the proposed regulations and censorship laws on the web. On February 11th, Brown wrote a column titled “Anonymous, Australia, and the Inevitable Fall of the Nation-State” for The Huffington Post and Slate, which highlighted the group’s efforts against web censorship proposals in Australia. On March 25th, 2010, an article by Brown was published on The Huffington Post, which reported that the United States government was planning to destroy the online leak publication site WikiLeaks. On March 4th, 2011, Brown was quoted in an article on The Tech Herald about Anonymous defense of Bradley Manning, in which he was referred to as “a self-styled spokesperson for Anonymous.” On March 23rd, D Magazine published an article titled “Barrett Brown is Anonymous,” which described Brown as a ex-heroin addict and former Internet troll who had become passionate about hacktivism.
On October 6th, 2011, YouTuber MrAnonymousguyfawkes uploaded a video to YouTube (shown below, left) featuring a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask ordering the Mexico-based International drug cartel The Zetas to release a member of Anonymous that had been taken captive during a street protest in Vera Cruz. The man in the video threatened to expose the personally identifiable information of individuals linked to the cartel if their captive was not set free, which was soon given the codename Operation Cartel (shown below). On November 2nd, Brown uploaded a video to his YouTube channel to confirm that the operation was still in motion despite and elaborate on the details of the operation (shown below, right).
On November 3rd, Gawker published an article by staff writer Adrian Chen, which referred to Brown as "Anonymous’ informal spokesman. The article went on to quote Brown who claimed hackers had compiled a list of 75 collaborators with the Zetas, which were planned for release as payback for the kidnapping of an Anonymous member in Veracruz. The following day, D Magazine reported that Operation Cartel had been halted by Anonymous after the Zetas threatened to kill 10 people for each outed collaborator.
Arrest and Trial
On March 6th, 2012, Brown announced via Twitter that his apartment had been raided by the FBI following the LulzSec founder Xavier Monsegur (a.k.a. Sabu) was pressured into giving up information about Anonymous members.
My apartment was raided this morning by the FBI. Feds also came to another residence where I actually was. Sabu is a traitor. #Anonymous— Barrett Brown (@BarrettBrownLOL) March 6, 2012
On September 12th, Brown uploaded a video to YouTube in which he threatens to destroy FBI agent for harassing his mother (shown below, left). The same day, YouTuber raincoaster uploaded a video featuring a Tinychat video session in which Brown can be heard being arrested in the background (shown below, right). On September 13th, The Huffington Post reported Brown was arrested for threatening an FBI agent.
On January 30th, 2013, the Dallas Observer reported that Brown was being charged with concealing evidence, threatening an FBI agent and disseminating information, for which he could face up to 100 years in prison. On the following day, Vice published an article about Brown’s indictments, noting that the concealing evidence charge was linked to Brown pasting a link to a document containing stolen credit card numbers into an IRC chat room.
In early August 2013, US Attorney Candina Health moved to have Brown’s legal team restricted from press and social media access during his upcoming case, avoiding “trying the case in the media.” On September 4th, 2013, despite an argument from Brown’s lawyers, a federal court issued a gag order against Brown and his attorneys, disallowing them from speaking to any media outlets. The order (shown below) states that Brown and his team are only allowed to speak about information that is already in the public record without elaborating on them, however they are allowed to speak about topics unrelating to the charges.
On September 4th and 5th, Several news blogs covered the gag order, including The Guardian, The Daily Caller, Fire Dog Lake, The Daily Dot and Salon. Motherboard spoke with the director of FreeBarrettBrown.org, Kevin Gallagher, who saw the gag order as an example of the Streisand Effect, as Brown had previously agreed not to write about his legal issues. Instead, the order simply draws more attention to the case. His trial is expected to begin in October, more than a year after he was first arrested. The gag order remained in effect until April 23rd, 2014, when the court issued an order to lift the ban and unseal a series of documents closely detailing Brown’s affiliation with Anonymous.
Dismissal of Charges
On January 31st, 2014, Brown’s attorneys filed a motion asking the court to dismiss one of the three indictments against him.
On February 14th, the U.S. court rejected the request, ruling that Brown’s “past association with Anonymous is crucial to understanding the significance of his threatening comments and conduct." The defense then appealed the verdict arguing that Brown’s affiliation with Anonymous had no relevancy to his indictment and that the government was implying guilt by association.
“As such, the government fails to show a reasonable basis upon which a juror could find that ‘Anonymous’ was a violent group or partook in violent activities.”
On March 5th, Brown’s defense filed a second motion to dismiss the charges, this time arguing they were vague and violated their client’s constitutional rights, specifically those associated with Brown’s posting of a hyperlink in a chatroom.
On March 6th, United States prosecutors announced they had dropped eleven charges against Brown, including the charge for posting a hyperlink to a website containing hacked email addresses and credit card information. Brown continues to face several remaining charges for obstruction of justice and alleged threats against an FBI agent.
On April 30th, 2014, Barrett Brown pleaded guilty to the remaining three federal charges: 1) obstructing the execution of a search warrant; 2) threatening to shoot and injure federal agents; 3) being an accessory to an unauthorized access of a protected computer.
On January 23rd, 2015, a federal judge in Dallas, Texas sentenced Brown to five years and three months in prison and a fine of $890,000 in restitution for damages incurred as a result of his involvement in the hack of private intelligence firm Stratfor in 2011. Immediately after the sentencing, Brown released a statement to the press sarcastically welcoming the court’s ruling and thanking the U.S. government for sponsoring his next investigation of life in prison.
“Good news! -- The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex. For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose [wrongdoing] by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system. I want to thank the Department of Justice for having put so much time and energy into advocating on my behalf; rather than holding a grudge against me for the two years of work I put into in bringing attention to a DOJ-linked campaign to harass and discredit journalists like Glenn Greenwald, the agency instead labored tirelessly to ensure that I received this very prestigious assignment. -- Wish me luck!”
Discounting more than two years of the prison term Brown had already served, the activist journalist could serve up to an additional three years, although it has been reported that he would be eligible for supervised release after serving one year.
In 2010, it was widely reported in the news media that Barrett Brown served more or less as a spokesperson for Anonymous, however, by May 2011, Brown had reportedly renounced his affiliation with the group. Since Barrett’s arrest in September 2012, several civil liberties groups and digital rights activists have declared their support for the imprisoned journalist and the Free Barrett Brown campaign, including WikiLeaks, Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Demand Progress, Fight For The Future and Free Press, among others.
Portrayal in House of Cards
In the second season of Netflix political drama series House of Cards, Barrett Brown is mentioned several times by the character Gavin Orsay, a hacker-turned-informant portrayed by Jimmie Simpsons who demands the FBI to drop all charges against Brown and release him from prison while negotiating his terms of cooperation with the federal authorities.
The Huffington Post – CIA State Department Apparently Acting on Plan to Destroy Wikileaks
The Daily Caller – Imprisoned journalist Barrett Brown slapped with gag order
The Daily Dot – Barrett Brown silenced from speaking about his trial
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