100 Years Worth of Federal Prison Charges for Alleged 'Hactivist'?
Continued from previous page
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.
ProjectPM is a crowd-sourced research effort with several aims. First, to study 75,000+ e-mails 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 e-mails:
- 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.