100 Years Worth of Federal Prison Charges for Alleged 'Hactivist'?
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This tactic of “sockpuppeting” is hardly new. PR firms are known to routinely employ fake personas to sell products or influence viewers in online forums. But the latest software developments here are astounding, allowing for a single operator to control up to fifty online personas (at least in the case of the United States Air Force’s [USAF] contract for the technology). As detailed in this 2007 patent, communications between the persona and its human targets can be regulated by software-based filters that assist in “maintaining situational integrity”—the puppeteer need not even move his fingers!
And these initiatives appear to be just the tip of the iceberg. Other evidence points to American PR firms using digital sabotage techniques against dissidents from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, whose U.S.-friendly monarchies happened to be their clients.
Through ProjectPM, Brown was starting to map out the web of links and business arrangements among all these private cybersecurity contractors, not to mention the non-stop revolving door for key personnel between firms and the government for which they contract. But all that spadework ended when FBI agents stormed his residence on September 12, 2012.
The Mission, Not The Man
Perhaps the greatest irony in this case is the charge against Barrett Brown for “concealing evidence.” As his saga demonstrates, his real crime seems to have been revealing evidence.
Brown has been a point man in the ongoing effort to inform the American people about the consequences of the massive growth in the intelligence and military-industrial complexes since 9/11—and of the “secret government” at the heart of our weakened democracy.
Brown comprehended that the few avenues available to ordinary citizens for holding state actors accountable can be easily circumvented through a kind of deceptive privatization. He understood the importance of highlighting the inherently corrupt relationship between the state and the corporation. This included non-state entities handling dirty “official” business on a deniable basis, and the state serving as an enforcement arm for big capital.
With much ado in recent days about Chinese cyber espionage, the government is using this new “Yellow Peril” as an opportunity to mount a full court press against the ability of any group to maneuver on the Internet in ways that might threaten corporate and state interests. The White House just announced a new administration-wide strategy to identify and prevent the theft of trade secrets, labeling WikiLeaks, LulzSec, and associated “hacktivist” groups as dangerous in this regard.
“Disgruntled insiders [may leak] information about corporate trade secrets or critical U.S. technology to ‘hacktivist’ groups,” the document warns. The language is instructive; it makes no distinction between groups that may be receiving such leaked information to sell to the highest bidder — and groups that want to release the information to the American people in order to blow the whistle on ‘insider’ waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality.
Brown, and those close to him, also understand what the government was truly after when they stumbled into his life in March of 2012. The charges against Brown for harassing a government official, obstructing justice and concealing evidence may seem unrelated to his journalistic work, but the initial search warrant issued for his home on March 6, 2012, cast an ominously wide net. “The entities listed [there] are all things ProjectPM was looking into,” Gallagher confirms. “ProjectPM is [now] mostly defunct without [him].”
Citing the extraordinary charges and the zeal with which the feds are operating, Brown’s supporters have set up a website to collect donations and fund a proper legal defense for him. With Brown in custody, much of his work has stalled. “[ProjectPM] was Barrett’s baby,” Lauren Pespisa laments. Although other websites such as Telecomix’ Blue Cabinet Wiki are attempting to pick up and expand on ProjectPM’s work, “that IRC has been suffering massive DDoS [attacks] and is very quiet. I fear ProjectPM may have been something special, I haven’t seen anything replace it yet.”