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Glenn Greenwald: Meet the Journalist Rotting in Prison for Crossing the FBI

Prosecutorial abuse is becoming the preeminent weapon used by the US government to destroy online activism and journalism.

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A brief understanding of Brown's intrepid journalism is vital to understanding the travesty of his prosecution. I first heard of Brown when he wrote  a great 2010 essay in Vanity Fair defending the journalist Michael Hastings from attacks from fellow journalists over Hastings' profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone, which ended the general's career. Brown argued that establishment journalists hate Hastings because he has spent years challenging, rather than serving, political and military officials and the false conventional wisdom they spout.

In an excellent profile of Brown in the Guardian on Wednesday, Ryan Gallagher describes that "before he crossed paths with the FBI, Brown was a prolific writer who had contributed to publications including Vanity Fair, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and satirical news site the Onion." He also "had a short stint in politics as the director of communications for an atheist group called Enlighten the Vote, and he co-authored a well-received book mocking creationism, Flock of Dodos."

But the work central to his prosecution began in 2009, when Brown created Project PM, "dedicated to investigating private government contractors working in the secretive fields of cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance." Brown was then moved by the 2010 disclosures by WikiLeaks and the oppressive treatment of Bradley Manning to devote himself to online activism and transparency projects, including working with the hacktivist collective Anonymous. He has no hacking skills, but used his media savvy to help promote and defend the group, and was often referred to (incorrectly, he insists) as the Anonymous spokesman. He was particularly interested in using what Anonymous leaked for his journalism. As Brown told me several days ago in a telephone interview from the Texan prison where he is being held pending trial, he devoted almost all of his waking hours over the last several years to using these documents to dig into the secret relationships and projects between these intelligence firms and federal agencies.

The real problems for Brown began in 2011. In February, Anonymous hacked into the computer system of the private security firm HB Gary Federal and then posted thousands of emails containing incriminating and nefarious acts. Among them was a joint proposal by that firm - along with the very well-connected firms of Palantir and Berico - to try to persuade Bank of America and its law firm, Hunton & Williams, to hire them to destroy the reputations and careers of WikiLeaks supporters and, separately, critics of the Chamber of Commerce (as  this New York Times article on that episode details, I was named as one of the people whose career they would seek to destroy). HB Gary Federal's CEO Aaron Barr, who advocated the scheme,  was fired as a result of the disclosures, but continues to this day to play a significant role in this public-private axis of computer security and intelligence.

Brown became obsessed with journalistically investigating every strand exposed by these HB Gary Federal emails and devoted himself to relentlessly exposing this world. He did the same with the  2012 leak of millions of emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, obtained by Anonymous and published by WikiLeaks. As Gallagher describes about Brown's fixation on these documents:

"Hackers would sometimes obtain data and then pass it on to him. He would spend days and nights hunkered down in his small uptown Dallas apartment pouring through troves of hacked documents, writing  blog posts about US government intelligence contractors and their 'misplaced power' while working to garner wider media coverage. . . .

"Brown was frustrated that mainstream media outlets were not covering stories he felt deserved attention. He would complain that reporters would often approach him and ask about the personalities of some of the more prominent hackers . . . but ignore the deeper issues about governments and private contractors contained in documents that had been hacked."

 
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