How the Government Has Treated A Past Journalist It Connects with Espionage

As Edward Snowden is indicted (see Scott Shackford's report below), it's worth revisiting an interesting and detailed account from The Nation earlier this week about currently imprisoned journalist Barrett Brown.

Barrett BrownBarrett Brown

To simplify a pretty complicated story, Brown dumped the contents of an Anonymous-released dump of documents grabbed from Stratfor, a private intelligence/security company into a public wiki dedicated to investigative journalism he ran called ProjectPM, and began looking into a mysterious company called "Endgame Systems," an info-security firm with multi-million dollar yearly subscriptions services supposedly involving giving away info on how to exploit systems vulnerabilities in computers.

Then things got ugly for Barrett Brown.


The FBI acquired a warrant for Brown’s laptop, gaining the authority to seize any information related to HBGary, Endgame Systems, Anonymous, and, most ominously, “email, email contacts, ‘chat’, instant messaging logs, photographs, and correspondence.” In other words, the FBI wanted his sources.

When the FBI went to serve Brown he was at his mother’s house. Agents returned with a warrant to search his mother’s house, retrieving his laptop. To turn up the heat on Brown, the FBI initiated charges against his mother for obstruction of justice for concealing his laptop computer in her house. (Facing criminal charges, on March 22, 2013, his mother, Karen McCutchin, pled guilty to one count of obstructing the execution of a search warrant. She faces up to twelve months in jail. Brown maintains that she did not know the laptop was in her home.)

The going after his mom part made Brown freak out, and he made an ill-advised video in which he discussed his drug problems and threatened to turn the FBI's justice around on them. He said in the video:

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?”

Brown was suddenly a very bad man indeed to any media who might have been sympathetic, and since the Statfor dump included some credit card numbers, the FBI hit him with credit card fraud charges, and: 

Traffic in Stolen Authentication Features, Access Device Fraud, Aggravated Identity Theft, as well as an Obstruction of Justice charge (for being at his mother’s when the initial warrant was served) and charges stemming from his threats against the FBI agent. All told, Brown is looking at century of jail time: 105 years in federal prison if served sequentially. He has been denied bail.

Worth noting the guy who carried out the hack whose info Brown proliferatied is facing a max of 10 years.

As Glenn Greenwald remarked in the Guardian: “it is virtually impossible to conclude that the obscenely excessive prosecution he now faces is unrelated to that journalism and his related activism.”

And it isn't just the people who do the hacking or launch crowdsourced journalism into leaked/hacked data who have reason to fear:

In March, the DOJ served the domain hosting service CloudFlare with a subpoena for all records on the ProjectPM website, and in particular asked for the IP addresses of everyone who had accessed and contributed to ProjectPM, describing it as a "forum" through which Brown and others would "engage in, encourage, or facilitate the commission of criminal conduct online." The message was clear: Anyone else who looks into this matter does so at their grave peril.

And here we are.

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  • Warrren||

    Barrett Brown has nine toes on each foot!

  • ||

    Moral of the story: if the Feds want your scalp they will have it. We're all guilty of some crime or infraction if the Feds dig deep enough and they have plenty of ways of getting to it.

  • sloopyinca||

    Three Felonies A Day. (TM)

  • juris imprudent||

    Most transparent Administration in history.

    Yeah, I think their motives are pretty transparent.

  • PapayaSF||

    Thank heavens we don't have a Republican president, or the media would be in an uproar and the streets would be clogged with demonstrators.

  • sloopyinca||

    Dunphy (the real one)| 6.21.13 @ 4:39PM |#|–|filternamelinkcustom

    Sloopy, I'll just say this. The more you attack me, as a cop for alleged dishonesty, etc. the more it reinforces my pride as a scrupulously honest and ethical public servant with 20+ yrs of saving lives, serving the public, RESPECTING the public (as opposed to the reasonoids who claim 90% of the public are idiots), and putting my life on the line for them. I've seen 1/2 dozen friends take bullets in the same service and nothing you can say can diminish my fierce pride in what I do. It matters. We make a difference. You don't. You are just some troll who engages in keyboard warriorship and then goes back to his safe life. We'll continue to be on the front lines protecting you, despite your distaste for us.

    -every Law Enforcement Officer ever

  • Brandon||

    Did Dunphy really say that? Since cops getting shot always make the news, I assume he can document this "half dozen friends" who have been shot in the line of duty?

  • sloopyinca||

    Feast your eyes on this.

    Fucker thinks he and his ilk are heroes that are marched into battle like the defenders of Stalingrad. I guess he missed the court cases they've used to say they don't even have to answer a call if they think it will put themselves in any danger.

    What a fucking turd.

  • Paul.||

    Accidental glock discharges not withstanding?

  • Rrabbit||

    Presumably, Dunphy just omitted how many of these bullets were from friendly fire.

  • Dweebston||

    This is the manifesto of a man afflicted by cognitive dissonance. This is what it sounds like to realize you're wrong but not why.

  • Not Sure||

  • ||

    The government really doesn't want the people to know what it's doing, does it.

    That's certainly reassuring.

  • Paul.||

    The going after his mom part made Brown freak out, and he mad an ill-advised video in which he discussed his drug problems and threatened to turn the FBI's justice around on them.


    The internet generation. Let me guess, then he confessed to everything on facebook to his 'friends list'.

  • Paul.||

    “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?”

    *head in hands*

  • sloopyinca||

    *head in hands*

    I agree, but until he acts on those words, he's just exercising his First Amendment Rights as far as I'm concerned.

  • Paul.||

    You may think that, and I may even think that... although it's hovering on the edge...

    But when the feds have made it their mission to jam you, it's best that you speak through your lawyer, and avoid references to the children of the agents investigating you.

    It's just friendly advice. I'm not going to make a federal case out of it or anything.

  • sloopyinca||

    Agree with everything. I just hate thoughtcrime bullshit like this.

  • sloopyinca||

    Addendum: he should have used the Obama passive voice and he would have been fine:

    "There are some who would say [FBI special agent] Robert Smith’s life is over. And when they say his life is over, they're not saying they're going to kill him, but that they are going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids… How do you like them apples?”

  • Paul.||

    *golf clap*

  • ||

    Don't you mean slow clap? Golf clap is sarcastic.

  • Sevo||

    Naah, not golf clap. Not standing O, either, but damn nice.
    'Mistakes were made...'

  • juris imprudent||

    'Mistakes were made...'

    But procedures were followed.

    And one day we may even find a patsy to hold accountable.

  • crashland||

    What he said was certainly ill advised BUT they went after his mother. Why is it fine for the FBI fuckwads but not joe citizen?

    His mistake was saying it. He should have simply done it. Fuck the agents family. Fuck the agent. They went after his mother to pile on the pressure. This is bullshit and should be out of bounds. It will only ever be out of bounds when people like Special agent Robert Smith pay some sort of substantial penalty for taking such action. Perhaps Special agent Robert Smith has a few skeletons hidden away in his closet. Perhaps Special Agent Robert Smith is in the closet. Who knows what dirty secrets are known about Special Agent Robert Smith? Smith's actions helped the FBI break Brown's balls, so I'm sure the criminals running the FBI are thrilled.

    Since family is fair game, it would be rather cool to see a mass amount of digging into the family members of those profiting from the surveillance/police state and to make those family members miserably unhappy.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    He said the agent's "life was over". Yes, he tried to walk that back somewhat in the subsequent sentences, but that's a bell that can't be unrung. Looks to me like a guy who's too clever for his own good.

    And yes, I understand that he was pissed, but if we absolve anyone who commits a victimful crime (such as death threats, according to most libertarians) because they were angry, that's not going to work.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Jesus sloopy, you've really gone off the rails the past couple of months.

    Death threats are First Amendment rights? Really? It pains me to see people self-marginalize.

  • Paul.||

    ProjectPM website, and in particular asked for the IP addresses of everyone who had accessed and contributed to ProjectPM, describing it as a "forum" through which Brown and others would "engage in, encourage, or facilitate the commission of criminal conduct online."

    It has been found that your eating establishment has been visited by a known criminal. Therefore we demand to know the names, addresses and credit card numbers of everyone who ate there. The government considers your establishment a forum to engage in, encourage, or facilitate the commission of criminal conduct.

  • Homple||

    Career saving tip: limit your in-depth journalistic investigations to the Koch Brothers, the tea party, and conservative Republicans.

  • Paul.||

    I remember back in the 90s, when the very concept of journalistic bias was beginning to be seriously explored, Terri Gross of NPR a journalist guest she had on her show about whether or not bias in the press existed.

    HIs actual answer (somewhat paraphrased):

    "I think the problem is, conservatives hold all the power in this country, and the very point of journalism is to get at the truth and question power. So it's understandable that conservatives would feel as if they're under assault from the media. I think the idea of bias in the media is to laugh."

    I nearly drove off the road.

  • sloopyinca||

    Jesus Christ. Godwinning a thread like that? I haven't seen that in a while.*

    *A while being when I did it a couple of hours ago.

  • cavalier973||

    Which thread? What did you say?

  • Paul.||

    And re-reading my comment, I wince when I read 'actual answer (somewhat paraphrased)'. Which is it young feller? Ifn't it's his actual answer, why'n you paraphrasin'?

    Yeah... What I'm trying to say is the important stuff is nearly verbatim. Conservatives holding power, truth and questioning power, and I do believe that his last sentence said that the idea of there being bias 'is to laugh'.

    If I had the energy, I'd find the clip and post it, because if my memory serves me, I've been pretty faithful to his quote.

    It just stunned me that he was able to show profound media bias and deny bias in one verbal passage. Skill like that is rare.

  • Paul.||

    Damnit, I tried googling it, but instead found this which is a more fun off-topic link:

    NPR finds Sorkin's Newsroom show smug:

    ....Like many of us, Sorkin is driven crazy by what's going in our stridently divided culture, yet he's not quite sure what to do about it. And so, rather like a fly caught in a bottle, he buzzes around and around, touching on lots of things, sometimes quite intelligently, but never escaping outside to get a bigger picture.

    Trapped inside the bottle, he's created a show that replicates much of what it thinks it's opposing. It's partisan. It's sermonizing. And it's terrified that if it's too brainy or complex, the audience won't find it entertaining. The Newsroom may think it's grappling with the crisis in American culture, but in the end it's just another symptom.

    Read more:


  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Career saving tip: limit your in-depth journalistic investigations to the Koch Brothers, the tea party, and conservative Republicans.

    It would also help to avoid making death threats and make sure the documents you publish don't include other people's credit card numbers.

  • ||

    Completely OT, but something less depressing:

    Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie fucking hate each other.

    Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch fucking hate each other. Put them in the same air space and you’re likely to hear them discuss their persisting feelings of blind rage for each other. Without even a trace of a smile, Gillespie, dressed head to toe in his signature black frock, explains the dynamic between the two. “We have a tight relationship that usually ends in physical violence,” he says.

    Welch, who is editor-in-chief of the magazine, casts a weary glance in Gillespie’s direction: “He’s from New Jersey.”

  • Brandon||

    Goddammit, that story has worse alt-text than Gillespie's pieces.

  • SIV||

    Things cosmotarians eat

    The writer does not say if the victuals were procured from a truck-based vendor.

  • ||

    It’s here in the fishbowl where we bump into Matthew Feeney, a British (we think) accented assistant editor. He grew up in England, but his parents are from Scotland and New Zealand so his accent is all fucked up.

  • juris imprudent||

    Where Politics and DC Media Mesh

    I say take off and nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

  • Paul.||

    “He’s from New Jersey.”

    I thought Gillespie was from Ohio... So, if he's from New Jersey, why does he have that odd Cincinnati accent?

  • Hyperion||

    Think we posted at almost exactly the same time, but, yeah, no way he grew up in Jersey. The accent is like fucking fingernails on a chalkboard x infinity. Maybe he means, he lived there recently?

  • ||

    According to Gillespie he grew up in New Jersey:

    I grew up in Monmouth County, New Jersey, which contains both Springsteen's hometown (Freehold) and his early haunt (Asbury Park), so I can't stand him in the same way that only a New Yorker can really, really hate the Yankees.
  • ||

    There is Jersey in Nick's accent. Not everyone from New Jersey sounds like the people on Jersey Shore, who are actually almost all from Staten Island.

  • Paul.||

    I demand Gillespie answer for his Cincinnati accent. I suspect shenanigans. You think all those 'how to save Cleveland' videos are a coincidence?

    I refuse to look at his Wiki page. He must answer... personally.

    And if he doesn't answer our questions, immediate termination.

  • ||

    You West Coast dopes can't distinguish one Northeast accent from another, don't be foolish, Paul. Ohio isn't really Northeast but you get my point. I bet you can't even distinguish a Connecticut accent from a Rhode Island one!

  • Paul.||

    I'm actually a bit of an armchair expert on accents (although I suspect I'm heading for embarrassment on Gillespie's). I have a strong ear for language pronunciation and even do a wide array of voices and accents and characters.

    My mother was English but raised in Prague, so I can even tell what part of London you're from or what Adidas Tracksuit-wearing portion of Eastern Europe you're from.

    And yes, Ohio is the midwest, but to people west of the Mississippi, it's sometimes referred to as "The East".

    I picked up the Southern Ohio affectations when visiting there during the years my sister lived in Ft. Thomas, KY, essentially a suburb of Cinci.

    Shorter: I have picked up your glove sir... shall it be slapfighting at dawn?

  • ||

    (whacks Paul in the face with other glove)

    He's probably picked up a little Ohio from living there and having his kids grow up there, but it's solidly Jersey at the core. Again, anyone who thinks everyone in New Jersey sounds like Jersey Shore has no idea what they're talking about. Gillespe actually sounds a lot like my uncle, who has lived in Bergen County his entire life.

  • Sevo||

    ..."I picked up the Southern Ohio affectations"...
    I can hear dear ol' Mom pronouncing "red" as if it had two syllables; "reyid".

  • Paul.||

    You West Coast dopes

    I'm from the Southwest, Texas/Mexico Border, by the way. I'm a West Coast Transplant. So nyeah nyeah.

  • sloopyinca||

    Paul, you can listen to Henry Fucking Higgins up here or just ask them what they'd like to drink. If they say soda pop they're from New Jersey. If they're drinking a Barq's Red Creme Soda then they're from Ohio regardless of what they call it.

    Mmmm....Barq's Red Creme. can a reasonoid from Ohio get a FedEx package to a brother?

  • ||

    Am I a clown to you, Ken? Do I amuse you?

  • Marginal||

    No one in New Jersey says "soda pop." No one.

  • sloopyinca||

    I grew up spending summers with a pair of kids from Edison. They said soda pop.

  • SIV||

    I bet you can't even distinguish a Connecticut accent from a Rhode Island one!

    Neither can linguists.

  • ||

    That was the joke.

  • Hyperion||

    Gillespie is from Joisey? He doesn't have that shittiest on earth accent. I don't believe it.

  • Marginal||

    No one in New Jersey says "Joisey." No one.

  • Sevo||

    OT, but we all know that weather isn't climate, right? Well:
    "Why NASA’s latest photo of Alaska is freaking people out"
    "On most days, relentless rivers of clouds [...] That was certainly not the case on June 17, 2013, the date that the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite acquired this rare, nearly cloud-free view of the state."
    Unless, of course, the weather is climate for the catastrophists.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Trust no one.

  • cavalier973||

    I'm not sure whether I should take your advice or not...

  • juris imprudent||

    It's the Stanley Cup - not having a team from up north in it, not even one from a city he would never set foot in.

  • Kevin M. Gallagher||

    By the way, Barrett Brown needs a lot of financial assistance right now. Please donate to his legal defense if you can:

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    The vast majority of the 105 year sentence is for publishing other people's credit card numbers and threatening the agent. Both of which the guy unambiguously did but you can count on Reason to gloss over anything that doesn't support their narrative. I guess we should be glad Doherty at least included those facts in the article, unlike Tucille who just pretends they don't exist.


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