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.
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.