Barrett Brown Gets 63 Months in Jail, Nearly a Million Fine

'Anonymous'-linked journalist convicted for issues arising from an FBI investigation into non-crimes.


Journalist Barrett Brown, after already serving 31 months in jail, was today sentenced to 63 months total, and a $890,000 fine, which of course no normal human could ever pay off. The Guardian reports on the background:

In September 2012, Brown was arrested by the FBI for allegedly threatening a federal agent in a video posted to YouTube [after the FBI had raided his home and searched his computers, for reasons detailed below]. In October 2012, after being held for two weeks without charge, he was indicted on charges of making an online threat, retaliating against a federal officer and conspiring to release personal information about a government employee.

Two months later, he was indicted on 12 further charges related to the hacking of private intelligence contractor Stratfor in 2011.

Jeremy Hammond, the hacker who actually carried out the Stratfor breach, was sentenced to the maximum possible 10 years. Writing for the Guardian from prison in December, Hammond bemoaned that Brown "continues to await his sentencing for merely linking to hacked material".

Brown, who was accused of sharing a link to the data Hammond obtained from the breach (as well as several further indictments related to withholding or hiding evidence and obstructing the FBI), at one point faced a possible sentence of 105 years.

He will reportedly be eligible for supervised release after one year, and once released will have his computer equipment monitored. The $890,250 in restitution payments will go to Stratfor and other companies targeted by Anonymous. He will pay $225 in fines….

I blogged about Brown's case back in June 2013. Excerpts:

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.

The FBI got a warrant for his laptop, raided his mother's house, and later tried to subpoena data on everyone who had accessed Brown's journalism site Project PM. An angry Brown released an ill-advised video threatening harrassment of an FBI agent and his family, and the arrest and indictment followed.

Scott Shackford wrote in March about the feds dropping many of the charges against Brown while he still languished behind bars, including the ones for essentially hyperlinking to hacked documents. (Many links on the charge-dropping.)

Shackford notes something interesting about the charges that remained, for which Brown was sentenced today after pleading guilty to three of them: "of the charges that remain, all but one are an outcome of the FBI targeting him for something they now acknowledge is not a criminal act." That is, they can come after you for no particular good reason and if you don't cooperate to their satisfaction, you are a criminal, and if they drive you to say publicly you might want revenge for them wronging you, you are again a criminal.

Brown made an interesting statement before being sentenced, in which he expressed both some regret and some defiance. He said he regretted threatening an FBI agent on tape, and trying to hide some laptops from them.

But he went on to excoriate the government's case and how they pursued it. Excerpts:

…..there is also the matter of the dozens of people around the world who have contributed to my distributed think tank, Project PM, by writing for our public website, echelon2.org. Incredibly, the government has declared these contributors — some of them journalists — to be criminals, and participants in a criminal conspiracy. As such, the government sought from this court a subpoena by which to obtain the identities of all of our contributors. Your Honor denied that motion and I am very grateful to Your Honor for having done so. Unfortunately the government thereafter went around Your Honor and sought to obtain these records by other means. So now the dozens of people who have given their time and expertise to what has been hailed by journalists and advocacy groups as a crucial journalistic enterprise are now at risk of being indicted under the same sort of spurious charges that I was facing not long ago, when the government exposed me to decades of prison time for copying and pasting a link to a publicly available file that other journalists were also linking to without being prosecuted….

Brown also accused agents of lying in the service of keeping him in jail:

At the September 13th bond hearing, held in Magistrate Judge Stickney's court the day after my arrest, Special Agent Allyn Lynd took the stand and claimed under oath that in reviewing my laptops he had found discussions in which I admit having engaged in, quote, "SWATting", unquote, which he referred to as, quote, "violent activity", unquote. Your Honor may not be familiar with the term SWATting; as Mr. Lynd described it at the hearing it is, quote, "where they try to place a false 911 call to the residence of an individual in order to endanger that individual." He went on at elaborate length about this, presenting it as a key reason why I should not receive bond. Your Honor will have noted that this has never come up again. This is because Mr. Lynd's claims were entirely untrue…..

In what Brown thinks is a particularly bizarre and dangerous move:

…..in response to our motion to dismiss the charges of obstruction of justice based on the hiding of my laptops, the government claimed that those laptops contained evidence of a plot I orchestrated to attack the Kingdom of Bahrain on the orders of Amber Lyon. Your Honor, Amber Lyon is a journalist and former CNN reporter, who I do know and respect, but I can assure Your Honor that I am not in the habit of attacking Gulf state monarchies on her behalf. But I think it's unjust of them to use this court to throw out that sort of claim about Miss Lyon in a public filing as they did if they're not prepared to back it up. And they're not prepared to back it up. But that won't stop the Kingdom of Bahrain from repeating this groundless assertion and perhaps even using it to keep Miss Lyon out of the country — because she has indeed reported on the Bahraini monarchy's violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in that country, and she has done so from that country. And if she ever returns to that country to continue that important work, she'll now be subject to arrest on the grounds that the United States Department of Justice itself has explicitly accused her of orchestrating an attack on that country's government.

Brown notes that the government's power to decide who is and isn't a journalist is inherently subject to abuse, and mocks their shifting standards for when to credit someone's denial of being something, making much of the fact that he once expressed contempt for the profession and denied being a journalist, he said in the same colloquial sense a politician might deny being a politician.

In the September 13th criminal complaint filed against me, the FBI itself acknowledges that I do not claim any official role within Anonymous. Likewise, in last month's hearing, the prosecutor accidentally slipped and referred to me as a journalist, even after having previously found it necessary to deny me that title. But, there you have it. Deny being a spokesperson for Anonymous hundreds of times, and you're still a spokesperson for Anonymous. Deny being a journalist once or twice, and you're not a journalist. What conclusion can one draw from this sort of reasoning other than that you are whatever the FBI finds it convenient for you to be at any given moment. This is not the "rule of law", Your Honor, it is the "rule of law enforcement", and it is very dangerous.

A Reason TV interview from last April with Kevin Gallagher of the group Free Barrett Brown: