I mean Texans and indictments…it’s like a Texas Bar Mitzvah. My dad was indicted, you know, I have friends that have been indicted, have gone to prison…it happens.
– Barret Brown during an RT Interview, a year before being raided by the FBI and subsequently incarcerated.
Barrett Brown is one of those figures that immediately captured my attention after first learning about him while watching the Anonymous documentary We are Legion. I soon realized that he had been incarcerated a mere three months prior to me serendipitously stumbling upon the film. It wasn’t difficult to see that he must have been onto something very, very big for the Feds to go after him so aggressively. You don’t charge a person with 105 years in prison merely as revenge for a youtube video in which you threaten an FBI agent. No, there was something much deeper going on here.
It was only after the Edward Snowden revelations that I realized exactly what was going on. As we all know by now, Snowden’s last employer was technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. As soon as I read that, I remembered that the first person to bring Booz Allen to my attention as a nefarious corporate entity was none other than Barrett Brown. Barrett was focused, indeed obsessed, with the shady and dangerous relationship between defense/intelligence contractors and the U.S. government. He was getting too close to unearthing things that some of the most powerful people in the world didn’t want to see the light of day, and so he was silenced and put in a cage. Just as tyrants have always historically done to those who are smarter and more courageous and capable than they could ever be.
Anyone that looks at the Barrett Brown case with an unbiased eye will soon realize that the government is engaged in a political witch-hunt, much like what happened to internet prodigy Aaron Swartz. The case is so preposterous that Barrett was beginning to garner considerable media attention. One example of the absurdity of his case was recently highlighted by Vice in an article that points out:
Keep in mind, Barrett is facing a 45-year sentence under one indictment that alleges he shared a link to illegally obtained, hacked information. In contrast, the individual actually found guilty of hacking the data is serving a sentence of ten years.
The government of course doesn’t want people to know about this sort of thing, and so the prosecution recently requested a gag order from Texas district court judge Sam Lindsay. Sadly, last week this request was granted (check out the gag order itself here). Kevin Gosztola of Firedog Lake summarized the dangers of this gag order better than I ever could. He writes:
As the Free Barrett Brown group highlights on its website, at stake is the right to link, because one of the offenses stems from Brown’s decision to share a link to something released online from the Stratfor emails. It also implicates the First Amendment, as Brown is charged with concealing information related to journalistic sources and his own work products. It also raises issues of press freedom and selective prosecution, since it appears that in the three indictments handed down against Brown the government is targeting him for daring to expose the operations of private security and intelligence companies.
The gag order was not pursued to protect the interests of the accused. It was pursued to limit the flow of information to the press because the government has known from the beginning that what they were doing looked like vindictive or selective prosecution.
Gagging Brown and his defense team has the effect of preventing those participating in the trial from speaking to the press about the trial until after the trial has concluded. Once the trial is over, the press may have little interest in what Brown or his lawyers have to say. This means the public is deprived of the opportunity to challenge the government’s handling of the trial when it most matters, especially if the handling is abusive and in violation of Brown’s rights.
Additionally, the Freedom of the Press Foundation released the following statement to VICE:
It’s ironic and disturbing that in a case where press freedom is at stake, the defendant and his lawyers have been barred from talking to the press. The prosecution asked for a gag order in part because they said articles about Brown’s case contained inaccuracies, but pointed to no articles to prove their point. Seemingly, the problem was the articles were too accurate, and therefore making the prosecution’s case look bad. The fact remains, Brown is being prosecuted for conduct that is central to journalism, and the charges related to linking should be thrown out immediately.
With all that in mind, I provide some excerpts below from the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, which profiles Barrett. The article is certainly not a one-sided celebration of him, and in fact I question the author’s undue focus on his drug abuse, considering substance abuse is one of the most common traits exhibited by almost every great writer that has ever lived. In any event, the story will hopefully get Barrett’s case more public attention in the face of this absurd gag order. From Rolling Stone:
Encountering Barrett Brown’s story in passing, it is tempting to group him with other Anonymous associates who have popped up in the news for cutting pleas and changing sides. Brown’s case, however, is a thing apart. Although he knew some of those involved in high-profile “hacktivism,” he is no hacker. His situation is closer to the runaway prosecution that destroyed Aaron Swartz, the programmer-activist who committed suicide in the face of criminal charges similar to those now being leveled at Brown. But unlike Swartz, who illegally downloaded a large cache of academic articles, Brown never broke into a server; he never even leaked a document. His primary laptop, sought in two armed FBI raids, was a miniature Sony netbook that he used for legal communication, research and an obscene amount of video-game playing. The most serious charges against him relate not to hacking or theft, but to copying and pasting a link to data that had been hacked and released by others.
“What is most concerning about Barrett’s case is the disconnect between his conduct and the charged crime,” says Ghappour. “He copy-pasted a publicly available link containing publicly available data that he was researching in his capacity as a journalist. The charges require twisting the relevant statutes beyond recognition and have serious implications for journalists as well as academics. Who’s allowed to look at document dumps?”
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