Jan 25, 2015
In a journalistic cooling decision, a federal judge in Texas dealt the first amendment a chilling blow. Barrett Brown, a satirist writer and loosely tied to computer hacking group Anonymous, received a 63-month prison sentence for threatening a federal agent on YouTube and interfering with a federal investigation related to a 2011 computer hack of Stratfor, a government intelligence contractor.
In addition, the judge ordered Brown to pay $890,000 in restitution a figure that can ruin him financially as the 12 percent interest rate is compounded.
Discussing Brown’s case with Wired, Defense Attorney Ahmed Ghappour explained that “the government tried to posit that there was a vast conspiracy by Anonymous to exfiltrate all this data from various security companies and that Barrett was somehow part of this giant RICO conspiracy, calling it a ‘very wily move on the government’s part.’”
The government’s heavy handedness included pretrial confinement (no bail), an unusually strict gag order and a litany of charges that the prosecution later dropped.
Brown’s legal defense fund Director, Kevin Gallagher said, “My friend Barrett is more than ready to receive his sentence. Every journalist in the world should be paying attention to what happens here, because it affects them directly. We’re hoping that he receives time served. But as I’ve said, he will continue to do what he does best, regardless of what happens.”
So what does this sentence mean for national security reporters?
According to a Free Barrett Brown release, “the Department of Justice absurdly maintained Brown knew that a link he copy & pasted contained stolen credit card numbers, despite the fact that he asked ‘What exactly is in that download?’ After copying it, despite the fact that he was only interested in Stratfor’s e-mails… Moreover, Brown had criticized hackers for leaking personal information, he never even opened the file, and the DOJ is unable to prove that his sharing of the link was the cause of any specific fraud.”
On Thursday Brown read his Allocution/sentencing statement to the judge where he offered a glimpse into some of the accusations against him. “Journalists are especially vulnerable right now, Your Honor, and they become more so when the FBI feels comfortable making false claims about them. And 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.”
In the end, Brown pleaded guilty to assisting hackers after the fact, as well as two charges of obstructing the execution of a search warrant and threatening an FBI agent via a YouTube video. He is expected to serve at least another year behind bars before he is eligible for supervised parole.
© Copyright 2015 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.