Courage our network

Trial & Link Charge

Stratfor, Project PM, FBI Raids

In 2011, Anonymous obtained and published more than 70,000 emails from intelligence contractor HBGary Federal, revealing (among many other things) that the private intelligence firm teamed up with Palantir and Berico Technologies to discredit WikiLeaks and its primary supporters, including Glenn Greenwald.

On 11 June 2011, Barrett announced Project PM’s summary, based on analysis of the HBGary emails, of Romas/COIN, a classified US intelligence programme which he said appeared to enable “the large-scale monitoring of social networks by way of such things as natural language processing, semantic analysis, latent semantic indexing and IT intrusion.”

In December 2011, AntiSec Hackers breached the networks of Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), uncovering more than five million emails, which WikiLeaks later published.

The government alleges that on or about 25 December 2011, Barrett Brown copy-and-pasted, from the Anonops IRC channel to the Project PM channel, credit card data that came from the Stratfor hack.

On 6 March 2012, the FBI raided both Barrett’s and his mother’s homes, seeking “Records relating to HBGary, Infragard, Endgame Systems, Anonymous, LulzSec, IRC Chats, Twitter, wiki.echelon2.org, and pastebin.com.” Agents seized his laptops.

On 11 September 2012, Barrett posted videos to YouTube entitled “Why FBI Agent Robert Smith Has Two Weeks To Send my Property Back 1/3” and “FBI Ultimatum Pt 2” and the next day he posted “Why I’m Going to Destroy FBI Agent Robert Smith Part Three: Revenge of the Lithe.” Later on 12 September 2012, Barrett was raided again and arrested by the FBI in Dallas. His arrest was captured live on TinyChat video. He was subsequently denied bail and detained without charge and adequate medical treatment for over two weeks while in the custody of US Marshals.

See Christian Stork’s summary of ‘The Saga of Barrett Brown.’

Three indictments

The Digital Media Law Project summarized Barrett’s three indictments, with their accompanying maximum possible sentences, to show that Barrett faced up to 105 years in jail:

First Indictment
October 1, 2012

Brown’s first indictment involves YouTube videos and Twitter posts threatening an FBI agent, which Brown created in response to FBI raids earlier in 2012 of his [and his mother’s] homes. The alleged threats occurred between March and September 2012, including comments from his Twitter account BarrettBrownLOL and his self-recorded YouTube video series “Why I’m Going to Destroy FBI Agent [RS].”

  • Count One: Internet Threats, 18 U.S.C. § 875(c): Transmitting communications containing threats to shoot and injure FBI Special Agent RS via Twitter and YouTube.
    Maximum sentence: 5 years
  • Count Two: Conspiracy to Make Publically Available Restricted Personal Information of an Employee of the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 371 (18 U.S.C. § 119): Conspiring to make personal information about FBI Agent RS and his family public with the intent of intimidating the agent, including allegations that Brown requested another person help him find restricted information about Agent RS, which search was actually conducted.
    Maximum sentence: 5 years
  • Count Three: Retaliation Against a Federal Law Enforcement Officer, 18 U.S.C. §§ 115(a)(1)(B) and (b)(4): Threatening to assault a federal law enforcement officer, intending to interfere with the officer’s duties and to retaliate against Agent RS on account of his performance of official duties.
    Maximum sentence: 10 years

Second Indictment
December 4, 2012; First Superseding Indictment on July 2, 2013

The second indictment, as replaced by a superseding indictment, relates to Anonymous’s December 2011 Stratfor intelligence firm data hack. Data from this hack was shared with WikiLeaks in early 2012, including over 5,000 credit card account numbers and their respective identification and authentication information. Brown linked to a zip file of this data in an IRC channel, and the superseding indictment revolved around this dissemination of information.

  • Count One: Traffic in Stolen Authentication Features, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028(a)(2), (b)(1)(B), and (c)(3)(A); Aid and Abet, 18 U.S.C. § 2: Transferring the hyperlink to stolen credit card account information from one IRC channel to his own (#ProjectPM), thereby making stolen information available to other persons without Stratfor or the card holders’ knowledge or consent; aiding and abetting in the trafficking of this stolen data.
    Maximum sentence: 15 years
  • Count Two: Access Device Fraud, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1029(a)(3) and (c)(1)(A)(i); Aid and Abet, 18 U.S.C. § 2: Aiding and abetting the possession of at least fifteen unauthorized access devices with intent to defraud by possessing card information without the card holders’ knowledge and authorization.
    Maximum sentence: 10 years
  • Counts Three Through Twelve: Aggravated Identity Theft, 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1); Aid and Abet, 18 U.S.C. § 2: Ten counts of aiding and abetting identity theft, for knowingly and without authorization transferring identification documents by transferring and possessing means of identifying ten individuals in Texas, Florida, and Arizona, in the form of their credit card numbers and the corresponding CVVs for authentication as well as personal addresses and other contact information.
    Maximum sentence: 2 years each, total of 20 years

Third Indictment
January 23, 2013

The third indictment again related to the FBI raids of Brown’s and his mother’s homes. Anticipating their arrival at his home, Brown went to his mother’s house, where he allegedly falsely denied the presence of any laptops.

  • Count One: Obstruction: Concealment of Evidence, 18 U.S.C. § 1519; Aid and Abet, 18 U.S.C. § 2: Concealing two laptops in his mother’s residence with the intent to impede the FBI’s investigation despite knowing that a search warrant that had been issued.
    Maximum sentence: 20 years
  • Count Two: Obstruction: Corruptly Concealing Evidence, 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1); Aid and Abet, 18 U.S.C. § 2: Corruptly concealing the records contained on these two laptops with the purpose of impairing the availability of these records for use in official proceedings, including a proceeding before a federal Grand Jury and another before a Magistrate Judge in federal court.
    Maximum sentence: 20 years

105 years and a precedent for linking

The linking charge, which threatened to set an incredibly dangerous precedent, particularly for journalists, brought international outrage and attention to Barrett’s case.

Barrett’s lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, explained to Rolling Stone (which called Barrett’s trial a “bellwether for press freedoms in the new century”) why it was potentially so damaging:

What is most concerning about Barrett’s case is the disconnect between his conduct and the charged crime. 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?

On Democracy Now!, Northwestern University Professor Peter Ludlow discussed this concern further:

to some extent, all of us could be targets, because the principal reasons that they’re going after him with this sort of claim that he was involved in credit card fraud or something like that, I mean, that’s completely fallacious. I mean, in effect, what he did was take a link from a chat room and copied that link and pasted it into the chat room for Project PM. That is, he took a link that was broadcast widely on the Internet, and it was a link to the Stratfor hack information, and he just brought it to the attention of the editorial board of Project PM. And because there were, for whatever reason, unencrypted credit card numbers and validation codes among those five million other emails, the government is claiming that he was engaged in credit card fraud. They’re claiming that Project PM was a criminal enterprise. And so, basically, for our interest, why this is interesting to us is basically it makes this dangerous to even link to something or to share a link with someone.

In his sentencing allocution statement, Barrett explained why he didn’t take an initial plea deal that would have set a linking precedent:

I’ve tried to protect my contributors, Your Honor, and I’ve also tried to protect the public’s right to link to source materials without being subject to misuse of the statutes. Last year, when the government offered me a plea bargain whereby I would plead to just one of the eleven fraud charges related to the linking, and told me it was final, I turned it down. To have accepted that plea, with a two-year sentence, would have been convenient—Your Honor will note that I actually did eventually plead to an accessory charge carrying potentially more prison time—but it would have been wrong. Even aside from the obvious fact that I did not commit fraud, and thus couldn’t sign to any such thing, to do so would have also constituted a dangerous precedent, and it would have endangered my colleagues, each of whom could now have been depicted as a former associate of a convicted fraudster. And it would have given the government, and particularly the FBI, one more tool by which to persecute journalists and activists whose views they find to be dangerous or undesirable.

The government eventually dropped some of the major charges, including the ‘linking’ charge, and Barrett later agreed to a plea bargain. However, as Barrett explained in an article entitled “My Post Cyberpunk Indentured Servitude” following his eventual sentence,

Despite having dropped the notorious ‘linking’ charges, the government still managed to convince Judge Lindsay to hold me responsible for the act of copying and pasting a link—a link that was already public, and which led to a file which was already itself public, and to which other journalists had also linked without being prosecuted for it—by way of a sentencing mechanism known as ‘relevant conduct.’

Even after having served 31 months, Barrett was sentenced to 63 months in jail and owes more than $890,000 in restitution and fines. Upon his sentence, Barrett released the following statement:

Good news! — The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex. For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose wrongdoing by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system. I want to thank the Department of Justice for having put so much time and energy into advocating on my behalf; rather than holding a grudge against me for the two years of work I put into in bringing attention to a DOJ-linked campaign to harass and discredit journalists like Glenn Greenwald, the agency instead labored tirelessly to ensure that I received this very prestigious assignment. — Wish me luck!