- Posted November 1, 2013 by
American Journalist Facing Up To 105 Years In Prison
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
Barrett Brown’s career as a journalist is a bold and colorful one. He has written for publications including Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post; and he co-authored a well-received book, Flock of Dodos. In 2010, the dynamics signified by WikiLeaks spurred Brown to start investigating the secretive world of private cybersecurity, defense and intelligence contractors. He founded a distributed think-tank, Project PM, and started reporting on the Anonymous hacktivist collective. When Anonymous hacked into the records of the security firm HBGary Federal in early 2011, Barrett's zeal for transparency in taxpayer-funded yet little-known defense projects led him to spend months researching this company’s corrupt activities. He did the same in 2012, after the leak of thousands of e-mails from the intelligence firm Stratfor.
Glenn Greenwald, known for breaking the biggest story of 2013 with the Snowden revelations, has written: ”Brown is a serious journalist who has spent the last several years doggedly investigating the shadowy and highly secretive underworld of private intelligence and defense contractors, who work hand-in-hand with the agencies of the Surveillance and National Security State in all sorts of ways that remain completely unknown to the public. It is virtually impossible to conclude that the obscenely excessive prosecution he now faces is unrelated to that journalism and his related activism.”
Despite his achievements, Barrett Brown has now been in jail for over a year awaiting trial on charges that carry a maximum sentence of up to 105 years. The 17 charges against him are based on his having blogged openly about FBI harassment of him and his family; allegedly having hidden a laptop when his mother's home was raided by the FBI in search of evidence against him; on his allegedly having “trafficked in stolen goods”—that is, Stratfor documents containing clients’ credit card data; and on his alleged “dissemination” of the documents by simply copying and pasting a link in an online chat. There is no indication that Barrett sought to use the credit card numbers in any way; in fact, he publicly condemned the suggestion of doing so. As a journalist, Barrett felt responsible to expose the public to the inner workings of firms contracting with the U.S. government—and for his efforts, he faces a lifetime in prison.
Barrett's prosecution highlights critical issues for American journalists, activists, and internet users:
The right to link. The charges against Barrett for sharing leaked data represent an attempt to criminalize linking. What does this mean for the rights of internet users, let alone journalists who regularly link to primary source material? Hyperlinks are a fundamental of the World Wide Web. Only an absurd legal theory could make a user responsible for the content and consequences of a shared link, resulting in criminal charges.
Freedom of information, press and speech. Barrett's work uncovering the unethical activities of private security and intelligence companies made him a prime target for prosecution. If citizen-journalists are prevented from researching the growing surveillance state, what will become of privacy, transparency, and civil liberties in America? Already we see chilling effects on those working to shed light on corruption and abuse among government contractors.
Selective/over-prosecution. Many others—including established reporters and outlets—shared the same link named in the indictment. Why is only Barrett being prosecuted? And why is the FBI so worried about the speech of an unarmed freelance writer as to warrant heavily-armed raids on his apartment? This case is a prime example of the DOJ's current prosecutorial abuse of journalists, whistle-blowers, and information activists.
Reporters' privilege. The laptop that Barrett allegedly hid contained journalistic sources and work product, including a book in progress. The First Amendment protects reporters from revealing confidential information or sources. It isn't hard to conclude that the seizure of his devices and obstruction charges amount to an effort to inhibit his reporting on America's growing surveillance industry.
The trial(s) in the matter of United States of America v. Barrett Brown will begin on April 28 and May 19, 2014. The defendant and his lawyers are under a court gag order which prevents them from making statements to media/members of the press.
CNN needs to cover this story. It concerns the future of the Internet and the Fourth Estate.
Please visit freebarrettbrown.org and get involved.