On Tuesday morning journalist Barrett Brown is scheduled to be sentenced at a federal courthouse in Dallas, Texas.
Barrett Brown has been an activist, and a journalist. Articles and blogs from Brown have been featured in numerous publications including the Guardian, Vanity Fair, and the Huffington Post. He is part of the new breed of online activists who are also free-lance writers.
Brown’s home was raided and he was arrested in September 2012. In October 2012 he was officially charged. The charges dealt with a YouTube video posted by Brown in which the FBI alleged he made threats to one of their agents. In December, Brown was indicted again on charges related to the hack of Austin, Texas based intelligence firm Stratfor. Jeremy Hammond would later receive ten years for that leak. Despite Barrett Brown having no direct connection to the hack, he was facing a century in prison for writing an article with a link to the leaked documents. Those charges were later dropped.
The entire time Barrett has been incarcerated the federal government has sought to suppress details related to the case. In September 2013, Judge Sam Lindsay accepted a motion for a gag order related to the case. Brown and his attorneys would be barred from talking to the public about the proceedings. The gag order remained in place for 8 months until Brown’s team signed a plea agreement in April.
Once the gag order ended, unsealed court documents revealed the prosecution’s fears that Brown’s media connections would paint the government in an unfavorable light. Prosecutors argued that silencing Brown’s attorney’s, Charles Swift and Ahmed Ghappour, was necessary to protect the jury, and Barrett himself, from being tainted by media portrayal of the case.
The transcript of the proceedings that led to the gag order reveal a fearful government attempting to silence a rising voice in independent media. The prosecution attempted to limit Barrett’s ability to write while in prison based on an article where “He is critical of the witnesses that will be called. He is critical of the government which has the tone, and I mentioned the tone of the article was problematic.” Prosecutors claimed criticism of the government would affect the FBI agents she wanted to call as witnesses. Judge Lindsay did not buy the claim however. “I think at this point what you are saying, Ms. Heath, is too broad. I think it is overly broad, and I really do not think if I put something like that in the order that it would pass constitutional muster.”
Eventually the court would decide on a gag that forbade Brown or his attorneys from speaking to the media, but did allow Brown to write articles unrelated to the case and for the Free Barrett Brown organization to continue making statements regarding fundraising.
Another telling part of the unsealed documents relates to media connections Brown maintained. Ms. Heath told the court that after listening to recorded phone calls made from the county jail between Barrett Brown and Kevin Gallagher she worried more articles would be written about the case. Gallagher is the head of Free Barrett Brown. The prosecution discussed conversations between Brown and Gallagher where the two discuss journalists who had been in contact with Brown regarding writing about the case. The documents mention Michael Hastings, Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone (listed as Jenna Wrightman), and Glenn Greenwald.
Last week federal prosecutors filed their arguments, for the maximum sentence of 8.5 years, under seal. Brown’s team responded with their sentencing memo, requesting time served. Since the prosecutors arguments were under seal, Brown’s attorneys memo is also under seal from public view. His lawyers filed a motion to unseal the memo in support of the public’s right of access. The government initially opposed the release of the memo. As of Monday morning Judge Lindsay announced that the memo would be released, albeit a redacted version.
The exact charges Barrett Brown faces are (1) transmitting a threat in interstate commerce (2) accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer and (3) interference with the execution of a search warrant and aid and abet. (Brown has since apologized for the threat and admitted it was a mistake caused under duress)
The charges stem from the FBI raiding Brown’s home while conducting a search warrant. Working on a tip from hacker turned informant Sabu, the FBI sought computers and records related to “conspiracy to obstruct justice, and the obstruction of justice” and “conspiracy to access without authorization protected computers”. The government was looking for any information Brown had on a hack of intelligence firm HBGary and others.
Barrett Brown’s focus on the private intelligence industry is what many believe put him in the cross-hairs of the government. He had called attention to the firm Booz Allen Hamilton who would come to the public’s attention one year later when employee Edward Snowden began leaking documents related to the NSA’s massive spying apparatus to journalists around the world.
As Kevin Gallagher of Free Barrett Brown points out, “Numerous prominent individuals, including Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald have spoken out in his defense, as well as organizations like WikiLeaks, CPJ, EFF, Reporters Without Borders, PEN American, and Article 19.”
Free Barrett Brown compiled this list of actions taken by the prosecutors and/or the FBI:
- written that Brown, along with Anonymous, sought to overthrow the U.S. government
- tried to seize funds that were raised for his legal defense
- obtained a gag order against the defendant and his lawyers restricting what they could say about the case for several months
- sought to identify contributors to a website where Brown and others dissected leaks and researched links between intelligence contractors and governments
- pursued a case against Brown’s mother, who was forced to plead guilty to a misdemeanor for obstruction, resulting in six months probation and a $1,000 fine
- argued that he should not be allowed to criticize the government, his First Amendment right
- federal agents seized the Declaration of Independence from his apartment as evidence against him
- used a retweet of a quote from Fox News commentator Bob Beckel threatening Julian Assange – “a dead man can’t leak stuff” – and attributed it to Brown within his indictment as threatening
Tomorrow morning a powerful mind, writer, and activist for this generation will be sentenced. If the judge decides to listen to the federal government and keep Barrett Brown behind bars it will be a crime against the people. Brown has continued to be a prolific writer while in federal custody and will surely pen more thought provoking and explosive investigative pieces upon his release. His presence in the public domain is needed, and only governments with secrets need fear.
If the government is allowed to use the court of law to target dissident voices and keep the public in the dark we are likely to see a decrease in quality reporting that raises important questions about the nature of government and the populations expectation of privacy. It is up to each of us as free humans to call attention to injustices where ever they happen. If Barrett Brown’s story could be suppressed and kept from the minds of the masses who else could be caged and forgotten? It’s time to stand up for the voices that take risks to speak truth among the empire of lies.