The US government has dramatically lifted the stakes in its crackdown on journalism, subpoenaing a US company in an effort to obtain information about the research and writing of articles that exposed its links with the cybersecurity industry.
In a remarkable fishing expedition, the US Department of Justice has used its prosecution of author and activist Barrett Brown to issue a subpoena to web-hosting company Cloudflare for information relating to the Echelon wiki site.
That site was used by Project PM, an international collaborative research project dedicated to piecing together a clearer picture of the US cybersecurity industry, its extensive links with the US government and secret activities such as the HBGaryFederal-Palantir-Berico plot to destroy WikiLeaks. The subpoena demands, inter alia, “account access history including any and all authentication, file transfer, web server logs or other transaction logs containing source IP addresses relating to the subscriber’s use of Cloudflare services”.
Another of Project PM’s targets was a US company called Endgame, a provider of cybersecurity services to many US government agencies, including the Pentagon. Endgame’s services should be enough to make even the most Luddite citizen paranoid. As Business Week — the only mainstream media outlet to investigate the company — revealed in a 2011 article:
“… Endgame executives will bring up maps of airports, parliament buildings, and corporate offices. The executives then create a list of the computers running inside the facilities, including what software the computers run, and a menu of attacks that could work against those particular systems. Endgame weaponry comes customized by region — the Middle East, Russia, Latin America, and China — with manuals, testing software, and ‘demo instructions’. There are even target packs for democratic countries in Europe and other US. allies. Maui (product names tend toward alluring warm-weather locales) is a package of 25 zero-day exploits that runs clients $2.5 million a year. The Cayman botnet-analytics package gets you access to a database of internet addresses, organization names, and worm types for hundreds of millions of infected computers, and costs $1.5 million. A government or other entity could launch sophisticated attacks against just about any adversary anywhere in the world for a grand total of $6 million …”
“Zero-day exploits” attack previously unrevealed flaws in software before developers can patch them.
“Project PM set about revealing the sordid truth about this shadowy industry. Those who participated are now being targeted …”
Some of the information compiled by Project PM was obtained from the famous HB Gary Federal hack, in which would-be US cybersecurity player Aaron Barr and his company had their emails leaked. The emails provided an insight into the rarely-glimpsed world of high-level US cybersecurity, espionage and surveillance. The emails were also used by outlets such as the New York Times to explore links between cybersecurity firms and the US government.
Now, the US government is using its prosecution of Brown, including for the heinous crime of sharing a link, to go after those involved with Project PM, which may have been up to 20 people around the world who used leaked materials and other publicly available information to generate a clearer picture of a secretive industry. The tenuous connection between the charges levelled at Brown and his Project PM activities relates to the hack of emails of self-promoting “alternative CIA” Stratfor, which forms a limited basis for some Project PM materials.
Many of the Project PM contributors are outside the US, including the current webmaster of the site. Among those who contributed research was Melbourne information and transparency activist Asher Wolf. This is the second time Wolf has been dragged into US prosecutions, after Massachusetts prosecutors tried to subpoena a Twitter hashtag relating to the Occupy movement last year.
“The U.S. Department of Justice is out of control,” Wolf told Crikey. “It is deeply troubling that people who engage in journalism, academic research, or who have an interest in following emerging political movements via social media platforms are finding themselves potentially included in U.S. legal dragnets. These sort of subpoenas are not only vindictive, but also aim to scare people away from poking around in the guts of allegations of nation-wide corruption and malfeasance amongst infosec contractors.
“The fact that a bit of Saturday night online research into infosec contractors – or simply following an issue on Twitter – has now meant I’ve twice faced potential dragnet inclusion in U.S. subpoenas is bloody outrageous. The U.S. should be ashamed of themselves. They’re acting like thugs.”
The fishing expedition continues the disturbing record of both the Obama administration and state-level US prosecutors in persecuting whistleblowers, undermining the First Amendment by arguing releasing information to the media is “aiding the enemy” and aggressively pursuing online activists in an attempt to make an example of them.
But Project PM, and particularly information about Endgame, was important because it demonstrated that, contrary to the narrative pushed by Western governments (including our own) that they are hapless victims of Chinese espionage, cyberterrorists and online activists, Western governments devote considerable resources to their own espionage and cyberattack efforts, frequently via unaccountable, secretive private firms.
Moreover, cybersecurity remains an issue the mainstream media, with rare exceptions, not merely fails to cover accurately but sends out its journalists to serve as enthusiastic spruikers. Journalists hype threats and impacts to strengthen the case for more government and corporate spending to be directed toward the companies that operate in this space, which are increasingly controlled by big US and European defence contractors.
Unlike professional journalists engaged in hysterics, Project PM set about revealing the sordid truth about this shadowy industry. Those who participated are now being targeted by the most powerful government on earth.
A legal group of criminal defense attorneys has formed to combat what they describe as the FBI and Justice Department’s use of harassment and over-prosecution to chill and silence those who engage in journalism, Internet activism or dissent.
The group, the Whistleblower Defense League, will, according to attorney Jason Flores-Williams, defend individuals engaged in investigating the United States government and those who are “in positions to reveal truths about this government and its relationships with other governments and corporations.”
The founding members include Internet rights attorney Jay Leiderman, Dennis Roberts, an attorney who is a veteran of the civil rights movement and Flores-Williams, who is now involved in representing online activists targeted by the government’s investigation into activist and former self-proclaimed spokesperson for Anonymous, Barrett Brown.
Attorneys in the group come from an “activist tradition,” according to Flores-Williams. They have decided to form this group to defend truth-tellers and dissenters because they identify with these people. They think many of the people being subjected to over-prosecution or prosecutorial abuses of power are heroes. “We’re going to pull out every stop and use every vector available us – media and constitutionally in the courts – to defend them.” And they intend to take on not only whistleblower cases but also the cases of journalists and activists facing prosecution.
Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is a part of the defense team for WikiLeaks, said in reaction to the formation of this group, “Every effort that focuses on the defense of whistleblowers, internet free speech activists, publishers and others persecuted by the US government is to be applauded. This group joins the many other members of the criminal defense bar as well as non-profits such as Electronic Frontier Foundation and Government Accountability Project, who are already defending those accused of shining light on the dark secrets of government and corporations.”
Flores-Williams acknowledges there are other organizations doing necessary work on behalf of whistleblowers and activists, “Everyone who is out [there] trying to defend whistleblowers and activists and those who engage in dissent are heroes and are doing great work.” Yet, he adds this legal group is forming because there is more attention the legal community needs to be giving to what the government is doing to go after these individuals. There needs to be “aggressive forms of litigation.”
For example, he explains that this afternoon he submitted a motion to quash a government subpoena in the Brown investigation. The government subpoenaed content delivery network and domain name server service, CloudFlare, for information about a domain. The group was contacted because the government is using the case to “virally subpoena” information “about online activists around the world by using the Barrett Brown case as justification.” They want details on domain names that used so “people who used the domain names that Barrett Brown was associated with I now represent.”
This is what needs to be done and the type of legal action will he be looking to do. Flores-Williams adds that they intend to get in the middle of this activity by prosecutors to abuse power and go after data and information in ways that violate the First Amendment, violate basic due process rights and fundamentally invade privacy.
With the zealous prosecutions of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, who recently took responsibility in a military court for disclosing information to WikiLeaks, the government is “sending a message to everyone about stepping into the role of revealing truths about power structure,” Flores declares.
“The Whistleblower Defense League and organizations like it are very important to let potential whistleblowers know they have a support network in case of retribution from the government,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation states. “They can help mitigate the chilling effect from the recent increase of prosecutions of whistleblowers who have leaked information to the press. Hopefully, the Whistleblower Defense League can give whistleblowers any added encouragement they need to step forward if they witness wrongdoing or corruption in government.”
Flores-Williams concludes, “The greatest threat to democracy is the unchecked power of prosecutors,” on both the state and federal level. “These people have the mindset that there is always some threat to the United States that they have to be going after. Prosecutors are very simple people: they believe blindly in executing the law. They don’t share that there is a human being on the other side.” In 1850, they would prosecute a slave who escaped from Mississippi so “the law can be on the wrong side” and they do not always represent justice.
As someone who regularly covers cases of activists, whistleblowers and even journalists whom the Justice Department is targeting, it is refreshing to see a group form that is willing to inject some more spirit into the struggle to defend those who exercise their rights, challenge government policies, expose misconduct or wrongdoing and then wind up being subjected to the politics of personal destruction, which so many US prosecutors appear to be embracing these days.
The Justice Department seems to have plenty of zeal and commitment to go after activists like Swartz or Brown, to target whistleblowers like CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou or NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake or to even attempt to go after someone engaged in journalism, as in the case of Matthew Keys, who worked on social media for Reuters and was recently indicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act over past work he did on Anonymous.
However, the Department does not have much zeal at all when it comes after going after criminals in government who authorize and engage in torture, a war crime, and attempt to cover up their involvement by destroying evidence. They aren’t interested in making examples out of individuals contractors like Blackwater who violate weapons laws and smuggle arms, engage in obstruction of justice when under investigation or murder innocent civilians in Iraq. They certainly seem to have trouble cobbling together a case—trouble they wouldn’t have if they pursue an activist or whistleblower—when bank executives commit financial fraud at “too big to fail” corporations and face no criminal penalty.
The work of defense attorneys to combat the trend in law enforcement to use the surveillance state to investigate activists and whistleblowers and then pass information on to the Justice Department for targeting is more important than ever. And the more groups there are out there vigorously defending victims of prosecutorial misconduct and abuses of government power, the better off citizens in this society will be.
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, WHISTLEBLOWERS, SURVEILLANCE STATE, MICHAEL RATNER, TREVOR TIMM, MATTHEW KEYS, JAY LEIDERMAN, BARRETT BROWN, WHISTLEBLOWER DEFENSE LEAGUE
U.S. Attorney’s Office asks judge to toss motion to intervene in the case of detained hacktivist Barrett Brown
Journalist-turned-hacktivist Barrett Brown has been in a federal detention center since September, when FBI agents raided his apartment while he was engaged in an online chat. And he will remain there until at least September, when he’s due to stand trial for more than a dozen criminal charges, among them threatening an FBI agent, conspiring to release the personal information of a U.S. government employee, identity theft and releasing credit card information.
Brown, the not-a-spokesman for Anonymous and the subject of a D cover story in 2011, has now become an international story: A lengthy piece on the U.K. Guardian‘s website appeared on March 21 beneath the headline “The persecution of Barrett Brown – and how to fight it,” and insists Brown’s being punished by the government for trying to reveal “the secret relationships and projects between … intelligence firms and federal agencies.”
Aside from its myriad indictments, the federal government hasn’t said much about its case against Brown — or what it’s after. But according to a motion to intervene and quash subpoena filed yesterday, the government is attempting to get its hands on records related to domain name server Cloudflare — and, more specifically, those involving someone named Sebastiaan Provost, who, according to the motion, “built newsgathering websites for Mr. Brown.” Jason Flores-Williams, a New Mexico attorney, filed the motion.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office promptly responded, asking the judge to dismiss the motion. Sarah Saldana’s office offers several reasons, among them Flores-Williams isn’t licensed to practice law in Texas and he
Flores-Williams is among a handful of activists attorneys who co-founded the Whistleblowers Defense League, whose creation was announced yesterday. Their website says the WBDL “stands with those brave souls willing to act against and expose the damaging corporate and political forces injuring our democracy.”
In a press release, WBDL co-founder and attorney Jay Leiderman, who has represented Brown in the past, says, “The internet is the new frontier for civil rights. This indictment of Barrett Brown, like Ai Weiwei, is an affront to democracy. We have to stop this government from criminalizing dissent in our society.”
Doug Morris, the public defender representing Brown, says it “appears the government is trying to get information from these folks, and they believe it’s related to Mr. Brown. That’s what it tells me.” And, for now, that’s all he knows about Flores-Williams’ motion. Morris also doesn’t want to comment on how his client is doing behind bars. For that information we must instead turn to Vice, which published an interview with Brown last week — shortly after Brown’s mother pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice by hiding computers for her son.
“I don’t want to talk to you about the case or the people involved at this point, but obviously I’m not terribly worried about it,” he insisted. When asked why not, he responded: “Just because of my knowledge, I know how long they were in there monitoring our stuff. … I know what documents and records of my activities are available. They’re trying to claim that I intentionally tried to spread credit card information, but I was opposed to that. And I was on record being opposed to it. They’re just not aware of that. They don’t have their [expletive] together in terms of going through what they spied on me regarding … and I obviously know what’s there in that evidence so … I’ve always been opposed to spreading credit cards.”
Brown, ruled competent last January to stand trial, was initially scheduled to go to trial in March. But his attorney asked the judge for the OK to put it off until September, which gave them more time for discovery.
“Every case is unique,” says Doug Morris. “If you have an illegal reentry case, that doesn’t take a long time. Felony possession of a handgun — did you have the gun or not? But if it’s computer-generated, there’s a lot of discovery, and it takes time.”
Brown remains behind bars because, according to U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney’s September ruling, “Mr. Brown is a danger to the safety of the community and a risk of flight.”
Information warfare is the 21st Century equivalent of class warfare, with people like Aaron Swartz (threatened with decades of imprisonment, then bullied by prosecutors into taking his own life), Barrett Brown (imprisoned, awaiting trial and threatened with life imprisonment), Jeremy Hammond (same), Julian Assange (under investigation by Grand Jury) and Bradley Manning (facing life sentence in upcoming trial) as its most notable victims whom the US Government has decided to make an example of so as to deter others from following suit. Some have described leakers, whistleblowers, hackers and those that publish the information subsequently released by them as modern-day Robin Hoods, engaged in liberating information from the oligarchs of politicians, banker barons and their ilk. Today we focus on what is happening with Barrett Brown (and, in doing so, expand upon some of his investigations).
Glenn Greenwald…”Brown – who has been imprisoned since September on a 17-count indictment that could result in many years in prison – 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.”
Here is a link to all the charges raised against Brown.
Barrett Brown’s journalism was centred largely around Project-PM see below – a website that provided a focus for investigations on surveillance systems, including TrapWire . Brown was one of several investigators that looked into and exposed TrapWire and the company behind it (others included Asher Wolf, Justin Ferguson, yours truly and more). Project-PM was “dedicated to investigating private government contractors working in the secretive fields of cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance”. Brown also set himself the task of sifting through and analysing information obtained by Anonymous hacking of HBGary and Stratfor , both private companies engaged in intelligence gathering for the business community. Brown is now charged with basically helping to disseminate the information from Stratfor (which Jeremy Hammond is accused of hacking). Note: Barrett Brown learned about Cubic by visiting Telecomix IRC Bluecabinet chan.
Christian Storm (WhoWhatWhere)…”ProjectPM is a crowd-sourced research effort with several aims. First, to study 75,000+ e-mails pilfered by Anonymous from military and intelligence contractor, HBGary Federal, and its parent company HBGary. Second, to post these raw, primary-source documents to a website where readers can edit and contribute further information. Third, to use these documents to map out the relationships between private contractors and the federal government that form our current national security state… The Obama administration’s assault on accountability is dual-pronged: attack the messenger (as in the case of Brown, WikiLeaks, even New York Times reporters) and attack the source (Bradley Manning, John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake, etc.).”
Much of ProjectPM’s work is now being continued by Project Blue Cabinet . The content on Blue Cabinet about Ntrepid (which manages Tartan surveillance software) and Abraxas and Anonymiser (proxy email system to entrap activists) is found here .
Persona Management is another technology Blue Cabinet is investigating, particularly the manipulation of social media through the use of fake online “personas” managed by the military. Such technology would allow single individuals to command virtual armies of fake, digital “people” across numerous social media portals. According to Raw Story (see link below) the US Air Force recently awarded a contract for this technology to Ntrepid . Another source states that Central Command (Centcom) has a similar contract with Ntrepid. (A video about Persona Management is displayed above.)
Back in July 2012 Darker Net connected Cubic, Abraxas, Trapwire, Tartan, Ntrepid, as follows…
1. Cubic Corporation (which runs defense systems and transport smart card systems) owns a number of companies, including Abraxas Dauntless and Abraxas Corporation.
2. TrapWire (which runs global surveillance systems using CCTV linked to its database, TrapWire Net) was previously owned by Abraxas Applications (which in turn was owned by Abraxas Corporation but sold off when Cubic Corporation merged with Abraxas).
3. Ntrepid (which runs ‘sock puppet’ fake Twitter accounts to spread disinformation) was assigned to the shareholders of Abraxas Corporation as part of the merger between Cubic Corporation and Abraxas.
4. Some of the expertise relating to Anonymizer (a so-called anonymous email system) was migrated to Ntrepid as part of the deal in 2010 when Cubic Corporation took over Abraxas Corporation, though many of the staff working on Anonymizer stayed on with Abraxas.
5. Tartan (which specialises in targeting protesters, including Occupy and anarchists) is a subsidiary of Ntrepid.
Christian Storm again…”Brown was never indicted for the infiltration, per se. Instead, he was charged with “trafficking” in stolen material and “access device fraud”—as mentioned, for posting, in a chat room, a link to the e-mail cache. Apparently, buried in the thousands of e-mails was the private credit card information of a number of Stratfor employees. It was not clear how Brown’s act was singular. That same link had been previously posted innumerable times across the Internet. All of this raises suspicions about some larger agenda in the government’s Javert-like pursuit of this young man.”
It will get worse unless – unless the information war is turned on its head and a major offensive, aimed at liberating information in a continuous stream from as many sources as possible to expose the corruption of government, its lackeys, business etc, is engaged.
Note: Barrett Brown’s mother has been forced to plead guilty to charges relating to hiding her son’s laptop from FBI and now could face $100,000 fine and up to one year in jail or six months probation.