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.”
Does Democracy and Justice still apply in the USA?
The federal trial against alleged computer criminal Barrett Brown has been delayed by six months. Now the activist once called the “spokesperson” of the Anonymous hacker movement will wait in prison for one full year before being tried.
Brown, 31, was scheduled to stand trial later this month for a slew of charges that have handed down in three separate indictments filed by the government since last September. Per the request of his attorneys, however, legal proceedings have been pushed back for six months, delaying the trial until September 2013.
Doug Morris, a public defender appointed to serve as Brown’s defense counsel, asked for an extension in order to evaluate the evidence against his client, the Associate Press reports. US District Judge Sam Lindsay obliged on Wednesday this week.
The AP adds that Brown’s trial for one indictment is now slated for September 3, 2013, with trials for his second and third indictments scheduled to start on Sept. 23. Brown was arrested on Sept. 12 last year and has been in law enforcement custody for the nearly six months since.
The AP describes Brown as having Brown “once served as de facto spokesman for Anonymous, a shadowy movement that has gotten attention for cyberattacks,” although he says he’s never represented himself as such. Although Brown has aligned himself with the Anonymous movement on several occasions in the past and have spoken broadly on matters relating to the group, he wrote from prison last year, “I am not and never have been the spokesman for Anonymous, nor its ‘public face’ or, worse, ‘self-proclaimed’ ‘face’ or ‘spokesperson’ or ‘leader.’”
Brown’s legal issues began last March when FBI agents raided his Dallas, Texas home with search warrants for computers that contained information pertaining to, among other things, the Anonymous collective, offshoot LulzSec and a number of private businesses that were investigated by both groups as well as Brown’s own Project PM, an independent think-tank he designed in part “to develop new methods by which to use the internet for positive change and to encourage others to adapt such methods.”
One day after the March 2012 raid, Brown wrote the FBI “fully intended to take a certain laptop, and did” when the feds raided his mother’s house shortly after the first incident. He also said that federal agents threatened both he and his mother with conspiracy to obstruct justice for the next few months, spawning Brown to lash out at the FBI in a series of YouTube videos and Twitter posts created in September 2012.
“I know what’s legal, I know what’s been done to me… And if it’s legal when it’s done to me, it’s going to be legal when it’s done to FBI Agent Robert Smith — who is a criminal,” claimed Brown in one of the clips uploaded to the Web. “That’s why Robert Smith’s life is over. And when I say his life is over, I’m not saying I’m going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids… How do you like them apples?”
Hours after that video was uploaded to the Web, a SWAT team raided Brown’s Dallas, Texas apartment and placed him in custody for nearly one month before he was charged with threatening a federal officer. Once behind bars, though, Brown’s legal issues escalated.
While in custody, the Justice Department unsealed two separate indictments against Brown: In December, Brown was charged with sharing an Internet hyperlink that contained over 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information and the authentication features for the cards. One month later, Brown was charged with obstructing justice by “knowingly and corruptly conceal and attempt to conceal records, documents, and digital data contained on two laptop computers,” as he hinted at nearly one year earlier.
Attorney Jay Leiderman, who is not representing Brown in this case, wrote on his personal blog when the third indictment was unsealed that the hacktivist could face a century in prison if convicted on all counts.
“He is alleged to have made threatening YouTube videos aimed at the FBI agent that raided his home, he is alleged to have shared a link that contained credit card and access information, and he supposedly hid laptops when the FBI came-a-knocking. That’s right, that sorta stuff could cost you 100 years these days,” he wrote.
Brown is alleged to have shared a link to the credit card details in a chat room after seeing it posted in another. The trove of data contained within the link related to subscriber data pilfered by Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, a private intelligence company hacked by Anonymous in December 2011. Thousands of emails obtained in that compromise were later given to the whistleblower website WikIleaks and have been subsequently published online.
Upon release of the credit card numbers, Brown disavowed the hack. He said, “Stratfor was not breached in order to obtain customer credit card numbers, which the hackers in question could not have expected to be as easily obtainable as they were. Rather, the operation was pursued in order to obtain the 2.7 million e-mails that exist on the firm’s servers.”
Jeremy Hammond, a hacker and activist from Chicago, has been behind bars for over one year while awaiting trial for charges relating to the Stratfor hack. Federal proscutors say he spearheaded the hack as a member of the groups Anonymous and LulzSec. He stands to face the rest of his life in prison if convicted.e