Is Anonymous Hacktivist Barrett Brown a Journalist? His Supporters Say So.

Categories: Technology

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The media has had a hard time labeling Barrett Brown. "Anonymous spokesman" doesn't fit because Anonymous is too anarchic and loosely organized to have a spokesman. For the same reason, he's not the collective's "self-proclaimed" spokesman, though he did have more than his share of media appearances. The best option seems to be simply to call Brown a "hacktivist" -- this conveys the idea that he agitates for a cause (Internet freedom) and that he uses quasi-legal means to do so -- and move on.

But now that Brown faces a century in prison on a raft of federal criminal charges, his supporters have settled on a different term to describe Brown: journalist.

Brown's legal defense fund dispatched a press release yesterday calling his arrest and prosecution "a prime example of government persecution of journalists who challenge the status quo."

Brown, his supporters say, was being targeted for his work with ProjectPM, the crowd-sourced research effort he helped establish to comb through leaked documents about government security and intelligence contractors. He was also working on a book for Amazon tentatively called Anonymous: Tales From Inside The Accidental Cyberwar.

See also:
Three Weeks After FBI Raid, Feds Indict Barrett Brown
Is Barrett Brown the Threatening One, or Is it the Guys Who Locked Him Up?

The release continues:

The FBI wanted to get their hands on his work before the world did. Barrett asserted the reporter's privilege and now faces over 100 years in prison. He was charged with obstruction of justice for attempting to keep his sources and work product away from government agents. Additionally he was charged with twelve counts related to usage of and linking to source materials.

And so they raided his apartment, seized his computers and buried him in federal criminal charges.

Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian in March, gave fullest voice to the Brown-as-persecuted-journalist theme. The first time the government raided Brown's apartment, they were looking for material related to the hacks of two security firms with government ties, HB Gary and Stratfor.

He was ultimately charged in connection with the Stratfor hack, basically for sharing a link. The other charges are only tangentially related to the hacks. One indictment alleges that he and his mom concealed evidence from the FBI. Another concerns threats against an FBI agent he posted to YouTube and Twitter.

Greenwald concludes that "it is virtually impossible to conclude that the obscenely excessive prosecution he now faces is unrelated to [his] journalism."

Indeed, the government is clearly making an example of Brown, just like they were trying to do with Aaron Swartz, who, facing similarly trumped-up charges, hung himself in his Brooklyn apartment while awaiting trial.

But Swartz is more sympathetic than Brown. In his case, he violated an obscure and badly outdated computer law by downloading reams of academic research journals off an MIT network. Brown, on the other hand, was poking through potentially sensitive security-related documents, an activity which, whether these particular documents merited secrecy, the government has a legitimate interest in preventing.

Plus, Swartz never posted any unhinged YouTube rants threatening any law enforcement agents or their families.

Even if Brown did some journalism -- and he did -- does that automatically make him a journalist? And does his prosecution "underscore the threat to journalists" from the federal government, as his legal defense team argues? Maybe, but Brown is not the Associated Press. His code of ethics seems a bit too malleable and ill-defined.

The better question is what the government's overzealous prosecution means for government transparency. There, the answer is troubling.


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20 comments
polaris
polaris

So, Barrett, tell us the truth...are the "hacktivists" responsible for the mugshot extortion game? You know, where you steal police records and put them in big giant databases and feed them out onto the internet when you feel like it. Are you guys the ones behind that? 

J4C3
J4C3

I like Mr. Brown's "code of ethics". He seems more willing to take on corrupt establishments than kowtow to corporate interests or their government lackeys.

Journalist? Yeah. He's got it in spades over some clowns that pretend to inform the public, but are just blowing the same propaganda smoke.

sbillinghurst
sbillinghurst

The time has come not to plead to such charges, but to defy murders as the execution of traitors.  There are a couple of Texas DAs.  This is a case in point.  It won't be long.  It's already outlined as the rupture defense.  With this brilliant tactic, the court is easily branded as colonizers.

IcedCoffee
IcedCoffee

Yes, of course Barrett Brown is a journalist.  He is published as a journalist. He is charged with posting a link on his journalism  research group's website.  

russp
russp

Hacking into someone's computer system is just the electronic age version of breaking and entering to steal private information. Would you consider the Watergate burglars journalists? 

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

Sigh, kids these days.  They want the glory of being rebels, but aren't willing to pay the price.  Take the Dharansana Satyagraha, the march on the salt works in India.  Gandhi was arrested and the participants literally marched to a severe beating without resisting.  Think about that level of courage.  The Civil Rights Movement in America witnessed that as well. 

Anonymous, just bullies.  We enjoy it when they bully another bully (kind of like when I watch Avi Adelman and Melissa Kingston fight), but they also commit crimes.  Part of civil disobedience is to accept that you will be punished for your actions.  I don't think the "hacktivists" have a civil disobedience agenda.  Just a different form of thuggery.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

Stratfor - not government related at all.  Private, open source intelligence collection and analysis firm.  Some government employees might be members ( I was when I was in the military) because you get a better analysis of world events from stratfor than you get from the media.  The Stratfor hack compromised the credit card information of hundreds of people, common people doing no harm to anyone.  Personal judgement: Hacktivists were in the wrong here.


HBGary - Self-proclaimed information security specialists.  President of company bragged he had put together some sort of pattern analysis of social media that allowed him to identify the 'leaders' of Anonymous.  HBGary's Intranet ran on Google, so did president's private email.  Same password for both.  From what I read of the hack, it was almost disappointing how easy it was.  Personal judgement: HBG got what they deserved.

Barrett Brown - internet loudmouth and braggart.  thought he was above reproach.  Openly bragged about targeting private financial information (credit card numbers) and openy threatened the family (not the agent, his family) of an FBI field officer.  Personal judgement: getting what he deserves.

Frank
Frank

Of course Barrett Brown is a journalist.

It's also true that Bashar al-Assad is an opthamologist.

DMZ3
DMZ3

The sharing links thing is weird. But the rest of what I'm reading seems that it's sort of unrelated to his journalistic work, right? He was doing journalism, but that's not strictly relevant in this case. His journalistic duties are being obstructed, but that's not the reason he's being prosecuted. (He broke the law.)

jmckee3
jmckee3

I'm going to go with narcissistic drug addict that played with fire and got burned.

IcedCoffee
IcedCoffee

@russpBarrett Brown did not hack into anything.  He is not charged with hacking.  he is charged with posting a link.  Just like you post links.

Daniel
Daniel

@bealotcoolerifyoudid  Anonymous collectively suffers from an especially virulent strain of narcissism. (This also afflicted  Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Huey Newton, et al.)

That said, the government's zeal in prosecuting them, in this and in other cases, is appalling. To call it overkill would be an understatement. It bodes ill. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Versability The thing about Anonymous is that they wield enormous power and are accountable to no one. We all cheer when they take on the folks we don't like-- say, the Church of Scientology. What happens when they shut down the internet operations of someone we do like or depend upon? 

They are electronic thugs, operating beyond the law. Before we celebrate their arrogance, we need to ask ourselves, do we really want electronic vigilantes patrolling he internet?


bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

@Daniel @bealotcoolerifyoudid I agree it bodes ill, but I'm not surprised or shocked by it. You go out of your way to taunt the government and proclaim your superiority, you are going to get a good old fashion jack booting to the skull. Maybe a little waterboarding too.

deadringer
deadringer

@bmarvel No,  I would rather have big brother patrolling the internet until we all become Winston's...not just you,  but for the most part this is a rather silly set of responses posted with little to no understanding of what is occurring.  If this is a token of what some people think you need all of the fascist oppression your government can give you along with their corporate cronies,  and then some,  you deserve it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2dKVhVB1UM

Daniel
Daniel

@bealotcoolerifyoudid @Daniel Yes, Brown clearly suffers, in his idiosyncratic way, from what my old pal's East Texas-bred dad used to call "a bad case of the dumb-ass."

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@deadringer It is interesting how you can determine, from a few off-hand blog comments, that the life experiences, knowledge, and grasp of information of complete strangers makes them deserving of fascist oppression.  Your self-absorbed arrogance marks  you as either someone very young, and new to the reality of adult life, or someone possessing an arrogance beyond the pale.  Some of  us have a much deeper understanding of this situation than you can even fathom, having looked at it from multiple angles, bounced off of a lifetime of experiences of both government intrusion and private exploitation.  We've come to our conclusions through the school of hard knocks, where do you come by yours?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@deadringer Dead --

Betwen the thuggery and anarchy of Anonymous and the oppression of Big Brother lies a vast, vast territory. It's where most of us hope to live.

 I remember from the 1960s that the people who slung the word "fascist" around as though they actually understood what it meant were also the people who had designs on dominating everyone else's lives. You can be oppressed from the right or from the left. Political wisdom consists in avoiding both.

By the way your reference to Winston suggests you once upon a time read a book. Perhaps its time to widen your reading list.  


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