By Cory Hooker, Editorial Intern
Activist-journalist Barrett Brown, who faces up to 100 years in prison for sharing leaked documents exposing the tactics of private intelligence contractors, will be unable to speak to the media about his case after a federal court in Dallas imposed a gag order on Sept. 4.
Usually, when a gag order is issued, it’s to protect the integrity of ongoing police or military operations, or to protect the privacy of victims or minors. In this case, it seems that none of these apply to Barrett Brown. The prosecution’s main argument for the gag order was that extrajudicial statements made by the defendant, his attorneys, or the government, to members of the press could unfairly impact Barrett Brown’s opportunity for a fair trial.
The charges Brown faces, since his arrest on Sept. 12, 2012, are partly related to the hacking of intelligence contractor Stratfor Forecasting by the hacktivist group Anonymous. Though Brown has not been accused of hacking, he is charged in three separate indictments, threatening an FBI agent, obstructing justice and charges related to trafficking stolen credit card information. The latter is considered the most serious charge.
Deeply buried in the leaked Stratfor documents were the credit card numbers of 5,000 clients. Brown says he did not give the numbers a second thought. The government alleges that when Brown shared a link in a chat room to documents that were readily available online to others, he was intentionally “transferring” data for the purpose of credit card and identity fraud.
Brown, who has written for the Guardian, the Huffington Post and other media, has worked with Anonymous in the past and has taken a special interest in the $56 billion private intelligence and cyber security industry — the same industry for which the federal government spends 70 percent of its intelligence budget.
“We must look not just towards the three letter agencies that have routinely betrayed us in the past, but also to the untold number of private intelligence contracting firms that have sprung up lately in order to betray us in a more efficient and market-oriented manner,” Brown wrote in a July 1 article published in the Guardian, entitled, “The Cyber-Intelligence Complex and its Useful Idiots.”
In December of 2011, Jeremy Hammond, a member of Anonymous from Chicago hacked into Stratfor’s server and downloaded about 5 million internal documents. Sabu, an ex-hacker-turned-FBI informant, provided Hammond a server to store the documents. Hammond then released them to the public. Once Brown saw the documents’ importance, he rounded up volunteers comprised largely of journalists to sift through the large document dump. He called his group, “Project PM.”
The leaked documents were later published to the Wikileaks website, as a part of the The Global Intelligence Files. What the leaks exposed was that private intelligence firms worked alongside government organizations and officials to disrupt movements, activists and journalists, both in the United States and throughout the world. Targets included, but were not limited to, the Occupy Movement, journalist Glenn Greenwald and the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the “Yes Men.”