Does anyone remember Barrett Brown?

// September 18th, 2014 // Hacking and Security


You can't arrest an idea

I’ve written about Mr. Brown several times before. Barrett Brown is the guy that the government tagged as the “voice of Anonymous”, the young man that suffered a tragedy of injustice from charges that most feel were laughable at best and fragrantly unjust and illegal at worst.  In the end, the case against him seemed like nothing more than a way to stifle the voice of a reporter (yes, indeed he was a legitimate journalist) who reported Anonymous activities in a favorable light.  Lest we forget (and history repeat itself), let’s review the saga.

Brown’s woes began on March 6, 2012 when his home was raided and items seized. A few months later, on September 12, 2012, he was arrested after posting a rant on YouTube that the FBI claimed was a “threat” against Agent Smith (not the Matrix guy). Brown was then denied bail after being deemed a “danger to the safety of the community”.

Various YouTube uploads, tweets, and forum posts were used in October 2012 as support for a federal grand jury indictment. Two months later an additional dozen federal charges were added, this time related to the December 25, 2011 hack of Stratfor, which had been conducted by Jeremy Hammond (aka Sabu). Hammond plead guilty and received 10 years in prison for the hack while Barrett faced up to 105 years in prison for sharing a link to the publicly accessible stolen bounty.

Two more charges of “obstructing justice” were added after the FBI claimed Barrett concealed evidence during the raid of his home (e.g. he didn’t tell them where his laptops were hidden). Then in September 2013, a federal court-issued gag order was placed on Brown after the Assistant United States Attorney Candina S. Heath claimed Brown tried to “manipulate the media from behind bars”. In early 2014, many of the chargers were dropped and it was learned that Brown had agreed to a plea bargain. On April 30, 2014, the Daily Dot reported:

“The plea deal, filed earlier this month, chopped Brown’s charges down to just three counts: transmitting a threat in interstate commerce (the rants against agent Smith), obstructing the execution of a search warrant (allegedly hiding the laptops), and being an accessory after the fact to an unauthorized access to a protected computer.”

Basically, he plead to ranting about the FBI in a YouTube video, not telling them where his laptops were, and posting a link on an IRC channel to data Hammond stole.  And bear in mind, Barrett sat in jail for over two years, without a trial, while this saga played out. That is sad, if not frightening.


For the curious, browse through the official documents below for an idea how the court system can be used to go after a hacker (or hacktivist) – and keep that person quiet until enough time passes for the public to forget.

Update: 9/19/14 @FreeBarrett_ corrected me on one of the negotiated charges. According to Free Barrett Brown, the link allegation charge was swapped out and replaced with a “aiding and abetting Hammond” charge.

Official documents

Here are interesting (puzzling?) snippets from the official documents (edited for brevity – see full official documents below).  Pay particular attention to the three indictments below which specify the “crimes” Brown was accused of.

10-03-2012 indictment

“On X, Barrett Lancaster Brown used his account and posted the following: (1) Don’t be a pussy.  Call up every fascist and tell them you’re watching. (2) Department of Homeland Security stocking up on ammo.  Are you?, (3) Kids! Overthrow the US government lol”

12-4-2012 indictment

“Brown transferred the hyperlink “ from the IRC channel #Anonops…  Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online without the knowledge and authorization of Starfor.”

1-23-2013 indictment

“Brown did knowingly conceal tangible objects, namely two laptop computers containing records, documents, and digital data, with the intent to obstruct the investigation.”

This is why he was denied bail and held in prison for over two years:

9/17/2012 Detention order

“Brown is charged by a complaint of threatening to harm an agent of the FBI as well as attempting to disclose personal information about the agent on the Internet.”

“The Court finds clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Brown is a danger to the safety of the community…”

“It is ORDERED that Brown be committed to custody of the US Marshal’s for confinement in a corrections facility.”

And here’s what it all boiled down to:

Final indictment filed on 7-2-2013 – supersedes the previous indictments

“Brown did knowingly traffic in more than five authentication features knowing that such features were stolen and transferred the hyperlink from IRC which provided access to the stolen data.”

Still not convinced?  Check out the government’s evidence list.

Government’s evidence list (9/4/2013 hearing)

“One DVD containing videos from sites such as RT, Democracy Now, and, excerpts from, Rolling Stone article: Barrett Brown faces 105 Years in Jail. But No One Can Figure Out What Law He Broke”

The snippets above came from various court documents from Barrett Brown’s case (all are PDFs).  You can check them out for yourself below.

10/3/2012 indictment (the first indictment)

12/4/2012 indictment (government adds charges)

1/23/2013 indictment (government adds more charges)

Final indictment (superseded the previous indictments and what Brown was pressured to agree to)

Barrett Brown plea agreement (what he had to agree to in order to stop the nonsense)

Transcript of 9/4/2013 proceedings

Agreement of facts

Barrett Brown arrest warrant

Detention order

Government evidence list

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone magazine, Huffington Post,, D Magazine, Wired Magazine


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