Reporters Without Borders

For investigating private intelligence practices, American journalist faces 105 years in prison

For investigating private intelligence practices, American journalist faces 105 years in prison

Published on Thursday 11 July 2013.
Printable version PrintSend this article by mail Send françaisEspañol

Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the charges currently facing the American investigative journalist, Barrett Brown, who has written for The Guardian and Vanity Fair. Brown, 31, had been investigating before his arrest, in September 2012, the contents of over five million internal emails released through a hack on the private intelligence company, Stratfor, which were later published by WikiLeaks. Brown is currently in federal custody, facing charges that add up to 105 years in prison. His trial should start next September.

Barrett Brown is not a hacker, he is not a criminal” stated Reporters Without Borders General Secretary, Christophe Deloire, “He did not infiltrate any systems, nor did he appear to have the technical expertise to do so. Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest. The sentence of 105 years in prison that he is facing is absurd and dangerous, given that Jeremy Hammond who pleaded guilty for the actual hack on Stratfor is only facing a maximum of 10 years in prison. Threatening a journalist with a possible century-long jail sentence is a scary prospect for journalists investigating the intelligence government contractor industry”.

The contents of the Stratfor hack shed light on the murky area where private and government intelligence operate. The emails “included discussions of opportunities for renditions and assassinations” according to The Nation, including one where Statfor’s vice president of intelligence, Fred Burton, “suggested taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to render Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who had been released from prison due to his terminal illness.”

When the contents of the Stratfor leak became available online, Barrett Brown determined that his crowdsourced investigative wiki, ProjectPM, should examine the content of the five millions hacked emails. To direct his colleagues to the Stratfor data, Brown pasted an already public URL of the Stratfor leak into a chat channel. This ultimately would be the main crime for which he is facing over a century in jail, as the link among others contained a document full of credit card numbers and their authentication codes that were stolen from Stratfor.

Brown was arrested on September 12, 2012, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), while he was online participating in a Tinychat session. He was subsequently denied bail and detained without charge and adequate medical treatment for over two weeks while in custody. On October 3, 2012, a federal grand jury indictment was returned against Brown on charges of threats, conspiracy and retaliation against a federal law enforcement officer related to the threatening of an FBI officer in a Youtube video.

Following this, Brown was indicted on an additional 12 federal charges on December 14, 2012, stemming from the hack of Stratfor. On January 23, 2013, a third indictment was filed against Brown on two counts of obstruction for concealing evidence during the March 6, 2012, FBI raid of his and his mother’s home.

Brown was already on the radar after having made a splash in February 2011 by helping to uncover "Team Themis", a shadowy project by intelligence contractors retained by Bank of America and the US Chamber of Commerce. Dozen of Democrat House Representatives called then for an investigation.

Brown’s case is just one of many concerning freedom of information developments to hit the United States recently. On June 14, 2013, U.S. federal prosecutors charged Edward Snowden with espionage and theft of government property for revealing the PRISM Internet surveillance programs and June 3 marked the start of the trial of Bradley Manning, who released classified information to WikiLeaks. Moreover, May 2013 saw the revelations of the Justice Department’s seizing of Associated Press phone records and targeting of Fox News reporter, James Rosen. Under President Obama there have been more prosecutions against whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than any previous president and other all presidents combined.

For more information: http://freebarrettbrown.org/

PRESS FREEDOM INDEX

INTERNET ENEMIES

COUNTRY FILES