Barrett Brown faces eight and a half years in prison today for the crime of being a journalist. For any U.S. media outlet that claims to practice journalism, this story should be front page news.
Officially, Brown is charged with three crimes: (1) transmitting a threat in interstate commerce, (2) obstructing the execution of a search warrant, and (3) being an accessory after the fact to an unauthorized access to a protected computer.
Unofficially, Brown is being prosecuted for founding Project PM, a WikiLeaks-like website which dares to investigate “the intelligence contracting industry, the PR industry’s interface with totalitarian regimes, the mushrooming infosec/’cybersecurity’ industry, and other issues constituting threats to human rights, civic transparency, individual privacy, and the health of democratic institutions.”
On March 6, 2012, FBI agent Robert Smith raided Brown’s apartment and Brown’s mother’s house, supposedly looking for information on the hack of intelligence firm HBGary. Agent Smith took away Brown’s computers, which contained Brown’s research into contractors who spy or conduct information warfare on behalf of government and corporate clients.
Barrett Brown faced over 100 years in prison if convicted on all original charges
Following the raid, Barrett Brown faced 100 years in prison for sharing a link on the leaked Stratfor emails, emails which revealed that Stratfor (called the “shadow CIA” by some) had allegedly partnered with a former Goldman Sachs director and other informants in order to profit from insider trading, among other dirty laundry. After prosecutors dropped the 11 charges related to Brown’s sharing a link, the only “crimes” the government had left to charge Brown with resulted from the raid on Brown’s apartment, where Brown allegedly hid his own laptops (aka obstructing the execution of a search warrant) and tried to protect Jeremy Hammond , now in prison for hacking Stratfor, from getting caught (being an accessory after the fact to an unauthorized access to a protected computer). As the FBI held on to his computers, Brown posted a pissed-off YouTube video lashing out at Agent Smith (transmitting a threat in interstate commerce).
While the government would argue that Brown is not being politically prosecuted, the government has taken many actions that say otherwise. Beyond seeking 100 years of jail time for Brown, the government has prosecuted Brown’s mother for obstruction (resulting in six months probation and a $1,000 fine), tried to seize Brown’s legal defense fund, obtained a gag order preventing Brown from speaking about his own case, tried to identify contributors to the website where Brown and others researched links between intelligence companies and governments, and argued that Brown seeks to overthrow the U.S. government.
For anyone horrified that the government would equate researching intelligence companies with trying to overthrow the government, today’s sentencing of Barrett Brown is a major event. Barrett Brown has already spent two years in prison for daring to be a real journalist.
The question now is, how much longer will the First Amendment be locked in a jail cell?
Update: As predicted by PINAC Staff, Barrett Brown’s sentencing has been delayed. Brown will remain in prison and be sentenced on January 22, 2015. While Brown may yet get good news, announcements in high profile cases are often delayed to avoid unwanted attention.