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Luminous Animal

Luminous Animal's Journal
Luminous Animal's Journal
February 2, 2015

"My Post Cyberpunk Indentured Servitude" by Barrett Brown

Journalist Barrett Brown looks back in anger at the government’s trumped up charges against him as he starts a 63 month prison sentence.


Not long ago I was a mild-mannered freelance journalist, activist, and satirist, contributing to outlets like the Guardian and Vanity Fair. But last Thursday I was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison in a case that Reporters Without Borders cited as a key factor in its reduction of America’s press freedom rankings from 33 to 46. As inconvenient as this is for me, the upside is that for the first time in the two and a half years since I was arrested, I am at last able to speak freely about what has been happening to me and why—and what it means for the press and the republic as a whole.

A portion of my sentence stems from an attempt I made to conceal from the government the identities of certain contacts of mine: pro-democracy activists living under Middle Eastern dictatorships such as Bahrain, with which the U.S. is known to share intelligence on such things. Another large chunk is due to an admittedly ill-conceived public threat I made—in the midst of opiate withdrawal and what court psychologists say was a manic state brought on by medication issues—to investigate and humiliate an F.B.I. agent, who had himself threatened to indict my mother in an attempt to get me to cooperate against individuals associated with the Anonymous movement (my mother was indeed charged). Though I clearly stated that my intent was not violent, the prosecution claimed that my “victim,” Dallas-based Special Agent Robert Smith, had reason to fear that I might physically harm him and even his children—in which case it is not immediately obvious why the prosecution felt the need to alter the end of the sentence in question when quoting it on the indictment. (My complete statement, (PDF) in which I make a point of noting that I was merely going to proceed along lines spelled out by the FBI-linked contractor C.E.O. Aaron Barr while he was investigating activists on behalf of his corporate clients, and that I was doing so perfunctorily, and merely in order to make a point about the F.B.I.’s traditional reluctance to investigate its allies, has been viewed on YouTube by well over 100,000 people, including the dozens of reporters who have covered the story; none of them seem to agree with the Department of Justice contention that a journalist’s threat to “look into” someone in an explicitly non-violent manner necessarily entails violence.) A separate declaration I made to the effect that I’d defend my family from any illegal armed raids by the government, while silly and bombastic, was not actually illegal under the threats statutes. To judge from similar comments made by Senator Joni Ernst, it would not even have necessarily precluded me from delivering the G.O.P.’s recent response to the State of the Union address.

But the charges that prompted the most international outrage were those alleging fraud. In late 2011, I copied and pasted a link to a publicly-available file, which chat transcripts introduced in court showed that I initially believed to contain the same leaked corporate emails I’d long been in the habit of reviewing for my Guardian articles. The file turned out to contain customer data, including credit card numbers. Although the government’s own forensics showed that I never opened the file, the D.O.J. contended (PDF) that I had thereby engaged in 11 counts of aggravated identity theft, punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 22 years in federal prison.


I also had to plea to an Accessory After the Fact charge for having contacted the corporate espionage outfit Stratfor after some Anonymous-affiliated hackers stole several million of the firm’s emails and vowed to publish them online; I offered to arrange with the hackers to redact any of those communications that could potentially have endangered any foreign contacts if made public. For this, I will not only serve additional prison time, but have also been ordered to pay the company over $800,000—which is to say that I will spend the rest of my life in a strange state of post-cyberpunk indentured servitude to an amoral private intelligence firm that’s perhaps best known for having spied on Bhopal activists on behalf of Dow Chemical. That the prosecution did not quite manage to articulate how I did any damage to this particular company did not seem to dissuade U.S. District Judge Sam A. Lindsay in this matter. Likewise, His Honor did not express any visible interest in the fact that the F.B.I. itself has acknowledged having actually overseen the hack on Stratfor via its confidential informant, Hector “Sabu” Monsegur, who recently appeared in a national television interview with Charlie Rose to discuss his role in these matters.

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