Interview with Kevin Gallagher, the director of Free Barrett Brown

By Milan Srećković,

Barrett Brown, an American journalist who faces over 100 years in prison for charges related to his research on government intelligence contractors.
Barrett Brown, an American journalist who faces over 100 years in prison for charges related to his research on government intelligence contractors.

Barrett Brown is an American journalist who faces over 100 years in prison for charges related to his research on government intelligence contractors. His work has appeared in the Guardian, Vanity Fair, Huffington Post and many other outlets. He has been often misrepresented in the media as a spokesperson for the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous.

Brown is currently incarcerated while awaiting trial in Mansfield, TX; federal court order prohibits him from talking to the media. Kevin Gallagher, Brown’s friend and director of Free Barrett Brown, talks to Freedom Fight Info about the court cases against him.

Mr. Gallagher, please tell us more what happened after Barret Brown was arrested?

Brown was denied bail and detained without charge and adequate medical treatment for over two weeks while in the custody of US Marshals. In the first week of October 2012, he was finally indicted on three counts. related to his postings on popular websites such as Twitter and YouTube. On December 4, 2012 Barrett was indicted by a federal grand jury on twelve additional counts related to his pasting of a hyperlink. On January 23rd, 2013 he was indicted a third time on two more counts, relating to the March 2012 FBI raid(s) on his apartment and his mother’s house. Barrett has pleaded not guilty in all three cases.

Kevin Gallagher, Brown’s close friend and director of Free Barret Brown, speaking at the benefit for Barrett Brown in New York City.

Those cases are consolidated into two jury trials, which are both in the pretrial stage. The first trial (first indictment) will begin on April 28th, 2014. The second trial (second and third indictment) will begin on May 19, 2014. There are motions and responses to those motions which are expected to be filed by the government and the defense in the months leading up to the trial – January, February and March. Barrett has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The case has been continued several times, as he moved from having a federal public defender to retaining a private legal team. By the time he goes to trial he will have been in pretrial detention for over a year and a half.

Brown was researching relations between private intelligence firms and USA government. Is his arrest a way to prevent more dirty secrets showing up?

That’s one of the convenient effects of his arrest for them. Brown is a prominent critic of the government and its private contractors; he was engaged in online dissent and therefore was a thorn in their side for a long time. They were just waiting for him to do something wrong and eagerly pounced on the opportunity to arrest him.

Aside from things he is charged with, which are spurious at best, I surmise that Brown legitimately angered the wrong people with his research. His journalistic antics which included calls to executives at corporate intelligence firms to get answers, would surely have resulted in some complaints; and he had informants submitting false information about him.

He is, among other things, accused of copying the link to the hacked data. How come the copying of the link is characterized as unlawful act? How come the potential sentence – life long prison – is so severe in the case of this kind of accusation?

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This is the most ridiculous charge and also the most dangerous. The government’s argument is that by copy and pasting the link – which is to an unextracted archive containing Stratfor’s customer/subscriber database, he made unencrypted credit card numbers available to others, which makes him guilty of fraud and identity theft. He wasn’t the one who performed the hack and he wasn’t hosting the data either. The government has presented no evidence or allegation that he used the credit card numbers or profited from them. In fact, Brown is on the record in many places as being against the release of such information by hackers, viewing it as pointless and harmful to innocents. He was more likely to support operations that obtained e-mails.

Also it’s important to point out that the data contained in the link was not just credit card numbers. It included a list of Stratfor’s clients, which is of journalistic interest. He was looking at the data in a journalistic capacity and sharing it with his fellow researchers in Project PM. Several other news outlets included the same link in their stories. They weren’t indicted.

This is essentially what Brown faces the most time for – up to 45 years on those charges alone. The reason is that there are many counts which add up, and I believe that the financial aspect of the supposed crime mandates a sentencing enhancement. Originally there was also $1.75 million in damages being cited by Stratfor in his case, related to the expenses they incurred to settle a lawsuit by its customers for not protecting their data. Finally, these charges likely come with mandatory consecutive sentencing, which means if convicted he would not be able to serve the sentences concurrently.

Do you think that he would be prosecuted if he copied the link that lead to the hacked data of some not so important subject?

No I don’t. But I think they would find something else just as stupid to indict him on.

How is possible that FBI knew that Brown copied the link from Anon IRC to IRC that was used by him and his associates? How is technically possible to monitor the chat and know something like that?

Anonymous was heavily infiltrated by federal authorities and informants. In many instances people were keeping logs and these have either been seized or handed over to the FBI. In particular, Sabu was a frequent presence in the Project PM chat room where Barrett pasted the link. (Sabu is the online pseudonym of the Hector Xavier Monsegur an American computer hacker and co-founder of the hacking group LulzSec. He later turned informant for the FBI, working with the agency for over ten months to aid them in identifying other hackers from Lulzsec and related groups.) In my opinion it’s likely that Sabu provided the logs which were used by the grand jury to indict him.

From a technical standpoint it’s extraordinarily easy. All you need is one person who idles in the chat room and has logging turned on in their IRC client. Then a record of the whole chat is saved to a hard disk somewhere.

Also, the government has two terabytes of evidence from Barrett’s computers and devices. This includes three hard drives, one each from his two laptops which were taken in a March 2012 raid, and whatever computer he was using in September. I don’t know whether he kept chat logs or not, but the information in the government’s possession is sure to include his notes, his e-mails, drafts of articles for publication, a book in progress, recorded telephone conversations, and so on.

Is it a common practice in USA legislation to forbid to the accused and his lawyers to give statements to the media as it’s done in this case? How can giving statements to the media hurt the case?

I’m not sure how common this is, you could argue both ways. On the one hand it’s uncommon; gag orders are unusual even in high-profile and celebrity criminal cases, on the other hand they are a tool frequently used by courts to avoid tainting the jury or having to do jury sequestration.

In my opinion statements to the media cannot hurt his case, it’s absurd, but the court has decided otherwise. The government’s argument is that extrajudicial statements by Brown or his attorneys could affect Brown’s right to a fair trial. The government said that the reporting about Brown was false and misleading, which is ridiculous, and they are only alleging that because the reporting is largely favorable to Brown and critical of the government. The government argued that it’s for Brown’s own good – that they need to protect him from all of the bad or incriminating things the press is saying about him. The idea is that a potential jury pool could be affected by the publicity and media surrounding the case.

In my opinion that’s not plausible. Most of the American population still doesn’t know about Barrett Brown or his case, and they will have no trouble finding a jury in Dallas, Texas who has never even heard of him.

What is the role of Judge Samuel Lindsay?

Sam Lindsay is one of two judges in this case, the other being Paul Stickney, and as far as I know Lindsay is the trial judge. Other than the fact that he’s a Clinton appointee and African-American, I don’t know much about him. He seems reasonable and like a good judge to me. I am not sure of the extent of his connections with things Brown investigated or if that really constitutes a conflict of interest. I’m not in a position to speak on it.

Please tell us more about Brown’s background and how he became interested to work as a researcher?

Barrett’s background is really very eclectic and interesting. From an early age he was a writer, he was the “poet laureate” of his elementary school. But he later rebelled against the academic curriculum and sought adventure in Africa instead. He was a satirist and humorist for a time, writing pieces which were picked up by The Onion and National Lampoon. He traveled away from his home in Texas and lived in Brooklyn for a while.

Later in the 2000s he builds a reputation as a prominent sceptic and atheist, publishing a book about intelligent design, and appearing on Fox News to debate religion. He took a position as Communications Director for Enlighten the Vote, an effort to support secular candidates for public office. So he morphs into more of a political commentator, publishing pieces on True/Slant and Huffington Post. One of his primary topics which he wrote his second book about was the failures of the American media punditry and media landscape in general. He was very critical of the political pundits on TV and the newspaper columnists. People like Thomas Friedman and Charles Krauthammer. I think he felt they were all hacks who were misleading people and that their authority was undeserved.

So by 2010 he’s a very astute observer of the media and the blogosphere, and his original intent with Project PM was to correct certain problems whereby the public receives bad information from the media, and fix the issue of watered-down contributions at blogging sites he frequented like Daily Kos. The initial schematic for Project PM was a blogger network for which he was recruiting experts from several fields; these experts would be available so that people could get accurate information on any subject. He wanted to improve the quality of reportage and information flow generally.

When Anonymous and WikiLeaks popped up on the world stage, he was naturally very interested. By way of his knowledge about the dynamics between the media and nation states, he could sense that information freedom movements would be a very important phenomenon. He’d already been familiar with the Anonymous culture from being on 4chan and Second Life. So he got involved.

When Anonymous hacked HBGary Federal and released e-mails, he was bothered by the fact that nobody was really going through the e-mails to look for stories. Very few journalists recognized the importance of 70,000 e-mails from an intelligence contractor being leaked, or the potential of what could be in there. So he crowd-sourced the investigation. He gets into working as a researcher by virtue of the fact that nobody else would do it and he was disappointed that certain segments of the media and his colleagues in journalism were not paying enough attention. That would be his number one complaint: that editors don’t care to cover the real stories. He brought his political perspective to the research: he was always someone who cared about liberty, privacy, transparency, and guarding against accumulation of power by the state.

What is the future of Project PM?

Project PM was dealt a huge blow by Barrett’s arrest, and a subsequent subpoena to their website which had chilling effects. Many people involved went underground in fear that the government might take some action against them. The government is presenting a very alarming context in their court filings in Barrett’s case, which suggest that they would like to paint Project PM as a criminal organization rather than a legitimate journalistic enterprise. Some of the original people came back earlier this summer, with the intent of reviving the project and continuing the work. But it’s been slow, and I don’t think it will return to the prominence it had during 2011.

In any case, the Wiki remains online and I suspect Project PM will continue to have an influence and inspire others. There are good groups who are continuing very similar work, including the Telecomix Blue Cabinet and Bugged Planet.

I’m not sure whether Barrett will continue Project PM when and if he gets out of jail. His next project was really intended to be a sequel to Project PM and was supposed to take online activism to the next level. His articulated vision of the future of internet activism was termed “Operation Pursuant”. Rather than gathering under a large amorphous banner such as Anonymous, he was encouraging people interested in being online activists to form small, dedicated groups to pursue specific goals, with each person in the group bringing a different skill set to the table. These groups would be termed “pursuances.”

The pursuances project is something I’m sure he is still very enthusiastic about, and it has certain interesting software and infrastructure requirements. Hopefully some day he can see it realized, as he saw this idea as the continuation of his work and legacy, his “gift” to the activist community.

Could you tell us more about Brown’s research and the revelations he made in his writings?

I’ve written an extensive summary of Brown’s investigative journalism which was published at The Daily Dot. His focus was on the world of private intelligence and cyber-security firms, which have grown and become very profitable in the last decade. He saw this “privatized segment of the invisible empire” as a threat to clear values of democracy, transparency and liberty. Barrett’s political instincts and skepticism made him very distrusting of government agencies and institutions. So he recognized the release of e-mails from a contractor as a rare and unique opportunity for journalism, and set to work right away to sift through them and crowd-source the discoveries.

One of the key things he revealed during 2011 was Romas/COIN, a large surveillance contract which was then being bid on by contractors, which is now known today as Odyssey. It’s a sophisticated program of mass surveillance and data mining targeted at the Arab world, which leverages mobile phone applications. Another thing he helped uncover was the Team Themis plot by a consortium of firms to attack WikiLeaks and its support structures on behalf of Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Finally, I would list the capability of persona management as another thing he brought attention to, which entails the ability for someone to control scores of fake sock-puppet personalities online, replete with biographical and historical detail. Persona management has numerous alarming applications, its development is a high priority, and the capability is in high demand worldwide across the intelligence sector. TrapWire is another thing you may have heard of.

Those are just a few things I would list, but he did a lot of original reporting about, and investigation into, individual companies who are involved in that industry, and he showed the links and connections between different surveillance entities. See my article for more. There are many indications that this work had made him their target.

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