The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Wed Jul 24, 2013 8:02 pm

SUNDAY, MARCH 27, 2011
Sock Puppet Planet: The Secret State's Quest for 'Persona Management Software'
Not since AT&T whistleblower Marc Klein's 2006 revelations that U.S. telecommunications giants were secretly collaborating with the government to spy on Americans, has a story driven home the point that we are confronted by a daunting set of invisible enemies: the security and intelligence firms constellating the dark skies of the National Security State.

As echoes from last month's disclosures by the cyber-guerrilla collective Anonymous continue to reverberate, leaked HBGary emails and documents are providing tantalizing insight into just how little daylight there is between private companies and the government.

The latest front in the ongoing war against civil liberties and privacy rights is the Pentagon's interest in "persona management software."

A euphemism for a suite of high-tech tools that equip an operative--military or corporate, take your pick--with multiple avatars or sock puppets, our latter day shadow warriors hope to achieve a leg up on their opponents in the "war of ideas" through stealthy propaganda campaigns rebranded as "information operations."

A Pervasive Surveillance State

The signs of a pervasive surveillance state are all around us. From the "persistent cookies" that track our every move across the internet to indexing dissidents already preemptively detained in public and private data bases: threats to our freedom to speak out without harassment, or worse, have never been greater.

As constitutional scholar Jack Balkin warned, the transformation of what was once a democratic republic based on the rule of law into a "National Surveillance State," feature "huge investments in electronic surveillance and various end runs around traditional Bill of Rights protections and expectations about procedure."

"These end runs," Balkin wrote, "included public private cooperation in surveillance and exchange of information, expansion of the state secrets doctrine, expansion of administrative warrants and national security letters, a system of preventive detention, expanded use of military prisons, extraordinary rendition to other countries, and aggressive interrogation techniques outside of those countenanced by the traditional laws of war."

Continuing the civil liberties' onslaught, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Barack Obama's "change" regime has issued new rules that "allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades."

The Journal points out that the administrative "revision" of long-standing rules and case law "marks another step back from [Obama's] pre-election criticism of unorthodox counterterror methods."

Also last week, The Raw Story revealed that the FBI has plans to "embark on a $1 billion biometrics project and construct an advanced biometrics facility to be shared with the Pentagon."

The Bureau's new biometrics center, part of which is already operating in Clarksburg, West Virginia, "will be based on a system constructed by defense contractor Lockheed Martin."

"Starting with fingerprints," The Raw Story disclosed, the center will function as "a global law enforcement database for the sharing of those biometric images." Once ramped-up "the system is slated to expand outward, eventually encompassing facial mapping and other advanced forms of computer-aided identification."

The transformation of the FBI into a political Department of Precrime is underscored by moves to gift state and local police agencies with electronic fingerprint scanners. Local cops would be "empowered to capture prints from any suspect, even if they haven't been arrested or convicted of a crime."

"In such a context," Stephen Graham cautions in Cities Under Siege, "Western security and military doctrine is being rapidly imagined in ways that dramatically blur the juridical and operational separation between policing, intelligence and the military; distinctions between war and peace; and those between local, national and global operations."

This precarious state of affairs, Graham avers, under conditions of global economic crisis in the so-called democratic West as well as along the periphery in what was once called the Third World, has meant that "wars and associated mobilizations ... become both boundless and more or less permanent."

Under such conditions, Dick Cheney's infamous statement that the "War on Terror" might last "decades" means, according to Graham, that "emerging security policies are founded on the profiling of individuals, places, behaviours, associations, and groups."

But to profile more effectively, whether in Cairo, Kabul, or New York, state security apparatchiks and their private partners find it necessary to squeeze ever more data from a surveillance system already glutted by an overabundance of "situational awareness."

"Last October," Secrecy News reported, "the DNI revealed that the FY2010 budget for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) was $53.1 billion. And the Secretary of Defense revealed that the FY2010 budget for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) was $27.0 billion, the first time the MIP budget had been disclosed, for an aggregate total intelligence budget of $80.1 billion for FY 2010."

This excludes of course, the CIA and Pentagon's black budget that hides a welter of top secret and above Special Access Programs under a dizzying array of code names and acronyms. In February, Wired disclosed that the black budget "appears to be about $56 billion, the same as last year," but this "may only be the tip of an iceberg of secret funds."

While the scandalous nature of such outlays during a period of intense economic and social attacks on the working class are obvious, less obvious are the means employed by the so-called "intelligence community" to defend an indefensible system of exploitation and corruption.

Which brings us back to the HBGary hack.

"Operation MetalGear"

While media have focused, rightly so, on the sleazy campaign proposed to Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by the high-powered law firm and lobby shop Hunton & Williams (H&W) to bring down WikiLeaks and tar Chamber critics, the treasure trove of emails leaked by Anonymous also revealed a host of Pentagon programs pointed directly at the heart of our freedom to communicate.

In fact, The Tech Herald revealed that while Palantir and Berico sought to distance themselves from HBGary and Hunton & William's private spy op, "in 2005, Palantir was one of countless startups funded by the CIA, thanks to their venture funding arm, In-Q-Tel."

"Most of In-Q-Tel's investments," journalist Steve Ragan wrote, "center on companies that specialize in automatic collection and processing of information."

In other words Palantir, and dozens of other security start-ups to the tune of $200 million since 1999, was a recipient of taxpayer-funded largess from the CIA's venture capitalist arm for products inherently "dual-use" in nature.

"Palantir Technologies," The Tech Herald revealed, was "the main workhorse when it comes to Team Themis' activities."

In proposals sent to H&W, a firm recommended to Bank of America by a Justice Department insider, "Team Themis said they would 'leverage their extensive knowledge of Palantir's development and data integration environments' allowing all of the data collected to be 'seamlessly integrated into the Palantir analysis framework to enhance link and artifact analysis'."

Following the sting of HBGary Federal and parent company HBGary, Anonymous disclosed on-going interest and contract bids between those firms, Booz Allen Hamilton and the U.S. Air Force to develop software that will allow cyber-warriors to create fake personas that help "manage" Pentagon interventions into social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

As Ragan points out, while the "idea for such technology isn't new," and that "reputation and persona management techniques have been used by the government and the private sector for years," what makes these disclosures uniquely disturbing are apparent plans by the secret state to use the software for propaganda campaigns that can just as easily target an American audience as one in a foreign country.

While neither HBGary nor Booz Allen secured those contracts, interest by HBGary Federal's disgraced former CEO Aaron Barr and others catering to the needs of the militarist state continue to drive development forward.

Dubbed "Operation MetalGear", Anonymous believes that the program "involves an army of fake cyber personalities immersed in social networking websites for the purposes of manipulating the mass population via influence, crawling information from major online communities (such as Facebook), and identifying anonymous personalities via correlating stored information from multiple sources to establish connections between separate online accounts, using this information to arrest dissidents and activists who work anonymously."

As readers recall, such tools were precisely what Aaron Barr boasted would help law enforcement officials take down Anonymous and identify WikiLeaks supporters.

According to a solicitation (RTB220610) found on the FedBizOpps.Gov web site, under the Orwellian tag "Freedom of Information Act Support," the Air Force is seeking software that "will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly [sic] consistent."

We're informed that "individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries."

Creepily, "personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user's situational awareness by displaying real-time local information."

Aiming for maximum opacity, the RFI demands that the licence "protects the identity of government agencies and enterprise organizations." An "enterprise organization" is a euphemism for a private contractor hired by the government to do its dirty work.

The proposal specifies that the licensed software will enable "organizations to manage their persistent online personas by assigning static IP addresses to each persona. Individuals can perform static impersonations, which allow them to look like the same person over time. Also allows organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization."

While Barr's premature boasting may have brought Team Themis to ground, one wonders how many other similar operations continue today under cover of the Defense Department's black budget.

Corporate Cut-Outs

Following up on last month's revelations, The Guardian disclosed that a "Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an 'online persona management service' that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world."

That firm, a shadowy Los Angeles-based outfit called Ntrepid is devoid of information on its corporate web site although a company profile avers that the firm "provides national security and law enforcement customers with software, hardware, and managed services for cyber operations, analytics, linguistics, and tagging & tracking."

According to Guardian reporters Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, Ntrepid was awarded a $2.76M contract by CENTCOM, which refused to disclose "whether the multiple persona project is already in operation or discuss any related contracts."

Blurring corporate lines of accountability even further, The Tech Herald revealed that Ntrepid may be nothing more than a "ghost corporation," a cut-out wholly owned and operated by Cubic Corporation.

A San Diego-based firm describing itself as "a global leader in defense and transportation systems and services" that "is emerging as an international supplier of smart cards and RFID solutions," Cubic clocks in at No. 75 on Washington Technology's list of 2010 Top Government Contractors.

Founded by Walter J. Zable, the firm's Chairman of the Board and CEO, Cubic has been described as one of the oldest and largest defense electronics firms on the West Coast.

Chock-a-block with high-level connections to right-wing Republicans including Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter and Dan Coates, during the 2010 election cycle Cubic officers donated some $90,000 to Republican candidates, including $25,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and some $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics'

With some $1 billion in 2009 revenue largely derived from the Defense Department, the company's "Cyber Solutions" division "provides specialized cyber security products and solutions for defense, intelligence and homeland security customers."

The RFI for the Air Force disclosed by Anonymous Ragan reports, "was written for Anonymizer, a company acquired in 2008 by intelligence contractor Abraxas Corporation. The reasoning is that they had existing persona management software and abilities."

In turn, Abraxas was purchased by Cubic in 2010 for $124 million, an acquisition which Washington Technology described as one of the "best intelligence-related" deals of the year.

As The Tech Herald revealed, "some of the top talent at Anonymizer, who later went to Abraxas, left the Cubic umbrella to start another intelligence firm. They are now listed as organizational leaders for Ntrepid, the ultimate winner of the $2.7 million dollar government contract."

Speculation is now rife that since "Ntrepid's corporate registry lists Abraxas' previous CEO and founder, Richard Helms, as the director and officer, along with Wesley Husted, the former CFO, who is an Ntrepid officer as well," the new firm may be little more than an under-the-radar front for Cubic.

Amongst the Security Services offered by the firm we learn that "Cubic subsidiaries are working individually and in concert to develop a wide range of security solutions" that include: "C4ISR data links for homeland security intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions;" a Cubic Virtual Analysis Center which promises to deliver "superior situational awareness to decision makers in government, industry and nonprofit organizations," human behavior pattern analysis, and other areas lusted after by securocrats.

The Guardian informs us that the "multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces."

"Since then," Fielding and Cobain wrote, "OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East."

While CENTCOM's then-commander, General David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that the program was designed to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda," in light of HBGary revelations, one must ask whether firms involved in the dirty tricks campaign against WikiLeaks have deployed versions of "persona management software" against domestic opponents.

While we cannot say with certainty this is the case, mission creep from other "War on Terror" fronts, notably ongoing NSA warrantless wiretapping programs and Defense Department spy ops against antiwar activists, also involving "public-private partnerships" amongst security firms and the secret state, should give pause.
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby MinM » Sat Aug 03, 2013 1:46 pm

Image @AnonymousVideo:Video Happy Birthday Barrett Brown + ... brown.html … #FreeBB #FreeAnons @ggreenwald @justleft @birgittaj

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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:26 pm

Month before hacktivist Barrett Brown’s trial date in downtown Dallas, attorneys wrestle over delay, gag order
By Robert Wilonsky
12:49 pm on August 9, 2013 | Permalink

Barrett Brown

The federal trial of journalist-turned-hacktivist Barrett Brown is currently scheduled to begin in a downtown Dallas courtroom next month — a year after he was arrested in his Dallas apartment while in the midst of an online chat. That date may change: Some point soon, possibly before day’s end, a federal judge will rule on a request made by Brown’s attorneys to push the start date to February of next year.

The federal government vehemently opposes an extension, and has also asked the judge to “[restrict] the parties['] use of the media.” Brown’s attorneys call the government’s move nothing short of a gag order.

Charlie Swift, best known as the attorney who defended Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard and driver, and UT Law School’s Ahmed Ghappour took Brown’s case in April. Said Ghappour at the time, this case, which could land Brown behind bars for more than 100 years, “is one of those cases that will set standards with respect to the First Amendment.” It’s also a complicated one involving myriad counts of alleged criminal conduct, including threatening an FBI agent, conspiring to release the personal information of a U.S. government employee, identity theft and hyperlinking to “a document full of credit card numbers and their authentication codes that was stolen from the security company Stratfor” after it was hacked by Anonymous in 2011, as Vice explained earlier this year.

Since his arrest and detention in Mansfield, Brown has been the subject of myriad pieces heralding him as, among other things, a “political prisoner of the information revolution,” per the U.K. Guardian‘s July headline. “If he is convicted,” read a recent post on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website, “it could have dire consequences for press freedom.”

As far as the government’s concerned, enough is enough.

“Since May 1, 2013, the government has reason to believe that Brown’s attorney coordinates and/or approves the use of the media,” says the feds’ opposition to the extension, filed earlier this week. “Most of the publicity about Brown thus far contain gross fabrications and substantially false recitations of facts and law which may harm both the government and the defense during jury selection.”

Swift and Ghappour vehemently disagree, per their Thursday filing.

“Mr. Brown has made no statements to the media since undersigned counsel appeared on the case,” according to their filing — including the late Michael Hastings. “Second, Mr. Brown’s counsel have not made any statements to the media, except to state matters of public record or to explain the steps of the legal process. Third, although Mr. Brown’s purported associates may be making statements about this case, those statements were not attributed to (and, at least as of May 1, 2013, are not properly attributable to) Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown and his counsel are well aware of the importance of maintaining a large potential jury pool in the Northern District of Texas, and at least since May 1, 2013, neither Mr. Brown nor his counsel have engaged in any acts that could even arguably be characterized as effectively undermining or interfering with the selection of impartial jury members. Therefore, the government’s request for a gag order should be flatly rejected as unwarranted.”

As for Swift and Ghappour’s request to delay, due in large part to the amount of electronic data involved in this case and the need for a “forensic vendor,” the government says Brown’s legal team has has “adequate time to prepare for trial.” The feds also contend he did not waive his right to a speedy trial.

Via email Thursday evening, Swift said that while he appreciates the government’s efforts to ensure everyone, including Brown, receive get those speedy trials guaranteed under law, “We are concerned with having sufficient time to prepare in order to ensure that Mr. Brown receives a fair trial.”

Both sides’ arguments are below.

Fight Over Barrett Brown Continuance and Gag Order by Robert Wilonsky
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby seemslikeadream » Wed Aug 14, 2013 11:04 am

TUESDAY, AUG 13, 2013 10:04 AM CDT
The government wants media gag for Barrett Brown
The journalist-come-hacktivist faces a century in prison and the prosecution want him silenced

Barrett Brown, the once self-appointed Anonymous spokesman and journalist, who faces over a century in jail for — among other charges — reposting links containing credit card information gleaned from the Stratfor hack, has attracted a fair amount of media attention during his year in pre-trial detention.

There is good reason to pay attention to Brown and his case, which could set a troubling precedent for liability when reposting information online were he to be found guilty. However, the government prosecution has filed a motion for a “Gag Order” (to disallow media).

Brown’s defense has pointed out to the presiding judge that despite writing from jail and speaking to a handful of journalists, Brown has made no justice-obstructing statements. The government’s argument is that they want to ensure Brown’s case is tried in court rather than put on public trial in the media, with Brown’s and his defense team controlling the narrative.

However, at a time when Bradley Manning faces decades in military prison, Jeremy Hammond faces a ten-year sentence for his role in the Statfor hack and Edward Snowden is hiding in Russia for fear of persecution for revealing uncomfortable truths about government surveillance, Brown’s case also reflects a general epoch of troubling crackdowns; his voice as both journalist and activist in the midst of one such crackdown is an important one to publicize. If default messaging comes from the government, the media must be allowed access to dissenting (and incarcerated) voices like Brown’s.

As filmmaker Vivien Lesnik Weisman (who is making a documentary featuring Brown about government persecution of leakers, activists and hackers) wrote for HuffPo:
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby elfismiles » Thu Aug 29, 2013 3:10 pm

Barrett Brown: 100 Years in Prison for Posting a Link? | Brainwash Update
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Sep 08, 2013 11:24 pm

A Journalist-Agitator Facing Prison Over a Link
Nikki Loehr

The journalist Barrett Brown speaking in 2011 in New York.
Published: September 8, 2013

Barrett Brown makes for a pretty complicated victim. A Dallas-based journalist obsessed with the government’s ties to private security firms, Mr. Brown has been in jail for a year, facing charges that carry a combined penalty of more than 100 years in prison.

Professionally, his career embodies many of the conflicts and contradictions of journalism in the digital era. He has written for The Guardian, Vanity Fair and The Huffington Post, but as with so many of his peers, the line between his journalism and his activism is nonexistent. He has served in the past as a spokesman of sorts for Anonymous, the hacker collective, although some members of the group did not always appreciate his work on its behalf.

In 2007, he co-wrote a well-received book, “Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Easter Bunny,” and over time, he has developed an expertise in the growing alliance between large security firms and the government, arguing that the relationship came at a high cost to privacy.

From all accounts, including his own, Mr. Brown, now 32, is a real piece of work. He was known to call some of his subjects on the phone and harass them. He has been public about his struggles with heroin and tends to see conspiracies everywhere he turns. Oh, and he also threatened an F.B.I. agent and his family by name, on a video, and put it on YouTube, so there’s that.

But that’s not the primary reason Mr. Brown is facing the rest of his life in prison. In 2010, he formed an online collective named Project PM with a mission of investigating documents unearthed by Anonymous and others. If Anonymous and groups like it were the wrecking crew, Mr. Brown and his allies were the people who assembled the pieces of the rubble into meaningful insights.

Project PM first looked at the documents spilled by the hack of HBGary Federal, a security firm, in February 2011 and uncovered a remarkable campaign of coordinated disinformation against advocacy groups, which Mr. Brown wrote about in The Guardian, among other places.

Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern and a fan of Mr. Brown’s work, wrote in The Huffington Post that, “Project PM under Brown’s leadership began to slowly untangle the web of connections between the U.S. government, corporations, lobbyists and a shadowy group of private military and infosecurity consultants.”

In December 2011, approximately five million e-mails from Stratfor Global Intelligence, an intelligence contractor, were hacked by Anonymous and posted on WikiLeaks. The files contained revelations about close and perhaps inappropriate ties between government security agencies and private contractors. In a chat room for Project PM, Mr. Brown posted a link to it.

Among the millions of Stratfor files were data containing credit cards and security codes, part of the vast trove of internal company documents. The credit card data was of no interest or use to Mr. Brown, but it was of great interest to the government. In December 2012 he was charged with 12 counts related to identity theft. Over all he faces 17 charges — including three related to the purported threat of the F.B.I. officer and two obstruction of justice counts — that carry a possible sentence of 105 years, and he awaits trial in a jail in Mansfield, Tex.

According to one of the indictments, by linking to the files, Mr. Brown “provided access to data stolen from company Stratfor Global Intelligence to include in excess of 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information, and the authentication features for the credit cards.”

Because Mr. Brown has been closely aligned with Anonymous and various other online groups, some of whom view sowing mayhem as very much a part of their work, his version of journalism is tougher to pin down and, sometimes, tougher to defend.

But keep in mind that no one has accused Mr. Brown of playing a role in the actual stealing of the data, only of posting a link to the trove of documents.

Journalists from other news organizations link to stolen information frequently. Just last week, The New York Times, The Guardian and ProPublica collaborated on a significant article about the National Security Agency’s effort to defeat encryption technologies. The article was based on, and linked to, documents that were stolen by Edward J. Snowden, a private contractor working for the government who this summer leaked millions of pages of documents to the reporter Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian along with Barton Gellman of The Washington Post.

By trying to criminalize linking, the federal authorities in the Northern District of Texas — Mr. Brown lives in Dallas — are suggesting that to share information online is the same as possessing it or even stealing it. In the news release announcing the indictment, the United States attorney’s office explained, “By transferring and posting the hyperlink, Brown caused the data to be made available to other persons online, without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor and the card holders.”

And the magnitude of the charges is confounding. Jeremy Hammond, a Chicago man who pleaded guilty to participating in the actual hacking of Stratfor in the first place, is facing a sentence of 10 years.

Last week, Mr. Brown and his lawyers agreed to an order that allows him to continue to work on articles, but not say anything about his case that is not in the public record.

Speaking by phone on Thursday, Charles Swift, one of his lawyers, spoke carefully.

“Mr. Brown is presumed innocent of the charges against him and in support of the presumption, the defense anticipates challenging both the legal assumptions and the facts that underlie the charges against him,” he said.

Others who are not subject to the order say the aggressive set of charges suggests the government is trying to send a message beyond the specifics of the case.

“The big reason this matters is that he transferred a link, something all of us do every single day, and ended up being charged for it,” said Jennifer Lynch, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that presses for Internet freedom and privacy. “I think that this administration is trying to prosecute the release of information in any way it can.”

There are other wrinkles in the case. When the F.B.I. tried to serve a warrant on Mr. Brown in March 2012, he was at his mother’s house. The F.B.I. said that his mother tried to conceal his laptop and it charged her with obstruction of justice. (She pleaded guilty in March of this year and is awaiting sentencing.)

The action against his mother enraged Mr. Brown and in September 2012 he made a rambling series of posts to YouTube in which he said he was in withdrawal from heroin addiction. He proceeded to threaten an F.B.I. agent involved in the arrest, saying, “I don’t say I’m going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his (expletive) kids ... How do you like them apples?”

The feds did not like them apples. After he was arrested, a judge ruled he was “a danger to the safety of the community and a risk of flight.” In the video, Mr. Brown looks more like a strung-out heroin addict than a threat to anyone, but threats are threats, especially when made against the F.B.I.

“The YouTube video was a mistake, a big one,” said Gregg Housh, a friend of Mr. Brown’s who first introduced him to the activities of Anonymous. “But it is important to remember that the majority of the 105 years he faces are the result of linking to a file. He did not and has not hacked anything, and the link he posted has been posted by many, many other news organizations.”

At a time of high government secrecy with increasing amounts of information deemed classified, other routes to the truth have emerged, many of them digital. News organizations in receipt of leaked documents are increasingly confronting tough decisions about what to publish, and are defending their practices in court and in the court of public opinion, not to mention before an administration determined to aggressively prosecute leakers.

In public statements since his arrest, Mr. Brown has acknowledged that he made some bad choices. But punishment needs to fit the crime and in this instance, much of what has Mr. Brown staring at a century behind bars seems on the right side of the law, beginning with the First Amendment of the Constitution
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Sep 09, 2013 9:53 am

Hacktivist Journo Barrett Brown And Lawyers Gagged

By Douglas Lucas and Christian Stork on Sep 9, 2013

On September 4 in a Dallas courtroom, the prosecution and the defense in the Barrett Brown case agreed to a gag order. It prevents Brown, attorneys for both sides, as well as anyone representing them, from talking to the media about his prosecution.

Brown faces over a century in prison for allegedly sharing a hyperlink, concealing laptops, and threatening an FBI agent. The same Special Agent, Robert Smith, testified in court that Brown controlled a share of the publicity surrounding his case. In an ironic twist, the prosecution argued its concern for Brown’s right to a fair trial—and that pro-Brown publicity could rob him of it.

The media-savvy Brown has not been shy about his activities, both before and after his arrest. Beginning in 2007, he created a large persona for himself as a colorful and witty journalist and occasional self-described spokesperson for the hacker collective Anonymous—a banner under which like-minded activists advance internet freedom ideals.

The parties bound by the gag order remain free to talk to the media about matters of public record, such as filings and statements made in open court, and Brown’s lawyers can still communicate about finances with Kevin Gallagher of Free Barrett Brown Ltd., who is raising funds for Barrett’s defense. But that’s it.

An Outspoken Man Sits Mute

The three-hour hearing found Brown in a strikingly atypical role. Known for his loud, gonzo manner—which included publicly labeling himself “Cobra Commander” after a cartoon character and addressing fellow activists by video from bubble baths while drinking wine—Brown could only sit silently behind the defense table in his orange prison garb, stroking his chin and watching the proceedings intently.

Early in the hearing, Special Agent Smith took the stand. Smith, who is nearly as burly as the marshals who led Brown into the courtroom, is the FBI agent Brown allegedly threatened in a series of rambling YouTube videos back in 2012. As Brown looked on, Smith testified on the nature of the publicity surrounding the case and how in his view Brown had “controlled” the media.

Relying on Smith’s access to Mansfield city jail visitor logs, jail phone calls, and media publications, the prosecution painted a picture of Brown as manipulating public opinion from behind bars. For example, Smith described Brown cutting a deal with D Magazine to give them an interview if they published a letter from him. The interview itself was never published, though the letter was.

Again and again, Smith described Brown’s conversations with Kevin Gallagher, the director of Free Barrett Brown Ltd. He cited the duo’s reactions to publicity about Brown—and their plans for getting more publicity. This included working with such journalists as Glenn Greenwald, who broke this year’s National Security Agency stories (based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden) that garnered worldwide publicity.

“Some irony in all this”

In a conversation with WhoWhatWhy after the hearing, Gallagher disagreed with the prosecution’s characterization of the conversations, saying, “The government twisted Barrett’s communications to argue he was manipulating the media. In reality, the media is genuinely interested in him and his case.”

It is logical that defenders of Brown would see his interaction with the media as nothing more than an effort to put his best foot forward. But his critics see it as manipulation.

In pushing for the gag agreement, the US attorney’s office seemed to signal concern that the broader context of Brown’s story could lead jurors to render a “not guilty” verdict—even if they believe he committed the alleged crimes. Such context could include Brown’s celebrated work as a determined researcher of misconduct among intelligence and defense contractors. This work could well resonate both with the public and a jury, particularly in the current moment of heightened interest in NSA spying.

It’s not uncommon for a judge to instruct a jury to ignore a defendant’s extended circumstances. The reality, however, is that a favorable portrayal of Brown as a Robin Hood figure nonetheless could potentially help his case.

In particular, the prosecution expressed concern that the press was discussing matters for which Brown has not yet been charged, such as drug abuse and receiving data hacked by Anonymous. When the defense objected that those matters were not relevant to the charges at hand, the prosecution, as if arguing on behalf of Brown, said such press was highly prejudicial to Brown’s defense and was taking away his right to a fair trial. Highlighting the Kafkaesque nature of the proceedings, the defense snapped back that the prosecution itself was bringing attention to the matters by discussing them in open court.

“There does appear to be some irony in all this,” said District Judge Sam A. Lindsay.

Whispers, heated whispers

QQ截图20130908161806“The government and defense need to play by the same rules,” Judge Lindsay admonished.

The two sides then approached the bench, where the counsel engaged in a whispered discussion with Lindsay. The bench conference lasted twenty minutes and was followed by a twenty-minute recess for the prosecution and defense to hash out an agreement on the gag order.

When Charles Swift, Brown’s lead attorney, negotiated the order with prosecutor Candina Heath by the defense table, their conversation—almost none of which was initially audible—appeared at first collegial but slowly grew heated.

“That’s not what it says!” Swift told Heath at one point, jabbing his finger at the order paper. “The first time Kevin [Gallagher of Free Barrett Brown] writes something, you’re going to pull me in on a contempt! Of course you will!”

The recess was followed by another twenty-minute bench conference and another twenty-minute recess, leaving the public straining to hear the whispers. As Heath left the courtroom, WhoWhatWhy asked her if she was pleased with the gag order. “I can’t comment,” she said. “It would not be appropriate.”

Considering the stakes—civil liberties, the right to public discourse and a remarkably long prospective jail sentence for a nonviolent offense—the courtroom audience was notably small. About 15 people attended the hearing, ranging from members of both the establishment and the alternative press to an older couple who drove six hours to attend out of what they characterized as “public concern.”

Stratfor to the rescue? Background

Brown, the 32-year old author and activist, is awaiting two jury trials in April and May on three separate indictments, which could land him in prison for 105 years:

- Threatening a federal law enforcement officer (3 felony counts)

- Obstruction of justice, concealment of evidence (2 felony counts)

- Access device fraud, trafficking in stolen identification information, and aggravated identity theft (12 felony counts)

It’s those last charges that have raised eyebrows among press freedom advocates who suggest his research was a public service rather than criminal conduct.

To be sure, in his work at ProjectPM, Brown functioned in the role of a journalist, not a hacker, though he did examine emails hacked from the cybersecurity firm HBGary Federal, a military and intelligence contractor.

He had made it his mission to map out the shadowy world of intelligence contracting in the post-9/11 era. Because of that—and his public advocacy for Anonymous—he had been on the federal government’s radar for some time.

When the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor was later hacked in December 2011, emails from that haul were incorporated into ProjectPM’s studies. Brown copy-and-pasted a link to some of the data hacked out of Stratfor to share with other researchers in chat channels.

At the September 4 hearing, Agent Smith testified that the link led to credit card information possibly tied to Stratfor subscribers. The government argues this means Brown was engaging in identity theft and trafficking in stolen credit card data. It is these “crimes” that account for the majority of time Brown faces behind bars.

According to the indictment, Brown did this “on or about” December 25, 2011. But Stratfor founder George Friedman said in two statements on the hack that the FBI had given the credit card companies a list of compromised cards in early December 2011. So the credit card companies would surely have protected the accounts before Brown shared the link some weeks later.

In essence, Brown’s alleged action may not appreciably differ from that of the prosecutors, who also shared the link by putting it in the indictment.

“I can’t comment.”

WhoWhatWhy has been following the Brown case for some time. In February, it chronicled his travails; in May it described his heavyweight legal team and what appeared a fishing expedition by a prosecution seeking chargeable offenses. In August it detailed Brown’s intriguing connections with the late journalist Michael Hastings, whose mysterious death in a suspicious car accident is also being covered by WhoWhatWhy (read here, here, here, here, and here).

The government took note of WhoWhatWhy’s coverage, including articles from the site about Brown in its exhibit list for the hearing, and Agent Smith testified that our report “The Saga of Barrett Brown: Inside Anonymous and the War on Secrecy” discusses Brown’s role with Anonymous.

WhoWhatWhy will continue to cover Brown’s case—albeit now with limited comment from his newly (and consensually) gagged counsel. Charles Swift, the attorney spearheading Brown’s defense, told WhoWhatWhy the gag order met his objective of protecting Brown’s right to speak and publish from jail– on matters not relating to his case.

But when we asked why the defense agreed to the order rather than present evidence and arguments to the court in defense of Brown’s continued ability to express himself, he told us, “Under the terms of the order, I can’t comment.”
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby elfismiles » Thu Feb 27, 2014 6:11 pm

February 27th, 2014, 10:26 GMT · By Eduard Kovacs
US Prosecutors Say Anonymous and Barrett Brown Plotted to Overthrow the Government

The US government’s case against the 32-year-old activist Barrett Brown is far from being over. There are numerous accusations brought by prosecutors against Brown, including the fact that he conspired with Anonymous to overthrow the government.

Brown is accused of distributing data stolen by hackers from the systems of Stratfor, threatening an FBI agent, and concealing evidence during a raid on his apartment.

In January 31, 2014, the defense filed a motion to dismiss one of the three indictments, arguing that the prosecution wanted to “punish Mr. Brown for his speech” by accusing him of threatening FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Smith.

“Robert Smith's life is over. And when I say his life is over I don't say I'm gonna go kill him, but I am gonna ruin his life and look into his [expletive] kids,” Brown said in the YouTube video that led to him being charged with threatening Smith.

Brown’s attorneys noted that “no reasonable jury could find the alleged statements to constitute a true threat.”

The defense says the prosecution knows it can’t convict the activist for his speech so they’re trying to link him to Anonymous. Furthermore, the defense argues that there’s no evidence to suggest that Anonymous “was a violent group or partook in violent activities.”

While Brown was named many times a self-proclaimed spokesperson for Anonymous, in a statement published shortly after being imprisoned, he denied having anything to do with the hacktivist movement.

“I am not and never have been the spokesman for Anonymous, nor its ‘public face’ or, worse, ‘self-proclaimed’ ‘face’ or ‘spokesperson’ or ‘leader’,” Brown said.

The government responded to the defense’s motion to dismiss on February 14. The response is sealed, but the motion for leave to reply to government’s response filed by the defense on February 21 reveals that Brown and Anonymous “secretly plotted the overthrow of the government.”

As RT highlights, this accusation most likely stems from a tweet posted by Brown on September 6, 2012, which read: “Kids! Overthrow the US government lol.” The message also contained a link to a YouTube video of Rapture by the band Blondie.

Another tweet referenced by the prosecution urges Brown’s followers to learn to shoot and stock up ammo.

The government believes these tweets are evidence that Brown intended to harm Agent Smith and possibly even tried to get members of Anonymous to help him.

Barrett Brown’s trial starts in May. ... 9594.shtml
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Mar 06, 2014 12:06 pm

US government moves to drop key charges against Barrett Brown
Federal prosecutors had come under widespread criticism for seeking to prosecute Brown for the republishing of a hyperlink

Ed Pilkington in New York, Wednesday 5 March 2014 14.54 EST

Barrett Brown
Brown still faces a possible maximum sentence of 70 years, though an additional 35 years have been removed through the dismissed counts. Photograph: FreeBarrettBrown
The US government has moved to drop key charges against the activist-journalist Barrett Brown, including the most controversial count that he transferred stolen property by posting a hyperlink to a website containing hacked material.

Federal prosecutors had come under widespread criticism for seeking to prosecute Brown for the republishing of a hyperlink. Lawyers, publishers and internet freedom campaigners had warned it could set a precedent that would have put a chill on the culture of linking across the web.

Candina Heath, the assistant US attorney for the Northern District of Texas, lodged in a Dallas federal court on Wednesday a motion to dismiss 11 of the 17 counts against Brown. The counts all related to the hack of the website of private intelligence firm Stratfor in 2011 by the hacking collective Anonymous.

Brown, 32, copied a hyperlink from an internet chat room that linked to a website that contained some of the hacked email addresses and credit card details that had been unloaded from the Stratfor website. He then reposted the link on his own internet chat room, Project PM.

The US government’s decision to drop counts one and three to 12 in the indictment relating to the Stratfor hack came just a day after lawyers for Brown filed a legal memorandum calling for those counts to be dropped. Brown’s attorneys argued in the memo that the prosecution was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, saying that “republishing a hyperlink does not itself move, convey, select, place or otherwise transfer, a file or document from one location to another”.

Federal prosecutors have given no further information about why they decided to drop the counts, and a request for comment was not immediately returned. One possible explanation is that government lawyers assessed the steep hill they had to climb overcoming First Amendment protections and decided instead to focus on the other charges still facing Brown.

The activist, who wrote for the Guardian and other publications before his arrest in September 2012, remains accused of count two in this indictment – that he committed access device fraud relating to the credit card details released in the Anonymous hack. He also faces two separate indictments, one for obstruction of justice by allegedly attempting to hide laptops, and the other for allegedly making threats in a YouTube video against an FBI officer and disclosing information about an FBI agent and his family.

In total, Brown still faces a possible maximum prison sentence of 70 years, though an additional 35 years have been removed through the dismissed counts.

Ahmed Ghappour, Brown’s attorney, told the Guardian: “I think the government did the right thing dropping the charges. We will continue to fight for Barrett every way we can.”

Brown’s supporters hailed the dismissal of the counts as a massive victory. “The charges against Barrett Brown for linking were flawed from the beginning. In the face of a rigorous legal challenge mounted by his defense, the government has finally recognized it and signaled that this is a battle they don’t want to fight,” said Kevin Gallagher, director of the Free Barrett Brown network.

He added: “Today, Barrett Brown is one big step closer to being free.”

The prosecution’s case that by posting the hyperlink Brown had engaged in the transmission of stolen property had prompted widespread alarm among First Amendment lawyers, campaigners, news organisations as well as other publishers who feared it would send a chill across the internet. Kevin Goldberg, a First Amendment expert who is legal counsel for the American Society of News Editors, told the Guardian that: “If we can be held criminally liable for hyperlinking to a website, the implications are profound.”
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Aug 14, 2014 2:16 pm

thinking of you on your birthday Barrett
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby MacCruiskeen » Thu Jul 06, 2017 10:39 am

Mr Brown is a damn good writer. From the series 'The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Prison', here's a funny takedown of Harvard Guy's authorized hagiography of Kissinger:

Closing paragraph:


Having finished doing whatever it is that he thinks he’s just done, Ferguson at last makes an effort to engage Kissinger’s critics on the complex issue of whether or not Kissinger bears any responsibility for his actions. He now lurches into an overview of Christopher Hitchens’s 2001 book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, in which Hitchens “went so far as to accuse Kissinger of ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity in Indochina, Chile, Argentina, Cyprus, East Timor, and several other places’ (in fact, the only other place discussed in his book is Bangladesh).” Apparently Hitchens didn’t think to just throw Hunter S. Thompson in there to round out his list, but then the old heretic apparently had worse problems than his well-known lack of imagination: “Hitchens was a gifted polemicist; his abilities as a historian are more open to question.” It’s the reverse with Ferguson, who’s undoubtedly an accomplished sorter-through of archives but who cannot seem to make even an exceedingly dishonest argument come out in his own favor.

But Ferguson isn’t done making dishonest arguments, and I’m not done making fun of them; we’ve really only covered three or four pages so far, after all. Next time we’ll take a look at how Ferguson handles Hitchens and certain other Kissinger critics. (SPOILER: He does it dishonestly.)

Harvard! ... -ferguson/

(h/t Frankie Boyle)
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby elfismiles » Thu Jul 06, 2017 11:52 am

The other BBrown thread worth revisiting...

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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby MacCruiskeen » Thu Jul 06, 2017 12:23 pm

elfismiles » Thu Jul 06, 2017 10:52 am wrote:The other BBrown thread worth revisiting...


Ah, thanks, miles. I was sure I'd seen a BB thread here recently, so it was puzzling me that the last post in this one was from 2014.

Here's BB on Jonathan Franzen:

...I certainly don’t want anyone to refrain from reading a novel that might interest them simply because I said mean things about it. If you’re up for a “moving meditation on marriage and friendship,” then you should probably read Freedom over and over again until your eyes bleed. If divorce and infidelity and guilt and trial separation is your thing, then you’d better get your ass over to the nearest book store and pick up a copy of Purity. You need not worry about what I think. But if you’re curious anyway, what I think is that I hate you.

JUST KIDDING. Ah, but there is indeed a major plot element interwoven into Purity that should be of interest to someone like me — that of Franzen’s ersatz Assange, Andreas Wolf, and his leak-driven Sunshine Project. Let me put it this way. I was interested enough in WikiLeaks, state transparency, and emergent opposition networks to do five years in prison over such things, but I wasn’t interested enough that I would have voluntarily plowed through 500 pages of badly plotted failed-marriage razzmatazz by an author who’s long past his expiration date simply in order to learn what the Great King of the Honkies thinks about all this.

There are big ideas here, but none worth having, much less writing down. [...] ... 1#comments
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Re: The Strange Case of Barrett Brown

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Jan 27, 2019 11:37 am

MacCruiskeen » Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:39 am wrote:Mr Brown is a damn good writer.

yes a damn good writer

“working with an authoritarian would-be leader to deceive the public is indefensible and disgusting.

Brown had a visceral reaction to the news, first reported by The Atlantic, that WikiLeaks had been advising the Trump campaign. In a series of tweets and Facebook videos, Brown accused Assange of having compromised “the movement” to expose corporate and government wrongdoing by acting as a covert political operative.

Julian Assange’s Hatred of Hillary Clinton Was No Secret. His Advice to Donald Trump Was.

Robert Mackey
November 15 2017, 1:09 p.m.
Last Updated: Friday, Nov. 17, 9:55 a.m.

THE REVELATION THAT WikiLeaks secretly offered help to Donald Trump’s campaign, in a series of private Twitter messages sent to the candidate’s son Donald Trump Jr., gave ammunition to the group’s many detractors and also sparked anger from some longtime supporters of the organization and its founder, Julian Assange.

One of the most high-profile dissenters was journalist Barrett Brown, whose crowdsourced investigations of hacked corporate documents later posted on WikiLeaks led to a prison sentence.

Brown had a visceral reaction to the news, first reported by The Atlantic, that WikiLeaks had been advising the Trump campaign. In a series of tweets and Facebook videos, Brown accused Assange of having compromised “the movement” to expose corporate and government wrongdoing by acting as a covert political operative.

Brown explained that he had defended WikiLeaks for releasing emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, “because it was an appropriate thing for a transparency org to do.” But, he added, “working with an authoritarian would-be leader to deceive the public is indefensible and disgusting.”

He was particularly outraged by an Oct. 21, 2016 message, in which Assange had appealed to Trump Jr. to let WikiLeaks publish one or more of his father’s tax returns in order to make his group’s attacks on Hillary Clinton seem less biased. “If we publish them it will dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality,” the Assange-controlled @Wikileaks account suggested. “That means that the vast amount of stuff that we are publishing on Clinton will have much higher impact, because it won’t be perceived as coming from a ‘pro-Trump’ ‘pro-Russia’ source, which the Clinton campaign is constantly slandering us with.”


A screenshot of a direct message from the WikiLeaks Twitter account to Donald Trump Jr.
As Brown pointed out in another tweet, it was all-caps exasperating that Assange was in this case “complaining about ‘slander’ of being pro-Trump IN THE ACTUAL COURSE OF COLLABORATING WITH TRUMP.”

The journalist, an Intercept contributor, whose work had been championed by WikiLeaks, also shared a link to a Reddit AMA conducted two days after the election in which WikiLeaks staff, including Assange’s longtime collaborator Sarah Harrison, had denied point-blank that they had collaborated with the Trump campaign.


“The allegations that we have colluded with Trump, or any other candidate for that matter, or with Russia, are just groundless and false,” the staffers wrote then. “We were not publishing with a goal to get any specific candidate elected.”

It is not surprising that Brown felt personally betrayed by Assange, since, as he explained on Facebook Tuesday night, “I went to prison because of my support for WikiLeaks.” Specifically, Brown said, the charges against him were related to his role in “operations to identify and punish members of the government and members of private companies that had been exposed by Anonymous hackers of my acquaintance, via email hacks, as having conspired to go after Assange, to go after WikiLeaks.”

That sort of activism, dedicated to making public secret wrongdoing, Brown argued, is very different from “colluding with an authoritarian presidential campaign backed by actual Nazis while publicly denying it.”

“Plainly,” he observed with bitterness, “the prospect of a Clinton in the White House was such an unimaginable nightmare scenario that all normal standards of truth and morality became moot and it became necessary to get people like Sebastian Gorka into the White House to establish order.”

Before his private messages to Trump Jr. were leaked, Assange himself had categorically denied that he or WikiLeaks had been attacking Hillary Clinton to help elect Donald Trump. “This is not due to a personal desire to influence the outcome of the election,” he wrote in a statement released on November 8 as Americans went to the polls.

Even though Assange had by then transformed the WikiLeaks Twitter feed into a vehicle for smearing Clinton, he insisted that his work was journalistic in nature. “The right to receive and impart true information is the guiding principle of WikiLeaks — an organization that has a staff and organizational mission far beyond myself,” Assange wrote. “Millions of Americans have pored over the leaks and passed on their citations to each other and to us,” he added. “It is an open model of journalism that gatekeepers are uncomfortable with, but which is perfectly harmonious with the First Amendment.”

The same morning, WikiLeaks tweeted an attack on Clinton for not having driven her own car during her decades of public service.


For Brown, and others who have been critical of Assange for using the platform of WikiLeaks to fight his own political and personal battles, his secret communication with the Trump campaign was damning because it revealed that he had been functioning more like a freelance political operative, doling out strategy and advice, than a journalist interested in obtaining and publishing information, concerned only with its accuracy.

James Ball, a former WikiLeaks volunteer who has described the difficulty of working for someone who lies so much, was also appalled by one post-election message to Trump Jr., in which WikiLeaks suggested that, as a form of payback, it would be “helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC.”


That request for payback, on December 16, 2016, came three weeks after Trump’s father had called on the British government to make his friend Nigel Farage its ambassador. “This should be it, game over, end of it, for anyone who tries to suggest Assange looks out for anyone except himself,” Ball observed on Twitter. “That’s his cause, and plenty of good people have been played, badly.”

There was also criticism from journalists like Chris Hayes of MSNBC, a network Assange accused of being, along with the New York Times, “the most biased source” in one note to Trump Jr. Pointing to a message from WikiLeaks sent on Election Day, advising Trump to refuse to concede and claim the election was rigged, Hayes asked how, exactly, offering that sort of political advice squared with the organization’s mission to promote transparency.


A screenshot of a Nov. 8, 2016 DM to Donald Trump Jr. from WikiLeaks.
Still, many of Assange’s most vocal supporters stuck with him, calling even secret communication with the Trump campaign to undermine Clinton entirely consistent with his vision of WikiLeaks as a sort of opposition research group, dedicated to “crushing bastards” by finding dirt in the servers of powerful individuals or organizations.

As Raffi Khatchadourian explained in a New Yorker profile of the WikiLeaks founder in 2010, “Assange, despite his claims to scientific journalism, emphasized to me that his mission is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events.” To Assange, Khatchadourian wrote, “Leaks were an instrument of information warfare.”

One steadfast Assange ally was Kim Dotcom, founder of the shuttered file-sharing site MegaUpload, who helped fuel a conspiracy theory that the DNC emails had not been hacked by Russia, but provided to WikiLeaks by a young Democratic staffer named Seth Rich, who was subsequently murdered. Alluding to another entirely unsubstantiated allegation — that Clinton had once suggested killing Assange in a drone strike — Dotcom said that the WikiLeaks founder was merely part of a crowdsourced political operation that had successfully defeated the greater evil.

Kim Dotcom

Verified account

Follow Follow @KimDotcom
I think what @JulianAssange wrote to @DonaldJTrumpJr is perfectly fine. Who’s surprised? He doesn’t like Hillary. She wanted to assassinate him with a drone for publishing the truth. And he’s fishing for information like any good editor. We wanted to prevent Hillary and we did!

As it happens, one of the anti-Clinton rumors that WikiLeaks had urged Trump Jr. to “push” in an October 3, 2016 message was a tweet linking to that unsubstantiated allegation in an unsigned blog post citing anonymous sources. The blog post includes no documentation of the allegation, but the WikiLeaks tweet linking to it, which Trump Jr. told Assange he did share, included an excerpt from the blog post in which the type was styled to look like a leaked document.

As Jesse Singal reported for New York magazine the day after that tweet was posted, and quickly went viral, there was no reason to believe that anonymous blogger had any source at all for the claim. The post does reference one email sent to Clinton, which was not leaked but archived by the State Department, in which one of her advisers said that a memo had been prepared of “possible legal and nonlegal strategies re wikileaks.” But, as Singal explained: “‘non-legal’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘illegal’ — rather, it’s a fairly common term in government, and it can refer to basically anything that doesn’t directly involve the legal system. If you run Google searches over the websites of the White House or the State or Justice Departments, for example, those searches will yield a handful of hits in which the U.S. government speaks openly of ‘nonlegal’ this or that, none of which are open admissions of lawbreaking.”

Earlier in the campaign, the WikiLeaks Twitter feed had also shared video from 2010 of a Fox News pundit, Bob Beckel, calling for Assange’s assassination, with a caption that incorrectly identified him as a “Hillary Clinton strategist.”

Hillary Clinton strategist Bob Beckel called for WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange to be assassinated. #DNCLeak

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 10, 2016

Beckel did not work for Clinton. He served in the State Department during the Carter administration, three decades before Clinton was secretary of state, and then ran Walter Mondale’s failed campaign for the presidency in 1984.

WHILE WIKILEAKS HAS undoubtedly facilitated the release of information that is both true and important, it is Assange’s Trump-like willingness to traffic in such unsubstantiated rumors, conspiracy theories, and innuendo not supported by evidence that undermines his claim to be a disinterested publisher, not a political operative.

This willingness to traffic in false or misleading information was very much in evidence during his work on behalf of Trump, and it is a consistent feature of Assange’s advocacy for other people and causes.

During the final week of the Brexit campaign last year, Assange tried to undermine the credibility of a witness to the savage murder of a pro-European Union member of parliament, Jo Cox. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, Brexit supporters like Assange were concerned that a wave of sympathy for the murdered MP could sway the vote. So they set out to contest evidence that the killing had been politically motivated.

To that end, the WikiLeaks Twitter feed drew attention to the fact that one witness to the killing — who said he had heard the attacker shout “Britain First!” — might have belonged to a racist political group, the British National Party, whose membership rolls WikiLeaks had obtained. Within hours of the murder, WikiLeaks also shared a link to a conspiratorial post from the pro-Brexit Breitbart U.K., which speculated that the witness might have lied about what he heard as part of a feud among far-right racist groups.

The next day, British police confirmed that the attacker told the arresting officers he was a “political activist” and had indeed shouted pro-Brexit phrases, including “Britain First,” during the murder.

More recently, during the separatist protests in Catalonia he supported, Assange was forced to delete several fake or misleading images he had shared on Twitter — including one photograph he mistakenly said showed the head of Spanish military police kissing a flag at a demonstration, and another of Spanish police officers struggling with Catalans, which had been digitally altered to insert a Catalan independence flag.

A screenshot of a fake image Julian Assange shared and later deleted.
In the final months of the 2016 presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter feed promoted not just its new publications, but also frequently referred to tabloid rumors — like old chestnuts about Hillary Clinton’s supposed “role in the death of White House counsel Vince Foster” — and wild conspiracy theories about her campaign chair taking part in bloody satanic rituals.

We know now that, from late September on, Assange was also privately using that account to urge the candidate’s son to hype the mostly anodyne emails stolen from the account of campaign chair, John Podesta, as crucial evidence of Clinton’s unfitness for office. And it certainly looks like the campaign took his advice.

On October 12, 2016, just 15 minutes after Assange told Trump Jr. that a new batch of Podesta emails had been released, with “many great stories the press are missing,” his father tweeted a complaint accusing “the dishonest media” of ignoring “incredible information provided by WikiLeaks.”

In the same message, Assange urged Trump Jr. to share a link he provided to the email database — — so “you guys can get all your followers digging through the content.” Two days later, Trump Jr. shared that link.

Despite the constant claims from Assange and the Trumps that the emails stolen from Democrats implicated Clinton in scandal and corruption, it is important to keep in mind that the WikiLeaks method of encouraging Trump supporters and Reddit trolls to scour the documents for evidence of malfeasance did not, in fact, uncover any such evidence.

Instead, the hacked emails were used to reverse-engineer preposterous conspiracy theories, like the imaginary pedophilia scandal called Pizzagate, which WikiLeaks was still treating as real two months after the election.

This is the real tragedy and menace of the public and private collaboration of WikiLeaks with Trump. An organization with a sterling reputation for providing the public with accurate information about secret government and corporate activities was used to launder conspiracy theories that helped elect a racist, sexual predator president of the United States.

That might be a terrific result for people like Julian Assange, who see a dysfunctional, discredited White House as a way to undermine what they see as the real evil empire. For Americans condemned to live under Trump, particularly the most marginalized who, as Noam Chomsky has observed, will suffer the most from his cruelty, it is a far more troubling outcome.

Update: Nov. 16, 2017, 8:55 a.m.

Some supporters of Julian Assange have argued that the October 21 direct message that so infuriated Barrett Brown — in which Assange argued that it would be good for the Trump campaign to allow WikiLeaks to publish one or more of Donald Trump’s tax returns — merely showed the publisher trying to obtain private material of public interest. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the proposal, explicitly presented as a way for WikiLeaks to seem to be less “pro-Trump,” would have compromised the organization’s principles, by disguising material released by a political campaign as a leak obtained from a whistleblower.

It is also important to remember what was happening in the news at that time. Three weeks before WikiLeaks solicited Trump’s tax information, an anonymous source mailed three pages from Trump’s 1995 tax return to The New York Times, which published an analysis showing that Trump had used entirely legal means to avoid paying federal taxes. Had the Trump campaign provided WikiLeaks with another old return, it is possible that the organization could have published tax information that would not have damaged Trump politically, but would have misled its readers into believing that the organization was working to undermine Trump as well as Clinton.

After Trump took office, a page from his 2005 tax return, showing that he had paid millions in taxes that year, was mailed anonymously to David Cay Johnston. The reporter speculated that the source could have been Trump himself, seeking to undercut the widespread assumption that there is embarrassing information contained in the more recent tax returns he broke with precedent to keep secret. “Donald,” Johnston told Rachel Maddow, “has a long history of leaking material about himself when he thinks it’s in his interest.”

It is also worth noting that this offer to help Trump came less than two weeks after The Washington Post had thrown the campaign into crisis, by revealing that the candidate had boasted of sexual assault in comments recorded during the taping of an “Access Hollywood” episode in 2005. The recording caught Trump saying that, “when you’re a star,” you can “do anything” to women, even “grab them by the pussy.” WikiLeaks released its first batch of emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, less than an hour after that report was published.

Editor’s Note: Nov. 17, 2017, 9:55 a.m.

Because of the phrasing of the original headline, this piece was mischaracterized as an Intercept editorial. The headline has been changed to clarify that it is a news article reflecting the author’s analysis. ... y-clinton/
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