The Curious Case of Barrett Brown

By Patrick Brogan

House of Cards fans will be familiar with the name, or should be anyway. The hacker Gavin Orsay, played brilliantly by Jimmi Simpson, mentions his name on a few occasions. “All of Barrett Brown’s charges are dropped.” When I watched this I assumed he was a fictional character. I was wrong. He is very real and House of Cards is portraying an issue that is very important for the future of society. They have even hired an expert in the field to help with the authenticity of the story.

Who is This Barrett Brown You Speak of?

Barrett Brown is a Texan born journalist who has contributed to The Daily Beast and The Guardian amongst others. He had links to the hacktivist group Anonymous and even featured in a number of documentaries about the group. He has since said he no longer has any ties to the group as of 2011. This timeline is important and you’ll see why later. In 2009, he set up Project PM which is “a collective investigation into the secret world of private intelligence.” Project PM focused mainly on what has been described as the cyber-industrial complex. The group had some involvement with the leaked HBGary emails and information a few years back. If you are unfamiliar with the details here is short synopsis; HBGary are involved in software, particularly software that will lead to government contracts. They thought they would make a name for themselves by taking on and exposing Anonymous. It backfired horribly and their information ended up all over the internet. Pretty embarrassing for a software company.

This January, he was sentenced to 63 months in jail in Dallas. This was down from a possible 105 year incarceration. The reason he was imprisoned goes back to what are called the Stratfor Leaks. His role in these leaks though is fairly minor by all accounts.

The Stratfor Email Leaks

According to its website, Stratfor “is a geopolitical intelligence firm that provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world.” An organisation like this is right up Barrett’s street. In 2011, Anonymous got a hold of some of Stratfor‘s emails through their database. Only 5.5 million of them. Barrett claims to have cut ties with the group a short time before this happened. A few months later, in early 2012, the emails started to appear on the Wikileaks site. So, you’re probably wondering what is in these emails that caused Barrett Brown to be imprisoned. Well given the volume of emails there is a lot of topics discussed. Among them is insider trading — Stratfor took part in this under a subsidiary called StratCap, with the help of a Goldman Sachs director — the relationship Stratfor had with a number of journalists around the world and the monitoring of activists, including the “Yes Men”, who sought justice after the Bhopal disaster in India.

Did Barrett Brown discover all this? No. Was he the original publisher? No. His crime seems a fairly innocuous one and one journalists must be wary of in future. On his site he linked some of the Stratfor data that was leaked. The problem was some of this data contained credit card information. Then there is the issue of Brown threatening a Federal agent on YouTube. It could be argued that he should be imprisoned for potential fraud and then issuing threats against an agent of the law, but there is a pattern starting emerge in terms of whistleblowers and prison terms.

Bush and Obama

Back when Barack Obama was running for his first term as president he was seen as some sort of messiah. It was easy to understand. He would have been the first black president. His message was full of positivity. Yes We Can. What was there not to like? A big factor was the man he would be taking over from too. George W. Bush’s legacy is seen as one of war and wrecking the economy. This is slightly unfair and overly simplistic, but that is how public perception operates.

Obama was going to end the war. This now looks like a knee-jerk decision that has had profound consequences for the Middle East. The drone strikes increased too. That most cowardly form of war increased dramatically under the new Commander-in-Chief. Under Bush, over 400 people died because of drone strikes. Under Obama it is at least 2,400. More can be read here. I mention this for a simple reason. Obama’s two terms have not been the utopian society some were expecting. The biggest issue I find is his reaction to whistleblowers. This is something which will only become more prevalent in years to come.

I understand the appeal of somebody like Donald Trump. I disagree with a lot of the points he makes and sometimes I feel like his presidential campaign is some sort of social experiment and he is seeing how outlandish he can get before people get tried of him. That said, he does bring up some interesting points. The fact that himself and Bernie Sanders, the two outsiders, are looking increasingly likely to battle it out for the presidency shows one clear trend. The American public are tried of the Establishment. Most Western citizens are wary of the outdated institutions that hold a big influence over our lives. And something that has come up time and again, seemingly he every time he talks, is Trump’s right to speak his mind. He is right to bring this up of course, but I feel Trump and his supporters are looking in the wrong direction. Instead of directing their attention towards immigrants and China, they should be exercising their right of freedom of speech to criticise the banks, major corporations and the Government that was elected in their name and the relationship between these. I include the military-industrial complex and oil companies in this too.

Edward Snowden, Peter van Buren, Chelsea Manning, Aaron Swartz and Jeremy Hammond have all had their lives completely turned around because they were brave enough to let the public know what the American government was carrying out. Most of it illegal. Barrett Brown is in that category too, although for the reasons already mentioned, his case is a bit more complicated.

Obama’s Legacy

For me, this will be Obama’s legacy. There are other issues too that should be mentioned, good and bad, but giving corporations and those with vested interests in creating wars free reign must be the worst. Bush was at it too. So were Clinton, Reagan and Johnson, but no president has come down as hard on whistleblowers as Barack Obama. Whistleblowers are important because they unearth corruption at the highest levels. Obama is, by stopping these people from talking, complicit in this corruption. Do these people not have rights? Where is the right to criticise and the freedom of speech?

It may seem a bit like doom and gloom, but thanks to the internet the cat is out of the bag. The likes of Obama will find it more difficult to suppress this information from coming out. Wikileaks has been a game changer and so too has Edward Snowden et al. Someday in the future, people will look back these people the way we view Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. today. Words are still important after all. Long live the freedom of speech.


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