In one of his final missives before his dramatic arrest, Barrett Brown stated "The question we need to ask -- and we need to have the answers, the facts, in front of us when we ask it, if we intend to answer it -- is how much good does an organization do... and how much bad does it do?" Referring to the fact that the FBI had been partly responsible for the dissolution of his family when he was younger, Barrett had also seen the FBI arrest and charge 14 persons with the use of DDoS in their protest against PayPal for blocking donations to WikiLeaks, a tactic which has been likened to a virtual sit-in, but is nevertheless punishable by up to 15 years in prison. He was instrumental in organizing legal defense for those accused.
An astute critic of institutions, Barrett began his career criticizing the church, moved on to the corporate media and political pundits, focused on various companies in the private intelligence contracting industry, and finally took aim at the FBI and the Justice Department. Holding fast to his principles and instincts, his exemplary work always advanced the public interest and the interests of the common people. On a mission to expose corruption and abuse, he acted in the best traditions of the Constitution and muckraking journalism. His writing bleeds with his knowledge of the libertarian and anarchist schools of thought and a revolutionary sentiment. It's no surprise that he now finds himself the target of a political prosecution which has already stolen his freedom for nearly a year and threatens to put him away for life.
In an interview occurring after the March 6, 2012 FBI raid of his and his mother's homes, Barrett referenced the research he had directed at Project PM to investigate the contents of leaked emails -- "I sincerely believe that my activities on that front have contributed to me being raided the other day, and will no doubt contribute to any further action that the FBI decides to take. I would just also note the Justice Department itself, is very much intertwined with this issue, and has been for a while, and in no way can conduct a fair investigation against me, based on what I've revealed, what I've helped to sort of emphasize about them." Indeed, the investigation was anything but fair. The search warrant sought information on entities material to his reporting about the intelligence industry, confirming that he was targeted for his writings exposing the deep state.
Barrett is a member of a new generation of journalists who double as activists, those who recognize that dissent is fully warranted against a media complicit in creating the conditions for war, an executive engaged in assassination, torture, and indefinite detention, a state whose legitimacy crumbles as it displays its non-recognition for international principles of asylum. The enemies of the republic use secrecy and power to destroy liberties, while targeting whole populations with invasive surveillance, propaganda and capabilities like persona management. It's appropriate that a justified form of unconventional, asymmetric informational warfare is being practiced by whistle-blowers and hacktivists, exemplified by organizations such as WikiLeaks and people like Edward Snowden, who liberate information for the public good.
Speaking to NBC News about Anonymous in 2011, Barrett said: "When we break laws, we do it in the service of civil disobedience. We do so ethically."
In his case, the tools of "justice" are secret grand juries who come up with long lists of charges that carry oppressive sentencing regimes. They pressure the defendant to plea to some crime, while investigating associates and pulling in family members. Being the stubborn idealist that he is, Barrett has not bowed to their unfair tactics. He has pleaded not guilty, refused to cooperate and intends to fight in court. His private legal team includes Ahmed Ghappour and Charlie Swift, two highly skilled attorneys who are perhaps best known for their quest for justice at Guantánamo Bay. The prosecution meanwhile would like to present a false context in which Project PM, a legitimate journalistic enterprise, is a criminal organization, and where Barrett, a peaceful activist, is a violent criminal. What explanation exists for charges so ridiculous and trumped-up, other than that they are clearly scared of those with the capacity to expose and defy wrongdoing?
Attacks on the character of such individuals are par for the course. Barrett stands accused of being arrogant and outspoken, he is faulted for an acknowledged history with substances, and so on. There are even those who foolishly doubt his journalistic credentials. In May, writing for the Dallas Observer, Eric Nicholson asked in his headline: "Is Anonymous Hacktivist Barrett Brown a Journalist? His Supporters Say So." and wrote that "his supporters have settled on a different term to describe Brown: journalist." What is someone whose work regularly appeared under a byline at the Guardian, Vanity Fair and here at The Huffington Post, and who was often sought as a commentator on television, if not a journalist? No comment from detractors and critics can dissuade his supporters, nor does it change the fact that he is being wildly, unjustly persecuted.
The problems which lead prosecutors to charge the limits of imagination rather than the facts are systemic in nature, but there are simple ways we can counter them. It is imperative to organize, advocate and raise funds for the legal defense of people like Barrett Brown, and we created Free Barrett Brown for this purpose. In his prime, Barrett masterly orchestrated the resources of the internet and social media in furtherance of a transparency agenda, and took risks and made sacrifices to inform the American taxpayer as to what was being done in their name. I think it's now our duty to do the same for him.
Follow Kevin M. Gallagher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ageis