'Anonymous' Mouthpiece Agrees to Gag Order
DALLAS (CN) - The reputed spokesman for hacktivist group Anonymous agreed to a gag order Wednesday that prevents him from talking to media about his alleged threats to an FBI agent and the hacking of the security firm Stratfor Global Intelligence.
Barrett Lancaster Brown, 31, of Dallas, was charged in October 2012 with making an Internet threat, conspiring to make restricted personal information of a federal employee publicly available, and retaliating against a federal law enforcement officer. He has been in federal custody since September 2012.
Brown was accused of posting several videos and messages on YouTube and Twitter between March and Septe mber 2012, "threatening to shoot and injure agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and specifically focusing on Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Robert Smith."
Brown was upset that federal agents confiscated his computer equipment and questioned his mother, according to the indictment.
In December 2012, a second indictment charged Brown with linking to credit card information that had been culled from the 2011 hacking by Anonymous into Austin-based Stratfor. Prosecutors claimed he posted an Internet link that provided access to data stolen from the company, including more than 5,000 credit card account numbers and associated information.
In the second indictment, Brown was charged with trafficking in stolen authorization features, access device fraud, and 10 counts of aggravated identity theft.
In signing the agreed gag order Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay wrote that continued statements by attorneys and Brown would prevent a fair trial.
"This case has generated extensive local publicity in both the print and broadcast media, as well as social media," Lindsay wrote. "This pervasive publicity can be expected to continue during the pendency of these criminal actions. ... To protect that right to a fair trial, it is necessary for the court to take limited steps to restrain counsel and defendant from making prejudicial statements to the press and media."
Under the agreement, Brown, his attorneys and prosecutors will not make any statements to the media, including bloggers, on matters other than those in the public record.
The order does not prevent Brown from talking to the media on topics unrelated to the charges against him.
Before the Wednesday hearing on the prosecution's request for the gag order, Brown's attorneys filed an 88-page memo in opposition, describing Brown as an investigative journalist whose First Amendment rights are at stake.
"Brown's reporting and knowledge about Anonymous, in addition to the military and intelligence contracting industry, led to a number of media appearances on MSNBC, Fox News and other news networks," the memorandum states. "Prior to his arrest, he had also appeared as an interviewee in three recent documentary films."
Brown's arrest was heavily covered by the media. Interest in the case has increased since Edward Snowden's leak of the National Security Agency's massive data collection and surveillance activities, his attorneys claimed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Candina Heath reached the agreement with Brown's attorneys after calling FBI Agent Smith to testify about Brown's communications with his supporters and the media since his arrest and incarceration at the city jail in Mansfield.
Heath told the judge that Brown was attempting to try the case in the media and that incorrect information would be prejudicial.
Smith testified that as a condition for Brown granting D Magazine editor Tim Rogers an interview, Brown asked the magazine to publish a jailhouse letter from him.
"Is this an example of Barrett Brown controlling the media?" Heath asked the agent.
"Yes," Smith replied.
Smith testified that phone records showed communications with several other members of the media, including writers with The Guardian, Vice, and Washington Post, among others. He said Brown also spoke with filmmaker Vivian Weisman about participating in a documentary.
During a phone call between Brown and Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald on March 6, Greenwald told Brown that he was not the most sympathetic character, Smith testified.
In another conversation four days later, Brown told Greenwald the only thing holding up a plea agreement was the Stratfor incident, Smith added.
When Greenwald asked Brown if he considers himself a journalist in his activities, Smith said Brown indicated he was a participant in Anonymous. Brown has long denied that he is a spokesman for the group.
Smith said that in a phone call on April 3 to Kevin Gallagher, director of FreeBarrettBrown.org, Brown indicated he would like to keep the local media spotlight on his case.
Defense attorney Charles Swift, with Swift McDonald in Seattle, objected when Heath asked Smith to testify whether Brown discussed with Weisman anything that he was not yet charged with, citing lack of relevancy.
Judge Lindsay did not rule on the objection and called attorneys on both sides to approach the bench. Two hours of discussion and two recesses later, the sides struck the deal.
"A gag on Barrett and/or his attorneys would amount to prior restraint and will only impede the public's right-to-know whether he is receiving due process and impose de facto secrecy on the proceedings," Gallagher said in a statement posted on FreeBarrettBrown.org. "The fact that the defendant is an established journalist has profound implications for freedom of the press and the state of our justice system."
In an article published in the Huffington Post on Aug. 11, Weisman said she did indeed speak with Brown several times and was careful not to discuss the charges he faces.
"In addition to being a filmmaker, I am a lawyer, thus I was careful not to ask Brown about any of his charges," Weisman wrote. "Frankly, as a filmmaker the specific charges against Brown are less interesting to me than the why. In other words, what about Barrett Brown is so threatening to the government that he is being charged with a whopping 105 years?"
She added: "The takeaway from my conversations with Brown is that not only is he highly intelligent, we all knew that, but also a courageous individual with an incorruptible moral independence, and therein lays the rub. How does the state, determined to know about every aspect of our lives - what we read what we write, our likes and dislikes - deal with this brilliant young man? A man with a particular 'obsession' (his word not mine) with the nexus between the intelligence contractors and the surveillance state? By locking him up - and now shutting him up."
Paul Wagenseil, senior editor with TechNewsDaily, indicates Brown is being charged for posting a link to a "data dump" of stolen information.
"If that's the case, then dozens of technology journalists, including possibly this writer, as well hundreds of technology researchers, might be considered just as guilty as Brown," Wagensell wrote. "Many online news reports include links to websites where politically motivated hackers post their manifestos, and those manifestos in turn often contain links to file-sharing sites that house stolen data."
In a self-shot video titled "Why I'm Going to Destroy FBI Agent [RS] Part Three: Revenge of the Lithe," Brown allegedly calls Smith a "fucking chicken shit little faggot cocksucker" and a "criminal, who is involved in a criminal conspiracy."
"'That's why Robert Smith's life is over, but when I say his life is over, I don't say I'm going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids,'" according to the motion in opposition to the gag order.
The opposition to the gag order quoted a June 24 article in The Guardian, which reported: "On 6 March 2012, the FBI raided Brown, looking for among other things 'records related to HBGary [Federal]'. Under growing pressure, Brown posted a YouTube rant in September 2012, in which he spoke of his opiate use and made reference to the Zetas, a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. Speaking to his computer screen, Brown warned that 'any armed officials of the US government, particularly the FBI, will be regarded as potential Zeta assassin squads and ... I will shoot all of them and kill them.' Clearly, Brown felt persecuted, but it was an ill-advised statement, which has led to jail without bail for nine months and a harsh list of indictments."
Brown's trial was scheduled to begin this month, but Lindsay in August granted the defense's motion for continuance and Brown's waiver of his right to a speedy trial.
The defense asked for time to prepare and process more than 2 terabytes of electronic data in discovery.
Trial is now set for April 28, 2014.
Brown also is represented by Ahmed Ghappour, a clinical instructor with the National Security Clinic at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, and Marlo Cadeddu of Dallas.