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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Anonymous-Tied Man’s Sentencing Delayed

DALLAS (CN) - Citing a mountain of new evidence that prosecutors introduced to seek a stiffer sentence, a federal judge Tuesday delayed sentencing the journalist once tied to hacktivist coalition Anonymous.

Barrett Brown, 33, of Dallas, was to have been sentenced Tuesday morning. He was indicted in October 2012 for allegedly posting several messages and videos on YouTube and Twitter that threatened to shoot and injure FBI agents, including Special Agent Robert Smith.

Brown purportedly was angry that agents confiscated his computers and questioned his mother.

That first indictment carried charges of making an Internet threat, conspiring to make restricted personal information of a federal employee publicly available, and retaliating against a federal law enforcement officer.

Brown was indicted a second time for allegedly linking to stolen credit card information obtained from Anonymous' 2011 hacking of Austin-based security firm Stratfor Global Intelligence. Prosecutors claimed the link led to 5,000 credit card account numbers.

A third indictment against Brown, who has renounced any ties to Anonymous, alleges obstruction of justice for the FBI raid on his mother's home.

Brown's mother pleaded guilty to obstructing the execution of a search warrant and was sentenced to probation last year.

Though Brown pleaded guilty in April to some of the charges against him, and prosecutors dropped 11 of 12 charges tied to the Stratfor hack, a gag order has kept most details of the case under wraps. Brown has been in federal custody since 2012.

His attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay to sentence Brown to time served. Prosecutors asked for more than eight years in federal prison.

At the Tuesday sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Candina Heath introduced 59 exhibits culled from Brown's seized computers. She said the exhibits consist largely of messages, files and chat logs detailing Brown's involvement with Anonymous and his own hacking group, ProjectPM.

Heath said the exhibits "all go to targeting of entities by Anonymous."

Defense attorney Charles Swift, with Swift McDonald in Seattle, objected to the "blanket submission" of so much evidence that "does not go towards" relevant conduct in sentencing Brown.

"There were hundreds of thousands of documents on his computer," Swift said. "They are not relevant to sentencing. A little more foundation needs to be set than that."

Swift argued that Barrett "is an accessory after the crime" and that none of the entities mentioned in the evidence are identified as victims, including corporations such as Shell Oil.

A visibly annoyed Judge Lindsay granted a lengthy recess to give Brown's attorneys time to specify which of the exhibits they object to. He overruled their objections to 18 of the exhibits on relevancy grounds.

"I think there is some degree of relevance; the objection goes more to the weight of the relevance," Lindsay said. "Even if it does not relate to relevance, it goes to Mr. Brown's involvement with Anonymous."

Testifying for the prosecution, FBI Agent Smith said that Brown referred to himself as a "former journalist," "operative," "current agitator," "recruiter" and "spokesman" for Anonymous in the messages.

Smith described evidence in which Brown allegedly discussed splitting ProjectPM into two factions - one "legal" organization whose activities were to be publicized, and a second group Brown would lead that would engage in "war planning" and "revolutionary" nonviolent activities.

Entities that Brown's group targeted included Middle Eastern dictatorships and technology security firm HBGary, Smith said.

"Brown said 'people will die for what we do," Smith testified. "He said he was no longer associated with the legal, open ProjectPM."

One of the exhibits played in court was a video interview Brown gave to NBC News in 2011 regarding Internet hackers. Barrett stated that hackers "come from all walks of life" and are involved in a "silent guerrilla war."

Smith cited messages where Brown allegedly said, "I will probably be hit by the feds" after the interview was broadcast. Smith also detailed messages that list at least seven websites that were being targeted.

Smith testified that Brown said "our people break laws and our opponents break laws" and "we go after people for ask for it."

Brown said he "is not afraid of prosecutors," and that he knows lawyers, Smith testified.

The agent testified that Brown gave directions to group members on whom to target for "doxing," including an unspecified member of Congress.

Doxing involves the researching and public posting of someone's personally identifiable information.

Smith described evidence that Brown directed money from stolen credit card accounts to charities of "revolutionaries" in Greece or Syria who "did not give an [expletive] it was stolen."

On cross-examination, Swift asked Smith if he knew "who actually committed the intrusion or if Barrett Brown was involved" with the HBGary hack.

"My understanding is that in the chat logs, Mr. Brown was involved and that he called those involved during the hack," Smith said. "He provided advice in private conversations between co-conspirators."

Swift objected to evidence of Brown identifying himself as an anarchist, arguing again that "it does not go to the victims" and that it could be prejudicial in sentencing.

Mentioning that a jury is not involved in Brown's sentencing, Lindsay reassured Swift he would not consider the assertions in sentencing.

The judge noted several letters written on Brown's behalf by observers as far away as Germany, India, the United Kingdom and Sweden. He noted impact statements submitted by Puckett & Faraj PC, a law firm that shut down after its email servers were wiped in an Anonymous attack.

Lindsay also noted Swift's earlier objection to the Brown's sentencing report compiled by federal probation officers that concluded that more than $3.6 million in losses were amassed regarding the cases against Brown.

"Where is the evidence to support this figure?" Lindsay asked. "The parties agreed to losses between $400,000 and $1 million" under Brown's plea agreement.

"Bottom line, this is a Level 14 enhancement instead of a Level 18 enhancement to add to the base offense level," he said.

Brown's attorneys last week urged Lindsay to unseal the sentencing report prosecutors filed under seal .

Brown is to be sentenced on Jan. 22.

Follow @davejourno
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