On November 24th journalist and online investigative researcher Barrett Brown is to be sentenced to a possible eight years or more imprisonment for basically carrying out his job. Brown is based not in Egypt, or Iran, or North Korea, or Bahrain, or in another country headed by an internationally recognised oppressive regime, but in the USA. Essentially, Brown was ‘collateral damage’ in a wider crackdown on those who, like Brown but each in very different ways, can be seen as trailblazers of a digital democracy that challenged the methodologies of old media and governments alike.
These digital revolutionaries helped expose corruption and other crimes and, in doing so, helped shine a light on the totalitarian nature of information control that affects every person on this planet. Although the world’s leading newspapers and journals co-published information that resulted from these investigations, the US Government has made it clear it has no intention to prosecute those publications as to do so would be a violation of the US Constitution. But this is precisely why the conviction or persecution of Brown and his contemporaries should be seen as unsafe and/or entirely malicious and vexatious.
See for yourselves…
1. Barrett Brown
Barrett Brown is a US journalist whose work has appeared in the Guardian, Vanity Fair, Huffington Post, Businessweek, True/Slant, Skeptical Inquirer and many other outlets. He faces sentencing for the following: a) transmitting a threat in interstate commerce, b) obstructing the execution of a search warrant (by allegedly hiding his laptops) and c) being an accessory after the fact to an unauthorized access to a protected computer (this latter charge relates to assistance that Brown rendered to Jeremy Hammond – see below). These are all minor offences and Brown was bullied into pleading guilty to them as part of a deal that saw far more serious charges dropped. He faces a maximum of 8.5 years in jail, even though in any other country or any other time these so-called offences would not have merited his arrest, let alone his subsequent two years in custody (and that they did is an indictment of the US justice system).
Brown has served enough time in jail and he should be released. (To see documents relating to his prosecution – click here; to see a site supporting Brown, click here; to see a website associated with Brown’s work, click here.)
2. Jeremy Hammond
Jeremy Hammond is a 29 year old US computer programmer, political activist and a former member of the online collective Anonymous. In December 2011, Anonymous and Lulzsec-affiliated hacktivists, including Hammond, allegedly infiltrated security company Stratfor’s servers and, over the course of several weeks, unearthed more than five million emails dating back to 2004. As a result of a tip-off by an FBI infiltrator Hammond was arrested and forced to plead guilty to one count of violating the arcane and draconian Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He was convicted of that charge and is now serving 10 years in prison. It should be noted that the judge at Hammond’s trial refused to recuse herself despite a clear conflict of interest in that her husband was a former Stratfor client.
Hammond’s motives for carrying out his actions were entirely noble: to expose the dealings of Stratfor, which he believed were unethical. In 2012, WikiLeaks, in coordination with dozens of international media outlets, began publishing the Stratfor emails that had been exposed. Among the many revelations were a claim by Stratfor that they possessed a copy of a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, that Dow Chemical paid Stratfor to spy on activists protesting Bhopal’s oil spill, and that Coca-Cola paid Stratfor to provide intelligence on PETA activists who might protest at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Another group of Stratfor documents was published by WikiLeaks in collaboration with 29 international media partners as the Global Intelligence Files (GIF) and can be viewed and searched online. The GIF files include several mentions of a surveillance system called Trapwire (news of which went viral) and these documents are expected to produce many more stories.
Hammond’s sentence was grossly disproportionate and, as such, there is a valid case for a sentence reduction if not a pardon. His official support site is here.
3. Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower who exposed the total surveillance methodologies of the NSA and its US and other partners, is charged with theft of government property (18 USC § 641), unauthorised communication of national defense information (18 USC § 793(d)) and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorised person (18 USC § 798(a)(3)). If tried and found guilty he could face up to 30 years in prison. Consequently Snowden has been forced to live outside of the USA.
Initially, there were rabid calls by US politicians that he be charged with treason. This, of course, was a non-starter as treason is a charge that can only be made against someone who is believed to have aided a foreign country with which their own country is officially at war. However, Snowden’s revelation about mass surveillance were to the benefit of the citizens of the USA and the world generally and showed how certain institutions – most notably the National Security Agency – has violated the US Constitution. Subsequent to his revelations it was apparent that the head of the NSA, Keith Alexander, had lied to Congress when questioned about this violation. It is clear, therefore, that it is not Snowden who should be prosecuted but Alexander in that by conducting surveillance on entire populations the NSA – together with their partners in other Western countries, particularly the UK – trampled roughshod over the very liberties the US Government disingenuously purports to protect and, furthermore, is guilty of deploying the totalitarian methodologies that only a decades or so ago were considered worthy of (cold) war.
In short, Snowden not only deserves the thanks of the American people, but should be free to live wherever he chooses. (The official Edward Snowden support site can be found here. It’s interesting to note, that according to journalist Duncan Campbell an attempt was made by the US authorities to seize and rendition Snowden at Moscow Airport.)
4. Chelsea Manning
Former US army analyst Chelsea Manning, a multi-awarded human rights recipient who is backed whole-heartedly by Amnesty International and several Nobel Peace Prize laureates, is serving 35 years imprisonment for leaking information that was essentially about US war crimes, including this ‘Collateral Murder’ video.
Mr Obama, take note: prior to quitting office you, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, could take the opportunity to belatedly demonstrate to the world your liberal credentials and issue a full pardon to Manning. (To see a site that supports Chelsea Manning, click here.)
5. Julian Assange
Julian Assange is editor-in-chief of the publishing house, Wikileaks. Initially there were calls from certain quarters in the USA for Assange to be charged with espionage for merely carrying out his publishing work. But the crime of espionage can only be made a) against a country’s own citizen if it is believed that that citizen provided aid or information to a foreign entity; or b) against a citizen of another country who is spying for that other country. Assange, of course, is not a US citizen, nor has he ever acted on behalf of a foreign country and, so, such calls have now ceased.