On Tuesday the sentencing of Barrett Brown, a US journalist, was delayed for a second time and postponed until January 22 of next year. At the hearing the prosecution dramatically presented 500 pages of new evidence, seemingly unrelated to the charges to which Brown was awaiting sentencing. The only explanation for this is that it was a clumsy attempt by the prosecution to provide the judge with a basis for awarding a maximum sentence at the January hearing. But the behaviour of the prosecution at the hearing revealed several important ambiguities that can only be described as (unintended) prosecutional sabotage. (See also video at end.)
Firstly. The prosecution took the opportunity at the hearing to bring up matters relating to an earlier charge against Brown that was subsequently dropped – namely the alleged posting of a link to data hacked from Stratfor. Marlo Cadeddu, the Defense attorney told the court that the prosecution’s claim about the link “has serious repercussions to journalists, researchers, people who link to public information… The government’s argument should chill the bones of every journalist and every researcher.” (The link, incidentally, was readily available in the public domain.)
On Thursday Michelle Garcia commented on the hearing, adding a quote from defense attorney Ahmed Ghappour (who directs the Liberty, Security and Technology Clinic, at the University of California Hastings College of Law): “Looking at that [the sharing of an online link] as criminal conduct would probably bring an end to all digital journalism, period. There would be no reporting on leaks.”
By bringing the matter of the shared link up on Tuesday the prosecution has ensured the case against Brown is contaminated.
Secondly. One of the items of evidence raised by the prosecution on Tuesday was a quote from a tweet by Brown. The quote was “kill Assange”. This was completely bizarre. Needless to say, an explanation was quickly furnished by Julian Assange himself via a statement on the Wikileaks website.
It read as follows…”The most serious claim against Barrett Brown is that six months after the March 6, 2012 FBI raid on his mother’s address he tweeted “illegally shoot the son of a bitch”. It sounds bad. It is a clear incitement to murder. The FBI claim that the “son of a bitch” Barrett was referring to was one of their agents. That is false. The “son of a bitch” is me—and the person who called for my assassination was not Barrett Brown. Barrett’s full retweet was “dead men can’t leak stuff… illegally shoot the son of a bitch”. The quote is from Fox news host Bob Beckel, who called for my assassination—an injustice that Barrett was trying to draw attention to. Here is the video proof. The FBI took no action against Bob Beckel or the numerous other senior figures calling for my assassination. A bill was put before Congress to declare WikiLeaks staff “enemy combatants” in order to make our assassination legal. It did not pass, but the FBI still refused to act. Two days after Barrett retweeted the Bob Beckel statement, the FBI arrested not Bob Beckel, but Barrett Brown. He has been in jail ever since.”
By raising this matter in court on Tuesday in an attempt to further prejudice the judge the prosecution merely succeeded in demonstrating gross incompetence.
Thirdly. We need to remind ourselves why Brown was targeted in the first place. In the same article published in The Intercept on Thursday, Garcia further commented… “Through the online collective he founded, called Project PM, Brown analyzed and reported on the thousands of pages of leaked documents. The HBGary hack revealed a coordinated campaign to target and smear advocates for WikiLeaks and the Chamber of Commerce, while the Stratfor hack provided a rare window into the shadowy world of defense contractors.”
So how is this process different in any way from that of a newspaper sorting through and analysing data and information, leaked or otherwise, prior to being written up into an article for publication? Well, if you are stuck for an example, two immediately spring to mind: the Guardian newspaper forensically analysed the masses of data leaked by Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, or Rolling Stone magazine using the same treatment in relation to information leaked about Stratfor.
Of course, there is no difference. Barrett Brown was merely doing his job. But in doing so, FBI officers decided to provoke him. The subsequent prosecution, as already argued here, was never about a crime but was political and an act of revenge in order to discourage further examples of digital investigative research, particularly when that research is aimed at the corporate state establishment.
In summary, at last Tuesday’s sentencing hearing the prosecution shot itself in the foot and it is now clear that the case against Brown is seriously flawed if not vexatious. As such it should be deemed legally unsafe.