On January 22nd US journalist Barrett Brown will know whether he will receive up to 8.5 years imprisonment for what are basically minor offences he allegedly committed in response to FBI provocation – all because of his investigations in the murky dealings of private security companies and their secret links with the US Government. One such company he was looking into was Stratfor – information about which was made available allegedly by Jeremy Hammond, now serving 10 years imprisonment. However, more than twenty of the world’s mass media outlets were party to publishing this information, but were not prosecuted. Why? Because in doing so the patent absurdity of the prosecution cases against Brown and Hammond would be laid bare. Below, we publish a forensic analysis of what was published and by which outlet and in doing so provide a cogent if not legal argument why Brown’s case should be thrown out and the judgement against Hammond overturned.
Firstly, it’s important to understand how and why the US justice system in general has little to do with justice. The US gulag has the largest prisoner population in the world and (with the exception of the Seychelles) more prisoners per population than any other country in the world, including China, Russia and Iran. The USA has less than 5% of the world’s population and 23.4% of the world’s prison and jail population (adult inmates). One in eleven of the US prison population are black, one in twenty-seven are Latinos and one in forty-five Caucasian. 92% are male. Moreover, most do not even get a jury trial: instead it is normal for those arrested to be told that if they plead guilty a more serious charge will then be dropped. Few of those arrested are able to afford the disproportionately high legal fees and so a quick deal is their only option. Thus the notion that alleged offenders are assumed innocent until proven guilty and are subject to the consideration of twelve of their peers is pure myth.
These considerations apply to both Brown and Hammond, both of whom, separately and in their different ways, were merely guilty of deploying 21st century methodologies to help shed light on crimes and corporate and intelligence scandals that took place around the world. Many newspapers and magazines published the information they helped reveal. But instead of awarding accolades for what Brown and Hammond did, the corporate-state apparatus closed ranks and decided to prosecute them. That prosecution is entirely political – an act of revenge so as to discourage further examples of digital investigative research, particularly when that research is aimed at the corporate state establishment. Consequently, until Brown and Hammond are released they can only be regarded as political prisoners.
Below, in Part A we examine in detail the case against Brown; in Part B the case against Hammond; in Parts C and D we provide a list of those media outlets that collaborated in publishing the information/data that Brown analysed and Hammond exposed as well as a few examples of actual articles. Finally, courtesy of Wikileaks, we provide an Appendix that gives examples of USG and Stratfor co-operation as well as other dirty deals.
Note: to get an update on Julian Assange, click here.
A. Barrett Brown
1. Background to his case
He was originally charged with forwarding a link to the information exposed about Stratfor that also included information about Stratfor employees, including their credit card details. But this formed only a tiny part of the vast amount of data. Nor, it should be added, did Brown use this data for financial gain. In the end the US government agreed to drop the more serious charges after lawyers filed a legal memorandum: they correctly argued these charges were effectively a violation of the First Amendment, pointing out that “publishing a hyperlink does not itself move, convey, select, place or otherwise transfer, a file or document from one location to another”. Ahmed Ghappour (who directs the Liberty, Security and Technology Clinic, at the University of California Hastings College of Law) stated: “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.”
The remaining charges included transmitting a threat in interstate commerce, being an accessory after the fact to an unauthorized access to a protected computer (i.e. the exposure by Hammond of the Stratfor data) and obstructing the execution of a search warrant (by allegedly hiding his laptops). These laptops contained journalistic sources and work product, including a book-in-progress. The First Amendment protects reporters from revealing confidential information or sources. The New York Court of Appeals recently held that “There is no principle more fundamental or well-established than the right of a reporter to refuse to divulge a confidential source.”
With Brown (and Hammond – see below) the fundamentals of a reporter’s rights were completely ignored. The intention of the US Government here was simple: to imprison and silence those intent on using the advances of the information age to expose unpalatable truths, including the extensive connections between private security companies to government, the military, the defense world and think-tanks.
Tellingly. the original search warrant served to Brown also listed HBGary and Endgame Systems, two firms which were written about at ProjectPM, which Brown contributed to. Project PM is a crowd-sourced investigation that focuses on private contractors and their dealings with governments and uses a combination of open source intelligence, e-mails leaked by hackers, and conventional research. Brown also contributed to the investigations into Cubic Corporation and their alleged links to the Trapwire mass surveillance system. The US Department of Justice was implicated in schemes to go after critical journalists and activists – see: Team Themis.
Brown was also issued with a gagging order and subpoenaed to reveal the names of his contacts and fellow investigators.
2. The December 2014 Sentencing hearing
In December Brown was due to be sentenced but the day long hearing turned into a farce and another hearing for sentencing was deferred until January. Here is what happened…
Firstly, the prosecution took the opportunity to bring up matters relating to the charge that had been dropped. Brown’s attorney took the opportunity to make it clear 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.” Of course, the prosecution should not have been allowed to refer to this earlier charge and that they were was an error by the judge (and so may be subject to an appeal). his should have been challenged..
Secondly and bizarrely one of the items of ‘evidence‘ raised by the prosecution was a quote from a tweet by Brown. The quote was “kill Assange”. An explanation was quickly furnished by Julian Assange 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, it can only be assumed that the prosecution was attempting to further prejudice the judge (but instead merely succeeded in demonstrating gross incompetence).
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.
3. Brown’s research via ProjectPM
Below, is a reprise of Brown’s work via ProjectPM (summarised and adapted from the ProjectPM website):
Abraxas is an intelligence contractor that was revealed as a significant player in Persona Management (i.e fake IDs to snoop on political activists or create propaganda). Abraxas also acquired Anonymizer (which includes encrypted email services) in May 2008. Two years later Abraxas was purchased by Cubic (see below) for $124 million in cash.
Abraxas Corporation also created TrapWire under its subsidiary Abraxas Applications. TrapWire is/was linked to the National Suspicious Activity Reporting (NSI) Initiative, a program designed to help aggregate reports of suspicious activity around the country. It was claimed that TrapWire could eventually extend to fusion centers around the USA as congressional testimony from June 2011 indicated that the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department was part of a trial project of the Department of Homeland Security to test the use of TrapWire. The Texas Department of Public Safety, which operates the Texas Fusion Center, also purchased TrapWire software in 2010. For more on Trapwire, click here.
Ntrepid also provides Persona Management services to US and unspecified “multinational forces” in conjunction with the CENTCOM information operations program Operation Earnest Voice. The technology is supposedly for use with non-US forums and social media outlets, thus circumventing US laws against impersonation. Ntrepid’s corporate registry lists Abraxas’ previous CEO and founder, Richard Helms, as the director and officer, along with Wesley Husted, the former CFO, who is also an Ntrepid officer. The shifting company names and management led to speculation that Ntrepid is a front company for Abraxas.
4. Cubic Corporation
Cubic is a global leader in defense, and transportation systems and services and an emerging supplier of smart card and RFID solutions. This picture provides an idea of the relationships between Cubic Corp, other companies, and individuals. There was also controversy about a global surveillance system called Trapwire. Despite Cubic‘s denial of affiliation with Trapwire, Abraxas Corporation subsidiary Abraxas Dauntless shares an interlocking directorate, including Richard Hollis Helms, with both TrapWire and Ntrepid at least as recently as 2012 and appears to have done so continuously since its merger with Cubic. For more on Trapwire, click here.
HBGary Federal was set up with Aaron Barr as CEO to provide services and tools to the US Government that might require security clearance. In February of 2011, HBGary and HBGary Federal were raided by several Anons, who released over 70,000 e-mails acquired from their shared server. A subsequent review of those materials by journalists and activists revealed that the firm partnered with Palantir and Berico to provide information operation services to prospective clients under a partnership known as Team Themis. Evidence of persona management and its use by CENTCOM was discovered via these e-mails, as also a complex US military surveillance and propaganda apparatus – referred to as Romas/COIN. See also Spy games: Inside the convoluted plot to bring down WikiLeaks.
4. Summary of Brown’s case
Rolling Stone magazine posited that “Brown’s case is a bell weather for press freedoms in the new century, where hacks and leaks provide some of our only glimpses into the technologies and policies of an increasingly privatized national security-and-surveillance state”.
Noam Chomsky states that Barrett Brown is being “punished for the crime of taking citizenship seriously.”
So how is the process that Brown decided on different from that of, say, a newspaper sorting through and analysing data and information, leaked or otherwise, prior to being written up into an article for publication? If you are stuck for an example, two immediately spring to mind: a) the Guardian newspaper forensically analysed the masses of data leaked by Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, or b) Rolling Stone magazine used the same treatment in relation to the information leaked about Stratfor (see below). Of course, there is no real difference. FBI officers decided to provoke Brown because he was merely doing his job.
The December hearing also demonstrated how the case against Brown is seriously flawed, if not vexatious. As such his prosecution should be deemed legally unsafe. Brown’s supporters hope that the judge will order his release as an act of clemency, given he has already served two years in prison.
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. For an excellent (2013) on the persecution of Brown, see: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/21/barrett-brown-persecution-anonymous
B. Jeremy Hammond
Jeremy Hammond is a US computer programmer, political activist and former member of the online collective Anonymous. In December 2011, Anonymous and Lulzsec-affiliated hacktivists 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. After being threatened with 40 years to life in prison Hammond accepted a non-cooperating plea deal to one count of violating the arcane and draconian Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Since his arrest in March of 2012, Jeremy has been cut off from his friends and family, and punished with extensive stays in solitary confinement. There is a valid case for a sentence reduction, if not a pardon. His official support site is here.
C. Media partners
WikiLeaks organised an investigative partnership with more than 25 media organisations and activists to inform the public about the huge body of documents retrieved from Stratfor. These organisations were provided access to a sophisticated investigative database developed by WikiLeaks and together with WikiLeaks they conducted journalistic evaluations of these emails.
The argument is simple: if numerous media outlets around the world, including the USA, analyse and publish the data about Stratfor but are not prosecuted, then neither should Hammond and Brown for their respective alleged roles in that process.
The following are the media outlets – partners to Wikileaks – that published information made available by the hacking of Stratfor:
Al Akhbar – Lebanon – http://english.al-akhbar.com
Al Masry Al Youm – Egypt – http://www.almasry-alyoum.com
Bivol – Bulgaria – http://bivol.bg
CIPER – Chile – http://ciperchile.cl
Dawn Media – Pakistan – http://www.dawn.com
L’Espresso – Italy – http://espresso.repubblica.it
La Repubblica – Italy – http://www.repubblica.it
La Jornada – Mexico – www.jornada.unam.mx/
La Nacion – Costa Rica – http://www.nacion.com
Malaysia Today – Malaysia – www.malaysia-today.net
McClatchy – United States – http://www.mcclatchydc.com
Nawaat – Tunisia – http://nawaat.org
NDR/ARD – Germany – http://www.ndr.de
Owni – France – http://owni.fr
Pagina 12 – Argentine – Pagina 12 – Argentina – www.pagina12.com.ar
Plaza Publica – Guatemala – http://plazapublica.com.gt
Publico.es – Spain – www.publico.es
Rolling Stone – United States – http://www.rollingstone.com
Russian Reporter – Russia – http://rusrep.ru
Sunday Star-Times – New Zealand – www.star-times.co.nz
Ta Nea – Greece –- http://www.tanea.gr
Taraf – Turkey – http://www.taraf.com.tr
The Hindu – India – www.thehindu.com
The Yes Men – Bhopal Activists – Global http://theyesmen.org
D. Examples of what media outlets published about Stratfor
- Rolling Stone: ‘Wikileaks Stratfor emails: a secret indictment against Julian Assange?
- The Daily Dot: ‘Walmart bid Stratfor to investigate rival CEO’s alleged affair’
- Owni: ‘Wikileaks lays bare Stratfor’s inner workings’
- The Star (Canada): ‘Wikileaks documents reveal 13 federal departments had contracts with Stratfor’
According to Wikileaks the Global Intelligence Files – more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered “global intelligence” company Stratfor – reveal “the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but in reality provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods.” For example :
“[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control… This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase” – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.
The material also contains privileged information about the US government’s attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor’s own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks. There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange.
Again, from Wikileaks: “The emails expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.”
Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the “Yes Men”, for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical (the activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India; the disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage).
Stratfor has realised that its routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders is risky. In August 2011, Stratfor CEO George Friedman confidentially told his employees : “We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either.”
The emails show that in 2009 then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman hatched an idea to “utilise the intelligence” it was pulling in from its insider network to start up a captive strategic investment fund. CEO George Friedman explained in a confidential August 2011 document, marked DO NOT SHARE OR DISCUSS : “What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like”.
The emails show that in 2011 Goldman Sach’s Morenz invested “substantially” more than $4million and joined Stratfor’s board of directors. Throughout 2011, a complex offshore share structure extending as far as South Africa was erected, designed to make StratCap appear to be legally independent. But, confidentially, Friedman told StratFor staff : “Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral… It will be useful to you if, for the sake of convenience, you think of it as another aspect of Stratfor and Shea as another executive in Stratfor… we are already working on mock portfolios and trades”. StratCap was due to launch in 2012.
The Stratfor emails reveal a company that cultivates close ties with US government agencies and employs former US government staff. It is preparing the 3-year Forecast for the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, and it trains US marines and “other government intelligence agencies” in “becoming government Stratfors”. Stratfor’s Vice-President for Intelligence, Fred Burton, was formerly a special agent with the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and was their Deputy Chief of the counterterrorism division.
Despite the governmental ties, Stratfor and similar companies operate in complete secrecy with no political oversight or accountability. Stratfor claims that it operates “without ideology, agenda or national bias”, yet the emails reveal private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with US government policies and channel tips to the Mossad – including through an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks’ contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables to Israel.
Ironically, considering the present circumstances, Stratfor was trying to get into what it called the leak-focused “gravy train” that sprung up after WikiLeaks’ Afghanistan disclosures : “[Is it] possible for us to get some of that ’leak-focused’ gravy train ? This is an obvious fear sale, so that’s a good thing. And we have something to offer that the IT security companies don’t, mainly our focus on counter-intelligence and surveillance that Fred and Stick know better than anyone on the planet… Could we develop some ideas and procedures on the idea of ´leak-focused’ network security that focuses on preventing one’s own employees from leaking sensitive information… In fact, I’m not so sure this is an IT problem that requires an IT solution.”
Stratfor gave a complimentary membership to the controversial Pakistan general Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, who, according to US diplomatic cables, planned an IED attack on international forces in Afghanistan in 2006. Readers will discover Stratfor’s internal email classification system that codes correspondence according to categories such as ’alpha’, ’tactical’ and ’secure’. The correspondence also contains code names for people of particular interest such as ’Hizzies’ (members of Hezbollah), or ’Adogg’ (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad).
Stratfor did secret deals with dozens of media organisations and journalists – from Reuters to the Kiev Post. The list of Stratfor’s “Confederation Partners”, whom Stratfor internally referred to as its “Confed Fuck House” are included in the release. While it is acceptable for journalists to swap information or be paid by other media organisations, because Stratfor is a private intelligence organisation that services governments and private clients these relationships are corrupt or corrupting.
It should be noted that Fred Burton, Stratfor’s Vice-President for Counterterrorism and Corporate Security, is a former Deputy Chief of the Department of State’s (DoS) counterterrorism division for the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).
In early 2011, Burton revealed in internal Stratfor correspondence that a secret Grand Jury had already issued a sealed indictment for Assange: “Not for Pub — We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.” (375123) According to Burton: “Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.” (1056988) A few weeks earlier, following Julian Assange’s release from a London jail, where he had been remanded as a result of a Swedish prosecutor’s arrest warrant, Fred Burton told SkyNews: “extradition [to the US is] more and more likely”. (373862).
Emails from Fred Burton reveal that the US Government employs the same counterterrorism strategy against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as against Al Qaeda: “Take down the money. Go after his infrastructure. The tools we are using to nail and de-construct Wiki are the same tools used to dismantle and track aQ [Al Qaeda]. Thank Cheney & 43 [former US President George W. Bush]. Big Brother owns his liberal terrorist arse.” (1067796)
Ten days after the CIA reportedly assassinated Osama bin Laden, Burton writes in an email sent to Stratfor’s “Secure” mailing list that he “can get access to the materials seized from the OBL [Osama bin Laden] safe house.” (1660854)
Burton states: “Ferreting out [Julian Assange’s] confederates is also key. Find out what other disgruntled rogues inside the tent or outside [sic]. Pile on. Move him from country to country to face various charges for the next 25 years. But, seize everything he and his family own, to include every person linked to Wiki.” (1056763).
Burton also says he “would pursue [c]onspiracy and [p]olitical [t]errorism charges and declassify the death of a source someone which [he] could link to Wiki” (1074383). Burton’s strategy is to: “[b]ankrupt the arsehole first,” Burton states, “ruin his life. Give him 7-12 yrs for conspiracy.” (1057220)
As early as June 2010, after the release of the Collateral Murder video but prior to the Afghan War Diaries release, the Stratfor emails talk of a sealed indictment. In an email conversation between Shane Harris, a National Security journalist, and Burton, Harris is surprised that Assange was reporteded to be attending a Las Vegas Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference. Burton remarks: “As a foreign national, we could revoke [Julian Assange’s] travel status and deport. Could also be taken into custody as a material witness. We COULD have a sealed indictment and lock him up. Depends upon how far along the military case is” (391504). Julian Assange cancelled his appearance at the IRE conference due to security concerns.
In another email to Stephen Feldhaus, Stratfor legal counsel, about Ronald Kessler, a “pro-FBI journalist”, Burton remarks: “I look forward to Manning and Assange facing a bajillion-thousand counts [of espionage].” (1035283)
Three days before Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning arrived at Quantico Brig, Burton wrote to George Friedman, Stratfor CEO and founder: “We probably asked the ASIS [Australian Secret Intelligence Service] to monitor Wiki coms and email, after the soldier from Potomac was nabbed. So, it’s reasonable to assume we probably already know who has done it. The delay could be figuring out how to declassify and use the Aussie intel on Wiki… The owner [Julian Assange] is a peacenik. He needs his head dunked in a full toilet bowl at Gitmo.”