A writer for Vanity Fair, the Guardian, and at one time an unofficial spokesman for the internet pirates known as "Anonymous," Brown apparently stumbled on the murky world of "private" cyber-security firms and their covert relationship with the US government – and is now paying the consequences.
"Anonymous" had its nemesis in Aaron Barr, head honcho over at HBGary, a rather sinister cyber-security outfit that apparently was hoping to get some kind of contract to go after them. Barr foolishly boasted he and his fellow cyber-goons had successfully homed in on the anonymous leadership of "Anonymous." A doubtful proposition the unlikelihood of which was underscored by the hacking of HBGary servers and websites, and the downloading of seventy-thousand emails that revealed chicanery of a particularly dark cast – and, given the Snowden affair, one that is particularly relevant today.
What the Anonymous hack revealed is that HBGary had concocted a plan to go after journalist Glenn Greenwald on account of his defense of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. The scheme originated when WikiLeaks threatened to download internal and highly incriminating documents detailing the crimes of Bank of America. BofA went to the Justice Department, which suggested they get in touch with the high-powered Washington law firm of Hunton & Williams.
The law firm was apparently soliciting proposals, and Barr’s Myrmidons suggested targeting Greenwald because, they averred, "without the support of people like Glenn, WikiLeaks would fold." It was a smear campaign birthed in the dark, with corporate and governmental officials collaborating in an effort to bring down Assange – and anyone who dared defend him – utilizing "disinformation" and "creating messages around actions to sabotage or discredit" both Assange and Greenwald. Ignoring the old adage "know your enemy," HBGary personnel argued in emails that Greenwald, "if pushed" would certainly "choose professional preservation over cause."
I can just hear Glenn chortling over that one!
Among other projects exposed by Anonymous was a plan, submitted to the US Air Force, to create a "persona management" system – fake identities that would create a cybernetic Astroturf army in social media. Exactly what top Obama advisor Cass Sunstein had in mind when he proposed the US government "cognitively infiltrate" allegedly subversive "conspiracy-minded" groups over the Internet. Now isn’t that a coincidence?
The materials unearthed by the Anonymous hack were so voluminous that Brown solicited the help of other journalists by setting up a wiki page, ProjectPM. As a recent piece in The Nation puts it, "Under Brown’s leadership the initiative began to slowly untangle a web of connections between the US government, corporations, lobbyists and a shadowy group of private military and information consultants." Together, this coven – including not only HBGary but also Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies, and something called Endgame Systems – came up with a scheme involving the planting of false documents, targeting friends, families, and associates, and the Sunstein-like "cognitive infiltration" of opponent organizations, all directed at WikiLeaks, Assange, and Greenwald. Unions and liberal advocacy groups were also on the hit list. They called themselves "Team Themis," after the Greek goddess of divine justice.
That wasn’t the end of it. Soon thereafter a group of hackers liberated many thousands of emails from the account of Stratfor, a company that specializes in geopolitical commentary for big corporate clients. As The Nation puts it, "the contents of the Stratfor leak were even more outrageous than those of the HBGary hack. They included discussion of opportunities for renditions and assassinations." Brown posted a link to the Stratfor data dump on ProjectPM. – an act which later showed up on his charge sheet.
It’s when Brown began investigating "Endgame Systems" that the hammer of the State came down on him hard.
Endgame is in the business of what appears to be hacking, providing information on weak spots in computer software that could be used to compromise systems. According to Business Week:
"Endgame executives will bring up maps of airports, parliament buildings, and corporate offices. The executives then create a list of the computers running inside the facilities, including what software the computers run, and a menu of attacks that could work against those particular systems."
In other words, they do just what the NSA does – and, perhaps, at their direction. This was cutting too close to home for the US Justice Department – which, you’ll recall, had been the catalyst for the creation of "Team Themis" in the first place. Brown was homing in on a dark alliance of government and corporate entities tasked with carrying out activities that were, at best, borderline illegal.
When FBI agents burst into Brown’s mother’s house they were clearly after his sources. As is common in authoritarian countries, they didn’t limit their attack to just one person, but also went after his mother, who was charged with hiding the "evidence" of Brown’s alleged "crime" in her house. (She says she had no idea the laptop was in her house: she has pled guilty, and faces up to a year in jail).
This was too much for Brown, who snapped – and posted a semi-coherent rant on YouTube that prosecutors say contained direct threats to the FBI agents involved in the case. The FBI’s revenge is a charge sheet that could land Brown in jail for the rest of his life.
The other day in the course of congressional hearings, the House’s leading authoritarian, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Oceania), speculated that journalists who report on the NSA’s depredations against our privacy might be subject to the same legal ramifications as Edward Snowden. The idea is to intimidate journalists into not covering certain subjects – and, by the way, to lay the foundations for the de facto abolition of the First Amendment. That should make Cass Sunstein – who proposes a "New Deal" for the First Amendment that would "guide" news coverage in a pro-government direction – to no end. This is how the neocons and their "progressive" allies in Obama-land collaborate in creating the conditions for a tyranny masquerading as a liberal "democracy."
As long as Barrett Brown is in jail, claims that the United States is a "free country" – indeed, the "beacon of freedom" in the world – are just so much horseshit. And while we’re on the subject, who did get that government contract for "persona management," and how many of Twitter’s most obnoxious trolls are their demonic spawn? How many of the alleged pundits and anonymous Twitter trolls ceaselessly smearing Greenwald and Snowden are in the pay of these government contractors who are so close to the Justice Department and other US government agencies?
This isn’t just about Barrett Brown, although his fate is important: this is about preserving what’s left of our liberties. Calls by some members of Congress for the Justice Department to conduct an investigation of Team Themis have gone unanswered, but why doesn’t some enterprising congressman initiate hearings so we can have a public investigation of this case? I hear there are a few alleged libertarians in Congress: c’mon guys, let’s get a move on.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.