Brown has been waiting for this day for two years — all of them spent behind bars. He faces up to eight-and-a-half years in prison and fines of $425,000 for exposing shady links between the government and cybersecurity firms.
The writer had worked with Anonymous to expose those links and other information, including a plot against Wikileaks and a mass surveillance program aimed at Arab social media users.
However, Brown, at one point, allegedly by accident cut-and-pasted a link that led to a site which included stolen credit card information, which he himself did not expose. That gave the government the power to pursue Brown, making him another victim of the Obama Administration’s relentless pursuit of whistleblowers.
Full Weight of Justice?
In the earlier stages of prosecution, the government accused Brown of being a conspirator in an Anonymous plot to overthrow the government, a serious charge that lacked evidence. The prosecution alleged that Brown was a “spokesperson” for Anonymous, a concept that would be lost on Anonymous itself since they do not have spokespeople by design.
If that helped ensure public sentiment would turn against him, an unconstitutional gag order against Brown and his lawyers ensured he was not be able to defend himself outside of court. Then an attempt to seize funds raised for the cost of his legal defense was designed to impede his ability to defend himself in court, as well.
Add to that obstruction-of-justice charges against Brown’s mother for “aiding” her son, which resulted in six months probation for her.
And these tactics did not stop after Brown settled. According to witnesses at court, the prosecution presented more than 500 pages of evidence at the beginning of the sentencing hearing for which defense only had 30 minutes to prepare.
Brown was working on a book about political punditry as Anonymous started to gain widespread notoriety. He changed course and ended up writing a book on the hacktivist collective. During this time, Anonymous exposed Aaron Barr, CEO of the private intelligence company HBGary after Barr claimed to have found their leadership. (He hadn’t.) More than 70,000 HBGary emails were leaked.
Those emails proved to be a treasure trove of information about the secret relationships between cybersecurity firms, law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies and other corporate actors. The group also hacked into Stratfor, another private intelligence company.
Who Did Brown Cross?
Among the exposed conspiracies: a Department of Justice-Bank of America-Chamber of Commerce effort to discredit Glenn Greenwald and Wikileaks, an Air Force program to create faux-grassroots social media movements, and other public-private partnerships to infiltrate non-profit organizations.
In order to sift through the massive pile of information, Brown created a network of wiki-style volunteers he called ProjectPM and the group started publishing their findings. This brought him to the attention of the FBI, which slapped his mother with a warrant and took Brown's laptop in an effort to acquire information about his sources.
Unfortunately for Brown, some of the leaked information included unencrypted credit card numbers and validation codes. Brown reportedly cut-and-pasted a link with the information unbeknownst to him, giving the government pretext for the heaviest charges. However, Brown, who was never really a hacker, claims he did not obtain the credit card numbers, which had already been made public.
After the warrant for his laptop was served and his mother charged, Brown posted a YoutTube video in which he threatened the FBI agent in charge of the investigation with exposing him (while making clear he was not threatening him physically).
Initially facing more than 100 years in prison, Brown eventually settled against this onslaught of aggressive prosecution, after which his potential sentence was reduced to a 'civilized' 10 years. The charges were massive and varied, but were eventually whittled down by the plea agreement to accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer, interference with the execution of a search warrant, aiding and abetting and transmitting a threat in interstate commerce (for that “threat” against an FBI agent).
Naturally, the case against Brown has proven extremely troubling for whistleblowers, journalists and even anyone who uses social media. And many are now asking themselves if they could face treason charges for simply sharing the 'wrong' link.