Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Ed. Note: Every great writer inspires others to write against injustice and for the "greater good" Barrett Brown is one and many are following. He will survive the next three years in federal prison, and emerge to pay over the course of his lifetime, a loathsome onerous fine of nearly one million dollars, as restitution on questionable "damages" to monster private military intelligence contractors. How will we the public, put in this Orwellian place share this burdensome knowledge? Please read below as the talented @H3ll3nd3r provides us with the story. - M @RadioFreeKansas

Is American political prisoner and writer Barrett Brown a legitimate journalist or just an epic troll? A look at his early career indicates he has been consistently occupied as a witty journalist at various levels of employment since he was a teen, despite the Department of Justice arguing otherwise during his two sentencing hearings last winter.
On May 9, Radio Free Kansas host Mike Caddell spoke with this writer about rare clippings of the imprisoned author’s young work, and how the authorities have been attempting to malign his journalism credentials. Radio Free Kansas has covered Brown’s case previously, multiple times, so readers may be familiar with how he has been harassed and persecuted, including by the FBI with the public’s money. This month’s discussion naturally raised the question: What is a journalist?
The relevant definition from the Oxford English Dictionary is:
  • One who earns his living by editing or writing for a public journal or journals.
The corresponding definition of “journal”:
  • A daily newspaper or other publication; hence, by extension, Any periodical publication containing news or dealing with matters of current interest in any particular sphere. Now often called specifically a public journal.
Pretty simple, right? It’s worth noting that Barrett Brown’s sole source of income is and has been writing—often for current interest publications—as the Twitter account dedicated to his legal defense noted last year:

This would all be a moot point had Barrett Brown’s status as a journalist not been contested by the U.S. government. Since Brown’s arrest in September 2012, doubts have been raised about whether he is a legitimate journalist and why it really matters.
D Magazine’s Tim Rogers, the editor of Brown’s current column “The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail,” was present at the writer’s sentencing hearings, and gave a statement to the judge arguing for the defendant’s employability as a journalist as evidenced by his column. Tim Rogers also can attest to Brown’s time at the Met, an alternative weekly.
Rogers’ statements didn’t stop the Department of Justice from portraying Brown as no journalist. At last December’s hearing, prosecutor Candina Heath repeatedly questioned her sole witness, FBI agent Robert Smith, about the meaning of emails wherein Brown described himself as a “former journalist” or “pseudo-journalist.” See this excerpt from her examination:
It is quite possibly not just the Department of Justice who rejects his vocation—apparently the Bureau of Prisons does too. They claimed contacting the media is “the wrong thing” for him to do with the Corrlinks inmate email system, and suspended his access to it while he was discussing, with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, possibilities for future publications. According to the Bureau of Prisons’ Policy Statement 5265 §540.2, there is no prohibition on communication between inmates and members of the media. The bureau’s regulations only restrict in-person interviews; no rule barring communication with the media by phone or Corrlinks has been found. In an interview with David Knight, Brown said the Bureau seem to be in violation of “about a half dozen” of their own rules.
Despite the authorities’ Kafka-esque position, Barrett Brown has in fact been showcasing his critical thinking skills through journalism for much of his life. Before he was a political prisoner of the hacktivism/transparency movement, before his wild years of increasingly personal and avant-garde writing, he was a whiz kid journo.
Rolling Stone revealed that in elementary school, the writer created a newspaper on his family’s desktop computer—but there’s even more to the story. Brown continued developing his passion in high school (at The Episcopal School of Dallas), writing for the student outlet, Eagle Edition, and clashing with the administration over censorship. His satirical talents and sharp wit were already on display, as seen in the 1997 mock-scandalous “Interview with a Dictator.” Brown wasn’t yet out of high school, but he was writing like a pro. The youth nonchalantly wielded his sword of sarcasm at the 90s regime in Iraq as he simultaneously spat on neo-conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s notions of women’s rights, comparing them with the views of his fictitious “Saddam Insane.”
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In 1997, while spending the summer in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with his grandmother, the teenage Brown also wrote for the English-language side of a local publication, Attención San Miguel. As if an American teen writing in Mexico isn’t impressive enough, it’s worth noting that he wrote about Dostoevsky's heavyweight novel Crime and Punishment!
When the young writer left Attención San Miguel, he was missed, as can be seen in the following goodbye column the paper published about his departure. His summer working for them led editor Charles Allen Dews to call the teen “super sharp” and note his love for newspapers.
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By the time he was in college, Barrett Brown had published even more writing. The article below was a quite rational editorial for the campus paper The Daily Texan defending freedom of speech and calling attention to the hypocrisy and inanity of one campus group who demanded that a rival protesting group (a garden-variety white supremacist club) be banned from organizing.
Below is the first page of an in-depth continuation of his argument in the piece above. The extended critique of freedoms on campus must have demanded from the author a honed ability to observe and  reason about complex issues of rights. These two examples, along with others, display this specialization he mastered early on:  
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As the two op-eds above make obvious, Barrett Brown has been refining his ability to troubleshoot complex civil issues for years. This skill later served him well in his work with Jon P. Alston on the (what-prize-winning?) Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Easter Bunny in which he offers objective analysis of creationism as well as subjective musings.
Before his more noteworthy works, Barrett Brown was disseminating news and personal opinions on campus at the University of Texas in Austin, where he also began his freelance career. Below is an excerpt from some satirical work of his from that period:
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After taking in a few of these rare clippings, it’s easy to determine that Barrett Brown had worked since his youth to establish himself as a journalist. Brown’s ongoing critique of government preceded the early Teens investigative journalism work he was hunted for. U.S. politicians frequently lament the poor quality of the educational system, bemoan the lack of critical thinking skills, and demand better integrity in investigative journalism. Could it be that the government only wants these skills practiced if they aren’t pointed back at them?

Brown was published by outlets including Toward Freedom -- a D.C.-based public policy journal, Free Life - a London-based public policy journal and the literary journal Swans, in addition to more light-hearted fare at sites like National Lampoon Online, Nerve.com and Austin Monthly. Below is a piece by Barrett Brown for AOL on Spam, or rather about a festival held in the potted meat’s honor.
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Commentary on local events that were current at the time like this qualifies as journalism, especially when one is being paid for their work. That should be a simple enough concept for most to grasp, but for some reason this logic is beyond the practice of the U.S. government. Consider the following piece, which—though by no means is hard-hitting—is yet is another solid example of Barrett Brown’s recurrent paid journalism work while still a student:
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Below, Barrett Brown displays authority on the Red Fez, which apparently was “The Ayatollah’s old stomping grounds” as well as a moderately priced place to get sloshed in style:
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More than a hobby humorist, Barrett Brown was seriously valued for his contributions. Below is an email Brown forwarded to his mother’s AOL account. The editor was pleased with Brown’s journalistic coverage: “As I said before, you have twice the talent of some writers double your age. Good job!”
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UT Austin proved a poor fit for the advanced young author, who had already begun being paid handsomely by AOL to serve as the Austin writer providing coverage of events and entertainment venues for their growing CityGuide section. Leaving school in 2002 afforded him more time for that growing career as well as focusing on other things such as girls, games and experimental drug use. At the same time, his freelance work expanded into investigative journalism.
It is readily apparent from these documents and his more widely read works thereafter that Brown is indeed a valid journalist. The evidence of his contributions has been devalued by the U.S. government not because he was a poor journalist, but because his sources were considered unsavory in his work with hacked information. In January, Judge Lindsay essentially concluded that Brown was more involved with hacktivism than his counsel led the court to believe, without citing specific evidence. The background of story of guilt by association is worthy of more discussion than has been merited by the media.
For years, Barrett Brown climbed up the ranks of journalism on the quality of his works. He eventually moved to Brooklyn and wrote for Salon.com, True/Slant, The Guardian and the Huffington Post. With mounting pressure came an increasing struggle with addiction. When he began to foray into activism, he was still a struggling journalist trying to discover his role in the world.
With time, the need to address his personal troubles took priority; Brown realized his drug addiction was out of control, and he asked for support from his family and relocated back to Dallas for treatment. Though he was noticeably disorganized and weakened by his ongoing battle with addiction, he continued his search for newsworthy truths through his founding of Project PM (the name a nod to the Panther Moderns from William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer). Brown recruited several researchers and journalists to assist his “distributed think tank” organization in its quest to improve the quality of the news discourse worldwide.
A sincere recovery effort on his part was still marked by a willingness to court risk that had the potential to interfere with his cause. Before he was an infamous journalist in withdrawal who was completely devastated by the pursuit of his person, documents and family, Brown “trolled” his opponents and others—a type of pranking that, as explained by formerly imprisoned hacktivist Weev in the documentary The Hacker Wars, comes from the Socratic tradition of provoking people into re-examining their ideas and re-considering what they hold as truth.
During this phase of his career, Barrett Brown’s laser wit was dialed up to maximum sear, and there was seemingly little he didn’t scorn or share about publicly. He continued to troll outlandishly as media attention increasingly turned to him for news on the hacktivist collective Anonymous and the private spy industry. The important revelations of wrongdoing Brown had helped to uncover weren't always taken seriously by the public in light of his ironic, facetious and wild or “lulzy” comments. Media focus on his rogue appeal shadowed the ongoing impact of Brown’s good investigative work.
It’s true: Barrett Brown did call himself a “former journalist” or “pseudo-journalist” at times. He did this during the peak of his involvement with Anonymous, when he was trying to get information out of intelligence contractors the Anons had hacked. Why would he deny his journalistic profession during this time? As he explained in his sentencing statement, the private spies were more willing to talk to him as an “Anonymous spokesperson” than as a journalist:
Corrupt executives and government officials aren’t fond of admitting their wrongdoing, and—especially if they’ve had any PR training—hearing the title “journalist” inspires them to pay extra attention to their words or just not answer at all. That’s why it’s not unheard of, for example, for an editor to instruct a writer to identify himself as a “researcher” rather than as a “journalist” when trying to extract information out of people. One could think of Brown’s depiction of himself as a “former journalist” as going undercover. The political (sometimes criminal) radicals of Anonymous are understandably distrustful of the media given the gulf between their views and those of most journalists. In an environment like this, a journalist downplaying his identity as a journalist to gain trust is a natural move. By working with Anonymous, and on behalf of all of us, Brown had to wear various guises to unmask the players behind today’s increasing mass surveillance.
The Department of Justice’s attempts to pretend he is not a journalist, or was not one during the time of his involvement with Anonymous, look like abject denial—or an intentional strategy to scare others away from following Brown’s lead. Discouragement of investigative journalism (and the foundation of critical thought it entails) is neither new nor isolated. The U.S. government is pursuing an ongoing, “whole-of-government” criminal investigation into WikiLeaks, seeking to build a prosecution against the megaleak publisher for espionage, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, conspiracy, and other supposed crimes. Even mainstream journalists have been attacked: Fox News reporter James Rosen was targeted as a co-conspirator under the Espionage Act in a leak case, and the Associated Press saw two months of phone records seized by the Department of Justice. The Texas GOP even included in its 2012 platform outright opposition to the teaching of critical thinking skills. The attack on Barrett Brown’s legitimacy as a trustworthy source of information is part of a broader systemic avoidance of transparency and the possibilities of being critiqued or changed. The government’s felonization of and character assassination attempts against Brown serve to elucidate some of their obscured intentions, especially the ongoing effort to manipulate the public narrative in their favor.
Delegitimizing Barrett Brown serves multiple malfeasant purposes. First, as a non-journalist, Barrett Brown does not receive any consideration for his obligation to protect his sources and his relationship to stolen data can be misrepresented. Second, discrediting him as a journalist serves to tarnish public trust in the exposés by writers who work with powerful forces such as Anonymous or who otherwise practice truly adversarial journalism. Third, it frightens others who may seek to pick up where Brown left off. Quinn Norton, for example, publicly withdrew from security journalism, noting that there is no legal protection for journalistic work about hacking and hacktivism. The government’s successful case does not set a binding precedent for future case law, but it does provide groundwork for future precedent, or future laws—plus, now the Department of Justice knows they can get away with attempts to criminalize journalistic efforts like Brown’s later work that is based on hacks and leaks.
In forming a distributed think tank Barrett Brown advanced his field. Gaining the requisite knowledge to do so took several years of dedication. At federal court in Dallas, he was regarded as a pariah to society in part for his employment of the very journalistic skills he has been carefully honing. Little regard was given for the possible effects his documented mental health and addiction issues had on his expressions or the way stress could’ve aggravated his condition. No consideration of the cyber location of the threats Brown made nor his self-motivated efforts to organize himself were entertained in court. No respect for his career was offered, despite Brown’s team’s supplying a testament to his work’s value. Barrett Brown has a history of carefully crafting even his most curt of insults, but no imaginable embarrassing data discovery nor cavalier comment of his could be as cruelly devastating as the U.S. government’s abusive assertion that he isn’t a real journalist but a felon instead. The reality is that because of successful efforts on both Brown’s and the government’s parts, both are true.
Considering Barrett Brown’s early skill and body of work, the U.S. government’s anti-intellectual stance takes on a grimmer form. Many young people today are aware of systemic corruption on a cursory level and are curious about the truth. Is it acceptable for our society to admonish children to use critical thinking skills, but punish them if they later use those skills to question authority? What will continue to become of the people who dare to confront uncomfortable realities otherwise shielded from thoughtful inquisition? Will future investigative journalists be severely punished by mighty information gatekeepers?
Just like a troll’s comments don’t have the power to directly change reality (or history, for that matter), the government’s assertions about Brown's career and the work Brown did with Anonymous, (including the titles he assumed during that time) do not negate the truths that he shared and the facts of his punishment. Trollish behaviors do have the potential to affect later behavioral outcomes, and one negative effect of this devaluing of Barrett Brown’s career status has been the subsequent chilling of independent investigative journalism, to the contrary of Judge Lindsay’s stated understanding just prior to sentencing Brown. Sometimes humorists present information incorrectly to test the problem solving skills of their audience, to see if people can discern the real value behind the statement. Too bad this prosecution of a journalist and the resulting saga of hypocrisy isn’t all a poorly conceived educational service on behalf of the U.S. justice system, a patriotic experiment intended merely as a friendly reminder to stay aware of systemic corruptions. If only the governmental funny business were but a mere troll on the public. Journalism that seeks the truth about governments helps ensure that any potential joke winds up on them.

For a society that is run by such unscrupulous forces as the one that persecuted Barrett Brown to have any hope of improvement, there must be clear and informed discourse about the areas that need improvement. Prosecution of those who alert the public—namely activists, whistleblowers and journalists—hinders more people than just truth-tellers. The authoritarian maligning of Brown’s journalistic reputation—by the government of the people he intellectually serves—has effectively thwarted all by discouraging the embrace of honest facts that would better enable reasoning about the current state of affairs, and this has been accomplished in the public’s name.

Note all scanned images of Mr. Brown's work above are available for enlarged examination at the Imgur Album collection.

Contact information:

Barrett Brown's Wikipedia page.

Supporters of Barrett Brown have a defense network 
located at Free Barrett Brown.

Read Barrett Brown's columns at D Magazine.

His current federal prison address is: 

Barrett Lancaster Brown
B.O.P. #45047-177
F.C.I. Fort Worth
P.O.B. 15330
Fort Worth, TX 76119

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