Posts tagged Brown
Barrett Lancaster Brown, best known as the so-called former mouthpiece for the hacker collective Anonymous, is sitting in a jail cell in Texas. For the past eight months, Mansfield Law Enforcement Center has been home for the journalist and activist now known as Prisoner 35047177.
Three hots and a cot will continue to be his routine at least until September, when he is scheduled to stand trial on 17 charges, including allegations that he threatened an FBI agent and committed identity theft and credit card fraud.
The slightly built 31-year-old former heroin addict denies the charges. What he does admit is that he used his hacker connections to look under rocks and uncover what he considered evidence that the U.S. government was using private security companies to clip the wings of Internet activists and sympathetic journalists.
Brown: I Wasn’t A Hacker
Brown’s sometimes questionable behavior and affiliations make him a confusing and polarizing character. He claims he never hacked anything, and we’ll probably never know with certainty exactly which details in his story stack up, or what involvement he had with Anonymous’ core hackers.
There doesn’t seem to be much evidence Brown was involved in any actual hacking, despite his connection to both Anonymous and his obsessive interest in federal security contractors. But his outspokenness, drug history and outlandish claims make him unsympathetic and hard to believe — an unlikely poster child for Internet freedom. And his unbalanced, over-the-top YouTube rants — more on those below — made him an easy target for the feds.
What we do know is that in early 2011, Anonymous targeted a security contractor called HBGary Federal and its CEO Aaron Barr after Barr publicly claimed he’d infiltrated the hacker collective. When Barr threatened to reveal the identities of Anonymous members, the group hacked straight into HBGary’s servers, stealing 70,000 company emails.
Brown, through his affiliation with Anonymous, then posted a link to those hacked company documents on a public website called Project PM and wrote about his findings for the U.K. Guardian. Brown, who seems to have been conducting an obsessive investigation of both HBGary Federal and Stratfor (another security contractor hacked by Anonymous), claimed the material proved that the companies were hired by the government to monitor and shut down various online activist groups. In particular, he alleged that HBGary was working with high-level government agencies to feed fake information to WikiLeaks.
The aftermath of the HBGary episode led to Barr’s unceremonious departure from the firm. Brown would later claim on YouTube that Barr’s well-connected friends then mounted a federal vendetta against him.
In The Feds’ Crosshairs
Brown, one of the few public figures available for authorities to target for the activities of Anonymous, is basically a fall guy for the hacker collective. He faces 100 years behind bars if found guilty on all counts. And right now he’s stewing in a cell where he may be getting less than proper care. In a Pastebin message from last September, Brown claimed he did not receive appropriate medical attention for crushed ribs suffered during the FBI’s raid of his home.
Between his connection to Anonymous and his obsession with digging up dirt on the national security state, Brown pinged up on the feds’ radar pretty quickly. He was first indicted last year after allegedly threatening federal agents. He was arrested, then subsequently indicted a second time for allegedly linking to stolen documents from Stratfor that included credit card data.
The third indictment involves an obstruction charge of concealing evidence, wherein Brown allegedly hid two laptops when federal agents stormed his mother’s home in a raid. The laptops were eventually found and confiscated. The alleged threats and credit-card charges led prosecutors to push for a life sentence.
In some ways, Brown’s muckraking wasn’t all that different from what many journalists have always done, updated to employ digital tools. Reporting based on leaked documents — which, of course, aren’t usually authorized for release — is as old as investigative journalism itself.
But Brown pushed the boundaries, and his drug history and proximity to the hacker community made him more vulnerable than other rabble rousers such as columnist Glenn Greenwald. Brown wasn’t a staffer at a major publication, and his own blistering public statements and threats, on both television and YouTube, gave the government all the motivation it needed to take him down.
Barrett Brown’s Incendiary Videos
Major news organizations like the New York Times and The Guardian both describe Brown as a victim of persecution. And in many ways he is, although some of his alleged actions are criminal by definition, such as threatening the life of a federal agent.
Brown’s legal troubles began when his mother’s Dallas home was first raided in March of 2012. At that time, the feds confiscated his laptop, and by his account terrorized his mother and sent his life into a downward spiral.
After the raid, Brown took to the Web to tell his side of the story. On Sept. 11, 2012, Brown posted a trio of videos lashing out at perceived enemies:
At around the 12:00 mark of video number 2, Brown says that the FBI views him as a bad guy, and that he’s going to prove in the court system just how bad of a guy he is. About a minute later he demands that the FBI return his laptop, notebook and Xbox.
In the third video, shot and released a day later, Brown brings up his heroin addiction and subsequent move to suboxone, a narcotic used to treat oppiate addiction. At around the 12:00 mark of this video, Brown warns that he is armed and has been trained to shoot, saying if any FBI agents come to his home, particlary one agent that really irked him for allegedly harassing his mother:
I will shoot them and kill them… I have no choice left but to defend my family, myself, my girlfriend, my reputation, my work, my activism, my ideas and the revelation that my friends are going to prison so we can have a chance to get out for other people. So they would matter. And frankly, you know, it was pretty obvious I was going to be dead before I was 40 or so, so I wouldn’t mind going out with two FBI sidearms like a f***ing Egyptian pharaoh. Adios.
Hours later, while on a live feed on TinyChat, Brown’s home was raided and he was arrested. The whole thing is captured in this almost surreal video:
Since his arrest, Brown’s mother Karen has also been targeted by authorities. She pled guilty to obstructing the execution of a search warrant, and now faces up to a year in jail and a $100,00 fine. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled.
Brown has gotten some support from the Internet community, but nothing like the outpouring for the recently passed Aaron Swartz. Anonymous created a White House petition to stop his prosecution, but the reprieve didn’t come close to getting the required 100,000 signatures by the April 20 deadline. Supporters have built several sites to educate the public about his plight, the timeline of his case and to help raise money for legal representation.
Hard Times For The Fall Guy
Brown’s supporters have raised about $20,000 for legal fees, and Brown has a new team of lawyers replacing his previous public defendants. But the court had up until last week frozen Brown’s access to those funds, which meant that Brown’s new legal team of Ahmed Ghappour and Charles Swift were essentially working pro bono. But that all changed last Wednesday when the court allowed the transfer of funds to pay for the lawyers’ travel expenses and fees.
It’s still a long way to Brown’s September trial, which could end up conflated in public perception with two other prominent hacker prosecutions. There’s the case of Matthew Keys, the journalist facing a $750,000 fine and jail time for allegedly feeding passwords to Anonymous members who then defaced the Los Angeles Times‘ website. Andrew Auernheimer, the hacker also known as Weev, is also appealing his sentence of more than 41 months in prison for his role in a 2010 hack of AT&T.
All of these cases are related to the much-maligned Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) the outdated law that has led to a number of questionable prosecutions — often of activists like Aaron Swartz rather than actual computer criminals. By the time Brown’s trial gets going, there could be government movement to reform the poorly constructed law.
Prosecuting Brown Won’t Stop Hacking
The federal case against Brown, once you understand the details, doesn’t pass the laugh test. It turns hyperlinking into a crime akin to breaking into secured computers and casts loose and admittedly unwise Internet soapboxing as criminal conspiracy against federal agents. And it turns one link into 11 separate charges of alleged identity theft.
Arresting hackers and fringe collaborators doesn’t seem to be slowing the tide of cyberattacks. The last 12 months have seen some of the biggest cyber attacks on record. Denial of service attacks are up 12% since 2011, according to data from the security firm Arbor Networks. If the government really wants to stop hacking attacks, it needs to focus more on the actual perpetrators and less on show-trial prosecutions of peripheral figures like Brown.
Which isn’t to say that Brown himself deserves to get off scot-free, just that his proposed punishment should fit his alleged crime. No matter what the circumstances, once you threaten the FBI, the feds are pretty much guaranteed to come down on you. And even Barrett Brown should have known that.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock, Twitter
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The White House announced new participation in a jobs initiative yesterday from fast-growing technical education website Codecademy, as well as some venerable social justice oriented organizations Level Playing Field Institute and College Bound Brotherhood, a group dedicated to increasing the number of young African American men prepared for college. Called Summer Jobs +, the program aims to get young poor and marginalized people into paid technical training programs over Summer vacation.
It’s an ambitious effort to tackle a very complicated problem. It’s going to be a lot easier said than done.
A Big Problem
While the national unemployment rate remains high after years of recession and economic change, unemployment is even higher among African American youth (estimated at 40%) and Latino youth (estimated between 25% and 35%). “With youth unemployment nearly triple the overall rate and much higher among young Americans of color, attention to this problem is more than welcome,” Roberto Viramontes, Vice President of Education Policy at the First Focus Campaign for Children, said in response to my request for comment on the Summer Jobs + program.
The decline of employment opportunities for unskilled workers in general has long lead to calls for youth training programs. Critics say the federal job training programs for young people have long been in need of modernization.
Anti-poverty advocates (none of whom I inquired with were anxious to say much on the record) emphasize that meaningful change requires more than just skill building in things like software coding. Some believe that in order to succeed such programs need to invest first in finding young people most likely to benefit from this kind of support. Then, after training is completed, programs must work directly on connecting newly trained young people with employers if they are to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. Will the Summer Jobs+ program include those kinds of steps? There was no mention of them in the program’s announcement this week.
Other anti-poverty advocates say that technical skills like coding are not enough to provide the comprehensive preparation young people on the margins of society need in order to become meaningfully employed. Many young people need training on things like creating a good resume and dealing with difficult questions in an interview if they are to be prepared to remain in the workforce over the long term. That comprehensive set of skills is something that several organizations participating in the Summer Jobs + program are well-equipped to confer.
Can the amalgamation of organizations working to teach young poor people of color to code, pull this all off? The depth of need in the communities at issue is such that advocates say many programs in the past have seen their funding sucked dry with huge need remaining.
This is a very complicated, challenging problem.
Codecademy, the hip new web app that teaches its users basic coding skills and that will be an important part of this initiative, is one of many new education and personal change apps to emerge online in recent months.
Codecademy in particular has faced criticism lately concerning its ease of use. Specifically, some people have said that the site makes it difficult to know how to get back on track when a user has made a mistake in working on a lesson. I’ve experienced that on the site, too. Others say it still presumes too much knowledge of how computers work. The developer-centric community at Hacker News was very critical of Codecademy this week and the site’s founders appeared in comments there to assure readers they were working to respond to issues raised.
In Codecademy’s own announcement of the partnership with the White House and the other participants in the program, there was a conspicuous absence of any discussion regarding the race or class dynamics of the program. I raised this concern in a comment on the announcement post last night, but none of the comments posted have been responded to by Codecademy.
I’m concerned that failure to even mention that part of the program could indicate that the makers of the technical education materials aren’t taking matters of race and class into much consideration. US Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra said the purpose of the program is “to provide pathways to employment for low-income and disconnected youth.” CodeAcademy describes it simply as a program intended “to get more kids and adults learning to code.”
You know what they say: those who ignore history risk repeating it. The Libertarian political leanings of so much of the tech industry puts programs like this at risk of ignoring the historic marginalization of certain segments of society and thus repeating it, as part of a faux-egalitarianism where blindness to difference effectively keeps the same people on top, in the end. I don’t know any of the people involved in Codecademy, but I bet I’m not the only person who looked at its co-founders’ Venture Capital backed, Ivy League educated, white boy resumes and their announcement about this program with no mention of race or class, with skepticism.
That the announcement of a White House partnership to train young poor people of color in coding shared a Codecademy blog post with an announcement of offline meetups of Codecademy users around the country and that the post called the meet-ups more important just seemed rude. (“…This will be a shorter course than Code Year that aims to teach people the basics of programming. You can find a bit more on the White House’s blog. More importantly, we’re pleased to announce that we’re moving Codecademy from being a strictly online learning platform to something you can do offline as well.”)
The politically questionable announcement of the partnership with the White House was a small paragraph surrounded by multiple paragraphs of rah-rah about Codecademy’s hitting 1 million users (thanks to a year-end push and 1 hour of design work) and a list of tech industry luminaries’ names getting dropped that the startup thanks for its success.
Paul Graham says that young people are often the only ones ignorant enough of how much hard boring work is involved with building a company that they are willing to do it. Simplistic youthful bravado may not be an asset though when the problem you’re trying to tackle is the underemployment of poor young people of color.
It’s a big initiative tackling a big, complicated problem, but it sure is important. I’m concerned about how well tech and politics will come together in this case, but we can all hope it will work out well and the world will be changed for the better.
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Rocco Brown shows you how to keep the DOMINATING positions you worked to get! Google Me Now: [ROCCO BROWN] www.RoccoBrown.com
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Search Engine Optimization expert George Brown of www.all-about-training.com which will conduct both Search Engine Optimization as well as workshops on Social Network Marketing has add this old (6 years ago) vintage footage where he was speaking in front of a small group, 95 students asking them to keep their eyes on their values. It’s short only 3+ minutes.