I never would've interviewed Barrett Brown if I'd known it would lead to him being re-arrested.
Brown, of course, is something of a legend in the hacker world as a journalist who broke several of the first high-profile stories about Anonymous and later aligned himself closely with the shadowy, loose-knit hacktivist collective.
Brown was arrested in September 2012 for linking to documents hacked from the security firms HBGary Federal and Stratfor. Legally speaking, the case was pretty convoluted, with many of the initial charges getting dropped and additional ones being added later; Brown later pleaded guilty to three charges. In 2015, he was sentenced to five years in prison including time served. Brown, 35 was released to a halfway house last November.
Brown recently agreed to let me follow him around for two days with cameras to document his post-prison life in Dallas. I wanted to talk to him about America's creeping surveillance state. Clips from our interview are embedded throughout this post.
Last week, the Texas Bureau of Prisons (BOP) arrested Brown after calling him in for a routine drug test. Brown said the BOP took him into custody for doing interviews with various media outlets. Our on-camera interview took place right before he was re-arrested.
"Last week I was re-arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service on the orders of the Bureau of Prisons, which still technically holds sway over my life until May 25th when my sentence officially ends," Brown said in a statement via D magazine, which Brown has been writing for. "Contrary to BOP policy, and indeed federal law, I was not provided a written infraction report, much less given the disciplinary hearing that normally precedes punishment."
Brown says he had been given no written specifics about who he is allowed to talk to. The BOP did not respond to Motherboard's request for comment seeking further clarification. Brown was released again Monday afternoon after spending the weekend at the FCI Seagoville prison in Texas.
After we spoke last week in various locations all over Dallas, I personally dropped Brown off at his halfway house for a drug test that he told me he had passed. Before that, I witnessed him arguing on the phone with a local politician about a column he's writing and ask the BOP to give him clarity about whether or not he was allowed to speak to the media. It never returned his calls while we were together. A statement published by Brown's mother suggests that Brown was arrested very soon after speaking to me.
"It's not policy, it's not like there's someone at the national BOP saying 'Oh, Barrett Brown is going to do an interview,'" Brown told me soon before he was arrested. "It's more like there's individual people in this institution who have a vague idea of what's wanted of them by their superiors. And so you have policy effectively being made on the ground in ways that don't make a lot of sense."
Ironically, we were interviewing Brown for a future episode of Cyberwar about the growing domestic surveillance state and the cyberpower of law enforcement agencies.
Brown is highly suspicious of the various companies—namely Peter Thiel's Palantir—hawking wares that enable what he calls the "cyber-industrial complex." Our discussions last week, like the hilarious columns Brown wrote for The Intercept while incarcerated, were fascinating and insightful. Brown's is an important voice working to expose problems within the cybersecurity industry—let's hope he's not silenced again for speaking out.