Barrett Brown Sentenced to Over Five Years in Prison

Brown has been in prison for the last two years after the FBI arrested him for his alleged involvement in Anonymous-led email hacks.

|
Jan 22 2015, 7:35pm

​Screengrab: ​YouTube

Barrett Brown, the journalist-cum-Anonymous-spokesperson, has been sentenced to more than five years in prison. 

Brown has  been in prison more than two years after the FBI arrested him in September 2012 for his alleged involvement in Anonymous-led email hacks of two security firms, HBGary Federal and Stratfor. He pleaded guilty to three charges last April as part of a plea bargain and today was sentenced to 63 months in prison, minus the time he has already served.

At the time of his 2012 arrest, Brown was charged with a total of 12 counts related to cybercrime, including accessory after the fact to the unauthorized access to protected computers, which followed an initial three counts related to obstruction of justice, including one count for threatening an FBI agent via a series of YouTube rants he made.

If you're new to the story, or you've lost track of it over the two years Brown has been sitting in jail, here's the Cliff's Notes version: At the time of his arrest, Brown was a freelance investigative journalist—he's been published in the Guardian, Vanity Fair, Huffington Post, and Business Week—who was working to crack open the government's cyberwar and surveillance tactics.

Basically, Brown was working to suss out a lot of what we later learned from the Snowden leaks, but the FBI put the kibosh on Brown's work when the bureau arrested him in September 2012.

As part of his investigation, Brown founded ProjectPM, a wiki that compiles all of the information surfaced about the country's surveillance and intelligence systems. He also closely aligned himself with Anonymous, often speaking out in its defense, and pored over a lot of the collective's hacked documents. But he would also follow up with interviews and attempted to verify the information he discovered.

Originally, Brown faced more than 100 years in prison because he had pasted a link to the hacked Stratfor emails—which included credit card numbers and their authentication codes—from an Anonymous IRC chat room into an IRC room for ProjectPM.

Free speech advocates and journalists alike were alarmed that copy-and-pasting a link to hacked information was being tried as an indictable offence with an extreme maximum sentence. But earlier this year, Brown agreed to a plea bargain that saw 11 of the 12 initial cybercrime charges dropped. In exchange, he pleaded guilty to three other charges, reducing his possible sentence to a maximum of eight years.

Brown pleaded guilty to threatening the FBI agent and to interfering with the execution of a search warrant—he hid his laptop when the FBI raided his mother's house. He also pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact to the unauthorized access to protected computers, for his involvement in the Stratfor hack.

Jeremy Hammond, the hacktivist who infiltrated Stratfor and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for the crime, was a source of Brown's who often shared information with him. But according to the terms of the plea deal, Brown crossed a legal line when, after the hack, he offered to contact Stratfor on Hammond's behalf to see if they had any "reasonable requests" for redaction to the emails, and he concealed Hammond's identity.

Brown's supporters were hoping for a verdict of time served with no additional time sentenced, especially since many of them don't believe he did anything that actually broke the law. Though he was facing a possible eight years behind bars, the lengthy sentence was a rough blow for his supporters.