Barrett Brown

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Barrett Brown
Barrett Brown 2017.jpg
Barrett Brown in Denton, Texas, 2017
Barrett Lancaster Brown

(1981-08-14) August 14, 1981 (age 40)
OccupationJournalist, activist
Years active2010-2020
Criminal charge(s)Threatening a federal officer, obstruction of justice, accessory after the fact

Barrett Lancaster Brown (born 14 August 1981) is an American journalist, essayist, activist and former associate of Anonymous. In 2010, he founded Project PM, a group that used a wiki to analyze leaks concerning the military-industrial complex, which was labeled a "criminal organization" by the Department of Justice.[1][2][3] In late 2020, Brown restarted Project PM.[4]

In January 2015, Brown was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison for the crimes of accessory after the fact, obstruction of justice, and threatening a federal officer stemming from the FBI's investigation into the 2012 Stratfor email leak. Prosecutors had previously brought other charges associated with sharing a link to the leaked Stratfor data, but those charges were dropped in 2014.[5][6][7][8] As part of his sentence, Brown was also required to pay almost $900,000 to Stratfor in restitution.[9]

In November 2020, Brown claimed asylum in the UK on the basis that he had been persecuted in the US for his journalism.[4] Brown says in 2021 he overheard officers discussing sealed charges in the US against him when he was arrested in London for allegedly overstaying his visa and incitement offenses.[4][10]

Early life and education[edit]

Brown was born and grew up in Dallas and exhibited an early interest in writing and journalism, creating his own newspapers on his family's computer while attending Preston Hollow Elementary School.[11][12] He went on to contribute to his school newspapers, and interned at several weekly newspapers during his teenage years.[11][12] He attended the Episcopal School of Dallas through his sophomore year of high school, then spent his would-be junior year in Tanzania with his father who was residing there on business. While in Africa, Brown completed high school online through a Texas Tech University program, earning college credits as well as his high school diploma.[12] In 2000 he enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin and spent two semesters taking writing courses before leaving school to pursue a full-time career as a freelance writer.[11][12][13]


In 2010, Brown began work on his crowdsourced investigation wiki, Project PM, which was labeled a "criminal organization" by the Department of Justice.[2] By Brown's count, Project PM had 75 members at its peak[3] who communicated through an IRC chat room and published their findings on the Project PM wiki.[14] The group dug through huge amounts of hacked files and emails from intelligence contractors, hoping to expose companies like HBGary and Stratfor,[14] earning the trust of the hacktivist community.[3]

In June 2011, he and Project PM released an exclusive report about a surveillance contract called "Romas/COIN" which was discovered in e-mails hacked from HBGary by Anonymous. It consisted of sophisticated data-mining techniques leveraging mobile software and aimed at Arab countries.[15][16] After Project PM was shutdown by his 2012 arrest and incarceration, he restarted it in late 2020 while seeking asylum in the UK.[4]

From September 2012, during his incarceration, Brown wrote a series of columns for D Magazine titled "The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail".[17] In 2015 he transitioned from D to The Intercept.[18][19][20] In 2016 The Intercept won a National Magazine Award for three of Barrett's columns.[21] In 2019 he burned his National Magazine Award to protest The Intercept closing the Snowden archives.[22]

In 2017, Brown launched the Pursuance Project, which aimed to unite transparency activists, investigative journalists, FOIA specialists and hackivists in a fully encrypted platform.[14] Brown said that Pursuance would take hacktivism into the future, letting anyone sort through troves of hacked documents and even recruit teams of hackers.[23] Pursuance's goal was to offer task management and automation environment for collaborative investigations into the surveillance state.[14] In 2018, Brown raised over $50,000 for Pursuance Project on Kickstarter.[24] In February 2020, Brown shut Pursuance Project down, writing that Pursuance would resume work later that year funded via settlements from libel suits.[2] The Pursuance software was last updated in October 2018 and is available as a demo on GitHub.[25]

In a December 2020 update, Brown said they used the money but weren't able to make a prototype. He also discussed starting abusing methamphetamines a year and a half earlier, noting it elevated his work and his ability to wreak havoc on elements of the press and police agencies. He also discussed going to rehab. Brown said that his drug use and time in rehab was one reason Pursuance hadn't been updated, but that the Project was back from hiatus.[26]

In 2018, Brown was removed from the Courage Foundation's beneficiary list over his criticism of Julian Assange. The organization's director quit in protest.[27][28]

Brown has written for The Daily Beast,[29] Vanity Fair,[30] True/Slant,[31] The Huffington Post,[32] The Guardian,[33] Skeptical Inquirer,[34] WhoWhatWhy,[35] and other outlets.[36]

Association with Anonymous[edit]

In November 2011, Brown said that 75 names of members of the Zetas drug cartel would be released if a member of the Anonymous group who had been kidnapped was not set free.[37] Brown says the member was then released and that there was a truce between him and the drug cartel for the moment. Others have said the kidnapping was fake, noting a lack of details and police reports.[38][39]

Some media outlets have presented Brown as a self-proclaimed spokesperson for Anonymous,[12][40][41] which he disputes, saying "it doesn’t work that way."[42] In 2011, Brown announced that he and Gregg Housh, another former member of Anonymous, had signed a contract estimated at more than $100,000 with Amazon to write a book tentatively titled Anonymous: Tales From Inside The Accidental Cyberwar.[36][39][43] The book was never released, Brown said in a podcast that he spent the money.[26]

Brown has said he renounced his links with the group in 2011.[37][44][45] In December 2011, Brown told reporters that Anonymous had hacked millions of emails from Stratfor over Christmas and that they would be released by WikiLeaks.[46][47]

Arrests and trial[edit]

On March 6, 2012, the FBI executed search warrants at Brown's apartment and his mother's house seeking evidence of alleged crimes. The items to be seized included "Records relating to HBGary, Infragard, Endgame Systems, Anonymous, LulzSec, IRC Chats, Twitter,, and" During the search, agents took possession of his laptop computers.[48] Brown confirmed on Twitter that the FBI raided his residence after receiving information from Hector Xavier Monsegur (also known as Sabu), the founder of LulzSec.[49]

The seized laptops included no less than 3,000 pages of chat logs from March 2011 to February 2012. These chats were produced as evidence in the trial against Jeremy Hammond and in Brown's trial. Journalists familiar with the evidence against Brown said the total number of pages of chat logs may have been in the tens of thousands, potentially revealing his contacts with hackers and other sources who thought they were speaking in confidence.[50]

On September 12, 2012, Brown was arrested in Dallas County, Texas for threatening an FBI agent in a YouTube video. His arrest occurred as he left a computer linked to Tinychat in which the raid could be heard in the background.[51] Brown has talked publicly about his history of using heroin[44][23] and he was going through withdrawal[52][53] on the day of his arrest.

A magistrate denied bail because he was judged "a danger to the safety of the community and a risk of flight."[54] On October 3, 2012, a federal grand jury indictment was returned against Brown on charges of threats, conspiracy and retaliation against a federal law enforcement officer. Various tweets, YouTube uploads and comments made by Brown before his arrest were cited as support within the indictment.[55][56]

On December 4, 2012, Brown was indicted on an additional 12 federal charges related to the December 25, 2011 hack of Austin-based private intelligence company Stratfor.[57][58] A trove of millions of Stratfor emails from the hack, including authentication information for thousands of credit card, was shared by the hacker collective LulzSec with WikiLeaks. Brown faced up to 45 years in federal prison for allegedly sharing a link to the data as part of Project PM.[59] On January 23, 2013, a third indictment was filed against Brown on two counts of obstruction for concealing evidence during the March 6, 2012 FBI raid of his and his mother's homes.[60] Brown's mother was sentenced on November 8, 2013, to six months of probation and a $1,000 fine for a misdemeanor charge of obstructing the execution of a search warrant.[61][62]

As of September 4, 2013, Brown was under a federal court-issued gag order; he and his lawyers were not allowed to discuss his case with the media, lest it taint a jury.[63][64] Assistant United States Attorney Candina S. Heath said that Brown tried to manipulate the media from behind bars for his benefit, that Brown's attorney "coordinates and/or approves of his use of the media," and that most of the publicity about Brown has contained false information and "gross fabrications".[65] Defense counsel maintained the gag order was an unfounded and unwarranted breach of Brown's First Amendment rights.[66]

In March 2014, most charges against Brown were dropped.[67] In April 2014, it was reported that Brown had agreed to a plea bargain.[68]

The government introduced additional chat logs seized from Brown's laptop at sentencing in an attempt to frame him as a central figure in Anonymous and the Stratfor hack. This caused further delays, as the defense was not given prior access.[50] In January 2015, Brown was sentenced to 63 months in prison. He was also ordered to pay $890,250 in fines and restitution.[69] Journalist Janus Kopfstein accused the government of making false statements to attempt to convict Brown.[70] Much of Brown's December sentencing hearing was spent in drawn-out arguments over the definitions of Project PM and Brown himself.[71][72]

Brown was released from prison on November 29, 2016, and moved into a halfway house with five drug dealers close to downtown Dallas, Texas.[73][74][75] On April 27, 2017, Brown was arrested and held on unknown charges for four days.[76] After he was released, he gave an interview to Democracy Now! while under house arrest, despite pressure from the government not to speak to the media.[77]

In May 2021, he was arrested in east London, being there since November 2020 to claim asylum, for allegedly overstaying his visa and incitement offenses related to holding a protest banner which said: "Kill Cops."[4] His original request for asylum in 2020 was based on the claim that he had been persecuted in the US for his journalism.[4] In 2021, he claimed he overheard officers discussing sealed charges in the US against him when he was arrested in London.[10]

Subpoena for legal fund donor information[edit]

In 2017, lawyers for donors to Brown's legal fund filed suit[78] against Assistant United States Attorney Candina Heath for filing a subpoena against WePay that resulted in divulgence of their identities. The lawyers argued that the irrelevance of donor information to the case against Brown and the provision of the information directly to Special Agent Robert Smith of the Federal Bureau of Investigation rather than to the prosecutor or judge in the trial led to donors' belief that the information was intended to surveil and harass the donors for activity protected by the U.S. constitution, and filed for destruction of the data and monetary damages.[79][80] On October 2, 2017, Judge Maria Elena James denied a motion to dismiss the case introduced by the Department of Justice.[81]

Social media bans[edit]

Brown's Twitter account, @BarrettBrown_, has been permanently banned from Twitter four times and remains banned. He has joked that he holds the record for most Twitter permanent bans.

The first three bans were overturned. According to a Counterpunch journalist, one of the bans was prompted by Brown posting what he said was proof he didn't rape a woman,[82] a ban described by Twitter as errors after journalists inquired, but the fourth was not. The fourth and final ban was prompted by Brown tweeting that Assange should not be on trial but that he would "deserve to die by other, cleaner hands" if he knew of Erik Prince's alleged ties to Roger Stone.[83][84]

Brown's twitter account for the Pursuance Project was also banned for ban evasion and platform manipulation after it was falsely reported, according to The Daily Dot.[85]

Mental health[edit]

Brown has talked publicly about his history of drug use, including heroin and suboxone in the early 2010s[44][53][86][23] and methamphetamines in the late 2010s and early 2020s.[26] In a June 2022 interview, Brown said he has "done drugs on major national outlets," and that he still used suboxone.[87]

In 2022, he accused his friends of working to put him in prison,[88] before attempting to commit suicide.[89][90] According to Brown, the episode resulted from him suffering from Complex post-traumatic stress disorder.[89][90] Twelve days later, Brown said he had mostly recovered.[91]

In the press and the arts[edit]

Relatively Free is a documentary film released in 2016 by Field of Vision about Brown's drive across Texas to a halfway house after he was released from prison.[92]

Barrett Brown's case was included as a plot point in Season 2 of the U.S. TV series House of Cards because of input from Brown's friend and fellow Anonymous member, Gregg Housh.[93][94]

According to NPR, Elliot from the TV series Mr. Robot was based on Brown - "a drug addict who can't access his own emotions."[23]

Brown serves on the advisory board of the International Modern Media Institute.[95]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zaitchik, Alexander (September 5, 2013). "Barrett Brown Faces 105 Years in Jail". Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Der Spiegel is Citing Andy Ngo's Race-Scientist Ex-Editor to Attack Me and I'm Not Even Jewish: As the CEO of Antifa, I Must Object". February 12, 2020. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Greenberg, Andy. "Anonymous' Barrett Brown Is Free—and Ready to Pick New Fights". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "US journalist Barrett Brown arrested in the UK on incitement offences". The Guardian. May 21, 2021.
  5. ^ David Carr (September 9, 2013). "A Journalist-Agitator Facing Prison Over a Link". The New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  6. ^ Peter Ludlow (June 18, 2013). "The Strange Case of Barrett Brown". The Nation. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  7. ^ Kristin Bergman (August 6, 2013). "Adding up to 105: The Charges Against Barrett Brown". Digital Media Law Project. Retrieved December 13, 2013.
  8. ^ Stuckey, Daniel (March 8, 2014). "A Dispatch From Outside the Prison Holding Barrett Brown". Vice. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
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  88. ^ Brown, Barrett (April 18, 2022). "I've learned too much and been betrayed too often to continue to pursue my duties. Having Lauri Love collaborate with the people working to discredit my asylum bid and send me back to prison is more than I can handle. My book will come out whatever happens. Good luck to you all". Twitter. Retrieved May 1, 2022.
  89. ^ a b Brown, Barrett (April 18, 2022). "I apologize for this and the concern it caused. I had a suicidal episode but my gf woke up and intervened while I was slitting my wrists. At some other time I'll try to explain further. For now I need to focus on getting treatment for what I'm told is complex PTSD". Twitter. Retrieved May 1, 2022.
  90. ^ a b Brown, Barrett (April 21, 2022). "A bit more on recent events and what led me to try to take my own life on the 18th". Twitter. Retrieved May 1, 2022.
  91. ^ Brown, Barrett (April 30, 2022). "Thanks to all of you for your continued concerns and offers of assistance. I'm mostly recovered, and better positioned to address the ongoing issues that had led me to essentially give up both on our investigations and my life itself". Twitter. Retrieved May 1, 2022.
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  95. ^ "Advisory Board". International Modern Media Institute. Retrieved December 23, 2016.

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