Barrett Brown is a investigative journalist who was imprisoned for . . . well, no one seems to quite know what Barrett Brown was jailed for. Rolling Stone:
Although he knew some of those involved in high-profile “hacktivism,” he is no hacker. His situation is closer to the runaway prosecution that destroyed Aaron Swartz, the programmer-activist who committed suicide in the face of criminal charges similar to those now being leveled at Brown. But unlike Swartz, who illegally downloaded a large cache of academic articles, Brown never broke into a server; he never even leaked a document. His primary laptop, sought in two armed FBI raids, was a miniature Sony netbook that he used for legal communication, research and an obscene amount of video-game playing. The most serious charges against him relate not to hacking or theft, but to copying and pasting a link to data that had been hacked and released by others.
Brown was a part-times spokesperson for the hacking activist group Anonymous. I had never really thought about this, but as is pointed out in the article, Anonymous became a target for private security companies looking to score government contracts.
After Operation Payback, Anonymous was on the radar of every private security firm looking to build a quick reputation. In the office of Aaron Barr, CEO of a struggling digital-security contractor called HBGary Federal, it was the biggest thing on the radar. Barr was convinced that taking down Anonymous before it struck again was a fast track to industry juice and massive contracts.
HBGary was hacked by Anonymous of course, and a big pile of emails were leaked. Barrett Brown helped to organize a crew of volunteers to go through the emails. This crowd-sourced data processing garnered a couple of fascinating insights into the workings of private security firms who have been hired by Bank of America.
The biggest fish flopping in Brown’s net was the story of a cluster of contractors known as Team Themis. The origins of Team Themis dated to Bank of America’s alarm over Julian Assange’s 2010 claim to possess documents that “could take down a bank or two.” The Department of Justice recommended Bank of America retain the services of the white-shoe D.C. law firm Hunton & Williams and the high-powered intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. On behalf of Bank of America, Hunton & Williams turned to the large and growing world of InfoSec subcontractors to come up with a plan, settling on HBGary and two dataintelligence shops, Berico Technologies and Palantir Technologies.
The Themis three were also preparing a proposal for Hunton & Williams on behalf of another client, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The leaked HBGary documents revealed that Themis was exploring ways of discrediting and disrupting the activities of organized labor and its allies for the Chamber. The potential money at stake in these contracts was considerable. According to Wired, the trio proposed that the Chamber create a $2-milliona-month sort of cyber special-forces team “of the kind developed and utilized by the Joint Special Operations Command.” They also suggested targeting a range of left-of-center organizations, including the SEIU, watchdog groups like U.S. Chamber Watch, and the Center for American Progress. (The Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America have denied ever hiring Team Themis or having any knowledge of the proposals.)
In pursuit of the Chamber and Bank of America contracts, the Themis three devised multipronged campaigns amounting to a private-sector information-age COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to infiltrate and undermine “subversive” groups between 1956 and 1971. Among the The mis ideas presented to Hunton & Williams: “Feed the fuel between the feuding groups. Disinformation. Create messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization. Submit fake documents and then call out the error.”
The revelations represented a triumph for Brown and his wiki. A group of Democratic congressmen asked four Republican committee chairs to hold hearings on the “deeply troubling” question of whether “tactics developed for use against terrorists may have been unleashed illegally against American citizens.” But the calls for investigation went nowhere.