The Legacy of Imprisoned Investigative Journalist Barrett Brown

Excerpts, The Daily Dot – “Given the National Security Agency’s surveillance revelations of the last few months, we need to pay even more attention to the private companies who are working hand-in-hand with the state to carry this mass surveillance out. In fact, someone’s already done a lot of that work for us—an American journalist who has been in jail for over a year: Barrett Brown.

In a statement released on MondayWikiLeaks states that Brown is “being persecuted for critical reporting on the growing surveillance state” and that his prosecution “chills investigative reporting of national security issues and provides cover for the unholy alliance between government agencies and the security industry.” The Dallas, Texas-based writer—who contributed to The GuardianHuffington Post, and Vanity Fair, among other outlets—now faces up to 105 years in prison on charges that are crucially related to his reporting.

Brown’s status as a journalist will most likely affect how his actions are perceived in a court of law. His investigative journalism, memorialized at the crowdsourced research outfit with an associated wiki, Project PM, brought to light extremely important findings on the issue of private firms and public surveillance. While Brown isn’t due sole credit for all of the information below, he followed these matters very closely. Now, more than ever, it is important for other journalists and researchers to revisit and recognize the importance of his work and if possible, pick up threads where he left off. As such, it’s worth going over a summary review of some critical subjects Brown reported on, and the private firms he investigated allegedly involved in gathering intelligence and surveilling public citizens.

1) Team Themis

Team Themis is a consortium of firms, made up of HBGary, Palantir, Berico, and Endgame Systems, that was apparently set up to provide offensive intelligence capabilities against certain enemies on behalf of the law firm Hunton & Williams, who was working at the behest of Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The plans—discovered in emails pilfered by Anonymous from HBGary, which were drawn up but never acted upon—consisted of disinformation efforts against WikiLeaks and its supporters (including Glenn Greenwald) and other activists involved in criticizing the Chamber of Commerce.

Some of the methods proposed, which could feasibly be described as a dirty-tricks campaign using false documents to sow distrust, border upon the criminal. The affair made the news and resulted in calls for an investigation that never materialized, which is not surprising considering that theDepartment of Justice (DOJ) set the affair in motion by recommending Hunton & Williams to Bank of America, who were then concerned that WikiLeaks possessed information belonging to them. In the end a single Palantir employee was placed on leave pending a review of his actions, and later allowed to return.

2) Romas/COIN

Romas/COIN was a sophisticated campaign of mass surveillance and data mining targeted at Arab countries, which was unveiled in an exclusive Project PM report during 2011. The report was picked up by Raw Story and one other outlet, and it resulted in an article by Brown in the Guardian and a segment on Russia Today featuring confirmatory comments from Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer. But otherwise it didn’t get much traction.

Most striking was the revelation that companies like Apple and Google were team partners in this effort. While its exact nature and scope is unknown, mobile phone applications were believed to constitute a major component of the program. The contract for Romas/COIN was set to be replaced by a successor, codenamed Odyssey, which is quite possibly being used today to monitor, deceive, and manipulate whole populations.

3) “Persona Management”

The capability of persona management entails “the use of software by which to facilitate the use of multiple fake online personas, or ‘sockpuppets,’ generally for the use of propaganda, disinformation, or as a surveillance method by which to discover details of a human target via social interactions.” The United States Air Force (USAF) was revealed on the General Services Administration’s Federal Business Opportunities website tohave requested bids from contractors for the opportunity to work on this class of software. It’s a high priority for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has admitted to using similar capabilities—including psychological operations on U.S. senators—abroad, under Operation Earnest Voice, to increase support for wars.

There are two very concerning aspects to this. One: the possibility that fake social media profiles, replete with supporting biographical details, could be deployed against Americans, which is against the law. Second: the possibility of a future in which you never know whether you’re communicating with a live person or a software abstraction, and a world where governments control narratives and wield an intense grip upon trends and topics via whole armies of these things. Let’s just say it’s scary.

4) TrapWire

Brown played a central role in the media coverage of TrapWire, a mass video surveillance system developed by Abraxas Corporation that was revealed last year. TrapWire’s marketing material boasts the ability to predict terrorist attacks. The emails, which came out of Stratfor and were published by WikiLeaks, showed that a network of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras had been installed in most major American cities, the feeds of which were fed into a system designed to detect patterns of suspicious behavior.

Brown demonstrated how the New York Times got TrapWire wrong by arguing its fears were overstated (based on the word of an unnamed and unquoted DHS official) and underplayed its significance by dismissing its own marketing claims. He also detailed how articles about TrapWire were scrubbed from Australian newspapers at the behest of Cubic Corporation,who argued they were not connected to TrapWire, even though they had purchased the company that created it, Abraxas, two years earlier…”

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More from Daily Dot “…We are now witnessing the militarization of the Internet. These businesses are all part of a continuous intelligence and law enforcement community with an incestuous, revolving-door relationship between the government and private industry. Those involved allegedly get rich off of contracts that are paid to spy on people, conduct shady cyber-warfare, and disrupt activist movements. There tends to be no moral consideration at stake as part of this market exchange. The ability to investigate and target people is for sale to those who will pay for it.

What Brown’s work teaches us is that technological capabilities such as these—which improve at a rate far greater than populations are able to keep up with or learn about —are inevitably subject to abuse.

Stories about privacy violations like these have a shelf life, and the U.S. media is ill-equipped to cover them. They’re hot for awhile, such as when hackers first leak information; then their appeal fades. The issues at stake are sometimes too complex for the average person with an average attention span to attempt to understand. Brown frequently complained about this.

We do, however, now have the ability to change it—all we need to do is accept that Snowden has opened the door, and to walk through it. There are no doubt numerous revelations of journalistic import in those thousands of emails, just waiting to be found. We need to watch these matters a lot more closely if we hope to preserve basic fundamentals of democracy, privacy, and liberty in the years to come.” Full Article on Daily Dot

 

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