Activist and journalist Barrett Brown was sentenced in a Dallas, Texas federal court Thursday to 63 months in federal prison and ordered to pay nearly $900,000 in restitution and fines.
Brown, 33, pleaded guilty to charges of transmitting threats, accessory to a cyber attack, and obstruction of justice for interfering with the execution of a search warrant. He faced a maximum sentence of eight years over charges stemming from his alleged involvement with the hacker-activist collective Anonymous, after Brown in 2012 shared a link to a cache of emails and credit card data stolen by Anonymous hacker Jeremy Hammond from Austin-based think tank Stratfor. Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2013.
Brown was arrested in 2012 after he threatened a federal agent in a video uploaded to YouTube. The video came six months after the FBI conducted a search on Brown's apartment and the home of his mother in search of material related to Anonymous and a splinter hacking group known as LulzSec. Agents confiscated a laptop, but did not charge Brown with a crime. In the video, Brown demanded that investigators return the computer, threatening that he would "ruin" the life of FBI agent Robert Smith and "look into his fucking kids" if Brown's property was not given back to him.
Brown's legal team described the charges thusly: "This breaks down to uploading YouTube videos that contained unfortunate statements, efforts to redact sensitive e-mails that had been procured by hackers, and hiding laptops in a kitchen cabinet."
Activists, journalists, and other supporters of Brown, including Hammond himself, had hoped he would be able to walk away from the charges after having already served two years in prison awaiting trial. His backers coordinated a letter-writing campaign to seek leniency on his behalf in 2014.
In his sentencing statement Thursday morning, Brown told U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay, "The fact that the government has still asked you to punish me for that link is proof, if any more were needed, that those of us who advocate against secrecy are to be pursued without regard for the rule of law, or even common decency."
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Brown also criticized federal investigators for arguing that he was a spokesperson for Anonymous, rather than a journalist. "You are whatever the FBI finds it convenient for you to be at any given moment," Brown said. "This is not the rule of law, your honor, it is the rule of law enforcement, and it is very dangerous."
The Department of Justice originally charged Brown with fraud, arguing that sharing the link exposed Stratfor employees to identity theft, as it "caused the data to be made available to other persons online, without the knowledge and authorization of Stratfor and the card holders." The charges were dropped as part of a plea deal brokered in April 2014. Under the original indictment, Brown faced a possible 100 years in prison.
Following his sentencing, Brown released a satirical statement thanking the U.S. government for its efforts.
"Good news!" he wrote. "The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex. For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose wrongdoing by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system."
"I want to thank the Department of Justice for having put so much time and energy into advocating on my behalf; rather than holding a grudge against me for the two years of work I put into in bringing attention to a DOJ-linked campaign to harass and discredit journalists like Glenn Greenwald, the agency instead labored tirelessly to ensure that I received this very prestigious assignment," Brown continued.
He concluded: "Wish me luck!