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US stops jailed activist Barrett Brown from discussing leaks prosecution


US stops jailed activist Barrett Brown from discussing leaks prosecution

Federal court order prohibits Brown from talking to the media in what critics
say is latest in crackdown on investigative journalism

Ed Pilkington in New York

theguardian.com, Wednesday 4 September 2013 22.50 BST

Barrett Brown, Anonymous spokesman

Brown's lawyer says the gagging order is a breach of Brown's first amendment
rights. Photograph: Nikki Loehr

A federal court in Dallas, Texas has imposed a gag order on the jailed
activist-journalist Barrett Brown and his legal team that prevents them from
talking to the media about his prosecution in which he faces up to 100 years
in prison for alleged offences relating to his work exposing online

The court order, imposed by the district court for the northern district of
Texas at the request of the US government, prohibits the defendant and his
defence team, as well as prosecutors, from making "any statement to members
of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine, internet (including, but not
limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case, other
than matters of public interest."

It goes on to warn Brown and his lawyers that "no person covered by this
order shall circumvent its effect by actions that indirectly, but
deliberately, bring about a violation of this order".

According to Dell Cameron of Vice magazine, who attended the hearing, the
government argued that the gag order was needed in order to protect Brown
from prejudicing his right to a fair trial by making comments to reporters.

But media observers seen the hearing in the opposite light: as the latest in
a succession of prosecutorial moves under the Obama administration to
crack-down on investigative journalism, official leaking, hacking and online

Brown's lead defence attorney, Ahmed Ghappour, has countered in court
filings, the most recent of which was lodged with the court Wednesday, that
the government's request for a gag order is unfounded as it is based on false
accusations and misrepresentations.

The lawyer says the gagging order is a breach of Brown's first amendment
rights as an author who continues to write from his prison cell on issues
unconnected to his own case for the Guardian and other media outlets.

In his memo to the court for today's hearing, Ghappour writes that Brown's
July article for the Guardian "contains no statements whatsoever about this
trial, the charges underlying the indictment, the alleged acts underlying the
three indictments against Mr Brown, or even facts arguably related to this

The gag order does give Brown some room to carry on his journalistic work
from prison. It says that he will be allowed to continue publishing articles
on topics "not related to the counts on which he stands indicted".

Following the imposition of the order, Ghappour told the Guardian: "The
defense's overriding concern is that Mr Brown continue to be able to exercise
his first amendment right as a journalist. The order preserves that ability."

The lawyer adds that since the current defence team took over in May, Brown
has made only three statements to the media, two of which where articles that
did not concern his trial while the third ran no risk of tainting the jury
pool. "Defendant believes that a gag order is unwarranted because there is no
substantial, or even reasonable, likelihood of prejudice to a fair trial
based on statements made by defendant or his counsel since May 1, 2013."

Brown, 32, was arrested in Dallas on 12 September last year and has been in
prison ever since, charged with 17 counts that include threatening a federal
agent, concealing evidence and disseminating stolen information. He faces a
possible maximum sentence of 100 years in custody.

Before his arrest, Brown became known as a specialist writer on the US
government's use of private military contractors and cybersecurity firms to
conduct online snooping on the public. He was regularly quoted by the media
as an expert on Anonymous, the loose affiliation of hackers that caused
headaches for the US government and several corporate giants, and was
frequently referred to as the group's spokesperson, though he says the
connection was overblown.

In 2011, through the research site he set up called Project PM, he
investigated thousands of emails that had been hacked by Anonymous from the
computer system of a private security firm, HB Gary Federal. His work helped
to reveal that the firm had proposed a dark arts effort to besmirch the
reputations of WikiLeaks supporters and prominent liberal journalists and
activists including the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald.

In 2012, Brown similarly pored over millions of emails hacked by Anonymous
from the private intelligence company Stratfor. It was during his work on the
Stratfor hack that Brown committed his most serious offence, according to US
prosecutors â?? he posted a link in a chat room that connected users to
Stratfor documents that had been released online.

The released documents included a list of email addresses and credit card
numbers belonging to Stratfor subscribers. For posting that link, Brown is
accused of disseminating stolen information â?? a charge with media
commentators have warned criminalises the very act of linking.

As Geoffrey King, Internet Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect
Journalists, has put it, the Barrett Brown case "could criminalize the
routine journalistic practice of linking to documents publicly available on
the internet, which would seem to be protected by the first amendment to the
US constitution under current doctrine".

In its motion to the Dallas district court, US prosecutors accuse Brown and
his associates of having "solicited the services of the media or media-types
to discuss his case" and of continuing to "manipulate the public through
press and social media comments".

It further accuses Ghappour of "co-ordinating" and "approving" the use of the
media, and alleges that between them they have spread "gross fabrications and
substantially false recitations of facts and law which may harm both the
government and the defence during jury selection".

But Ghappour in his legal response has pointed out that several of the
specific accusations raised by the government are inaccurate. Prosecutors
refer to an article in the Guardian by Greenwald published on 21 March 2013
based partly on an interview between the journalist and Brown, yet as
Ghappour points out that piece was posted on the Guardian website before the
accused's current legal team had been appointed.

Under his legal advice, Ghappour writes, Brown has maintained "radio silence"
over his case and has given no further interviews, thus negating the
government's case for a gagging order.