Obama Administration Secures Gag Order To Prevent Activist From Discussing Online Surveillance

220px-Barrett_Brown_2007In its latest attack on the free speech, the Obama Administration has secured a gag order to prevent activist-journalist Barrett Brown and his lawyers from discussing his work exposing online surveillance by the Administration. On this occasion, however, Eric Holder and the Obama Administration convinced a federal judge to go along. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay in Dallas Texas has issued a sweeping gag order to prevent not just Brown but his legal team from discussing the online surveillance. The Justice Department insisted on the order to protect Brown. That’s right, they insist that, if Brown discussed the abusive surveillance by the Obama Administration, it would endanger his right to a fair trial.

Federal judges have increasing issued gag orders in cases as a standard measure when it was once used only in rare cases. I have long been a critic of the orders which deny basic free speech rights and deny defendants and their counsel to answer damaging allegations in the public.

This order however is particularly problematic. Brown, 32, is facing 105 years in prison after his arrest last year. He writes on government online spying and has been a vocal critic of the Administration and its attack on privacy. The Obama Administration threw the book at him in a case that reminds many of Aaron Swartz case. Perhaps due to the blowback on the suicide of the Swartz case and criticism of his unrelenting prosecution, the Justice Department has tried to cut off Brown and his team from the media.

The court order prohibits Brown and his defense 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.” The reason is purportedly to protect Brown’s right to an unbiased jury. However, the order prevents him from writing about his own case. I believe such a limitation would have been viewed as inherently abusive by the Framers and tyrannical by writers like Thomas Paine.

Brown had been looking at hacked emails by Anonymous from the computer system of a private security firm, HB Gary. He wrote about an effort to destroy the reputations of WikiLeaks supporters and prominent liberal journalists and activists. In looking at other emails hacked from the private intelligence company Stratfor, Brown posted a link in a chat room that connected users to Stratfor documents. The documents included email addresses and credit card numbers belonging to Stratfor subscribers. He was charged with disseminating stolen information that simply linked to the site — a crime that could transform the Internet and radically reduce sites that challenge the government. If the Obama Administration is successful, it could prosecute anyone linked to sites containing Snowden documents or other exposed surveillance.

The Administration is complaining that Brown is working with the media to “manipulate the public through press and social media comments”. In other words, it has not been successful in suppressing discussion of a case where it could criminalize the simple act of linking to anti-government sites.

The case is extremely important to free speech and the Administration is seeking to establish a new crime that would curtail the use of the Internet to challenge it and future Presidents. It is worth following and talking about . . . except of course for Brown himself who is expected to remain silent as the Administration tries to put him away for 100 years.

Source: Guardian

62 thoughts on “Obama Administration Secures Gag Order To Prevent Activist From Discussing Online Surveillance

  1. On this occasion, however, Eric Holder and the Obama Administration convinced a federal judge to go along. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay in Dallas Texas has issued a sweeping gag order to prevent not just Brown but his legal team from discussing the online surveillance. The Justice Department insisted on the order to protect Brown. That’s right, they insist that, if Brown discussed the abusive surveillance by the Obama Administration, it would endanger his right to a fair trial.” – JT

    Anyone ready yet to discuss governmental machinations in the context of madness rather than in the context of law, politics, and economics?

  2. Maybe Brown should move to have the Judge recuse himself. I mean, if the gov’t case is “Brown talked about us!”, and then they get an unnecessary order that says, “Make Brown not talk about us!”, that kind of makes me think the judge has already made his mind up.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  3. Lloyd,

    I’m sorry, I do not understand your angle…. Wasn’t bush white… Gonzales Hispanic…. What’s really different is the names have changed…. Not much else….

    But there are still racist…. You probably haven’t changed…..

    • Hey Anonymous! You haven’t noticed that the Major Media refuses to hold Obama and Holder to account as compared to the way they scrutinized Bush and his minions? Please! Howling headlines against Bush, often on the mark. Matter of fact coverage, if that, regarding the constant wrong doing of Obama and Holder!

  4. A brief understanding of Brown’s intrepid journalism is vital to understanding the travesty of his prosecution. I first heard of Brown when he wrote a great 2010 essay in Vanity Fair defending the journalist Michael Hastings from attacks from fellow journalists over Hastings’ profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone, which ended the general’s career. Brown argued that establishment journalists hate Hastings because he has spent years challenging, rather than serving, political and military officials and the false conventional wisdom they spout.

    In an excellent profile of Brown in the Guardian on Wednesday, Ryan Gallagher describes that “before he crossed paths with the FBI, Brown was a prolific writer who had contributed to publications including Vanity Fair, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and satirical news site the Onion.” He also “had a short stint in politics as the director of communications for an atheist group called Enlighten the Vote, and he co-authored a well-received book mocking creationism, Flock of Dodos.”

    But the work central to his prosecution began in 2009, when Brown created Project PM, “dedicated to investigating private government contractors working in the secretive fields of cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance.” Brown was then moved by the 2010 disclosures by WikiLeaks and the oppressive treatment of Bradley Manning to devote himself to online activism and transparency projects, including working with the hacktivist collective Anonymous. He has no hacking skills, but used his media savvy to help promote and defend the group, and was often referred to (incorrectly, he insists) as the Anonymous spokesman. He was particularly interested in using what Anonymous leaked for his journalism. As Brown told me several days ago in a telephone interview from the Texan prison where he is being held pending trial, he devoted almost all of his waking hours over the last several years to using these documents to dig into the secret relationships and projects between these intelligence firms and federal agencies.

    The real problems for Brown began in 2011. In February, Anonymous hacked into the computer system of the private security firm HB Gary Federal and then posted thousands of emails containing incriminating and nefarious acts. Among them was a joint proposal by that firm – along with the very well-connected firms of Palantir and Berico – to try to persuade Bank of America and its law firm, Hunton & Williams, to hire them to destroy the reputations and careers of WikiLeaks supporters and, separately, critics of the Chamber of Commerce (as this New York Times article on that episode details, I was named as one of the people whose career they would seek to destroy). HB Gary Federal’s CEO Aaron Barr, who advocated the scheme, was fired as a result of the disclosures, but continues to this day to play a significant role in this public-private axis of computer security and intelligence.

    Brown became obsessed with journalistically investigating every strand exposed by these HB Gary Federal emails and devoted himself to relentlessly exposing this world. He did the same with the 2012 leak of millions of emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, obtained by Anonymous and published by WikiLeaks. As Gallagher describes about Brown’s fixation on these documents:

    “Hackers would sometimes obtain data and then pass it on to him. He would spend days and nights hunkered down in his small uptown Dallas apartment pouring through troves of hacked documents, writing blog posts about US government intelligence contractors and their ‘misplaced power’ while working to garner wider media coverage. . . .

    “Brown was frustrated that mainstream media outlets were not covering stories he felt deserved attention. He would complain that reporters would often approach him and ask about the personalities of some of the more prominent hackers . . . but ignore the deeper issues about governments and private contractors contained in documents that had been hacked.”

    The issues Brown was investigating are complex and serious, and I won’t detail all of that here. In addition to Gallagher’s article, two superb and detailed accounts of Brown’s journalism in these areas have been published by Christian Stork of WhoWhatWhy and Vice’s Patrick McGuire; read those to see how threatening Brown’s work had become to lots of well-connected people. Suffice to say, Brown, using the documents obtained by Anonymous, was digging around – with increasing efficacy – in places which National Security and Surveillance State agencies devote considerable energy to concealing.


  5. The “Black President” “Black Attorney General” strategy is a strategy of the RULING CLASS faction that put them forward! That faction, of course, is the Rockefeller / Trilateral Commission faction as evidenced by Trilat co-founder (w/David Rockefeller) Zbig’s support of Obama. The RULING CLASS is, thus, effectively shielded from scrutiny as they are not with regular “White” politicians!

  6. Jill, regarding your above postings on NSA/etc. breaking internet encription:

    People still don’t get it (most here do) especially those silly youngsters that wave the warnings off with ‘I don’t have anything to hide -besides, I post everything online’. The government, this one among many, are warring against their own citizens privacy as much as each other. The enemy is privacy in general and the folks that have enjoyed it are us. We are, or our very nature of our idea of privacy, now the enemy by default. I do’t think most people here (though there are some that do) realize how easy it would be, armed with a list of names derived from the information now available to the government, to just round up large, really large, numbers of people in one fell swoop.

    The level of control, for any reason the government deems appropriate, occurring at any time the government deems appropriate going back to when the data was seized and stored, is vast and dangerous as hell.

    One thing I have always liked about your postings is the Cassandra factor- you are the TurlyBlawg Cassandra. You just make your postings (and the over-the -horizon prophesy it implies) and move on to make the next posting. You don’t fight with people. Over the years I have come to view your manner of posting as a mirror which entertains me on many levels. I think that’s valuable. Keep up the good work.

    Good article, as is the Guardian article Jill linked to:

    “….The full extent of the N.S.A.’s decoding capabilities is known only to a limited group of top analysts from the so-called Five Eyes: the N.S.A. and its counterparts in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Only they are cleared for the Bullrun program, the successor to one called Manassas — both names of an American Civil War battle. A parallel GCHQ counterencryption program is called Edgehill, named for the first battle of the English Civil War of the 17th century.

    Unlike some classified information that can be parceled out on a strict “need to know” basis, one document makes clear that with Bullrun, “there will be NO ‘need to know.’ ”

    Only a small cadre of trusted contractors were allowed to join Bullrun. ….”


  7. lloydmillerus: “The “Black President” “Black Attorney General” strategy is a strategy of the RULING CLASS …. effectively shielded from scrutiny as they are not with regular “White” politicians!”

    Oh please, are you so young that you don’t remember the last 13 years (at the least) and the free pass that the lily-white Bush administration got? It’s not about race. Get your head straight, please, informed dissent is valuable and needed.

    • I’m 65. . . I’ve never seen the major media so compliant to an Administration. I suppose you don’t recall the New York Times leading the charge against Bush re: Iraq. Yeah, NYT supported using force in Iraq at first as did the whole DEM(agogue) Party. Your ears are closed.

  8. Professor T why was my comment on the Obama administration gag order victory deleted and not posted? I don’t see how what I’ve written could have breached any decorum.

  9. L.K. Thank you so much for writing to me. I deeply appreciate what you said.

    With regards to people saying they don’t care if the govt. reads their e-mail, listens to their calls– I hear many people say that. I now ask: I wonder how you feel, not about the govt. reading your e-mail etc. but about it breaking the law when it’s doing that?

    In the US our Constitution has the 4th amendment. The govt. is violating that, even the FISA court has said so. So, the question I must ask you is, how do you feel about tearing down the rule of law?

  10. Teejay,

    We’ve been experiencing problems with WordPress. It sometimes wrongly flags posts for the spam or moderation filters, but on occasion it simply “eats” a comment. I checked the filters and your post wasn’t there, so try to repost it. Maybe the WordPress Vortex of Doom won’t eat it this time. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  11. Lotta & Jill,

    I find the Barrett Brown story and stories about our present administration going after journalists and whistle-blowers truly chilling. I think it’s one of the most important issues of our day.

  12. The idea that Bush got a free pass is absurd. If only Obama would get the same “free pass.” Bush was demonized, often with good reason. Obama is only now beginning to get light criticism in the mainstream media outside Fox and Talk Radio.

Comments are closed.