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Barrett Brown

Journalist Barrett Brown sentenced to 63 months in prison

The Anonymous-linked writer and internet activist has already been detained for over two years

Barrett Brown, the 33-year old Guardian and Vanity Fair journalist linked to the hacktivist collective Anonymous, was sentenced yesterday to 63 months in prison. He has already been imprisoned for more than two years, meaning he potentially faces a further two years and ten months behind bars.

His crimes? Posting a hyperlink containing sensitive information and allegedly threatening an FBI agent. Brown published a link to documents belonging to Stratfor, the global intelligence agency. Stratfor had been hacked by Jeremy Hammond, an Anonymous member who is now imprisoned under a ten-year sentence. Hammond released this information through Wikileaks; Barrett Brown merely shared the hyperlink.

Brown released this sarcastic statement after being sentenced in Dallas:

"Good news! — The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job 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 wrondgoing 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. Wish me luck!"

Of the 63-month sentence, only 15 are related to the Stratfor hack. The other 48 are for threatening an FBI agent called Robert Smith. After Brown's home was raided in 2012 by federal agents, he uploaded a series of YouTube videos threatening Smith and his family. In one, he said: "I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids... How do you like them apples?" 

Brown later expressed regret over the videos, describing them in court as "idiotic". The journalist, who has struggled with heroin addiction, says that he was suffering from withdrawal at the time of the raids. 

Digital rights website Electronic Frontier Foundation drew parallels between Brown's case and Aaron Swartz's, the internet activist who committed suicide when he faced scrutiny from the law. As the American justice system seeks to warn journalists of the consequences of exposing its secrets, it's hard to escape the suspicion that Brown is being made an example of.