A story without legs
“Before his untimely death, Hastings was working on a story about Barrett, announcing mysteriously to his followers ‘Get ready for your mind to be blown.’ Hastings had been in touch with Barrett’s lawyers, and intended to interview him in June for the story.” — June 2013
On this edition [00:01:37] of Parallax Views rabble-rousing journalist and former associate of Anonymous, Barrett Brown joins us once again. In light of a recent article in Der Spiegel, one of the most widely circulated news magazines in Europe, profiled [00:02:07] Barrett Brown and the hacktivism of Anonymous years after their initial brush with media fame.
Needless to say, the rabble-rousing Barrett Brown took issue with the piece by Alexandra Rojkov, and in particular its sighting of Quillette magazine’s Claire [00:02:37] Lehmann, who is a controversial promoter of so-called, ‘race realism’, as an unnamed source making the serious accusation that Barrett Brown is ‘harassing women in tech’.
If you’re wondering how he discovered that the Quillette [00:03:07] figurehead was Rojkov’s source, well, I would suggest listening to this conversation.
We also cover Barrett’s thoughts on Peter Thiel, the so-called dark enlightenment of neo-reaction, and for what I believe is the first time ever, [00:03:39] the death of Michael Hastings and the media’s response to it.
If you’re unfamiliar with Hastings, he was a firebrand journalist, perhaps most noted for helping to bring down General Stanley McChrystal thanks to a profile he wrote in Rolling Stone entitled: The Runaway General. He was also a colleague of Barrett Brown and, unfortunately, he passed away under unusual and rather contested circumstances in 2013.
Again, I believe this is the first time that Barrett has spoken extensively on the subject [00:04:40] and of his relationship with Hastings.
Welcome back to Parallax Views rabble-rouser Barrett Brown.
Some folks know you [00:05:10] for your association with Anonymous, other people have said you’re the inspiration for Mr. Robot, other people will remember you as being referenced in an episode of House of Cards. How would you describe yourself though?
BB: It’s getting more complicated. I guess I would refer to myself as a public adventurer / [00:05:40] humourist ….
It’s very typical of why [00:52:55] a lot of things were sacrificed in terms of information, in terms of discovering and foiling plots by Palantir and others. Palantir and all these other firms not only prospered afterwards and continue their growth but have gone on to undermine democracy again, and get caught for it again, in 2016 the U.S elections with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and some of these other same firms, like Achimedes Global which is another group whose operations I dug into at the time.
I mean you have got a guy, [00:53:25] Adrian Chen, who was at Gawker at the time and who actually wrote a whole article about two weeks before my arrest by a SWAT team, that was mocking the idea that The New York Times should have spent more energy going through these emails. He refers to them as boring details and then of course his outlet, Gawker, two years later was shut down, as the result of a plot by one of those boring details, Peter Thiel.
JGM: Right during the Hulk Hogan/ Gawker trial, right?
BB: Yeah. He financed the Hulk Hogan [00:53:55] thing and he’s admitted it
JGM: And in regard to Hastings ….
BB: I do have what I need now after seven years. Yeah, it’s a long story. Michael Hastings like me, you know, his worth and what matters about it is not what happened to Michael Hastings or to his family that loves him and you know, miss him. Just like in my situation, it’s not about [01:54:18] me being prosecuted unfairly and my mom being prosecuted, and how sad that is.
A journalist has one purpose and that’s to get the truth out to a citizenry to act upon it. There is nothing that is of more importance whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if it’s the feelings of family members [01:54:48] the supposed feelings of family members as conveyed by you know, by somebody who doesn’t feel like looking at things in the first place or anything else, including his legacy, that should be of higher priority than determining anything that we need to know as a public about his life and death.
Now the most common dichotomy here is that there are those saying on the one hand that it was an accident blah blah [01:55:18] and that he was assassinated on the other hand. Those aren’t the only possibilities. They are the most obvious ones. They are the ones that come to mind and beyond that, there’s more than one huge scandal here beyond that dichotomy of ‘oh was he assassinated’?
The scandal is whether or not the press has enough knowledge to make that assessment and whether or not they care. [01:55:49] I can tell you for a fact now after having inquired into this and having looked at things and talked to people relevant to this that no one had the right to say one way or the other about the claims he made in the last few days before his death about the FBI surveillance of him or anything else who was out there doing so.
As in none of the reporters who wrote articles, definitely not [01:56:19] the LA Times …Let me start it this way.
Michael Hastings, I knew him through Project PM. I knew him because my second-in-command a retired IRS attorney of all things, I had some very mainstream people back in 2009- 2008, introduced him to me.
It turns out he also had significant concerns about the press and he had very good reason to, having worked at NewsWeek and other such forth. His fiancée died in Iraq in a bombing there a couple years prior and like me he was somebody with the long-term substance abuse problem. You know, he had actually been sober I think, you know, pretty much the most part for years. I was not. I never really set out for that.
People [01:57:19] describe us as friends, sure. We were really more, our relationship was of an entirely collegial nature really as in even though we liked each other and hung out once or twice aside from talking, we both had the same concerns, but that was it.
We weren’t playing baseball together. He was involved in Project PM to an extent mostly on a high level just you know discussing with me,[01:57:49] some of the larger questions put before us and that we were trying to solve with it. Not as a matter of day-to-day hanging out in IRC.
He did speak at the thing I organized in New York, the City Hall deal, the rally for Bradley Manning as it was called back then, or rally for information freedom which is the way we termed it, that I got sort of tricked into having to organize. And you know, we hung out there.
[01:58:19] Aside from being a Project PM participant he was also someone who got involved with Anonymous within 24 hours of me getting directly involved in Anonymous, as in January 2nd, 2011.
I had been brought in the previous day to assist with the op Tunisia operation on the Anon Ops IRC server on behalf of the Tunisian Democratic Revolution, that was at that point kind of a street scramble.[01:58:49] The press in the west had no idea whatsoever that there had been an insurrection in Tunisia for the past two weeks.
When anonymous went through, you know in coordination with guys like Slim Amamou who later joined the provisional government of the new regime after Ben Ali fled, people like that who were working in Anon Ops who were also arrested and tortured in some points in some cases.
When we got this Anonymous operation going on and the hackers had taken over the [01:59:20] websites of the Tunisian governments and replaced them with messages of support to the Tunisian people, I was able to use that, like that was the leverage I needed to get the press not just to notice that there was something going on in Tunisia but, to insist to assist with it by virtue of what it does automatically, to amplify it, promote it, and Michael Hastings was the one who did that.
I have emails although one need not rely on the [01:59:50] emails to see, the press could have found themselves because he tweeted about it. Michael Hastings, I reached out to on January 2nd, 2011 regarding the Op Tunisia thing, regarding the fact this unprecedented operation, which was not yet fully formed, it would go on to serve other functions, but right then it was doing a few things that this was in play. He put that out to the rest of the press by his Twitter account and [02:00:20] then you start seeing the articles appearing and Gawker and the BBC and everything else, you know a few of which didn’t even refer to the actual street protests in Tunisia. They had no idea. They just saw the Anonymous stuff.
That’s how little understood and little positioned the press was to contend with what became the Arab Spring. Michael Hastings helped to both bring about global awareness and thus put pressure on the Ben Ali regime that can manifest when you have people on the outside scolding you. It’s a very big part of the dance. He did that. He made that possible in a way that I could not have on my own.
He had, and I had other conversations about Anonymous before [02:01:20] I got involved, before that point, that are in the emails, you know that the FBI had privy to. This is a year and half after he’d already taken down General McChrystal with the article in Rolling Stone that the press hated him for.
JGM: Can I comment on that real quick?
JGM: I thought it was interesting. He won a George Polk award for that profile The Runaway General, it documented the widespread contempt [02:01:50] for civilian government officials exhibited by the general and his staff and that led to McChrystals resignation and there were people that said, “Well those things were said off the Record. He shouldn’t have reported that”. I’ve always hated that argument. Michael Hastings told the truth that we the citizenry needed to know. I’ve always hated the attacks on him over that.
BB: That was what we were contending with, myself and Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan [02:02:20] and I had forgotten about some of this actually myself until I was recently going through my old emails, you know that they were also involved in this behind-the-scenes return fire that I was organizing for Hastings, you know back against them to push back on those arguments.
I wrote an article for Vanity Fair defending him, attacking some people who were going after him. I appeared on Russia Today for the first time interestingly enough, on that to defend him. That was the first time they had contacted me and unfortunately the kind of thing that led me to be [02:02:50] investigated as a potential Russian agent later on by the FBI. That’s another part of this story, it’s one of the many, many things that I have not had the chance to tell or it just hasn’t been the right time.
So he was involved with Anonymous at several key junctures in a way, after he’d already made himself obviously a subject of focus by the US military intelligence establishment. [02:03:20]
I mean even aside from the McChrystal thing, which is more than enough to get you on the radar not just of law enforcement intelligence outlets, but also individuals who are loyal to McChrystal and I’ve met some, like I know another junkie like myself in Dallas — we’ve left Dallas in the last few months, but another guy, who was under McChrystal.
He was in Afghanistan. He was in some of the most difficult fighting of that time and I asked him, you know, about six months ago, [02:03:50] when I first met him, “What do you think about McChrystal”, and he looked at me and said, “ I love that man”. So I decided not to go on with the rest of the story about my dead friend who took him down.
Special forces guys or even just non-special forces, I mean, these are people that in many cases they’ll contemplate things that the average say douchebag reporter at Gawker, can’t really conceive of, it doesn’t occur to them, it’s hard for them to envision killing someone in revenge for anything.
It’s not that hard for a special forces guy [02:04:20] to envision. I’ve heard them talk. I’ve heard them propose that exact thing in other contexts, you know, when I was very young. I had an unusual upbringing and spent time around unusual people and circumstances.
Anyway, so there are there are any number of people who either had a pragmatic motive or a non-pragmatic motive to see Hastings dead. But again, that’s not even necessarily the important aspect of this because I also don’t think it’s something we’ll be able to ever to verify.
What we can verify and what I can [02:04:50] now verify is that the press was a bit hasty perhaps, and also disgustingly and unforgivably obtuse in taking the FBI’s word for it or presenting the FBI’s claim as anything as being on the level of a journalist claim to his editor, which is what they did when they when they said, “Oh there is no evidence that the FBI [02:05:20] was investigating him”.
That’s what they’re doing. They’re taking a claim made by the FBI and not just putting it on the same level of a reporter who they’ve already given the Polk award to, and who had already exposed, not just the McChrystal stuff, but an army psyops program in Afghanistan directed at civilian senate, visiting senators intended to encourage support for the war, he revealed that Rolling Stone.
Someone like that, taking [02:05:50] his word or his assessment that he was under surveillance as less import, as less credible than the FBI’s claims days afterwards, when I phrase it like that and explain that that is what they did, makes it harder to justify.
JGM: Do you ever think the attacks on Hastings were due to his becoming so critical of the Obama administration the [02:06:20] democratic party or the surveillance state?
BB: No. That’s part of it. He was doing several things towards end of his life, one of which was looking into some of the things about my case and some of the firm’s like Romas/Coin. He wrote an article in BuzzFeed about my raid by the FBI a few months before I went to prison and it was not ignored by intent by these other reporters who later assessed it for themselves, but they just couldn’t find it. That’s [02:06:50] another one of those things that you know, something is hidden on BuzzFeed about a case that you’re covering and you just can’t come across it. You can’t find the search warrant that lists HBGary and tells you what this is about then that’s a problem.
Certainly his criticisms of the press itself and of other people the press deal with and are friends with, that absolutely isolated him.
JGM: Put a bull’s-eye on him …..
BB: I’m talking about after his death now. I’m really interested in the period of after his death, how the press deals with it, when one of their colleagues dies in unusual circumstances, you know several sets of unusual circumstances and in which his colleague has in the days before talked about being surveilled.
In this case, they decided he hadn’t been and the toxicology report comes back and shows he had methamphetamine in his system from days prior. The fact that the toxicology report also said it did not [02:07:50] contribute to his crash, most likely. That didn’t seem to matter to the L.A Times.
Here’s the thing, Hastings, when the FBI said that they didn’t have any notes on Hastings, weren’t watching Hastings, that was vastly false and it could have been shown to be false even before Jason Leopold and some others did a FOIA request and the FBI had to say okay, we did have this article in our archives, [02:08:20] a memorialized article that Hastings had written with one of his military colleagues, an ex-military guy who I have since met and talked to on the Bergdahl going AWOL thing.
That itself was not the real meat here. The real meat here is that the FBI had already admitted to having notes on Michael Hastings in relation to me [02:08:50] in open court at a gag order hearing.
That was reported on by a bunch of reporters who would come in for the purpose. He was one of the journalists who the FBI agent Special Agent Robert Smith and the prosecutor discussed having listened to their conversations with me over the phone in which they had compiled into neat little summaries according to the FBI agent, of what we talked about and was reading for [02:09:20] like a half an hour until the judge stopped them.
This is right there. So just from that we know, and the press was told. That was not enough of course.
The press was made aware by that thing alone that Michael Hastings, that there was FBI agents, who had compiled notes on journalist Michael Hastings. That’s not even important in this case from the other standpoint of the question of what happened to him, because the [02:09:50] FBI would not be the entity if there was anyone responsible for killing him and doing so in a way to make it look like an accident.
It’s not the FBI that would have done that. It wouldn’t even necessarily be an entity as such it wouldn’t be the CIA, it wouldn’t be Booz Allen Hamilton as such, it would be something a little bit more amorphous than that.
After I had come across these things and after I had learned [02:10:21] of an appearance that Hastings did on The Young Turks a few months before his death. I in the last year became aware all of a sudden that he had talked about me on The Young Turks. He was asked about surveillance, you know about being a journalist in the age of surveillance after the Snowden Revelations. He and I had spoken on the phone a week or two after Snowden came out. [02:10:51]
He was planning on coming down to meet with me at the prison regarding some related issues. He was on The Young Turks saying that whenever he talked to me he assumed he was under surveillance. And then he adds after that, that he doesn’t know if he is under surveillance, he’s not saying that he is, but he is saying that he’s been told that he is by special forces guys.
He says that [02:11:21] very much in passing and it saddens me to look at that because I know what he’s doing there. He knows very well that to say, “I think I’m under surveillance”, is to invite ridicule by your inferiors in the press who will never be under surveillance of any particular sort because there’s no point in doing so, and if he expected that he would be mocked regardless if he made a point of saying he was under surveillance, [02:11:51] which it is obvious that he was, he would be mocked for it.
That’s proven by the disregarding, by the dismissive nature of the press accounts of his death that say, “Oh he was high like a couple days and he just suddenly said he’s under surveillance”.
He knew he was under surveillance for years at that point and had said it publicly. That doesn’t prove anything else except [02:12:21] for a few relatively minor things one of which is that the press has no fucking idea.
Number two is that even after this became public again, via Jason Leopold’s FOIA request they did not say, “Oh, wow, we probably should have gone back and looked at this, let’s do that now”. They didn’t do that.
Telling somebody like his editor, “Hey, I think I’m [02:12:51] being under investigation by this law enforcement agency that has gone after the press over and over again and is doing so to people I work directly with, that are calling Project PM a criminal organization”.
You can read in Vanity Fair. You can see a Washington Times article about the lawsuit that was later filed against the DOJ and FBI for illegally surveilling people who had simply donated funds to my legal fund for me to get a lawyer. [02:13:21] They were identified illegally by subpoena.
Everyone who contributed to the wiki that Project PM oversaw, their identities were sought out and obtained by the FBI. So we are to believe that the only person either involved in Project PM, my organization in any way, enough to like write for a few things for the website or who even donated money to my legal funds that they were all under FBI scrutiny, but that the one person among [02:13:51] them who was himself known for things that absolutely struck at the heart of the intelligence military state was not under FBI surveillance.
And that is enough for the press. And it’s enough for his own partner Ben Smith who I spoke to a few months ago and I recorded the conversation for the same reason. I used to only record conversations with intelligence contractors and police, because I don’t trust them. I’ve started doing that with a lot of [02:14:21] my colleagues as well and he starts out by dismissing any reason whatsoever to look into Hastings death and so he’s not agnostic on the subject.
It turns out that he’s unaware of any of the stuff, any of it at all. This was the editor that Michael Hastings had the misfortune to have to rely upon to at least ensure the things he was investigating towards the end of his life that they were pursued, you know, and that [02:14:51] he himself, Hastings, was not going to be made known for being a silly Billy who was on drugs and that the FBI was investigating him.
I’ve looked at these articles and now I know what my obituary would look like if the press had a chance.
That’s really as much as we really need to know to start re-establishing [02:15:23] what I think should be a common-sense notion that the press fucking something up is not an excuse to ignore it forever afterwards.