We exposed HBGary. HBGary came after us. The Intercept’s Sam Biddle helped.
A week ago I released a set of documents pertaining to The Intercept’s recent closure of the Snowden archive and firing of the research team that oversaw it, including internal emails and testimony from Laura Poitras about the outlet’s failure to even inform Snowden in advance. I also included an email I’d just sent to dozens of staffers and execs at The Intercept and First Look regarding this whole sordid affair, as well as some examples showing that Glenn Greenwald and Betsy Reed, who were instrumental in making the decision and justifying it to the public, have a history of failing to understand the significance of such materials even when presented to them in easy-to-understand summaries with supporting documents provided — including secret surveillance and propaganda programs that ended up being used against the American public in the 2016 election.
I removed a portion of that email before I sent it off and made it public, partially due to space constraints and partially because the matters I was discussing were already complex enough. That portion is restored below, in bold, and explains how Intercept contributor Sam Biddle was used by HBGary — the same firm that targeted Greenwald and other journalists along with Palantir and others in late 2010 before its proposed black ops campaign was uncovered in a raid by hackers I worked with in Anonymous — in its years-long campaign to have me arrested, charged, imprisoned, and silenced.
As shown in the screenshot above, I gave Biddle a chance to address this when I made him aware of the extent of the harm he’d done in a series of messages on March 20. Like Greenwald, John Cook, and others involved in this whole affair, he has chosen to hide. Two weeks later, I’ve yet to hear from him; two weeks from now, The Intercept will be holding a five-year anniversary event in Brooklyn to celebrate its “fearless, adversarial journalism”.
Due to DOJ travel restrictions, I will not be in attendance. But the National Magazine Award I won for The Intercept will be right outside, having been shipped up to Brooklyn for the purpose, and burned, live.
For now, let’s celebrate with the following retrospective.
Michael Bloom here! Excelsior!
I’m writing to let you know about some exciting and dynamic but also perhaps sad-in-a-way restructuring measures that we’ve settled on after a great deal of thought and paint huffing. Due to various mysterious circumstances that may or may not bear any degree of scrutiny, we’ll be:
- laying off 75 percent of our staff, or “family”, as I like to think of some of you
- closing down the Snowden archive in a manner so irregular that even the Daily Beast will notice
- putting Greenwald in charge of explaining this to the public, preferably over Twitter
- bringing John Cook back on as editor so that we can win a bet with Satan
Just kidding! It’s only me, Barrett Brown; I used to write that column for Intercept about comical prison stuff, and then later I got mad and quit, as is my custom.
I’ve been told about some of the things that have gone down up there in recent days, and it just so happens that I have a great deal invested in both the underlying and specific issues involved. Here’s a fun example:
1. I explicitly warned about the contracting firm Archimedes in 2011, in an article on the Romas/COIN capability for The Guardian and a more extensive report on Echelon2.org, the website on which my org Project PM compiled our research. The longer report can be found at http://wiki.project-pm.org/wiki/Romas/COIN and the HBGary emails from which this largely derives may be found at Emma Best’s site, or Wikileaks if you’re feeling nostalgic, but at any rate key portions are quoted or summarized there. Romas was a data mining, surveillance, and propaganda apparatus of rather impressive complexity, operated for an unknown U.S. government client by Northrop.
2. Between February of 2011, when a hack by some of my old acquaintances revealed Glenn had been among those targeted by the rather baroque Team Themis consortium (Palantir, HBGary, Endgame Systems, Berico), and June 2012, I occasionally discussed with Glenn other firms and technologies that had been discovered in the HBGary emails stolen by Anonymous and supplemented by tax filings, patents, recorded phone calls I made to execs at TASC, Booz Allen Hamilton, Palantir, etc. In April of 2012, I sent him a Guardian piece I’d written that provided an update of relevance to him (the Palantir employee the firm blamed as solely responsible for the firm’s role in targeting Glenn and others, Matthew Steckman, and thereafter put “on leave” or “suspension” pending an “investigation”, had been rehired; later, in prison, I would learn that he had since been promoted; a few weeks ago I learned he was now at another firm, Anduril, made up largely of ex-Palantir employees and involved mostly in building AI for drones that catch immigrants). The article also made one more pass at trying to get people interested in “persona management”, which had been discovered by a Daily Kos user on Feb 16, picked up via our various Anonymous IRC networks and Twitter accounts immediately thereafter, fleshed out a bit by Raw Story on Feb 17 (which made clear that this was a crowd-sourced discovery, along with much of what had been determined about the program thus far, and then, uh, discovered again by The Guardian on March 17 (“Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media”). The two reporters at Guardian made no mention of the Daily Kos fellow, or Raw Story, or any of the individuals who had been putting out material on this since, in public, with the intent of bringing it to widespread attention, and who were indeed already under investigation by FBI and various European agencies (me, Jake Davis/Topiary, and a Norwegian 16-year-old called Whitekidney). They did discover (I think) that the firm that won this contract for CENTCOM — which involves deploying fake online people with highly developed backgrounds, software that allows a single person to easily control ten such avatars (usually called personas back then) — was Ntrepid, but the two writers couldn’t figure out They couldn’t figure it out because they were two writers, and somewhat shabby ones. They weren’t a crowd-sourced research network, as Project PM now was; no single journalist is. Two journalists aren’t, either, even with an editor thrown in. I know that many in the press believe this is adequate. This would not even be true were the press a meritocracy.
I ended my last email reply to Greenwald thus:
“Glad to hear it. If you have any questions about any of these things, which
I’ve been looking into with some journalists and other assorted contacts via
my little group Project PM since last year, don’t hesitate to ask. You can
also see the wiki we’ve set up to disseminate some of what’s been learned…
Please look into persona management in particular. It’s something that needs
to be brought to general attention at some point, and I’m going to have a difficult time haranguing people about the issue from prison.”
A month prior, I’d been raided by the FBI. The search warrant was published by Michael Hastings on Buzzfeed around that time, noting what was listed as subjects of interest: the Themis firms HBGary and Endgame Systems; Project PM, the Echelon2.org website; Anonymous.
Glenn never replied.
Thereafter I discovered through yet another public email leak that HBGary had hired a woman named Jennifer Emick to find something to “get [me] picked up on” due to my role in at a time when she was also serving as a compensated informant for the FBI, and that the HBGary exec she was dealing with, Jim Butterworth, had had his ex-military buddy post pictures of my house, and my address, to the attention of the Zeta cartel at a time when outlets across North America were speculating as to whether they might successfully kill me over an Anonymous Iberoamerica operation that John Cook and Adrian Chen would routinely accuse me of somehow making up, despite knowing full well where the story was coming from (and despite Chen admitting, in the days after my raid, that he didn’t actually believe it, which I recorded and made public, apparently to no purpose:
Sam Biddle, you probably remember Emick. You wrote a long, sympathetic piece about her in June 2012, listing all the horrible things that had been done to her by her various internet enemies, confirming her status as an FBI informant, and even verifying that she was a paid contractor for Anonymous’ various enemies, which by that point would include the King of Bahrain, the deposed regime of Tunisia’s former dictator Ben-Ali, HBGary, Palantir, the Church of Scientology, and all the other powerful, corrupt institutions that would later be mentioned in federal court filings when I was prosecuted (“Her most notable colleague, she says, is the FBI, but she caters to other undisclosed enemies of Anon as well. These clients remain secret”). Not really, Sam; it was outed as HBGary at some time prior. Among her duties was digging into the background of the adolescent daughter of a woman I’d been involved with (as noted in my case discovery, via chat transcripts in which I demanded she stop; I’ll send those along later); making social media posts claiming I “wanted to SWAT” her, a theme that would later be brought up in my bond order hearing to ensure I was unable to get out before trial; and finding naive or ideologically motivated journalists willing to help go after people like myself, such as the white nationalist Robert Stacy McCain and Sam — anyone willing to take her version of events as fact without talking to anyone else. Here’s one of her documents, Sam, in which she characterizes the HBGary/Palantir/Endgame proposals as intended to “protect” Bank of America and U.S. Chamber of Commerce from “attacks”:
She forgets to note that she’s a very well-paid employee of those firms, or that no one was attacking Bank of America or Chamber of Commerce, or that Stop the Chamber was an entirely mainstream, vanilla advocacy group that had simply opposed the Chamber’s policies via means that were so clean that Themis could only think to oppose it via disinformation, planting fake documents and then accusing the groups of fraud for publishing them and having Aaron Barr dig up information on the children of labor leaders, something he’d been so excited to do that he actually started doing it before they’d gotten the contract. Anyway, Emick’s role wasn’t hard to figure out by June 2012, especially since much of it had been made public long ago, and which I would have been happy to direct you to had you been functioning as a journalist and not an unknowing cog in a paid HBGary operation. Here’s a great sample exchange between myself, Emick, and the people she worked with that had been available for well over a year at that point:
<BarrettBrown> you were looking into her
<BarrettBrown> zud harassed hert
<Asherah> because you were tweeting it, telling everyone, and coming in here screaminbg every ten minutes?
<BarrettBrown> with your participation
<Asherah> zud never spoke to her
<BarrettBrown> [19:17] <+BarrettBrown> [17:04] <Asherah> But she was not sixteen, not doxed
<BarrettBrown> I know, he tweeted at her mom
<Asherah> and I am not zud’s boss, or his mommy
<BarrettBrown> you work with him
<Asherah> wow, barrett, i give
<BarrettBrown> and you worked with him on this
<BarrettBrown> Tell me
<Asherah> saying she was not sixteen means I TOTALLY harassed her
<BarrettBrown> how did you know anything about this girl’s age?
<BarrettBrown> Explain that
<Asherah> because I asked, you dipshit
<BarrettBrown> who did you ask?
<awinee> Stop talking a bout a little girl
<awinee> If it concerns you so much
<awinee> stop bringing her up
<BarrettBrown> awinee, shut the fuck up
<awinee> None gives a shit
* chatterbox is ferociously eating his buttered popcorn.
<BarrettBrown> actually, fuck this, none of you care
<awinee> Go shoot some more shit in ur arm nigger
I remember reading your article and realizing that, between you, Adrian Chen, and John Cook, there wasn’t much hope in saving myself and my mother — for my mother was being threatened with prosecution too, Sam, and would later plea to probation. Emick helped make that happen.
3. I was charged in late 2011 with “Aggravated Identify Theft”, and thus faced a 22 year minimum mandatory sentence for linking to documents that had been hacked from Stratfor — hacked with the full knowledge and encouragement of FBI, who had turned Anonymous hacker Hector “Sabu” Monsegur a few months prior and gave him a monitored laptop. There was a widespread outcry, given the implications for other journalists, and indeed anyone else who deals with data. Among those who stayed silent was John Cook. Two years later, when the linking charges were dropped, and the DOJ had me plea instead to accessory after the fact for calling Stratfor’s CEO and offering to redact any sensitive info in the emails stolen by Anonymous and its silent partner the FBI, John remained silent. Wired’s Quinn Norton actually testified at my defense that she had linked to the same document I had without being prosecuted for any of it — and was threatened with prosecution right then and there at the bench conference. Still John kept quiet about that time Gawker offered Sabu money and a Gawkernet filesharing account in exchange for hacked emails stolen from another news outlet.
The incident was documented by the FBI itself through Sabu’s bureau-issued laptop and included in Jeremy Hammond’s case discovery, and made public in late 2014 via this article:
“I know nothing of this,” Cook replied upon being asked about the transcripts, which show Adrian Chen making the offer and confirming he had approval from editors. It’s certainly possible that Cook really wasn’t aware that the guy he routinely worked with on stories about Anonymous, Sabu, and the other celebrity hackers involved in this affair had been negotiating with those same people to buy emails stolen from Rupert Murdoch and News of the World, a cache that would have obviously yielded extraordinary stories had it actually existed, rather than being a ploy by which to fuck with Chen. Even if we pretend he didn’t know back then, he certainly knew after the reporters sent him the transcripts and asked him for a comment in late 2014, two months before the sentencing hearing where a judge handed down to me additional prison time and $800,000 in restitution, and which was of course covered by The Intercept, a publication Cook now edited. This was not even the worst of Cook’s sins of which I am aware; that would be allowing Chen to run the 2013 article in which he mocks a legal fundraiser for myself and Jeremy Hammond, repeats the claim that I concocted some sort of false flag drug war in Mexico to promote a book I supposedly had coming out, and attacks Project PM’s research as “inscrutable”.
Three years remained before the 2016 election, decided by small majorities in a few states, and undermined in Trump’s favor by Cambridge Analytica, Palantir, and Archimedes using the same data mining/output methods Archimedes employed in Romas/COIN, which one could read about solely on Project PM’s website, the chief subject of the March 2012 FBI raid. I’d mentioned some of these same firms in another Guardian article I’d written from prison shortly after the Snowden revelations; the DOJ sought and obtained a gag order on the grounds that the article had been “critical of the government”, and also because I’d been speaking by phone to various journalists, all of whom they listed in the gag order hearing. Among them was my old friend Michael Hastings, who died not long afterwards.
4. I’ll get to the incident in which Rodger Hodge and Betsy Reed decided that Romas/COIN couldn’t be discussed in the last column I wrote for The Intercept before my release from prison in another, more public venue, where it will make more sense to publish the entirety of the astonishing correspondence in which they explain to me that we can’t risk being sued by Booz Allen Hamilton, Apple, or Google “based on the unsubstantiated claims in the emails”. They hadn’t yet seen the emails, but then they were editors, and made all things their province: “These guys are obviously bragging and trying to hustle business.” This was less obvious to me, since the emails in question did not consist of the contractors claiming to potential business partners that they were meeting with Apple and Google and were thus fine, up-and-coming fellows who ought to be hired; rather they consisted of correspondence with Apple’s Andy Kemp and Google’s Mike Geldner, as well as meeting schedules with both. In a more perfect world, it would have been adequate for me to point this out, as I did, and to arrange for the emails in question to be sent to Hodge, as I also did. In an even more perfect world, this shit would have been addressed by Glenn in 2011, when I sent him all of this information. In this world, it makes more sense to just publish those emails in another, more public venue, attach the entirety of the contents to this message, and CC a couple of the contractors who attended those meetings, as nothing else seems to have worked.
In conclusion, neither Greenwald nor Reed are competent to decide anything at all about how these documents should be handled, or how The Intercept should be allocating its increasingly publicly-funded resources. This would have been harder to write down and send to 50 of their colleagues previously, before I learned about the specific impulses that lead to this decision, or had I not won the outlet their first National Magazine Award from a fucking segregation cell during a prison term that stemmed from my attempts to stop firms like Palantir from going after people like Glenn, or had Glenn not waited until public perception had turned back in my favor before writing a single word about what I was doing in prison to begin with, or did I not have obligations to the other activists who are still dealing with the consequences of our efforts back then, or had Aaron Swartz not spent a portion of his last months alive helping us to research and publicize the persona management capability that I would meanwhile ask Glenn to bring to wider attention lest it be forgotten in my inevitable prison term — which of course it was, to such an extent that it has now been discovered again by NYT and New Yorker in the form of Psy-Group, now reported to have used its “avatars” to influence the 2016 election for Trump, even after the campaign declined to pay for the service. It will be discovered again by some other name in four or five years. Or perhaps not.
The worst part is that I haven’t even gotten to the worst part, and won’t for a while. Perhaps this will suffice for now.
Anyone else who is inclined to talk about the circumstances surrounding the closure of the Snowden archive may send me an email at this address, or on Wire at @BarrettBrown33. If you just want to send something anonymously via means of your choice, to be relayed to someone I believe many of you have reason to trust and respect, that can also be arranged.
Good luck to the majority of you who are trying to do the correct thing in ambiguous circumstances.