Barrett Brown, the occasional face of the leaderless hacker group Anonymous, is now under federal indictment for threatening and conspiring against an FBI agent.
Brown was indicted on three accounts: Internet threats, conspiracy to make publicly available restricted personal information of an employee of the United States and retaliation against a federal law enforcement officer.
The indictment, signed Oct. 1 and filed Oct. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Division of Texas, named the threats made by Brown against an FBI agent and his family — threats he had made in response to a raid on Brown’s residence six months prior. The agent’s name was redacted in the indictment.
After the FBI unmasked an influential member of the Anonymous spin-off group, LulzSec, as an FBI informant, Brown alleged on Twitter in March that FBI agents came to his home and confiscated computers that he owned.
Brown then threatened via his Twitter and YouTube accounts to publicize private information about the agent and his family, as well as retaliate with physical violence.
Still rattled by the March raid, the social media posts not only documented Brown’s threats, but also his public breakdown, due to in part to his weaning himself off of Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opiate dependence. Brown’s battle with drug addiction is a well-known part of his public persona.
His mother, caught in the crossfire, was being threatened with obstruction of justice by the Justice Department, Brown told The Daily Caller prior to his arrest.
Heightened by the drug withdrawal, he said in videos posted online that the danger he perceived his mother to be in was also a motivation for his planned retaliation against law enforcement.
Brown threatened to reveal information about Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff as part of his retaliatory efforts.
Brown, arrested in an FBI raid in mid-September during an online video chat, could face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted on all three accounts. Video of his arrest was posted online shortly after the arrest.
Details of his whereabouts post-arrest had been clouded in obscurity for weeks. Brown’s critics even suspected the arrest may have been staged, since the arrest took place off screen. The audio of the struggle, however, could be heard in the background of the video.
Brown first alluded to his location in a letter posted to Pastebin.com several days after his arrest. He detailed his physical condition and treatment while in captivity, as well as regrets over how he has publicly handled himself and his operations.
Brown’s girlfriend confirmed on Twitter that the letter was real and that it had been delivered by a close friend. His supporters also built a website to raise funds for his legal defense fund.
Brown, an activist and a journalist, does not hack, but his work with Anonymous goes back to the hacker group providing cybersupport to rebel groups during the Arab Spring. Recently he has denied ever being officially part of Anonymous, although news reports often refer to him as one of the group’s “spokesman.”
Having publicly advocated for the overthrow of the U.S. government, a principle he considered resonant with the founding of America, Brown founded Project PM — a network of bloggers and activists — to collect and expose information about the U.S. intelligence community, and its various connections to federal contractors and PR firms.
His critics have viewed him with ire, stating that he has used his association with Anonymous to gain fame and notoriety.