When Law and Order Is Neither: Barrett Brown’s Arrest

Updated, May 2, 2017: Barrett Brown was released from FCI Seagoville yesterday. In an article in D Magazine, a publication in Dallas for which he writes an occasional column, Brown reports that he was asked to sign documents on his way out: “One of the forms he was asked to sign gives the Bureau of Prisons permission to talk to the media about him,” which makes no sense, “given that he was ostensibly re-arrested for not getting permission to talk to the media.”

Updated, April 28, 2017: Barrett Brown is being held at FCI Seagoville, a low-security federal correctional institution for male offenders in Seagoville, Texas. My column from last week:

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Barrett Brown, a journalist whose columns for The Intercept won a National Magazine Award in 2016, was arrested today at his regularly scheduled check-in and drug test at his halfway house residence near Dallas, Texas.

His attorney, Jay Leiderman, told The Intercept today that the Bureau of Prisons has not given him formal reasons for the arrest. Brown’s whereabouts remain unknown as of this afternoon.

This year has seen our federal bureaucracy carefully find and sometimes create loopholes to trip up those whose freedom depends on compliance with every detail in their agreements with the federal government.

Since his early release from federal prison in November 2016, Brown has complied with all that the federal Bureau of Prisons has demanded of him: according to supporters, he passed each random drug test administered, he appeared at each regularly scheduled check-in, and since his status was changed to home confinement in February, he has responded to every bed check phone call. Documentation below:

 
Because of his celebrity status journalists have wanted to interview him since his prison release. Brown has appeared as an expert in several documentaries about hackers and Anonymous—as a journalist, he created a whistle-blowing website called Project PM and was confronted with a variety of charges related to hacking; ultimately, he accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to sixty-three months in prison and financial restitution of almost $900,000 to the intelligence firm Stratfor—and Alex Winter directed a short film about his prison release titled Relatively Free.

According to his supporters, Brown knew that contact with journalists ought to be reported to his minders in the federal bureaucracy, especially as he shares his residence with other former prisoners. He is a working member of the media himself, as well. On several occasions, he requested documentation of the guidelines for reporting his contacts. None was provided. A camera crew from Vice, the documentary program on HBO, spent two days filming Brown this week. A PBS crew was scheduled to film him this weekend.

Yesterday, his contact with the federal Bureau of Prisons gave him some documentation, but it was as useless as a sheaf of blank pages: it was the form that a member of the media must fill out to request access to an inmate incarcerated in a federal prison. Although the cause of his arrest is as-yet unknown, it is likely that Brown’s re-arrest today will be tied to him failing to obtain permission to be interviewed by media even though he had been requesting the forms to request that permission, should such forms exist.

 
Since January 20, the United States of America has a federal government that has embraced a “law and order” concept in which the pursuit of order has changed the interpretation of laws; due process is no longer a part of the concept, it appears. In a different arena, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested green card holders during regularly scheduled check-ins and in response to a documented undocumented immigrant calling 9-1-1 for help. Today, the federal Bureau of Prisons violated a prisoner in custody for not adhering to standards that they could not claim exist.

Some might call all of the above examples of a bureaucracy maintaining a higher standard; higher standards are not written in invisible ink. Higher standards do not include moving goalposts.

Barrett Brown’s lawyer, Jay Leiderman, put it more bluntly than I when he told The Intercept today: “I would call the people who did this a bunch of chicken-shit assholes that are brutalizing the Constitution.”

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Alex Winter’s film, Relatively Free, is a Vimeo “Staff Pick” and available through Field Of Vision’s Vimeo page:

 

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