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Justice Department Subpoenas The Intercept for Records on Barrett Brown

The Intercept’s in-house counsel received a subpoena for all communications and contracts between Brown and his editor.

Barrett Brown at his former residence in Dallas, Texas, on May 20, 2017.

The U.S. government just won’t stop bullying Barrett Brown.

The Intercept confirmed to Truthout over email that the publication’s in-house counsel received a subpoena Thursday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas for all information including communications, contracts and payments between Brown and Deputy Editor Roger Hodge, whom Brown worked with on his National Magazine Award-winning column that he wrote while was in federal prison.

While The Intercept declined to provide any further comment, Brown told Truthout that The Intercept’s in-house counsel left a message with the U.S. Attorney’s Office stating that, while they would agree to turn over financial information, the publication will not, on principle, be providing any communications between Brown and The Intercept.

In 2014, Brown pleaded guilty to two charges related to obstruction of justice and threatening an FBI agent. Truthout was in the courtroom when he was ultimately sentenced to five years and three months in prison — having already spent two years in pretrial incarceration. He was released to a halfway house on November 29, and then subsequently released under house arrest in January, when he began writing for D Magazine. Since May 25, he has been on supervised release.

His charges and arrest in 2012 stemmed from his reporting on hacked emails from private intelligence contracting firms. In 2011, he not only exposed that the private intelligence firm Stratfor had been snooping on activists on behalf of corporations, but also revealed plans by intelligence contractors to hack and smear activists.

Brown has a few ideas about why the Department of Justice is going after him and The Intercept.

“The pretext was making sure I was paying my restitution fees in accordance with what I am required to do,” Brown told Truthout. “Given that it’s coming from the same Dallas [U.S. Attorneys] Office that has been notorious, not just in my case but in previous years, for overreaching and just engaging in bizarre behavior, this seems to be … an ill-thought-out fishing expedition or a means of harassment or something.”

“It’s very possible that they’re going to try to build a case against me and say that I violated probation using the same tactics they used in my case, which is just obfuscating, making false statements, which the judges will believe down here if it comes to that.”

Brown was unexpectedly back in the news in April after the U.S. Marshals Service rearrested him during a check-in for “failure to obtain permission” to speak to the press. After Brown’s publisher at D Magazine retained the New York-based Haynes & Boone law firm to challenge his arrest, he was immediately released.

He told Truthout he received an email from that same firm, Haynes & Boone, notifying him that The Intercept received a subpoena from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Brown says he hasn’t written for The Intercept since he was in prison, and that all of the paychecks he received from the outlet he received while in prison. Furthermore, he hasn’t received any questions from the Bureau of Prisons about whether he’s received payments since his restitution payments began.

“When you’re in prison, you have a certain set amount of restitution to pay. It was $200 in my case, and we paid it every single time. Then after that, at the halfway house, you’re not required to pay restitution. While you’re still in the [Bureau of Prisons’] custody, you pay the halfway house, and then when you’re on home confinement, you don’t pay anything. When you go on probation, as I just did, you pay 10 percent of all income on that, and I’ve just sent a cashier’s check from my latest book advance.”

Moreover, Brown says the DOJ could obtain the information that its employees are seeking without targeting The Intercept.

“These are all things that they could easily deduce,” he told Truthout. “I have a probation officer whose job it is to oversee this, and I’ve explained to him exactly what my income is. They have my bank account information. I had to give that to my probation officer when I began probation a few weeks ago. They have my taxes that I filed, obviously. They have all communications that I actually really have with The Intercept because those were all done while I was in prison through the [prison] email system, which the [Bureau of Prisons] and DOJ have access to.”

Brown thinks the DOJ’s strategy might be to pressure the outlet to prevent it from giving him more of a platform, and simply to seek more information from the outlet.

“There’s a number of things they could have done, including going through my bank account to see if I had any income that was not being reported properly to the DOJ for my restitution, and instead of doing that, they subpoenaed a media organization that they happen to have a great deal of interest in, The Intercept,” he said.

This is not the first time the government has gone after Brown’s contacts. The DOJ is currently embroiled in a lawsuit over its surveilling and obtaining information on supporters who donated money to Brown’s projects, including ProjectPM and the Echelon-2 wiki. Additionally, when the Free Barrett Brown campaign raised funds to hire private legal counsel for Brown, the Justice Department attempted to seize the money.

Ironically, Brown says his communications with Hodge, including the columns he sent in, contain copies of Brown’s administrative remedy process showing crimes committed against him by the Bureau of Prisons, including the illicit removal of his access to email, among other issues.

“There’s a precedent here that should be clear that they have been, and probably will continue to, use their power to illicitly go after activists, and this seems to be part and parcel to that,” Brown said.