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The United States Justice Department has subpoenaed news publication the Intercept, journalist Barrett Brown says, to acquire all communications records and information on payments made to him for his regular columns that he wrote while in federal prison.
Brown was notified of the subpoena by New York law firm Haynes & Boone. He says there could be several reasons for the action.
“One is that it’s just harassment. One is that they may be looking into something, but I can’t imagine what it would be exactly,” he told Shadowproof in an interview. “And then there’s a third possibility that it’s just sort of a haphazard attempt to try and find money that I may have hid from them. I just don’t know.”
“The strong possibility here is [the subpoena] relates to restitution payments that I am supposed to make and which I have been making here over the last several years even while in prison,” Brown continued. “So the idea is that they are checking to see if I have money from The Intercept that I haven’t reported.”
Although Brown was released from federal prison in November, he is still expected to pay $890,000 in restitution and fines as part of his sentence. Still, despite that the government would be inclined to want this information, he questions why the Justice Department has decided to subpoena the Intercept for information already readily available to them.
“[The] probation officer from the DOJ has my bank account. You have to give that to them when you start probation, which I did about a month ago. They also have my emails. They have everything,” he continued with Shadowproof.
“They have all of my prior communications with the Intercept because I was in prison during most of those; not all of them but the vast majority of them… those emails [were] monitored… [but this] happens to be a publisher that the U.S. government is very interested in.”
The Intercept, co-founded by Glenn Greenwald, was best known for its work on the NSA records leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. The U.S. government was so adverse to its journalism that it banned members of the military from reading it.
Brown first became involved with the publication while serving his time in prison. Brown was indicted on 12 federal charges in 2012, all related to a hack carried out one year earlier on private intelligence firm Stratfor—a breach that occurred without Brown’s foreknowledge or participation.
While many of the initial charges were dropped as part of a plea bargain, he was convicted for after-the-fact involvement and threatening an FBI agent in January 2015. He was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison.
Prior to this Brown founded Project PM, a crowdsourced investigation into the private security and intelligence sector. His journalism featured in notable publications such as the Guardian and Vanity Fair.
He continued to write columns from within prison for both D Magazine and the Intercept, winning a National Magazine Award for his work.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology.