Barrett Brown, an author and writer for Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, and True/Slant, has been a media-friendly public face for the group Anonymous. But Brown is quitting Anonymous and turning his focus to his brainchild Project PM which has multifaceted goals, including "to best utilize information technology along with our collective knowledge base to better the world in every aspect possible."
Last year Brown went from a journalist reporting on Anonymous's activities, to being an informal spokesperson for the group. He gave interviews and wrote press releases, but maintained that he was not a leader as the group Anonymous was leaderless. Yet there were other members of Anonymous who accused Brown of giving too much attention to the group and of hogging the spotlight. There was also talk of Anonymous members being worried about having their identities exposed, worried about Brown's focus on government wrongdoing. Upon learning that Brown was quitting Anonymous, I interviewed him.
Interview with Barrett Brown: (warning some language may be offensive to some readers)
Anonymous seems to be splintering into different factions, with some defectors warring against other Anonymous members. Is this why you are leaving Anonymous to focus on your Project PM?
Brown: I've been encouraging people to form their own small groups either "under" Anonymous or separately for a while now and putting out this guide for the purpose, and meanwhile I've been thinking that I can get more done by putting my energy back into Project PM and retooling it to focus on crowd-sourced investigations as well as the facilitation and promotion of other groups like it. Operation Metal Gear has been my main focus and the sort of work it requires is best conducted by a cohesive group of people who are interested in researching and exposing the intelligence contracting industry. But the Ryan incident definitely made the decision easier. In large part, it's a symptom of this problem whereby you have many Anons who are not at all interested in promoting justice and transparency but are instead intent on [expletive delete] around and winning little e-fights. Anonymous attracts some of the best people in the world, but it also attracts emotionally disturbed individuals who disrupt serious work.
How many other former Anonymous members are going with you to focus on Project PM?
Brown: No more than two dozen; I don't keep an exact count. Many of those had already drifted away from Anonymous and the Anonops server for reasons similar to mine. There are also a number of people with us who aren't in Anonymous but who want to pursue some experimental methods by which to more effectively pursue online activism and have gotten in touch with me after seeing one of my articles on the subject, as well as those who had signed up to join since I founded the entity about a year and a half ago.
Project PM is your brainchild, but has over 90 members ranging from "a former CIA Directorate of Operations and the current Director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education at Case Western Reserve, to a Project Manager specialized in Internet strategy and development for firms, such as the Mozilla Foundation and John Hopkins University, and a jazz guitarist turned award-winning blogger." How do these members as well as those that are leaving Anonymous to join Project PM, feel about your plans to expose pro-government and pro-corporation bias in the media?
Brown: I haven't been in touch with the majority of those who signed up since last year, when I became active with Anonymous and sort of put Project PM on hold. At that time, I had a couple of very important participants leave due to concerns over my growing association with Anonymous, but OpTunisia was too important to me to not get involved; I'd been waiting for Anonymous to start assisting in the overthrow of oppressive governments since the Australia attacks in early 2010. I'll be sending out an e-mail to all past participants later today, explaining that we'll be rekindling our earlier projects while also concentrating on new efforts; I only expect a portion of those 90 or so people to get actively involved, but I'm now actively recruiting.
Do you have certain goals or plans in mind, specifics of exposing pro-government bias reporting and government wrongdoing?
Brown: Operation Metal Gear is a sort of crowd-sourced campaign in opposition to the use and development of "persona management" as well as other propaganda and surveillance methodology being produced by a number of intelligence contractors and utilized by the United States and other governments; it stems from certain things that were discovered among the HBGary e-mails. We've been investigating the issue for two months now and have turned up a great deal of disturbing information, much of which we've discovered in the past few days. We've been providing what we've discovered to other journalists and compiling everything on a wiki in order to provide a clear and comprehensive picture of these issues for others who would like to pursue them.
Right now I'm writing a series for al-Jazeera on some of the things we've discovered in the past few days. Here's a phone call I made to one of the executives who was working with HBGary to produce a massive surveillance program that I'll be describing further in those articles:
(Updated: YouTube removed first video, so it was replaced with another video.)
I've made a number of similar calls to people like Booz Allen Hamilton VP William Wansley:
Occasionally I find an informant, which helps to put us in the right direction.
With the Obama administration's flip-flop from a campaign promise about protecting whistleblowers to prosecuting them, do you worry about government interference when you try to expose shadowy workings of government wrongdoings?
Brown: Yes. The Justice Department itself recommended Hunton & Williams to Bank of America when the latter was looking for a method by which to destroy Wikileaks lest some degree of wrongdoing be exposed. Hunton & Williams worked directly with several contractors to concoct a degenerate and potentially criminal plan for the purpose. Meanwhile, that fascist Rep. Lamar Smith has prevented any investigation into any of this, saying it is the Justice Department's role to decide if a crime has been committed. That the Justice Department facilitated the crime does not seem to concern him. This is a system that cloaks itself in the rule of law and then violates it at will, and the majority of Americans will allow it because they have no sense of duty whatsoever. In such an environment, the state and its allies may do whatever they like.
It's difficult to get an interview with government officials and even with some corporations unless they first have the "point" of the article to be written. They tend to not want to give out any information if the article disagrees with or bashes them. Is that part of the reason for Project PM's Science Journalism Improvement Program?
Brown: There are a couple of reasons for the program. One is that I'm particularly interested in the dynamics by which any individual may now theoretically collaborate with any other, as well as the fact that there is clearly a great deal of good that can thus be done now simply by giving thought to this circumstance. It is incredibly easy to assemble some journalists and some scientists and then pair them together so that the journalists can be advised on the subject matter and write a better piece and the scientist has a chance to bring attention to some important aspect of his field, and all in all there is some degree of improvement in the public understanding of scientific issues. Such things as this can be done entirely without resources or money or anything like that, and obviously there are countless other methods by which the vastly expanded potential for collaboration can be put to good use; it's just a matter of thinking them up and then putting them in motion. Most human affairs are the result of collaboration, and the potential for collaboration has absolutely exploded beyond all precedent and in a short amount of time; I want more people to think about the implications of this and to consider pursuing those implications.
How will that project work? Any idea when those connections to people with truth will be made to reporters who do want to publish the unvarnished truth?
Brown: I explain the project here. We've already recruited several dozen people and will begin matching reporters with scientists later this summer, now that I have time to get it moving.
Do you feel like the government has you under surveillance?
Brown: I don't know to what extent I'm under surveillance by the government or other parties but I have not taken any steps to prevent it except to the extent that I work with informants or people living under those dictatorships that the U.S. is in the habit of aiding with intelligence.
How do you feel about the ACLU's recent news from FOIA FBI documents that explained heavy redaction was due to the government not wanting us to know which "electronic communication service providers" help the government with dragnet surveillance programs -- because if they told us, we might sue? In yet another ACLU release, the "FBI's concern isn't just that you might sue, but that the companies might sue! Why? Because their comfortable relationship with the government's surveillance apparatus would be exposed."
Brown: Those corporations that aid the state in performing surveillance over the citizenry and which are thereafter protected by the state in exchange ought to be investigated by the citizens themselves.
Is this the type of wrongdoing that you hope to help expose to public view?
Brown: Yes, and certain companies that have been involved in similar practices are being subjected to particular scrutiny. My own preferred tactic is to call up executives, ask them about their actions, and then post the recording online along with an account of their actions in such a way as that any Google search on their names will immediately reveal them for what they have done, and will continue to do so not just throughout the individual's life, but forever after. Right now, it is a "practical" career move to sell out the public at the behest of the state; through these and other tactics, I hope to make it considerably less practical.
How does a person volunteer to help with the Africa Development Project?
Brown: For now, anyone can join our efforts by e-mailing me.
How would you summarize Project PM's goals?
Brown: Our overall goal is to develop and promote new ways by which to pursue positive ends through use of the opportunities afforded by the information age. Right now, the two main goals are to pursue Operation Metal Gear while also promoting and facilitating the creation of other entities of this sort (I use the term "pursuants").