Last week, as I noted in my interview with Barrett from prison, Barrett’s mother plead guilty to her charge of obstructing evidence: she hid his computers from the FBI. Late last night, the news broke through the “Free Barrett Brown” Twitter account that Brown’s Wiki, ProjectPM, which is described on the project’s Twitter page as being, “Dedicated to research of government corruption, sitting in bubble baths drinking wine,” was being subpoenaed by the Department of Justice.
ProjectPM is an online compendium where Barrett and his fellow researchers share information they’ve been gathering about the intelligence industry in the United States. The Department of Justice is suing the company’s hosting provider, CloudFlare. While ProjectPM appeared to have gone down on Wednesday, it seems the site is back up. This kind of spotty connection has been very common for the site over the past few months. Even Googling ProjectPM does not yield any results that point to the site.
Screenshot from Wednesday of ProjectPM error message
That said, certain articles on the site are available through Google Cache. One of the more disturbingly intriguing articles available is on Persona Management, the software developed by intelligence companies to develop phony online identities that can be used to manipulate others and disseminate propaganda. The article details a conversation—allegedly discovered through stolen internal emails, between Aaron Barr the former CEO of the security company HBGary and the former CEO of Mantech—where Aaron is demonstrating a primitive fake persona meant to “represent an intelligence contracting employee and USAF veteran, on Facebook and Twitter.” ProjectPM also claims that Aaron Barr and HBGary were out to “infiltrate Anonymous.”
Another article about Persona Development is even more concerning. The article details a PDF supposedly taken from a correspondence between Aaron Barr and Robert Frisbie that describes the tiers of fake personas and how believable they can actually become. It states that the “most detailed character[s]” also known as a “Level 3” are “required to conduct human-to-human direct contact likely in-person to satisfy some more advanced exercise requirements.
This character must look, smell, and feel 100 percent real at the most detailed level. This character will need to be associated with a real company, hold a real position with that company and have all the technical and business artifacts associated with the position and organization. The trick here is while the persona needs to be real, the actual person may not be working in this role 100 percent of the time. In these cases there are still tricks that can be used to more rapidly age or update accounts. One such trick is to build outward facing accounts such as twitter, YouTube, or blogs with generic names.”
If ProjectPM goes down, there is a similar site out there operated by the hacktivist group Telecomix. They run a Wiki called Bluecabinet that serves as a counterpart to Barrett’s own ProjectPM. I spoke to a volunteer for Bluecabinet, before the Department of Justice’s subpoena against ProjectPM, who described the differences between the two research projects to me: “Barrett Brown came to the Bluecabinet IRC mostly to discuss specific companies. He said that he liked Telecomix and Bluecabinet because we were more mature. But, both ProjectPM and Bluecabinet are concerned about the militarization of the internet and abuse of technology by governments that target the public, especially information activists.”
While Telecomix continues to do the same type of work as Barrett Brown, through their Bluecabinet Wiki, they do not seem discouraged by the punishment that Barrett is facing: “Barrett Brown was obviously targeted. He was outspoken and stood out as a journalist activist. The US government’s prosecution of information activists is so extreme, I’m concerned that they would create a honeypot or entrap me or other researchers. Obviously someone was monitoring Barrett in the IRC chatroom and documenting what links to data he posted. But his arrest has not slowed down the volunteer work of Bluecabinet at all. It has just made us more careful.”
ProjectPM’s lawyer, Jason Flores-Williams, has already launched a “Motion to Intervene and Quash Subpeona” and they have also published a press release online. In it, the Department of Justice’s subpoena is compared to the censorship in China: “The Department of Justice is abusing its subpoena power to invade lives, threaten freedoms and destroy people for simply exploring the truth about their government. Like China, they are trying to suppress and control the free flow of information and ideas.”
As reported yesterday in the Dallas News, the US Attorney’s office has requested that the motion is dismissed. According to the office, Flores-Williams is not “licensed to practice law in Texas and he failed to explain why it was not possible to confer with the government.” So far, there has been no response from the judge.
While this legal battle wages on, Barrett Brown will be sitting in jail for a full year before he even sees a judge. So far, ProjectPM has served as an online monument to Barrett’s work that has survived beyond his isolation from the real world, but if the Department of Justice succeeds in its case to take the Wiki down, that all may be lost.