Barrett Brown accepts plea deal with the FBI
It would appear that the case against Barrett Brown has entered the endgame. Two court documents suggest that he has accepted a plea deal to allow the FBI to save face.
The original charges had focused around posting a link to credit card details stolen in the Stratfor hack. This would have major ramifications for the principle of free speech. Journalists, for example, frequently post links to their source material to justify and confirm their stories. See Barrett Brown indicted, freedom of the press attacked for a brief discussion.
These charges have been dropped and replaced with two new charges: assisting the hacker nicknamed ‘o’ (possibly Jeremy Hammond, possibly an earlier Stratfor hacker) after the fact; and obstructing a search warrant.
The plea deal itself has been sealed by the court, so details are currently unknown. However, it would seem unlikely (but it is possible) that the threats Brown made against an FBI agent have also been dropped; so charges based on that could also be included.
Nevertheless, the potential jail time facing Brown has been hugely reduced. Given the amount of time he has already spent in custody, the likely outcome from the plea deal is likely to be no more than a short period in prison.
The whole process reeks of the FBI trying to save face. Clearly they wanted Brown. Clearly they threw the book at him. And clearly much of that book isn’t worth the paper it was written on. At the same time, Brown is guilty of at least two of the lesser charges — the threats and obstructing the search. It is possible that the new charge of assisting ‘o’ has been accepted (thereby ensuring that Stratfor remains in the equation) in return for a shorter sentence on the other charges.
Whatever way you look at it, however, this face-saving episode leaves the FBI with egg on its face.