Barrett Brown reports from prison
Barrett Brown writes in The Intercept:
I never really got a chance to play any pen-and-paper role-playing games growing up, so being thrown into a prison system in which such things as Dungeons and Dragons are relatively common constituted one of the silver linings of my 2012 arrest, along with not having to deal with an infestation of those little German roaches that had colonized my kitchen or having to see “World War Z.”
As it happens, I’d actually learned about the prevalence of tabletop games among inmates a few months before my own incarceration, in the days after the FBI first raided both my apartment and my mother’s home in March 2012 and seized laptops and papers without yet making an arrest. As they themselves noted in the search warrant, which the late Michael Hastings published at BuzzFeed, the focus of the investigation was my collaborative journalism outfit Project PM as well as echelon2.org, the online repository where we posted our ongoing findings on the still-mysterious “intelligence contracting” sector (which has since been moved here). The warrant listed HBGary Federal and Endgame Systems — two firms on which we’d focused particular attention — as topics for the FBI’s search. This was revealing. A year prior, a raid by Anonymous on the servers of HBGary had revealed, among other things, the firm’s leading role in a conspiracy by a consortium calling itself Team Themis to conduct an array of covert operations against WikiLeaks and even journalists like Glenn Greenwald, prompting a congressional inquiry that would ultimately be squashed by a Republican committee chairman.
It’s often been reported, incorrectly, that I was the one to reveal the Themis conspiracy, different aspects of which were in fact discovered more or less simultaneously by several parties shortly after HBGary’s emails were made public. My own initial role, which began when I was informed of the hack as it was being conducted, was merely to explain developments to the press. But as it became clear that the media was losing interest despite clear evidence there was much more to the story, I began working with a rotating team of volunteer researchers to determine further details of Themis and related programs by searching through the remaining 70,000 emails that the hackers had seized and following up on the various mysterious references found therein. Although we made a number of significant discoveries and managed to shed light on other matters, the press didn’t generally realize the significance of these things until later.
On the other hand, I did get to indirectly gum up the works at Endgame Systems, which, though one of the four firms involved in Themis’s proposed operations against journalists and activists, managed to avoid being mentioned in most of the press coverage that followed the original exposure of the plot. You see, Endgame’s execs had insisted in one particular email thread that its name never appear in any Themis operational materials, explaining that the nature of the firm’s central activities was such that any public scrutiny would lead to disaster, and that this was a particular concern of their partners. Other emails ended up working against it, though, as I was able to pique the interest of Bloomberg Businessweek by forwarding this hilariously sinister “NO ONE MUST EVER KNOW” exchange to a contact I had there. A few months later, the magazine ran a long feature on Endgame revealing its ability to seize control of computers across the world and that it was offering this service to unknown customers outside of the U.S. government. This in turn prompted sufficient discomfort that the firm had to stop doing this, or at least claim to have stopped. Perhaps that’s why Endgame Systems was listed on my search warrant — and never mentioned again in a single other filing by the government in my case.
But the chief enemy I’d made was apparently the Department of Justice — because when Team Themis was exposed, the emails revealed that the whole indefensible conspiracy had been set in motion by the DOJ itself, which had made the necessary introductions when Bank of America came to the agency looking for advice on how to go after WikiLeaks. There were no known consequences for anyone at the DOJ; a congressman’s calls for an official inquiry were shot down by Lamar Smith, the relevant committee chair, who proclaimed that the DOJ itself should handle any investigation. Whether the DOJ took Smith’s advice and investigated itself for secretly arranging a corporate black ops partnership is unknown. Rather, it was my head that was to roll, in retaliation for my efforts to keep the story alive in articles I continued to write for The Guardian as well as for my occasional successes in causing difficulties to Themis participants like Endgame and the intelligence contracting industry as a whole, which regularly hires ex-government officials at high salaries and thus has a working relationship with most federal agencies. And so when the FBI came for my laptops and left that search warrant listing the entirely legal journalism entity I’d been using to lead an investigation into the state-affiliated firms that the warrant also listed, I knew from the brazenness of this move that I’d eventually be arrested and charged. I didn’t know for what, exactly, but that was OK — the DOJ didn’t know yet either. Eventually they resorted to indicting me on charges related to another firm, Stratfor, that wasn’t even listed on my search warrant, which were so flimsy that they eventually had to be dropped in favor of a vague “accessory after the fact” count.
Anywho, after that first FBI raid I started reading those little guides on life in prison that one finds online and noticed several references to role-playing games. When I got to the jail unit at Federal Correctional Institution Fort Worth shortly after my arrest, then, I immediately started agitating in favor of a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons or whatever was available, to begin ASAP, with the wooden table in the little corner library to be requisitioned for our use. A huge black guy awaiting trial on complicated fraud charges happened to have the basic mechanics memorized; I drafted him to be the dungeon master. Soon enough I’d also managed to recruit a white meth dealer who was familiar enough with the game to help the rest of us create our characters, a large and bovine Hispanic gangland enforcer who wanted to try the game and was at any rate influential enough to help us secure control over the table, and a fey Southern white guy for atmosphere.
With unlimited paper and pencils provided by the federal government, we had everything we needed except for a set of variously sided dice. It turned out that this was generally handled by making a spinner out of cardboard, a paperclip, and the empty internal plastic tube from an ink pen. This latter item is impaled loosely on the paperclip, itself positioned in the center of the cardboard, on which has been drawn a diminishing series of concentric circles divided into 20, 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4 equal segments, respectively. As we attended to this chore at the wooden table, an inmate sitting nearby realized what we were making and proceeded to tell us about a cell mate he’d had during a previous bid who’d used something similar. . .