DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Dallas-born investigative journalist Barrett Brown was released from federal prison Tuesday morning after spending more than four years behind bars.
Barret The 35-year-old was sentenced to prison for threatening an FBI agent and helping share stolen data, marking the end of a criminal case criticized by free-speech advocates. He originally faced charges that carried more than 100 years in prison, but Brown pleaded guilty to greatly reduced charges: transmitting threats, aiding hackers and obstructing authorities from carrying out a search warrant. Supporters say Brown, was targeted by the federal government after sharing data hacked from the Austin-based defense contractor Stratfor.
Former National Security Agency subcontractor Edward Snowden tweeted his reaction to Brown's new found freedom.
WikiLeaks also acknowledged Barrett's release with a celebratory tweet and by publishing a searchable archive of more than 60,000 HBGary emails, which Barrett's Project PM was investigating before he was arrested. Project PM is a crowdsourced investigation focused on research and analysis of leaked documents.
Brown was often quoted on the workings of Anonymous, a shadowy group of hackers that has staged several high-profile attacks on governments and businesses all over the world. He courted attention on the Internet with provocative tweets and YouTube videos – including a live chat he conducted while taking a bubble bath.
But some of those posts also landed him in trouble, including one in which he threatened an FBI agent that resulted in his arrest in September 2012. In the video [see below], Brown threatened the FBI agent by name, promising to "ruin his life and look into his (expletive) kids." Three separate indictments followed, carrying a maximum sentence of more than century in prison.
Brown's lawyers won the dismissal of most of a broad indictment related to his posting a link to the Stratfor data.
He eventually pleaded guilty to three counts: obstructing the execution of a search warrant, making Internet threats and being an accessory to an unauthorized access of a protected computer. The reduced charges carried a maximum sentence of more than eight years in prison.
According to plea agreement documents he signed, Brown admitted to sending online messages "threatening to shoot and injure" FBI agents.
Brown also acknowledged helping someone access the stolen data and obstructing the execution of a search warrant at his home. His mother pleaded guilty to helping Brown hide laptops during a March 2012 raid, and was given six months' probation.
The case drew attention as the U.S. Justice Department sought in recent years to subpoena reporters' phone records and force some to testify in criminal cases. Among Brown's supporters is Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who reported on the National Security Agency's domestic spying program revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
Brown continued publishing his writing online through his blog while behind bars.
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