'Face' Of Anonymous Quits: Interview With Barrett Brown

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 fucking 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:

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.

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