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Anonymous activist pleads guilty to threatening FBI agent

While several charges were dropped, former Anonymous spokesman Barrett Brown pleads guilty to sharing stolen data and targeting a federal agent.

Before his arrest, Barrett Brown posted this video on YouTube threatening an FBI agent.
Before his arrest, Barrett Brown posted this video on YouTube threatening an FBI agent. Screenshot by Elinor Mills/CNET

While most members of the hacking collective Anonymous hide their faces and identities, Barrett Lancaster Brown was different. As a spokesman-like figure for the group, he recorded videos of himself talking and gave interviews to reporters.

He now faces up to eight and a half years in prison for some of that information he freely spouted.

Brown, 32, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal charges of obstructing a search warrant, making Internet threats, and being an accessory to unauthorized access of a protected computer, according to the Associated Press.

Brown's conflict with the authorities began in 2012 when he decided to go after FBI agent Robert Smith via YouTube videos and tweets. In one YouTube video titled "Why I'm Going to Destroy FBI Agent Robert Smith Part Three: Revenge of the Lithe," Brown speaks of ruining the agent's life.

Brown said he targeted the agent because authorities were threatening to charge his mother with obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding a laptop that Brown said he himself hid.

"Robert Smith's life is over," Brown said in the video. "When I say his life is over, I'm not saying I'm going to kill him, but I am going to ruin his life..."

Shortly after the video published, Brown was arrested during a raid on his Dallas home. According to the Associated Press, the authorities obtained three separate indictments against Brown.

One of Brown's attorneys Jay Leiderman told CNET at the time that the comments in the video should be protected speech.

"It looks like he may have a very strong First Amendment defense to this," Leiderman said. "Barrett engages in a lot of hyperbole, a lot of saber rattling, and he often speaks off the cuff and says sometimes things I don't really think he means. Without having talked to him it's hard for me to conceive of this as really a threat, as opposed to posturing, puffery."

Ultimately, several of the charges against Brown were dropped, according to the Associated Press. Brown's sentencing will take place in August.