I know the Egyptian Revolution has been big news, but also over the last few days a story has been developing about how Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been hiring law firms and private security companies to attack progressive institutions and individuals.
In summary the story goes like this-
Security Firms Pitching Bank of America on WikiLeaks Response Proposed Targeting Glenn Greenwald
By: emptywheel, Wednesday February 9, 2011 8:49 am
On Saturday, private security firm HBGary Federal bragged to the FT that it had discovered who key members of the hacking group Anonymous are. In response, Anonymous hacked HB Gary Federal and got 44,000 of their emails and made them publicly available.
As TechHerald reports, among those documents was a presentation, “The Wikileaks Threat,” put together by three data intelligence firms for Bank of America in December. As part of it, they put together what they claimed was a list of important contributors to WikiLeaks. They suggested that Glenn Greenwald’s support was key to WikiLeaks’ ongoing survival.
Now at the time the big joke was these security firms had the sadly mistaken impression that Glenn Greenwald is the kind of person who would respond to blackmail threats by putting “professional preservation” before “cause” and principle. But the rabbit hole is deeper than that Alice.
Among the hacked documents was a Power Point presentation that laid out the plan of attack which included leaking false documents to destroy credibility and paying professional trolls $2000 a day to disrupt social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and political blogs like… well, this one.
HBGary Fees: "Dam It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta"
By: emptywheel, Friday February 11, 2011 8:05 am
This is a social media consultant, someone we know from the team’s plans they intended to deploy on Facebook and Twitter in false personas ultimately aiming to destroy the credibility of anti-Chamber activists.
These are just reasonably skilled trolls.
And for that, they wanted to charge $2,000 a day.
To put it in even more stark perspective, consider one ultimate target of the campaign: the men and women SEIU organizes pushing back against the anti-worker policies of the Chamber. Many of these workers-the kind of people who keep your building clean or care for you when you’re sick-make as little $12/hour or less (though the wages for nurses and other skilled medical care providers are higher).
These corporate spook assholes-in addition to targeting Americans for political activism-also think they’re worth 20 times as much as the people who care for the sick.
One the most interesing details is the identity of the firms proposing this scheme-
The Disinformation Campaign Bank of America Considered
By: emptywheel, Wednesday February 9, 2011 1:43 pm
Wikileaks has posted the presentation (.pdf) three security companies-Palantir, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies-made to Bank of America, proposing to help it respond to Wikileaks.
In addition to the degree to which the proposal emphasizes the national security ties and military background of the employees of the company (particularly Berico), the presentation fleshes out what the companies proposed.
(A)ccording to Tech Herald, the law firm pitching these firms, Hunton and Williams, was itself recommended to BoA by DOJ. As the presentation makes clear, these are significant government contractors. (Remember, we’re getting these documents because Anonymous hacked HBGary Federal, which was offering what it had collected to DOJ.) To what extent is what we’re seeing just an extension of what our own government is trying to combat Wikileaks?
Bank of America had not committed to the proposal. Another group, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was already actively using HBGary to inplement their plan.
Hacked Documents Show Chamber Engaged HBGary to Spy on Unions
By: emptywheel. Thursday February 10, 2011 1:37 pm
(I)t appears that back in November the same parties involved in the pitch to Bank of America-Palantir, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies working through Hunton and Williams-started preparing a pitch to the Chamber of Commerce. At that point, HBGary started researching anti-Chamber groups StoptheChamber.com and USChamberWatch. At one point, HBGary maps the connections between SEIU, Change to Win, and USChamberWatch as if he’s found gold.
By the end of November, Barr starts working on a presentation outlining the difference between StoptheChamber and USChamberWatch, as well as “a link chart of key people in the distribution of information, background information on each individual and ways to counteract their effect on group.”
On January 13, HBGary believed they had signed a contract.
On February 3, law firm H&W came back to the three security firms and told them they’d be doing their Phase I work on spec, until the Chamber had bought into the full project. At that point, the firms put together a plan including a proposed February 14 briefing.
The Chamber issued a non-denial denial-
From the ChamberPot: A Carefully Worded Nondenial Denial
By: emptywheel, Thursday February 10, 2011 5:29 pm
Note, first of all, that they’re not denying hiring Hunton & Williams, the law firm/lobbyist which they hired last year to sue the Yes Men. They’re not even denying that they retain Hunton & Williams right now.
What they’re denying is that they-or, implicitly, Hunton & Williams, on their behalf-hired HBGary.
In other words, no, the Chamber has not “hired” HBGary. They’ve gotten HBGary to do a month of work for free to decide whether they want to hire them.
Now, back in my consulting days, when working with a primary contractor there were always several iterations of work between when we pitched the primary and when we all, jointly, pitched the client itself.
So, sure, the Chamber didn’t see this document. They saw one that proposed the same or very similar plots against citizen activists, probably completed a week or more later, probably containing a different level of detail (other emails discuss a November 23 meeting with a revised proposal).
They didn’t hire HBGary and they didn’t read the particular document TP linked to.
But that is far short of denying that they’ve been discussing such a plot with HBGary and/or Hunton & Williams.
Other firms involved in this plot are trying to back away from it too-
Palantir Tries to Preserve Their Government Contracts
By: emptywheel Thursday February 10, 2011 8:23 pm
But perhaps more relevant is Palantir’s primary focus: working with the national security apparatus. They’ve done at least $6,378,332 in business with entities like SOCOM and FBI in the last several years. And while they say they have no plans to adopt “offensive cyber capabilities,” that’s not to say they’re not helping the government analyze data on our presumed enemies.
I would imagine Palantir has pretty good reason to know that the government will not do business with a contractor using the same technologies to target Glenn Greenwald (and maybe Brad Friedman).
At least not publicly. Remember-DOJ recommended Hunton & Williams (which put Palantir and HBGary together for the bid) to Bank of America.
Glenn Greenwald (remember him?) sums it up in his post today-
The leaked campaign to attack WikiLeaks and its supporters
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com
Friday, Feb 11, 2011 05:12 ET
What is set forth in these proposals for Bank of America quite possibly constitutes serious crimes. Manufacturing and submitting fake documents with the intent they be published likely constitutes forgery and fraud. Threatening the careers of journalists and activists in order to force them to be silent is possibly extortion and, depending on the specific means to be used, constitutes other crimes as well. Attacking WikiLeaks’ computer infrastructure in an attempt to compromise their sources undoubtedly violates numerous cyber laws.
Yet these firms had no compunction about proposing such measures to Bank of America and Hunton & Williams, and even writing them down. What accounts for that brazen disregard of risk? In this world, law does not exist as a constraint. It’s impossible to imagine the DOJ ever, ever prosecuting a huge entity like Bank of America for doing something like waging war against WikiLeaks and its supporters. These massive corporations and the firms that serve them have no fear of law or government because they control each. That’s why they so freely plot to target those who oppose them in any way. They not only have massive resources to devote to such attacks, but the ability to act without limits.
There are supposed to be institutions which limit what can be done in pursuit of those private-sector goals. They’re called “government” and “law.” But those institutions are so annexed by the most powerful private-sector elites, and so corrupted by the public officials who run them, that nobody — least of all those elites — has any expectation that they will limit anything. To the contrary, the full force of government and law will be unleashed against anyone who undermines Bank of America and Wall Street executives and telecoms and government and the like (such as WikiLeaks and supporters), and will be further exploited to advance the interests of those entities, but will never be used to constrain what they do. These firms vying for Bank of America’s anti-WikiLeaks business know all of this full well, which is why they concluded that proposing such pernicious and possibly illegal attacks would be deemed not just acceptable but commendable.