The story, first reported by The Tech Herald, has been been written about in numerous places (see Marcy Wheeler, Forbes, The Huffington Post, BoingBoing, Matt Yglesias, Reason, Tech Dirt, and others), so I'll provide just the summary.Then there is this interesting report from Think Progress.
Last week, Aaron Barr, a top executive at computer security firm HB Gary, boasted to the Financial Times that his firm had infiltrated and begun to expose Anonymous, the group of pro-WikiLeaks hackers that had launched cyber attacks on companies terminating services to the whistleblowing site (such as Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, Amazon and others). In retaliation, Anonymous hacked into the email accounts of HB Gary, published 50,000 of their emails online, and also hacked Barr's Twitter and other online accounts.
Among the emails that were published was a report prepared by HB Gary -- in conjunction with several other top online security firms, including Palantir Technologies -- on how to destroy WikiLeaks. The emails indicated the report was part of a proposal to be submitted to Bank of America through its outside law firm, Hunton & Williams. News reports have indicated that WikiLeaks is planning to publish highly incriminating documents showing possible corruption and fraud at that bank, and The New York Times detailed last month how seriously top bank officials are taking that threat. The NYT article described that the bank's "counterespionage work" against WikiLeaks entailed constant briefings for top executives on the whistle-blower site, along with the hiring of "several top law firms" and Booz Allen (the long-time firm of former Bush DNI Adm. Michael McConnell and numerous other top intelligence and defense officials). The report prepared by these firms was designed to be part of the Bank of America's highly funded anti-WikiLeaks campaign.
The leaked report suggested numerous ways to destroy WikiLeaks, some of them likely illegal -- including planting fake documents with the group and then attacking them when published; "creat[ing] concern over the security" of the site; "cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters"; and a "media campaign to push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities." Many of those proposals were also featured prongs of a secret 2008 Pentagon plan to destroy WikiLeaks.
One section of the leaked report focused on attacking WikiLeaks' supporters and it featured a discussion of me. A graph purporting to be an "organizational chart" identified several other targets, including former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8 Lee, Guardian reporter James Ball, and Manning supporter David House. The report claimed I was "critical" to WikiLeaks' public support after its website was removed by Amazon and that "it is this level of support that needs to be disrupted"; absurdly speculated that "without the support of people like Glenn, WikiLeaks would fold"; and darkly suggested that "these are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause." As The Tech Herald noted, "earlier drafts of the proposal and an email from Aaron Barr used the word 'attacked' over 'disrupted' when discussing the level of support."
ThinkProgress has learned that a law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business trade association representing ExxonMobil, AIG, and other major international corporations, is working with set of “private security” companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents, including ThinkProgress, with a surreptitious sabotage campaign.Digby has weighed in with her take on the story. She focuses on Aaron Barr, an executive at the private security firm HB Gary, who obtained and published detailed information about political opponents’ children, spouses, and personal lives. When Anonymous, in defending WikiLeaks, learned what he had done they hacked into his accounts and published some 40,000 documents on his activities and on his family. After having done the same thing to other, Barr was very upset that someone might have named his family on line.
According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams. Hunton And Williams’ attorney Richard Wyatt, who once represented Food Lion in its infamous lawsuit against ABC News, was hired by the Chamber in October of last year. To assist the Chamber, Wyatt and his associates, John Woods and Bob Quackenboss, solicited a set of private security firms — HB Gary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) — to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions, in particular ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com.According to one document prepared by Team Themis, the campaign included an entrapment project. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win.
This is stuff that is not going away. We are going to see more of organizations like banks, governments and criminal organizations going after other people on the Internet. Think not? Here is more from Glenn Greenwald:
...it turns out that the firms involved here are large, legitimate and serious, and do substantial amounts of work for both the U.S. Government and the nation's largest private corporations (as but one example, see this email from a Stanford computer science student about Palantir). Moreover, these kinds of smear campaigns are far from unusual; in other leaked HB Gary emails, ThinkProgress discovered that similar proposals were prepared for the Chamber of Commerce to attack progressive groups and other activists (including ThinkProgress). And perhaps most disturbing of all, Hunton & Williams was recommended to Bank of America's General Counsel by the Justice Department -- meaning the U.S. Government is aiding Bank of America in its defense against/attacks on WikiLeaks.
That's why this should be taken seriously, despite how ignorant, trite and laughably shallow is the specific leaked anti-WikiLeaks proposal. As creepy and odious as this is, there's nothing unusual about these kinds of smear campaigns. The only unusual aspect here is that we happened to learn about it this time because of Anonymous' hacking. That a similar scheme was quickly discovered by ThinkProgress demonstrates how common this behavior is. The very idea of trying to threaten the careers of journalists and activists to punish and deter their advocacy is self-evidently pernicious; that it's being so freely and casually proposed to groups as powerful as the Bank of America, the Chamber of Commerce, and the DOJ-recommended Hunton & Williams demonstrates how common this is. These highly experienced firms included such proposals because they assumed those deep-pocket organizations would approve and it would make their hiring more likely.
But the real issue highlighted by this episode is just how lawless and unrestrained is the unified axis of government and corporate power. I've written many times about this issue -- the full-scale merger between public and private spheres -- because it's easily one of the most critical yet under-discussed political topics. Especially (though by no means only) in the worlds of the Surveillance and National Security State, the powers of the state have become largely privatized. There is very little separation between government power and corporate power. Those who wield the latter intrinsically wield the former. The revolving door between the highest levels of government and corporate offices rotates so fast and continuously that it has basically flown off its track and no longer provides even the minimal barrier it once did. It's not merely that corporate power is unrestrained; it's worse than that: corporations actively exploit the power of the state to further entrench and enhance their power.
That's what this anti-WikiLeaks campaign is generally: it's a concerted, unified effort between government and the most powerful entities in the private sector (Bank of America is the largest bank in the nation). The firms the Bank has hired (such as Booz Allen) are suffused with the highest level former defense and intelligence officials, while these other outside firms (including Hunton & Williams and Palantir) are extremely well-connected to the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government's obsession with destroying WikiLeaks has been well-documented. And because the U.S. Government is free to break the law without any constraints, oversight or accountability, so, too, are its "private partners" able to act lawlessly. That was the lesson of the Congressional vesting of full retroactive immunity on lawbreaking telecoms, of the refusal to prosecute any of the important Wall Street criminals who caused the 2008 financial crisis, and of the instinctive efforts of the political class to protect defrauding mortgage banks.
The exemption from the rule of law has been fully transferred from the highest level political elites to their counterparts in the private sector. "Law" is something used to restrain ordinary Americans and especially those who oppose this consortium of government and corporate power, but it manifestly does not apply to restrain these elites.