Spy vs Spy

Spy vs Spy

by digby

I feel as if all this information about corporate spying must be something out of a bad novel or a cheap movie, but apparently it's not. In fact, it's very real. You heard about the secret documents showing that the Department of Justice had recommended a law firm to Bank of America which immediately hired some computer hackers and spies (which also work as government contractors) to try to destroy Wikileaks. Now we find out that the same law firm and contractors were hired by the Chamber of Commerce to silence its critics. Think progress has the whole story:

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. View a screenshot below:

The security firms hoped to obtain $200,000 for initial background research, then charge up to $2 million for a larger disinformation campaign against progressives. We don’t know if the proposal was accepted after Phase 1 was completed.

The e-mails ThinkProgress acquired are available widely on the web. They were posted by members of “Anonymous,” the hactivist community responsible for taking down websites for oppressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and American corporations that have censored WikiLeaks. Anonymous published the emails from HB Gary Federal because an executive at the firm, Aaron Barr, was trying to take Anonymous down. Barr claimed that he had penetrated Anonymous and was hoping to sell the data to Bank of America and to federal authorities in the United States. In response, members of Anonymous hacked into Barr’s email and published some 40,000 company e-mails.

That whole thing is very similar to the BofA campaign against Glenn Greenwald and others and you will not believe how disgusting and frightening some of this stuff was. They seemed to be particularly concerned with internet activity and targeted the families of labor activists and bloggers --- the dossiers include pictures of the kids and tracking of people's wives' private activities. It's a truly creepy story and it kind of takes your breath away to think they went that far. I would say they need to be prosecuted except that the government seems to be supporting them in their efforts.

But this really takes the cake:

The emails from Aaron Barr, an executive at the private security firm HB Gary, detailed information about political opponents’ children, spouses, and personal lives. While Barr had no problems using the personal information of his opponents, he applies a different standard to himself.

Recall, the document disclosures arose when Barr — while working for corporate clients — triumphantly proclaimed to the Financial Times that he had uncovered the identities of “Anonymous,” the pro-WikiLeaks hacktivist community. The hackers then responded by leaking Barr’s emails. When that occurred, Barr moaned that his personal privacy had been violated:

Why did he talk to the Financial Times in the first place? Barr says he had been preparing to give a talk at the B-Sides security conference in San Francisco on Feb. 14 about information security in social media, and he wanted to drum up some publicity ahead of time to help spur the debate.

“Do I regret it now? Sure,” he says, with a short laugh. “I’m getting personal threats from people, and I have two kids. I have two four-year old kids. Nothing is worth that.”

Sure he is. As far as I can tell the mainstream press has completely ignored this story, which is par for the course. (Why should they be interested if corporate American and the government is in cahoots with a law firm and a bunch of security experts to destroy their political opponents?) So I somehow doubt that this fellow is getting any "personal threats." But I'm sure in his mind being criticized by some bloggers is much worse than what he is revealed to have done on behalf of his corporate clients.

I find it ironic that this is being revealed at the same moment that I'm watching the events in Egypt unfold on my TV in the background. Lot's of talk about freedom there, with shots of Joe Biden in the corner of the screen extolling the virtues of democracy and liberty for all. And as an American I don't think I've ever felt more paranoid in my life.

Update: Greenwald has much more on this, here.