Wikileaks Wasn't The Only Operation HBGary Federal, Palantir And Berico Planned To Defraud

from the with-the-help-of-the-government dept

By now the exposed plan of HBGary Federal, Palantir and Berico to attack Wikileaks and its supporters through fraud and deception, in order to help Bank of America, has been discussed widely. However, the leaked HBGary Federal emails suggest that this sort of plan involving these three companies had been used elsewhere. Apparently the US Chamber of Commerce had approached the same three firms to plan a remarkably similar attack on groups that oppose the US Chamber of Commerce.

That leaked plan (embedded below) includes a similar plan to create fake documents and give them to these groups to publish, with the intent of "exposing" them later, to raise questions about their credibility.

That giant US companies and lobbyist organizations are interested in underhanded, dirty tricks is no surprise (though, there's no evidence that either BofA or the CoC agreed to these proposals). However, as Glenn Greenwald (a key target in the original proposal for BofA) explains, what's really troubling is the chummy relationship between these organizations and the US government. The US government is supposed to protect people from frauds perpetrated by big companies. But the evidence here suggests that the federal government was pretty closely connected to all of this.

The reason HBGary Federal, Palantir and Berico were even talking to BofA in the first place was because BofA contacted the Justice Department to ask what to do about Wikileaks, and the Justice Department turned them on to the law firm of Huntoon and Williams, who was instrumental in arranging both of these proposals.
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. Just consider one amazing example illustrating how this works.
Greenwald's language may be a bit hyperbolic (though, considering he was one of the people "targeted," that seems entirely understandable), but he has a point. And his very next paragraph shows how the government isn't doing its job of protecting people in law enforcement, but is selectively picking what laws to enforce mainly when it protects themselves and big corporations. For example, while the FBI is spending so much time trying to track down Anonymous for its brief virtual sit-ins in the form of temporary DDoS attacks, it has not bothered to put any effort into looking at a similar DDoS attack on Wikileaks itself.
Why? Because crimes carried out that serve the Government's agenda and target its opponents are permitted and even encouraged; cyber-attacks are "crimes" only when undertaken by those whom the Government dislikes, but are perfectly permissible when the Government itself or those with a sympathetic agenda unleash them. Whoever launched those cyber attacks at WikiLeaks (whether government or private actors) had no more legal right to do so than Anonymous, but only the latter will be prosecuted.

That's the same dynamic that causes the Obama administration to be obsessed with prosecuting WikiLeaks but not The New York Times or Bob Woodward, even though the latter have published far more sensitive government secrets; WikiLeaks is adverse to the government while the NYT and Woodward aren't, and thus "law" applies to punish only the former. The same mindset drives the Government to shield high-level political officials who commit the most serious crimes, while relentlessly pursuing whistle-blowers who expose their wrongdoing. Those with proximity to government power and who serve and/or control it are free from the constraints of law; those who threaten or subvert it have the full weight of law come crashing down upon them.
This really should trouble people. I'm not a big fan of "conspiracy theories," and I don't believe there's any big Hollywood-style conspiracy going on here. But I do think that the incentives are screwed up, and that our federal government is way too beholden to large private companies whose main goal is protectionism and survival, rather than in benefiting the American public the most. It's incredibly disheartening.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    The eejit (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 1:36pm

    well, that could leave a mark on the reputation of America as honest and open.

     

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    Bert, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 1:38pm

    We should also talk about the infamous DCI group.

     

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    a (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 1:48pm

    the shadow of the propaganda machine exposed? i wonder if we have six more weeks of smoke and mirrors, or if the early spring brings a purge of leaked information.

     

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    The Original Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 1:50pm

    Two items - Poor headline and question about dirty tricks

    The headline makes it seem like these three outfits were going to defraud Wikileaks of something.

    From dictionary.com:

    defraud (dɪˈfrɔːd)
    —vb (tr)
    to take away or withhold money, rights, property, etc, from (a person) by fraud; cheat; swindle

    I don't think that was what they were trying to do, although that might have happened.

    Maybe a better headline would have used works having to do with lying, forgery, etc...

    Second item - Not to justify bad behaviour by pointing out other bad behaviour, but when an organization engages in dirty tricks, like distributing information that was provided by a person who was unauthorized to do so, shouldn't that organization expect the same treatment? Not to say it's right or justified, but when you get down in the mud with the pigs, you have to expect to get dirty.

     

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      The Original Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 1:51pm

      Re: Two items - Poor headline and question about dirty tricks

      Oops - "... used words having to do with lying, forgery, etc...", not "... used works".

      :(

       

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      DCX2, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

      Re: Two items - Poor headline and question about dirty tricks

      And what dirty things did ThinkProgress to drive the Chamber of Commerce to meet with these firms to discuss plans for discrediting them?

      BTW, you transferred blame from the people who were unauthorized to share information to the people the information was shared with. The only thing "dirty" about WikiLeaks is that it doesn't do the US Government's bidding.

      That's why NYT can do the same thing WikiLeaks does and they don't get attacked; NYT will sit on things like the warrantless wiretaps if POTUS asks nicely.

       

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        The Original Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 6:47pm

        Re: Re: Two items - Poor headline and question about dirty tricks

        I can't answer your first question, as I haven't had a chance to read up on that one yet.

        On your second comment, I'm not transferring blame to anyone. I just observed that sometimes when people/organizations become involved with folks who do illegal or unauthorized things, even if they do so with the best of intentions, they end up getting dragged into the same sleazy world in which the original two parties operate.

        This shouldn't surprise anyone, maybe except those whose naivety and idealism blind them to the realities of the world in which they unfortunately have to live.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:04pm

    The government is "supposed" to do a lot of things but its always about the money. There's no money in protecting Joe Blow.

     

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    -, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:05pm

    Wikileaks is not a US organization, there's no evidence that their DDoS has something to do with US, so why are the supposed to investigate it?
    It's not their business.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:09pm

      Re:

      "Wikileaks is not a US organization, there's no evidence that their DDoS has something to do with US, so why are the supposed to investigate it?"

      Uh, because if the DDOS was initiated within the US then US law has been broken within its jurisdiction?

      Try to use a brain cell now and again....

       

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      aldestrawk (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:48pm

      DDOS against Wikileaks

      It's a good question. France, where the Wikileaks site was being hosted at the time, should take the lead in any investigation. As Dark Helmet points out, it the attack was initiated in the US the FBI ought to investigate. If any of the DDOS traffic was initiated in the US or came through the US the FBI or justice Dept. could take that as a reason to launch an investigation or they could say it's up to France to request help from them. What I think is more significant is if the DDOS attack against Wikileaks came from a botnet. That would mean the individual PCs used in the attack were being used so, unintentionally by the owner. The attack could then be initiated from anywhere and it would be very hard, if not impossible, to find the culprit. On the other hand, the Anonymous attacks came from individual machines where the owner understood and volunteered to be part of the DDOS attack. The source IPs are not generally hidden in this case and it's much much easier to investigate and identify people to prosecute.

       

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      Chosen Reject, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:56pm

      Re:

      wikileaks.org is owned by a US company (see here), therefore while it was the servers that were getting hit with the DDos, the domain name was involved. According to the people supporting ICE's seizure of domains owned by a Spanish company, so long as the domain can be controlled by a US entity (ICANN) or (GASP!) owned by a US company (Dynadot Privacy in this case), then it is the jurisdiction of the US.

      Where are the ICE supporters now?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2011 @ 8:27am

      Re:

      Is that why we have military bases in almost 200 countries around the world, because we're so good at minding our own business?

       

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    Er...

    "I'm not a big fan of "conspiracy theories," and I don't believe there's any big Hollywood-style conspiracy going on here."

    Forgive me, Mike, but this is exactly the problem that allows this stuff to propogate. Such labels now considered derogatory make people think of some movie-style nonsense that isn't how this stuff actually works. No David Icke "all the people in government are actually lizards and clay-people" stuff happening.

    This kind of thing, on the other hand, IS a conspiracy in the most traditional sense. And by traditional, I mean it's HAPPENED BEFORE. And not just with the over-used Nazi example, but elsewhere as well. Free governments without a vigilante citizenship deteriorate slowly but inevitably into facism, and that is what we're seeing here. Facism is the unity of government and industry for the purpose of control. Recall that Benito Mussolini famously quipped that the first stage of facism would better be called corporatism.

    Let's not hide from the scary facts here just because we don't like them. What the above is describing is pure corporatism. It's a large step from 1776 free America to 2011 plots between banks and govt. to discredit a private citizen. It's a far smaller step from that 2011 to 2013 plots between banks and govt. to KILL such a citizen.

    This is nothing more than a CFR member using its political and media drinking buddies to threaten someone else....

     

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      The eejit (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:40pm

      Re: Er...

      You know a nation's gone down the shitter when the nutjob conspiracy theorists are right. Makes you wonder what else they're right about...

       

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        Dark Helmet (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:51pm

        Re: Re: Er...

        Ugh, it's why even I've come to hate the word conspiracy. Every time I hear/see it I cringe, because as soon as most people hear the word they turn their brains off and roll their eyes.

        To hell with Godwin. They were called "alarmists" back in Germany in the 30's. Worked out real well for those fuckers, didn't it?

         

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      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:45pm

      Re: Er...

      +1. Agree. It can happen here. Have we forgotten that McCarthy already? That was within the lifetimes of many people in this country.

      As to the actual release of the emails about the CoC?

      I'm amused that efforts to infiltrate a group supporting Wikileaks led to the release of information supporting Wikileaks reason for existing.

      That's some convincing evidence that Assange is correct to some degree about the conspiracies (his term) within government and large businesses.

       

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        aldestrawk (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 3:21pm

        Re: Re: Er...

        I'm amused that efforts to infiltrate a group supporting Wikileaks led to the release of information supporting Wikileaks reason for existing.

        Yes, it's very amusing. I don't think anybody in Anonymous saw that coming either. This level of hacking seems like a step up in level of crime for Anonymous. Legally, participating in a DDOS attack is just as serious with the FBI saying it could result in a 10 year max sentence. However, I think the average person would say the stealing of emails, documents, financial info, and source code is much more serious.
        The result is beginning to look much more effective and important than DDOS attacks. I believe the uncovering of underhanded schemes to undermine Wikileaks and opponents of the US Chamber of Commerce is a complete surprise to those few members of Anonymous involved in the attack against HBGary and HBGary Federal. This might well be the start of a new wave of hacktivism targeting internal documents from government and industry. The following is a quote from Sparkatus' comment on Glenn Greenwalds article on Salon.

        Hunton & Williams is one of the most important DC centric law firms. They play a significant role in most areas of public policy as standard legal advocates, lobbyists as well as "independent" party.

        Among many other things, they host data rooms for public-private partnership efforts so that private companies can "share" information on their activities for review by government officials without that information being covered by FOIA rules. This may be typical for many law firms, but I know they provide this service for EPA.

        I'm sure Hunton & Williams is now freaking out about Anonymous coming after them a la HB Gary Federal. With the amount of privileged info they have from a whole range of clients, distributed locations and law firm's typically low levels of technical savvy, they are a sitting duck.

         

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          Chris in Utah (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 5:04pm

          Re: Re: Re: Er...

          Good point. Its Climategate all over. Redefine hacking as data miners.. oh yeah.. lol

           

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            aldestrawk (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 5:39pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Er...

            From my point of view, I did not see the release of email discussions between scientists as harmful. The process of discussion and argument was interesting to see. It's always difficult to explain science to the public, simplifying things in a way that does not give a misleading overview. This gets much harder if that science is the basis for important and controversial polices and laws. The harmful thing about climategate was the twisting of the language scientists used while they weren't addressing their comments to the public. Ultimately, rational people recognized that there was not some conspiracy by the scientists to support the concept of AGW.

             

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        aldestrawk (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 5:16pm

        Re: Re: Er...

        "Have we forgotten that McCarthy already? That was within the lifetimes of many people in this country."

        I am a bit young to remember the McCarthy era except for one thing. My grandparents let John W.(Bill) Powell to hide in their house at Muir Beach north of S.F. for a couple of weeks when he was trying to avoid being subpoenaed by HUAC. Bill, and his wife Sylvia, had been accused of and acquitted of treason in the 1950's. I went to his memorial a couple of years ago. A bit strange, as I hadn't seen anyone from his family since I was a child. Alltogether, a rather moving experience and struck me as to how really conscientious and well intended people can be so vilified and persecuted.
        I think that revelations from the disclosure of COINTELPRO are a little more contemporary and apt in this case.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 2:41pm

    By the people, for the people. How easily our government forgets this. One thing I don't forget is how true "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" is in the US right now. Change we can believe in!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 3:15pm

    crimes carried out that serve the Government's agenda and target its opponents are permitted and even encouraged

    He needs to get new tin foil, his hat is leaking.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 3:46pm

      Re:

      He needs to get new tin foil, his hat is leaking.

      Is that you, Aaron?

      (Aaron Barr of HBGary Federal often trolls online discussion sites)

       

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      xenomancer (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 3:47pm

      Re:

      Perhaps you should stop eating the paint chips. I know they're tasty, but in a couple more years you may be living in a van down by the river.

       

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    a (profile), Feb 11th, 2011 @ 3:30pm

    The mainstream media

    kinda amazing how nothing HBgary can be found on CNN, and other "mainstream" media outlets.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 3:52pm

      Re: The mainstream media

      Maybe because outside of the anon and wikipedia loving universe, it is sort of a non-story. Assange already burnt most of Wikipedia's coverage time for the rest of the year.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 4:11pm

        Re: Re: The mainstream media

        This is the kind of thing the news outlets would usually drool over. The government and private companies working together to bring down what is view by many in the public as an anti-American organization.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 3:49pm

    They also sell bad condoms

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2011 @ 4:45pm

    "Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul this unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of statesmanship."
    ~Theodore Roosevelt

     

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    Anon, Feb 12th, 2011 @ 12:39am

    Great Article

    Thank you, that was an excellent read. It makes so much sense, that it must be true.

    US politicians are nothing but prostitutes and whores that sell the mind, body and souls to big corporations.

    For shame.

     

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    farooge (profile), Feb 12th, 2011 @ 6:08am

    Disgusted American

    I feel the need to ask this question once again:

    My children are 6 and 2; why on earth should I teach them voting is important?

    At this point they will be taught how to pay proper attention.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2011 @ 8:38am

      Re: Disgusted American

      Voting is important. The lack of desire for Americans to vote is one of the things that hurts the system greatly.

      http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781453.html

      It seems that more people are willing to stand around and bitch, but when it comes time to actually take the steering wheel for a moment, they decline and stay home to watch episodes of COPS or Conan or whatever.

      When less than 50% of the people vote, the majority has nothing to bitch about. They missed their turn.

       

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        TDR, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 11:59am

        Re: Re: Disgusted American

        Except that our vote actually means nothing because the elections are rigged and so are the voting machines. No honest candidate has any real chance of getting into office because the system is designed to favor the sycophants and powerhungry. Just try getting an independent into a major office and see how well you do.

         

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          orbitalinsertion (profile), Feb 14th, 2011 @ 1:22pm

          Re: Re: Re: Disgusted American

          What honest candidates? I don't believe they are very viable in the current system.

          Sure, I like to vote for the lesser evil, but unfortunately this is generally the only choice.

           

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    Anonymous, Feb 13th, 2011 @ 1:59pm

    Not a *new* step up...

    "Yes, it's very amusing. I don't think anybody in Anonymous saw that coming either. This level of hacking seems like a step up in level of crime for Anonymous."

    Just to point out that this is hardly a new level for Anonymous. They were never, as their detractors have liked to claim, amateur script kiddies with no skill. Back in September they stole and leaked the entire email archive of a predatory legal firm in the UK, ACS:Law, which has since had to pack in its lawsuit business as a result of the high legal costs hey have incurred trying to defend themselves against the resulting data protection cases taken against them.

    They also did the same in October with a Portugese company called A.C.A.P.O.R. And they have on many occasions actually hacked into the servers of their enemies and replace their home page content with messages from the Anonymous movement, as opposed to simply forcing it offline with brute force.

    Love them or hate them, it would be EXTREMELY foolish to underestimate them. Many articles claim that they have no technical skill and are simply using pre-written programs to achieve their aims - this may require such people to think twice about this.

    As an interesting comparison, the director of ACS:Law, when asked about the ddos attack, stated "I would be more worried about my train being five minutes late". That very afternoon, the future of his company was already in serious doubt following the email leak.

    Pride cometh before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall - Some verse in Proverbs.

     

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    Marko, Feb 14th, 2011 @ 9:26am

    Fascism per Mussolini

    Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.
    - Benito Mussolini

     

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    Amanda Lang, Feb 15th, 2011 @ 5:23am

    Kleptocrats

    The US is operating under a Kleptocracy: a term applied to a government subject to 'control fraud'* that takes advantage of governmental corruption to extend the personal wealth and political power of government officials and the ruling class (collectively, kleptocrats), via the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service. The term means "rule by thieves". Not an "official" form of government (such as democracy, republic, monarchy, theocracy) the term is a pejorative for governments perceived to have a particularly severe and systemic problem with the selfish misappropriation of public funds by those in power. * Control Fraud: occurs when a trusted person in a high responsible position in a company, corporation or state uses their powers to subvert the company and to engage in extensive fraud for personal gain. Many profit and only a few actually do jail time.

     

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