Spy vs. Spy Duel Thwarts DC Dirty Tricks Plot

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

We list below a sample of coverage of the major scandal that erupted last week after the WikiLeaks defender group Anonymous hacked 40,000 emails from a government contractor involved in a dirty tricks plot to disrupt Anonymous and critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Bank of America. What's new this week are attempts by the mainstream media to cover a scandal that apparently implicates the Chamber, one of its law firms, three government IT contractors and some members of the government. Anonymous published emails from the contractor HBGary Federal suggesting that it planned to try to reach a sales agreement on Valentine's Day with the law firm Hunton and Williams to hurt Chamber critics, including Democrats, bloggers and unions.

“You don’t mess with Anonymous," Anonymous wrote on the contractor's website. "You have blindly charged into the Anonymous hive, a hive from which you’ve tried to steal honey. Did you think the bees would not defend it?  Well here we are. You’ve angered the hive, and now you are being stung.”

The Chamber denies wrongdoing. Critics point out, however, that emails from HBGary Federal suggest that the plot was not supposed to be advanced until sale of the information that HBGary and others were assembling. Some of the data apparently comes from private contractor work helping the federal government enforce IT security measures. The Justice Integrity Project, which has been excerpting coverage of this since late last week, has not been successful in seeking direct comment from HBGary Federal's CEO Aaron Barr, above left, and Hunton and Williams. The sample coverage below includes alternative websites, such Ars Technica, which published some of the best analysis. Appended at bottom is an article from 2008 announcing the formation of HBGary Federal.

Illustrating further the complexities in public policy is the ironic contrast of two Washington Post stories on Feb. 16. In one, Secretary of State Clinton makes a major address warning governments not to interfere with Internet freedom. On the same day, federal prosecutors argued that their unprecedented snooping into personal social network relationships of targets is routine law enforcement.

Below are excerpts from selected recent columns about legal reform and related issues in security, the news media and politics. The full text or videos are available from the button News Reports at the top of this site's Home Page.

Washington Post, WikiLeaks, free speech and Twitter come together in Va. court case, Dana Hedgpeth, Feb. 16, 2011. An odd confluence of important issues came together in a federal courtroom in Alexandria on Tuesday: the criminal investigation of WikiLeaks, free speech and social networking from the government's attempts to get personal information from the Twitter accounts of three people linked to the WikiLeaks probe. Their lawyers argued that the data -- screen names, mailing addresses, telephone numbers, credit card and bank account information, and Internet protocol addresses -- are protected by the First Amendment. Prosecutors said the request is a routine part of their criminal probe.

Washington Post, Clinton warns governments that limiting Internet will backfire, Mary Beth Sheridan, Feb. 16, 2011.  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned governments from China to Syria on Tuesday that blocking the Internet ultimately would backfire, damaging their economies and creating pent-up demands that would boil over in demonstrations like those that have swept the Middle East and North Africa. Clinton's speech, planned weeks ago and billed as a major address on Internet freedom, came against the backdrop of the mass protests that toppled the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia. Aides said Clinton wanted to take advantage of the attention being paid to the protesters' use of Facebook and Twitter in order to highlight broader issues.

Ars Technica Spy games: Inside the convoluted plot to bring down WikiLeaks, Nate Anderson, Feb. 15, 2011. When the US Chamber of Commerce wanted to

look into some of its opponents, Aaron Barr teamed with two other security companies and went nuts, proposing that the Chamber create an absurdly expensive "fusion cell" of the kind "developed and utilized by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)"—and costing $2 million a month. The security companies even began grabbing tweets from liberal activists and mapping the connections between people using advanced link analysis software most often used by the intelligence community.

look into some of its opponents, Aaron Barr teamed with two other security companies and went nuts, proposing that the Chamber create an absurdly expensive "fusion cell" of the kind "developed and utilized by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)"—and costing $2 million a month. The security companies even began grabbing tweets from liberal activists and mapping the connections between people using advanced link analysis software most often used by the intelligence community.

FireDogLake, Traditional Media Takes Notice of ChamberLeaks Scandal, David Dayen, Feb. 15, 2011. The traditional media has finally taken note of the campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to enlist private security firms in a plan to smear their political enemies using dirty tricks. The Washington Post actually pushes back on the Chamber’s lies, noting that one email from HBGary to another security firm that he spoke “directly” to the Chamber, and others calling a Hunton & Williams lawyer “the key client contact operationally” with the Chamber. There are multiple emails showing multiple contacts between the security firms, Hunton & Williams and the Chamber of Commerce. They cannot hide behind the fact that they didn’t sign a contract.

Washington Post, Hacked e-mails reveal plans for dirty-tricks campaign against U.S. Chamber foes, Dan Eggen, Feb. 15, 2011.  A feud between a security contracting firm and a group of guerrilla computer hackers has spilled over onto K Street, as stolen e-mails reveal plans for a dirty-tricks-style campaign against critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Ars Technica, How one man tracked down Anonymous—and paid a heavy price, Nate Anderson, Feb.10, 2011. How one man tracked down Anonymous—and paid a heavy price. Aaron Barr believed he had penetrated Anonymous. The loose hacker collective had been responsible for everything from anti-Scientology protests to pro-WikiLeaks attacks on MasterCard and Visa, and the FBI was now after them. But matching their online identities to real-world names and locations proved daunting. Barr found a way to crack the code. In a private e-mail to a colleague at his security firm HB Gary Federal, which sells digital tools to the US government, the CEO bragged about his research project.

Emptywheel/FireDogLake, The HBGary Scandal: Using Counterterrorism Tactics on Citizen Activism, Marcy Wheeler,  Feb. 14, 2011. The essence of the Chamber of Commerce/Bank of America/HBGary scandal is the use of intelligence techniques developed for use on terrorists deployed for use on citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.

FireDogLake, Key Players in Operation Ratf%!k, Jane Hamsher, Feb. 14, 2011. Listing of key players. Sample: Richard Wyatt Jr., Partner:  According to Steckman of Palantir, the Department of Justice called Bank of America’s General Council (Edward O’Keefe) and told them to hire Wyatt to deal their Wikileaks problem. This allowed communications with Operation Ratf%&k subcontractors to hide under attorney-client privilege.

Legal Schnauzer, Chamber of Commerce Thuggery Comes As No Surprise, Roger Shuler, Feb. 14, 2011. Reports last week that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had engaged in a campaign to sabotage its political opponents were not a surprise here at Legal Schnauzer headquarters.  Evidence strongly suggests that we were targeted by people with ties to the Alabama Republican Party, which has been heavily influenced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its local affiliate, the Business Council of Alabama (BCA).

Security Dark Reading, HBGary Launches HBGary Federal, Dec. 7, 2009. HBGary, Inc., the leader in enterprise malware detection and analysis, today announced the spin-off of its U.S. government cybersecurity services group. "As an early adopter of HBGary Digital DNA, the U.S. government understands that the bad guys not only exist but are already inside our mission critical systems." said Greg Hoglund, CEO and founder of HBGary.

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