CT Watchdog Probes DC 'Spy vs. Spy' Dirty Tricks

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

Connecticut Watchdog's On the Horn Radio/TV News Hour available globally via Internet interviewed me Feb.22 about the consumer implications of my recent column "Spy vs. Spy As Hackers Square Off Over DC Dirty Tricks." The story describes how hackers associated with WikiLeaks exposed a plot by private security contractors to disrupt the computers and social networks of political targets around the United States. Watchdog Publisher George Gombossy, at left below, and contributor Denis Horgan led the questioning. On the Horn Producer Brian Parker provides

Tune in by clicking here for the show, which is available by archive, maintained by network founder Brian Parker, right.  On the show, I disclosed a major new story not yet published anywhere in North America regarding a group effort by major Swedish newspapers to censor reader comments critical of that nation's prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The story is significant because the average reader typically has scant resources to determine why a comment is not posted on a specific website. In Sweden this week, however, Dr. Marcello Ferrada de Noli undertook an investigation and just published his results.

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Court Slaps Feds Again For Christie-Era NJ Prosecutions

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director's Blog

In a major setback for the U.S. Justice Department and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a federal appeals court last week dismissed federal bribery and conspiracy charges against two New Jersey Democrats targeted in a trap set by Christie. The decision helps illustrate why our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project has repeatedly pointed to the 46-defendant “Bid Rig III” case as one of the nation’s most scandalous political prosecutions of recent years.

On Feb. 17, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Christie’s successors wrongly applied a 1946 federal bribery law when they convicted Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo and his campaign manager (and brother) Ronald in an elaborate sting that Christie, at right, set in motion before he resigned in 2008 near the end of the Bush administration. The three-judge appeals court upheld the pre-trial ruling of the defendants’ trial judge that prosecutors wrongly charged the Manzos under the Hobbs Act. The appellate judges said authorities have never previously used the law to win convictions against a candidate unelected to office. Judge D. Michael Fisher, a 2003 Bush appointee, wrote the unanimous decision. Democrats Thomas L. Ambro and Marjorie O. Rendell, wife of just-retired Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, concurred. The judges traced the history of language in the Hobbs Act through what they called “centuries” of common law in the Anglo-American system. That review convinced them to decline prosecutors’ request that the court expand the law enough to cover candidates such as the Manzo brothers. The ruling thus upheld a decision last spring by U.S. District Judge José L. Linares, a 2002 Bush appointee. Louis Manzo is at left,below.

The ruling delivered yet another courtroom loss to federal prosecutors who are trying to vindicate the partisan methods that the Republican Christie used as New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney from 2001 through 2008 on his way to his state’s governor’s mansion campaigning as a crime-fighter and reformer. But the loss by New Jersey's federal prosecutors of their last two jury trials in the case is unprecedented during the past decade, according to an Associated Press report in the state's newspapers. Among the reasons, their chief witness Solomon Dwek committed a $50 million bank fraud and ran a brothel before the government supplied him with vast amounts of taxpayer money to try bribe local politicians and persuade rabbis to launder funds. Moreover, Dwek has had to admit on the witness stand that prosecutors cooperated in paying him between $10,000 and $12,000 a month from court-supervised assets of the victims of his frauds. In contrast to the frugal public image Christie has fostered, the money was to pay for Dwek's services and expertise. The charges, with all but one of the political defendants a Democrat, were announced during the Christie campaign. Some news reports claim the charges were timed by his former staff for maximum impact to improve his standing with voters and news reporters.

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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.

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Rove’s Swedish Connections: Controversy & The Facts

By Prof. Marcello Ferrada de Noli (Exceprted from his blog Feb. 13):

Naomi Wolf's guest-article in my "Professors Blogg"  – which mentioned (among other matters) Karl Rove’s potential involvement in the Swedish political crusade against Assange – had a huge impact among Swedish blog-readers. The site Bloggosfär picked her column Feb. 12 to be its top-recommended reading on the Julian Assange theme. Knuff.se also cited the article in its front page that day. Yet some in the Swedish media deny the article’s implication that Rove might be relevant to the Assange case, or even to Sweden’s governing Moderate Party. That confirms the characterization by Assange’s lawyers about disregard by Swedish media for objectivity and fair play in this sensitive case. "Professors Blogg" replied to this political threat by republishing the initial controversial column by Andrew Kreig that Wolf cited. Also, we provide Kreig’s updated analysis on Rove. It describes past and current developments, leading right to yesterday, Feb. 12. The author Andrew Kreig is prominent human-rights defender. His second gästblogg is a new update of his article on Rove. This update is being published for the first time in "Professors Blogg."

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By Andrew Kreig / Director's Blog

As indicated by the above introduction, links between Karl Rove and Sweden’s governing party continue to generate controversy. That’s because of implications of Sweden’s all-out effort to capture WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Most recent was an attack Feb. 11 by the Swedish website Makthavare (“Those in Power”) on my reporting and on author Naomi Wolf’s willingness to cite it in her column criticizing Sweden’s police procedures in the Assange case.

This prompts me to reaffirm the original column published by the Huffington Post on Dec. 19, “Rove Suspected In Swedish-U.S. Political Prosecution of WikiLeaks.” You’ll see below how the author of the Makthavare blog, Andreas Henriksson, selectively omits evidence that does not support his defense of Rove. My update here will show how developments since then illustrate how the Assange law enforcement scandal is similar to many Rove-style political prosecutions in the United States. Among the tell-tale signs are using the media to smear a defendant with pre-trial leaks. These foster an anti-defendant climate in the courts and public, helping to ensure that unfair court procedures will not generate effective protest by legislators, the media or general public.

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Plot Exposed Against Bloggers, Rights Advocates

By Andrew Kreig / Director's Blog

A secretive hacker’s group has exposed what appears to be a shocking plan by a well-connected security company to defame and otherwise harm human rights advocates, unions and bloggers who have offended powerful companies. A security contractor developed the plan to sell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce via one of its law firms, Hunton and Williams. The hacker group Anonymous exposed the scandal, described below.

A security company named HBGary Federal that is well-connected to U.S. government and major business clients was exposed as creating a shocking, dirty tricks plan to hurt bloggers, unions and activists who defend Assange and criticize the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The hackers group Anonymous learned that it had been targeted by HBGary and responded by purloining from the company a trove of what it calls some 50,000 emails and similar documents apparently showing how the security firm has been developing an illegal disinformation plan for potential sale this month to the law firm Hunton and Williams. The latter works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was recommended by the Justice Department to Bank of America for the latter’s defense against WikiLeaks exposure. 

More generally, our reporting at the Justice Integrity Project makes this scandal especially relevant to us, our colleagues and courageous sources. We have published cutting-edge stories on Sweden’s prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains in the news because of his strange extradition hearing this week in the United Kingdom. Sweden wants him for questioning about two sex affairs gone bad last summer that haev resulted in controversial claims of sexual misconduct by him. Sweden initiated a global manhunt for him but denies his claims that the questioning is a ruse to hand him over to the United States for spy charges. Human rights advocate Dr. Marcello Ferrada de Noli, right, a medical school professor in Sweden who also works in Italy, is among those who have been drawing heavily on our work this week. He requested an update, published simultaneously on his Professors Blogg and below, with several updates here to include breaking news.

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Critics Probe WikiLeaks, CIA, Arab Uprisings

By Andrew Kreig / Director's Blog

There are so many revelations now about WikiLeaks, its supporters and North Africa uprisings that we must postpone publication of alarming news exclusives we've recently received about serious scandals in New Jersey, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi. The future of web-based investigative journalism is at risk by the security-related worldwide crackdown on whistleblowers and journalists. That has to take priority over any one case back home.

In a United Kingdom courtroom this week, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faced potential extradition to Sweden to answer sex charges. We know that defenders of Sweden scoff as Assange's attorneys argued that extradition could lead to his extradition to the United States to face a death penalty or other extreme rights deprivations, such as those imposed pre-trial on Army Private Bradley Manning. But feminist author Naomi Wolf, right, cited our work at the Justice Integrity Project in arguing in a new column that Sweden’s all-out manhunt to capture Assange cannot really be just for misconduct in sex. Instead, she draws on research and her extensive experience to suggest political motivatations. She cites eight "aberrations" in normal police prosecedures that's she has studied for nearly a quarter century in rape cases. Similarly, medical school professor and human rights advocate Dr. Marcello Vittorio Ferrada-Noli in Italy published several hard-hitting columns criticizing Swedish legal procedures and political leaders. His critique also of Associated Press and other major media news accounts is part of the much larger story here whereby "old" and "new" media are using the case to battle for survival -- or the kind of vast wealth an power represented in Sweden by the two-century-old media powerhouse Bonnier, AB.

There's lots more. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington announced the sale of her start-up to AOL for more than $300 million. Meanwhile, an Associated Press investigative report shows that CIA personnel are rarely punished after breaking the law in cases of mistaken arrest, rendition, torture and other misconduct. That story is excerpted below. So are the others cited here, including ones about Justice Department investigations of WikiLeaks and the pan-Arab uprisings against dictators. The Wall Street Journal reports, for example, that the DOJ’s much heralded investigation of Manning is failing to find strong evidence linking him to Assange. Yet ligitation expert and legal reformer Harvey Silverglate argues that authorities wield so much power that they don’t need strong evidence to put Assange in prison for many years as a lesson to others tempted to air embarrassing government secrets. As part of this all-out enforcement effort, federal Assange investigators seek to use Twitter accounts go development information on everyone in the social networks. We know of this only because Twitter decided to fight for the protection of its users, with other social networks presumably involved as well but choosing silence and compliance with federal requests for personal data searches.

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