The next time you hear some lofty conservative twaddle about our freedoms, please point them to this Think Progress post and ask for an explanation. Ask them why they think they're threatened by government when we have large corporations funding private investigations and smear campaigns against people who speak against them.
According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams to spearhead this effort. 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, hired 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.
Tread carefully here. The US Chamber left themselves a layer of plausible deniability, as Marcy Wheeler carefully explains. Bottom line: The Chamber of Commerce hired an attorney, who then farmed out assignments on spec to dig up dirt on their "enemies" and smear them.
Here are some of the proposals (PDF). One that caught my eye was this one:
Create a false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information, and monitor to see if USChamber Watch acquires it. Afterward, present explicit evidence proving that such transactions never occurred. Also, create a fake insider persona and generate communications with CtW. Afterward, release the actual documents at a specified time and explain the activity as a CtW contrived operation. Both
instances will prove that US Chamber Watch cannot be trusted with information and/or tell the truth.
Got it. Plant a false document with financial information, wait for USChamberWatch to "acquire it", and when they use the information, nail them for lying. Lie to them and then get them for lying.
But there's much, much more. Not only did these hired thugs go after ThinkProgress, SEIU and others, they also went after bloggers like Brad Friedman, family members of people they were after, including children. They hacked social media accounts and compiled personal information (dossiers) on everyone.
New emails reveal that the private spy company investigated the families and children of the Chamber’s political opponents. The apparent spearhead of this project was Aaron Barr, an executive at HB Gary. Barr circulated numerous emails and documents detailing information about political opponents’ children, spouses, and personal lives.
One of the targets was Mike Gehrke, a former staffer with Change to Win. Among the information circulated about Gehrke was the specific “Jewish church” he attended and a link to pictures of his wife and two children (sensitive information was redacted by ThinkProgress):
Here it is:
Again, it should be stressed that the US Chamber did not hire HBGary directly, and possibly not at all. They certainly deny any relationship, but their denial is carefully crafted to mislead casual readers about the nature of any relationship. Nevertheless, they did hire Richard Wyatt, and presumably for a reason other than his connection to a lobbying firm they use.
HB Gary, the author of these newly-released memos, has quite a reputation. Just this week it was revealed that they were hired to smear WikiLeaks, and as part of their strategy, they also planned to smear Glenn Greenwald in connection with the promised release of Bank of America documents.
As TechHerald reports, among those documents was a presentation, “The Wikileaks Threat,” put together by three data intelligence firms for Bank of America in December. As part of it, they put together what they claimed was a list of important contributors to WikiLeaks. They suggested that Glenn Greenwald’s support was key to WikiLeaks’ ongoing survival.
Some of the things mentioned as potential proactive tactics against WikiLeaks include feeding the fuel between the feuding groups, disinformation, creating messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization, and submitting fake documents to WikiLeaks and then calling out the error.
“Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed to not be secure they are done. Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward,” the proposal said.
Moreover, reporter Glenn Greenwald, who writes for Salon.com, was singled out in the proposal as a person offering a level of support to WikiLeaks that needed to be disrupted. This disruption would include making Greenwald, and others in similar situations, choose between professional preservation and cause.
Today, Glenn Greenwald received an apology from one of the three 'security firms' involved. Too little, too late. No matter what disagreements I have had with him in the past, he has my 100% support on this. To suggest that he should be attacked for his support of Wikileaks in order for him to "choose professional preservation over cause" is insulting, evil, and a direct attack on his right to free speech. They shouldn't just apologize. They should turn over every document that they gathered on him and others connected with this.
They should be indicted and tried.
There are so many more issues here than the idea of private security firms investigating citizens exercising their right to free speech. There is the hacking involved, not only by HBGary but by Anonymous, who hacked HBGary to obtain their emails and documents. Sure, this time it was for something heroic. Will it be next time? Are we really to rely on rival hackers to discover this kind of information? How many citizens have been hacked or investigated by this so-called "security firm" in the name of national security, or corporate security?
Think on this. Just about any large corporation requires consent for a background check before they hire new employees. When we sign that consent, are we agreeing to let HBGary expose our spouses, our children, our lives?
There is the question of a tax-exempt organization like the US Chamber of Commerce hiring private security firms to investigate and smear their opposition. Why are they still tax-exempt, again?
There is the meta-issue of the danger of "private enterprise" wielding greater power than the government and the citizens governed by it. While conservatives stand up and beat their breasts about "big government" and its evils, what we see here is "big enterprise" marshalling its considerable resources against private citizens and activist groups!
There's no question that the US Chamber is as dirty as the firms they hired, one degree or separation or not. But the bigger question can and should be what we intend to do about it.