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100 Years Worth of Federal Prison Charges for Alleged 'Hactivist'?

The federal government is on a rampage to punish Anonymous-style hackers.

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Another—Palantir Technologies—was founded in 2004 with funds from the venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, to develop software for fraud detection. In-Q-Tel is a non-profit investment firm chartered in 1999 at the request of the CIA director. In-Q-Tel’s investment is run through In-Q-Tel Interface Center (QIC), an office within the CIA. Trustees from In-Q-Tel hold executive level positions at companies such as Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Time Warner, Federal Express, ATT Wireless, and New Enterprise Associates. Most of its current investments are in the biotechnology and IT/communications industries.

HBGary Federal was the offshoot of HBGary that did direct work for the government. While privately formed by Greg Hoglund in 2003, a computer security specialist, HBGary was then acquired by ManTech International in early 2012. As one of the leading software contractors for the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense, as well as the nation’s 16 spy agencies, ManTech International has seen its yearly revenue rise by more than 600% between 2001-2010. ManTech is so embedded with the national security state that its employees are often placed inside the military units they support.

Flipping the COIN

The growth and ambition of the US military over the past decade has required a congruent growth in information operations against “enemy” populations. In this vein, the HBGary e-mails also discuss a project known as Romas/COIN. Renamed “Odyssey” in 2011, Romas/COIN was a contract originally held by defense giant Northrup Grumman.

The program was a military initiative to mine and store massive amounts of data from all across the Arab world: phone calls, social media interactions, Internet searches, among other data streams. The e-mails discuss collaboration by over a dozen firms—all with their own niche skills—to displace Northrup and win a “re-compete” for the contract. The e-mails even identify household names like Google and Apple as collaborators in the scheme.

Although the re-compete was eventually cancelled, and replaced with a new contract for the program known as “Odyssey,” there’s no reason to suspect the project has been discontinued. Two days prior to the HBGary hack, on February 3, 2011, key members of the firm consortium met with the contracting officer for Odyssey at a location known as “HQ.” The trail runs dry after the e-mail hack, which clearly derailed their potential (or at least HBGary’s) to bid on the contract. As history shows us, the employment of technologies in theaters of war always precedes their domestic importation: from the telegraph and telephone in colonial Philippines to drones in Pakistan and Yemen. So it should come as no surprise that this type of data mining is hardly novel or confined to a particular government agency.

National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower William Binney has gone on record stating that NSA is actively creating dossiers on every single American citizen. Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a former officer in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA, the Pentagon’s spy agency), has noted that when he served in the late-1990s his agency was actively utilizing such data-mining technology: “What we did then would take a year, you can do that in a minute [or] a matter of seconds now.”

Digital Puppeteers

In an age of online organization and activism, how do governments discourage private citizens from such uses of the Internet? Well, a tyrant can use the mailed fist and just shut off access to it. But the more refined autocrat would simply exploit the medium to create perception of public support for their position. Enter: Project “Metal Gear.”

Metal Gear is the term given by ProjectPM’s editors to “describe any methodology or apparatus…[used] with the intent of manipulating information or perception, conducting data mining, or infiltrating social organizations.” Crucially, it involves the ability to deploy fake online personas controlled en masse by a human operator—a phalanx of Facebook marionettes to sway public opinion.