U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thugs Used 'Terror Tools' for Disinfo Scheme Targeting Me, My Family and Other Progressives
"[W]ho better to develop a corporate information reconnaissance capability than companies that have been market leaders within the DoD and Intelligence Community." - 'Team Themis', from their 11/3/10 "Corporate Information Reconnaissance Cell" proposal delivered to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's law firm Hunton & Williams.
As I learned late last Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the most powerful Rightwing lobbying group in the country, was revealed to have been working with their law firm and a number of private cyber security and intelligence firms to target progressive organizations, journalists and citizens who they felt were in opposition to their political activism, tactics and points of view.
As I went on the air Thursday night --- my fifth in a six-day guest hosting stint on the nationally syndicated Mike Malloy Show --- revelations about the planned multi-million dollar political hit job by the security/intelligence firms working to develop a scheme for the U.S. Chamber (and another one, almost identical to it, on behalf of Bank of America) were just beginning to come to light. Both plots were being developed by the Chamber and BofA by the very same law firm, Hunton & Williams and with the cyber intelligence firms HBGary Federal, Berico Technologies & Palantir Technologies.
As the show began, I was able to report the news, based on an exclusive report from Lee Fang at ThinkProgress, that internal emails from one of the firms, confirmed thatVelvetRevolution.us (VR), a progressive non-partisan, non-profit organization co-founded by The BRAD BLOG, and its StopTheChamber.com campaign were specifically highlighted as targets of the Chamber's plot which was proposed to include the planting of a "false document", in hopes they'd be publicly released by VR or other progressive groups, so the U.S. Chamber could then claim the groups involved had created a forgery.
The plan also involved creating "two fake insider personas", one at VR and another at the unrelated Change To Win organization, which had employed a coalition of union groups to create a non-profit campaign, some months after VR's, called U.S. Chamber Watch. The plan presented by Team Themis, as the three security firms called themselves, would then use one of the "fake personas" as "leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second" in hopes of publicizing the fraudulent appearance of some sort of "conspiracy" between the various progressive organizations in order to somehow discredit them.
As Thursday's show continued, I received confirmation that I, personally, along withmembers of my family, had been highlighted in Themis' proposed hit job, asThinkProgress followed up with a second story, based on several other emails from HBGary's CEO Aaron Barr. The email focused on me included names, personal information, home addresses, etc. of myself, family members and a number of other members of VR. Naturally, I reported on the then-confirmed news in the second hour of that night's Malloy Show.
An hour or so after the show went off the air Thursday night, The BRAD BLOG was no longer reachable, as our server had been knocked off line hard, so I was unable to follow up with much more information. The server we use, which is also the home for many other progressive websites, was out of commission for nearly 24 hours, though I am told by our server admin that the very unusual outage was related to a serious hardware failure which occurred at what was clearly a very inopportune --- and, naturally, suspiciously timed --- moment. Moments before Friday's show, The BRAD BLOG was finally back up and online.
Over the weekend then, I've finally been able to catch up with a lot of what I had otherwise been unable to on Friday due to the server outage and the need to prep for Friday's show while all of this was happening (and as the Egypt regime was collapsing at the same moment).
As I, and other journalists, have been plowing through some of the tens of thousands of emails from HBGary's CEO --- as stolen and released by the "hacktivist" organization calling themselves Anonymous, following Barr's public threat to expose their names --- I've been able to learn a lot more about the U.S. Chamber plan.
Part of the plan included highlighting me as a "Tier 1" player in a sophisticated disinformation/discrediting scheme that relied on high-tech tools developed for the U.S. Government's "War on Terror".
Team Themis' U.S. Chamber of Commerce plan was to deploy the very same techniques and technology used to track terrorists, terror organizations, and nations such as Iran, against private non-profit political advocates and citizens in the U.S.
As disturbing (and there is a lot that every American citizen and every member of the American media ought to be very disturbed by in this story) Hunton & Williams (H&W), the law firm working on behalf of the U.S. Chamber and the Bank of America, had been recommended to BofA, the nation's largest bank, for the parallel hit scheme to target and discredit WikiLeaks, by our own U.S. Department of Justice.
In addition to Barr's email offering personal information on me and my family, the H&W scheme by Team Themis, created for the U.S. Chamber, also included a Power Point presentation in which I am personally highlighted, with photograph, along with my wife "Martha" and "2 boys, James and John Friedman" at our "home at 1055 Raywood Ln, Silver Springs, MD".
Of course, I'm not married and have no children and don't live in MD, but these are the huge private firms receiving millions, if not billions, in U.S. tax-payer dollars to target terrorists, after all, so why let such details like accuracy, or targeting innocent people, or citizens and journalists exercising their right to free speech get in the way of a potential $2 million dollar per month contract from the U.S. Chamber get in the way? The Chamber, of course, is also funded by the world's largest corporations who receive billions in tax-payer bailout dollars and subsidies from the U.S. Government. Can you feel the synergy? Team Themis certainly did...
The PowerPoint slide above was the third one in the full presentation sent to John Woods and Bob Quackenboss of H&W, the U.S. Chamber's attorneys, as "example reports that you requested to give you a better idea of what we will be producing," according to the email it was attached to, as sent by Samuel Kremin of Berico Technologies. It was the first one focusing on a single individual. I'm honored.
"A couple things to keep in mind however," Kremin added, "are that these are just example reports and do not reflect the best efforts or true ability of our team."
Indeed, much of the information appears to be just sample template stuff, though there are slides following the one focused on me which focus on progressive political activists such as Ilyse Hogue, Director of Political Advocacy and Communications atMoveOn.org and attorney Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, both corporate accountability experts, Jane Johson, media director at SEIU, and others. So, naturally, these are "enemies" of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its member corporations, as they likely see them.
The team was likely withholding much of the data they'd already gathered on all of us. The email published by ThinkProgress last Thursday night included somewhat more accurate details on me and even my extended family, rather than the 'wife and 2 kids' stuff they used to sell their McCarthyesque plans to undermine private U.S. citizens and organizations at the request of the Chamber's legal goons.
The first slide in the presentation Berico's Kremin sent to the U.S. Chamber attorneys detailed their "PIR'S" or "Priority Intelligence Requirements" for the campaign to attack what they describe as "attack groups":
Two of the three members of Team Themis --- Berico and Palantir (the latter's name was on the slides used to demonstrate the Bank of American plan for attacking WikiLeaks, including a scheme to try and discredit Salon journalist Glenn Greenwald) have issued public statements distancing themselves from the third member, HBGary, in the wake of these revelations. Berico's is here [PDF]. Palantir's is here.
Each announces that they are severing ties with HBGary and its CEO Aaron Barr who, according to the emails, is seen as the most aggressive of the Team Themis members --- though that may be because it was Barr's emails which were released publicly by Anonymous. What we've learned up until now comes largely via the perspective of Barr's emails to the others, and so we've only seen snippets, to date, from the other members of the (very real) conspiracy coming together at the behest of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce via quoted text of replies to and from Barr's own notes to Berico, Palantir and the DoJ-recommended H&W law firm.
Berico's statement, from co-founders Guy Filippelli (CEO) and Nick Hallam (COO) includes the following:
Given the above-noted Power Point presentation was sent to H&W from Berico's Analyst/Consult Samuel Kremin, and the email first reported on by ThinkProgress, highlighting actual personal details on me and my family, was sent by Barr to both John Woods of H&W and Patrick Ryan of Berico Technologies, the after-the-fact claim that Berico "does not condone or support...effort[s] that proactively target American firms, organizations or individuals" is somewhat laughable on its face.
Moreover, as Berico's statement claims they are a "veteran-owned small business", it seems unlikely that the "leadership" --- the CEO and COO --- of such a "small business" would be unaware of a detailed proposal (which one of their own employees sent to a legal firm) for what was hoped to be, according to Barr's emails, a $2 million per monthcontract for the firm and its partners in slime.
For Palantir's part, in their statement, co-founder and CEO Dr. Alex Karp similarly promised to "sever any and all contacts with HB Gary", the helpful fall guy, it seems, in this matter. On behalf of his company --- which, as Emptywheel's Marcy Wheeler detailed last week, is no doubt scrambling in hopes of preserving their lucrative government contracts (they've received contracts to the tune of $6,378,332 since 2007from the Dept. of Defense and the DoJ/FBI) --- he claimed they "will not be involved in such activities."
That, now that they've been caught and embarrassed by being seen as directly involved in such activities, naturally.
Karp's statement went on to say:
"May have had," Dr. Karp? Allow me to refresh your memory. Please note the logo on the top left of each of these PowerPoint slides created as part of the BofA scheme:
Greenwald reports that Karp ended up calling Greenwald personally to apologize last week and has promised to get back to him with information on whether or not Bank of America or Hunton & Williams actually retained the companies of Team Themis to carry out the pernicious scheme mentioned above. We'll look forward to that.
Palantir offered further comment on Sunday to The Tech Herald, claiming, among other things:
Given the detailed, 12-page proposal [PDF] titled "Corporate Information Reconnaissance Cell", submitted to Hunton & Williams on November 3, 2010, detailing Palantir's tightly-knit, side-by-side partnership in the triumvirate of cyber-security/intel firms calling themselves Team Themis, it's difficult to believe that Palantir was as innocent in these matters --- or even as "progressive" --- as their statements hope to convey.
Wheeler reports in another piece regarding part of the Themis plan to charge$250/hour to create false personas and exploit social media sites such as Twitter to help discredit progressive journalists and activists such as those fighting on behalf of those making $12/hour or less to "keep your building clean or care for you when you're sick":
I suspect publicly distancing themselves from "any activities involving HBGary's proposed tactics," is a very carefully chosen phrase for Palantir, as both of the Power Point presentations I've highlighted so far --- the one bearing Palantir's logo targeting Greenwald and the one targeting me, under the Team Themis banner --- propose exceedingly pernicious and objectionable McCarthyesque tactics to be used against private American citizens and organizations exercising their right to free speech and peaceable assembly in the cause of progressive political advocacy.
While Palantir and their self-described champion of free speech and progressive values, CEO Karp, reached out to the widely-read and very visible Greenwald to apologize for the proposed attacks on him and his credibility, as evidenced on their logoed Power Point slide, to date, "Somehow," as Wheeler noticed, "Dr. Karp forgot to apologize to Brad Friedman, another journalist [Team Themis] has targeted."
HBGary, the company of the loathsome Aaron Barr, initially claimed to "have been the victims of an intentional criminal cyberattack," following their takedown by Anonymous. They went on to baselessly charge that "any information currently in the public domain is not reliable because the perpetrators of this offense, or people working closely with them, have intentionally falsified certain data."
Um, I don't think so. Neither does anybody else. As The Tech Herald observed, "It is unlikely that Anonymous would forge thousands and thousands of emails or attachments" and notes "the complete severance of ties by" the other two companies of Team Themis, "leaves little room for doubt that the information ... is legitimate."
And isn't a bit desperate to try and use the old "they intentionally falsified data!" ploy after you've already been busted as having concocted precisely such a scheme of fraud and forgery to plant false documents and then make that claim in order discredit others?
[On a related note, for fans of Schadenfreude, you must read the hilarious and detailed inside story of the absolutely epic, legendary even, take-down by Anonymous of HBGary and Barr, its Egomaniac-in-Chief, including details on the 16-year old girl who managed to gain access to the company password at the multi-million dollar cyber-security "intelligence" firm as Anonymous then proceeded to take over their website (see the message they left on it here, including: "You've tried to bite at the Anonymous hand, and now the Anonymous hand is bitch-slapping you in the face"); deface Barr's Twitter account; remotely wipe his iPad clean; and downloaded the entire company email database. The account, as stitched together from the now-public record by by Ars Technica's Nate Anderson, is an instant classic.]
The self-discrediting Barr and HBGary have been quickly made the scapegoats in all of this, and so have received the most coverage in the media to date. But the instigators behind all of these diabolical schemes, the bag men at Hunton & Williams and the godfathers at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have still remained largely unscathed in media reports.
Hunton & Williams has yet to release a comment in regard to any of this, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as is their wont, chose to go on the attack, charging, like HBGary, that they are actually the victims of "baseless attacks".
In their first statement on Thursday, Tom Collamore writing for the U.S. Chamber at ChamberPost, offered this remarkably daft "non-denial denial":
As is her wont, Emptywheel's Wheeler dispatched with the laughable response "From the ChamberPot" in short order (as, in turn, did virtually every single commenter on the Chamber's blog.) You'll note the Chamber's denial of having "hired" HBGary, "the security firm" in question, presumably, as they were the ones highlighted inThinkProgress' initial "ChamberLeaks" report. But the emails released from HBGary reveal they and their partners constructing and then proposing the scheme to the Chamber's law firm H&W, even as a number of the emails reference H&W sharing the information with the Chamber.
So where they say HBGary was "not hired by the Chamber or by anyone else on the Chamber's behalf," that could well be true, if incredibly disingenuous and misleading.
[I interviewed Wheeler about the entire affair on Friday night's Malloy Show. You can listen to that interview, in "Hour 1" right here.]
A second non-denial denial issued by the U.S. Chamber the following day, claiming again to highlight "Another Smear" against them after ThinkProgress' second article(the one highlighting the email targeting me and my family, among others), was similarly disingenuous.
Both statements carefully avoided admission of the Chamber's retention of Hunton & Williams and what the firm did on behalf of the Chamber. The second statement continued with such weasly phrases as "The U.S. Chamber never hired or solicited proposals from HBGary, Palantir or Berico, the security firms being talked about on the web" and "No money, for any purpose, was paid to any of those three private security firms by the Chamber, or by anyone on behalf of the Chamber, including Hunton and Williams."
Right. The contract --- said to have been worth $2 million per month --- according toone of the emails said to be from Aaron Barr to his HBGary colleagues released on Sunday (versus $2 million for the entire contract, as previously reported ), was apparently never finalized. Wrote Barr:
But the work H&W ("the law firm" presumably referenced above) was doing was certainly on behalf of the Chamber ("the end customer"), and it's as unlikely H&W took it upon themselves to seek proposals for such an invidious scheme on behalf of the Chamber with their direction, as it is to imagine that Team Themis acted without direction from either H&W or the Chamber, or both, as other emails suggest in contradiction to the Chamber's claims of innocence.
Also worth noting here: While we do not yet have evidence that Team Themis closed the deal with H&W and the Chamber, it seems quite possible that H&W was seeking competing proposals from different "intelligence" firms as well. Did anyone else actually get the deal? Are they working, even as we speak, on behalf of the Chamber to attack perceived enemies through attempts at discrediting them? The Chamber's two responses smartly avoid answers to those questions, or culpability in having sicced H&W against their political opponents on their behalf.
Though I have requested comment from all three cyber-security/intelligence firms as well as H&W on these matters, none have responded to my query at this time.
We do know that H&W --- the law firm recommended to the Bank of America by the DoJ to help defend against purported documents said to be soon published by WikiLeaks --- had been working for the Chamber as long ago as May 2010. That month, one of their attorneys, Michael J. Mueller, sent a threatening "cease and desist" letter to VR's publicist, charging that a press release issued by the group as part of the StopTheChamber.com campaign made "defamatory and false allegations concerning the United States Chamber of Commerce" in reference to the campaigns claim that "The Chamber, like the mafia, also uses threats to get its way."
Mueller's letter, issuing a mafia-like threat, went on to charge "the veracity of these individuals [who worked on StopTheChamber.com] is in question" and the firm demanded the group's press release be retracted. It wasn't.
That wasn't the first time VR had faced intimidation tactics courtesy of the mafia-like U.S. Chamber. In December of 2009, after StopTheChamber had issued a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the Chamber's CEO Tom Donohue, Fox "News" sprung to its defense --- after the Chamber had tipped them off, according to one of their reporters --- resulting in a front page FoxNews.com hit piece on VR, making the silly, but effective claim, that the Chamber was being "HUNTED BY THE LEFT" with a "Bounty Put on Head of Chamber Boss."
The result, as The BRAD BLOG detailed at the time, was an absolute deluge of extremely graphic and violent death threats and racist emails from Fox "News" readers sent to the non-profit, non-partisan progressive advocacy organization.
Terror Tools & Your Tax Dollars Used Against You
As I pointed out to Firedoglake's David Dayen, during an interview for a story he was doing about these revelations on Friday, the day I was unable to post to The BRAD BLOG, one of the most maddening aspects about all of this is that journalists and progressive citizens and organizations are being attacked by corporations usingour own tax dollars against us.
The U.S. Chamber is funded by its member corporations, the world's largest. Among those funders are AIG and Bank of America, both of whom received billions in tax-payer bailouts, as well as fossil-fuel companies such as ExxonMobile, the most profitable corporation in the history of civilization, who, nonetheless, continues to receive billions in tax-payer subsidies each and every year.
As organizations like VelvetRevolution.us and The BRAD BLOG beg for $5, $10 and $50 donations to stay afloat --- to report on and fight for things like the right to vote or a living wage for all U.S. citizens or for health care or a livable planet or to return competition to the public airwaves or for corporate and governmental accountability or against the absurd notion of "corporate personhood" or against the Chamber and their corporate cronies' control of virtually every aspect of American elections and democracy --- the Chamber musters millions, harvested from tax-payers, to discredit those same tax-payers with dishonest, thug-like, secret conspiracies of vengeance --- using their own tax dollars!
Worse, we now have evidence that they are enlisting, with the (at least passive) cooperation of the U.S. government, the very same tools that the U.S. government employs to supposedly fight terrorism around the world.
Doubt that? What "sold the Chamber to begin with," according to Berico's Patrick Ryan in one of the emails released by Anonymous, was "the Iranian shipping demo."
The demo, as published by Berico and Palantir on YouTube last November, demonstrates how they have developed software employed by the Dept. of Defense to map networks of organizations, individuals and companies via both classified and public source information, in order to create ties between them, and then use those ties to discredit or infiltrate.
Here's Palantir's "Iranian Shipping Demo" video...
...Note how the Palantir/Berico organizational mapping software described in the video, tracking shipments of weapons to terrorist organizations around the world, mirrors the web of connections used to show (if completely inaccurately) who my purported associates are in Palantir/Berico/HBGary's Team Themis Power Point presentation discussed at the beginning of this article --- the very presentation prepared by the three firms for the U.S. Chamber's law firm in hopes of securing the $2 million per month deal to attack me and other progressive advocates...
Your tax dollars at work. Fighting against terrorism. And you.
Corporate Immunity from the Rule of Law
Writing about Team Themis' Bank of America plot to discredit him, the one which almost identically mirrors the same group's proposed plot for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Glenn Greenwald, a Constitutional attorney in addition to now being a journalist and author, posits that the proposals, "quite possibly constitute serious crimes."
"Manufacturing and submitting fake documents with the intent they be published likely constitutes forgery and fraud," he says. "Threatening the careers of journalists and activists in order to force them to be silent is possibly extortion and, depending on the specific means to be used, constitutes other crimes as well."
But what, if anything, can or will be done by the U.S. Government for accountability against the use of such "possibly criminal" tactics used against American citizens by private corporations (fueled by tax payer dollars)?
As it was the Dept. of Justice themselves who are said to have recommended the firm Hunton & Williams to the Bank of America in their scheme to attack WikiLeaks, the DoJ would likely need to recuse themselves from any such criminal investigation. A Special Prosecutor would need to be assigned to the case, if the DoJ agreed. It seems unlikely that the Republican-led U.S. House Judiciary or Oversight Committees would be inclined to even hold hearings on a matter which would reflect so poorly on the corporations and top Rightwing lobbying group to whom they are so dearly beholden. That seems nearly as true even if it were Democrats who still held the majority. So it seems unlikely Congress would ask for a Special Prosecutor either. I'd love to be proven wrong.
A civil suit could possibly be brought by the individuals or organizations targeted in these schemes under a number of statutes that have been suggested to me over the weekend by a number of different sources.
Such a case, however, could also find itself bumping up against the U.S. Government if the Dept. of Justice decided to invoke the once-arcane, now-ubiquitous so-called "State Secrets Privilege", as used to entirely shut down cases said to potentially reveal national security secrets. More often than not, however, it's now invoked simply to avoid embarrassment to the U.S. Government and/or its favored associates. (SeeMarcy Wheeler's coverage last week of the government "declaring children's nosebleeds a state secret", not to mention the way it's been abused for years against national security whistleblowers such as former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds and many others.)
As you can see above, such a law suit, they might claim, could result in the exposure of tools and tactics, methods and means used in the so-called "War on Terror", as developed by Palantir, Berico and HBGary and contracted for use by the government to the tune of more than $6 million in the case of Palantir alone. Both Berico and HBGary also subsist off of enormous government contracts in the "War on Terror".
Still, the matter, at least from a civil angle, is being explored.
For now, the revelation of terror tools used so brazenly against political opponents in the private corporate sector is disturbing, to say the least. While the notion of paid political operatives subversively using social media to discredit opponents has long been suspected by many, here we have evidence that these tactics are, in truth, fairly common among those who can afford to deploy them. That commenter who always shows up to hijack a comment thread on a specific topic may very well be working for $250/hour.
Greenwald, as usual, cuts to the heart of the disturbing revelations:
Greenwald goes on to describe how the Dept. of Justice announced they'd bring full resources to bear against Anonymous after they'd briefly disrupted Paypal, MasterCard and Amazon's websites in retaliations for those organizations cutting off service to WikiLeaks, a media organization charged with no crimes whatsoever. Yet a "far more damaging and serious cyber-attack...launched at WikiLieaks" never brought a public peep from the very same DoJ in response.
He goes on to quote blogger John Cole's response to this mess thusly:
At this point, it's become quite difficuilt to dispute Cole's fatalistic sentiments.
Team Themis' "Corporate Information Reconnaissance Cell" proposal [PDF]submitted to Hunton & Williams last November offers this as its final thought in the "Conclusion" graf:
When things blow up, as they have, clients of Team Themis are now virtually guaranteed to get off scot-free from accountability by the DoJ or anyone else in the government, and perhaps even against those private citizens and organizations they were targeting. The U.S. Chamber, Bank of America and all of the thugs tied to their nefarious schemes knew that full well going on.
So yes, as Team Themis stated with confidence, "who better," indeed.