HBGary vs. Anonymous: The Ethics of Outsourced Espionage against Public Citizens

Anonymous

I'm very concerned about the corporate malfeasance and possible government complicity revealed in the 75,000+ leaked #HBGary emails. First of all, I have to say it's rather pathetic that these guys considered themselves an elite private security company, when they had such poor practices securing their own website and servers, and couldn't even restrain their own executive from vigorously prodding a ginormous hacking collective. Reading this article helped me understand how #Anonymous penetrated the defenses of a company which had been (previously) esteemed enough to be contracted by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. So they did it all for the Lulz. But seriously, why would you go and vigorously prod a hive like that? I'm not rooting for the illegal act of cracking (on that basis alone), but if I saw someone directly threaten a large group of Hells Angels, I wouldn't be surprised if he got his butt whooped. Very stupid. So then all these emails are lying about, and a cursory glance yields mounds and mounds of diabolical scheming between Bank of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a lobbyist firm called Hunton & Williams (which also has connections with Koch Industries, amongst other highly-compensated clients). Mind you, BoA and CoC were referred to these "security" agencies via the Department of Justice, in order to combat the mightiest threat (greatest leveler) the world has ever faced: #Wikileaks (and all the various spinoffs that are forked each time an information authoritarian shoots the messenger only to find the message bit-torrented). And what exactly is in the proposal that "Team Themis", composed of HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies, and Berico Technologies, was aiming to pitch Bank of America, the recipients of billions in TARP taxpayer bailout funds for having mismanaged all our usuriously obtained fees and fraudulently foreclosed upon homes, to combat the Great Evil of Wikileaks? Why, to intimidate journalist Glenn Greenwald and other defenders of the whistleblowers, conducting a COINTELPRO-like campaign to discredit the veracity of leaked documents. Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a rightwing lobbyist organization which has assiduously championed pretty much everything that's bad for the American public, apparently would be willing to spend $2 million a month to Team Themis for similar smear services against progressive and labor organizations, journalists, and citizen activists that threaten CoC's agenda, such as ThinkProgress, StopTheChamber, U.S. Chamber Watch, Public Citizen, MoveOn, and the SEIU. What the #HBGary leak has taught me is that even citizen activists such as myself are potentially vulnerable to infiltration, sabotage, propaganda, and disinformation. They used questionable tactics such as "scraping", where profile data from FaceBook or LinkedIn is automatically collected and analyzed. Such mining is explicitly against Facebook's and other services' policies, but that obviously didn't hinder anyone in "Team Themis" from conducting such "unauthorized research" without a whit of ethical remorse. Ironically, a lot of the data they were collecting seemed to be rather, ahem, inaccurate, thereby raising the specter of unjust guilt-by-association, and wild goose chases. They were even creating fake personas with which to infiltrate groups and betray confidences. In one email, Aaron Barr, apparently the chief architect of the social media Witchhunt/FUD schema, wrote of a discussion with a former client about this idea, presumably one who worked in US Intelligence:

"The conversation was very interesting today. The admit they had no idea this was happening until it hit the streets. They have no idea how to manage things like this in the future. And the agree they are not capable of doing the right activities (like I did) to be better prepared in the future because of authority and policy restrictions."

Yeah. Policy restrictions. Like the Constitution. I enjoy Glenn Greenwald's chastisement of Hunton & Williams, the DoJ-referred legal firm at the center of this disturbing triangle between corporate money, ethically questionable engineering, and our government's non-existent protection of our First Amendment Freedom of Speech:

"For a lawyer to be at the center of an odious and quite possibly illegal scheme to target progressive activists and their families, threaten the careers of journalists as a means of silencing them, and fabricate forged documents intended for public consumption — and then steadfastly refuse to comment — is just inexcusable. Perhaps some polite email and telephone encouragement from the public is needed for Woods to account for what he and his firm have done. In exchange for the privileges lawyers receive (including the exclusive right to furnish legal advice, represent others, and act as officers of the court), members of the Bar have particular ethical obligations to the public. At the very least, the spirit — if not the letter — of those obligations is being seriously breached by a lawyer who appears to be at the center of these kinds of pernicious, lawless plots and then refuses to account to the public for what he did."

Folks, we have a problem. The US Government outsources its intelligence work to incompetent and unethical actors. Then, when the inevitable leaks gush about all the illicit happenings being perpetrated, our Department of Justice refers corporations who are also threatened by said leakage to third parties, perhaps to avoid the taint of COINTELPRO-ness. What do you think is the likelihood of the DoJ investigating the malfeasance resulting from such a referral?

Comments

The likelihood of investigation/prosecution

Thanks, aigeantal, for a well considered and interesting post. I have the same concerns that you voiced.

And while I am encouraged that good actors like Greenwald and others are now on this case, that they found out about these proposed campaigns before they happened, and I am fascinated by the twists and turns of this story, when all is said and done, and even if major crimes are exposed, I have no faith that the Dept of Justice will do anything about it. The reason I have no faith is based on their past history.

HBGary is already paying a price for this in that their business is toast. Even if they weren’t proposing and working on slimy and probably illegal schemes, how could anyone justify hiring a security firm that allowed themselves to be so thoroughly hacked?

But it would be foolish to think that there are not many, many other actors who will walk away from this with no repercussions.

Lastly, it still amazes me to what lengths the govt and other operatives will go to shut down relatively small players. It reminds me of the time they were spying on a Quaker group in Florida. It’s insanity.

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A prophet on the burning shore