Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sock Puppet Planet: The Secret State's Quest for 'Persona Management Software'

Not since AT&T whistleblower Marc Klein's 2006 revelations that U.S. telecommunications giants were secretly collaborating with the government to spy on Americans, has a story driven home the point that we are confronted by a daunting set of invisible enemies: the security and intelligence firms constellating the dark skies of the National Security State.

As echoes from last month's disclosures by the cyber-guerrilla collective Anonymous continue to reverberate, leaked HBGary emails and documents are providing tantalizing insight into just how little daylight there is between private companies and the government.

The latest front in the ongoing war against civil liberties and privacy rights is the Pentagon's interest in "persona management software."

A euphemism for a suite of high-tech tools that equip an operative--military or corporate, take your pick--with multiple avatars or sock puppets, our latter day shadow warriors hope to achieve a leg up on their opponents in the "war of ideas" through stealthy propaganda campaigns rebranded as "information operations."

A Pervasive Surveillance State

The signs of a pervasive surveillance state are all around us. From the "persistent cookies" that track our every move across the internet to indexing dissidents already preemptively detained in public and private data bases: threats to our freedom to speak out without harassment, or worse, have never been greater.

As constitutional scholar Jack Balkin warned, the transformation of what was once a democratic republic based on the rule of law into a "National Surveillance State," feature "huge investments in electronic surveillance and various end runs around traditional Bill of Rights protections and expectations about procedure."

"These end runs," Balkin wrote, "included public private cooperation in surveillance and exchange of information, expansion of the state secrets doctrine, expansion of administrative warrants and national security letters, a system of preventive detention, expanded use of military prisons, extraordinary rendition to other countries, and aggressive interrogation techniques outside of those countenanced by the traditional laws of war."

Continuing the civil liberties' onslaught, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Barack Obama's "change" regime has issued new rules that "allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades."

The Journal points out that the administrative "revision" of long-standing rules and case law "marks another step back from [Obama's] pre-election criticism of unorthodox counterterror methods."

Also last week, The Raw Story revealed that the FBI has plans to "embark on a $1 billion biometrics project and construct an advanced biometrics facility to be shared with the Pentagon."

The Bureau's new biometrics center, part of which is already operating in Clarksburg, West Virginia, "will be based on a system constructed by defense contractor Lockheed Martin."

"Starting with fingerprints," The Raw Story disclosed, the center will function as "a global law enforcement database for the sharing of those biometric images." Once ramped-up "the system is slated to expand outward, eventually encompassing facial mapping and other advanced forms of computer-aided identification."

The transformation of the FBI into a political Department of Precrime is underscored by moves to gift state and local police agencies with electronic fingerprint scanners. Local cops would be "empowered to capture prints from any suspect, even if they haven't been arrested or convicted of a crime."

"In such a context," Stephen Graham cautions in Cities Under Siege, "Western security and military doctrine is being rapidly imagined in ways that dramatically blur the juridical and operational separation between policing, intelligence and the military; distinctions between war and peace; and those between local, national and global operations."

This precarious state of affairs, Graham avers, under conditions of global economic crisis in the so-called democratic West as well as along the periphery in what was once called the Third World, has meant that "wars and associated mobilizations ... become both boundless and more or less permanent."

Under such conditions, Dick Cheney's infamous statement that the "War on Terror" might last "decades" means, according to Graham, that "emerging security policies are founded on the profiling of individuals, places, behaviours, associations, and groups."

But to profile more effectively, whether in Cairo, Kabul, or New York, state security apparatchiks and their private partners find it necessary to squeeze ever more data from a surveillance system already glutted by an overabundance of "situational awareness."

"Last October," Secrecy News reported, "the DNI revealed that the FY2010 budget for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) was $53.1 billion. And the Secretary of Defense revealed that the FY2010 budget for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) was $27.0 billion, the first time the MIP budget had been disclosed, for an aggregate total intelligence budget of $80.1 billion for FY 2010."

This excludes of course, the CIA and Pentagon's black budget that hides a welter of top secret and above Special Access Programs under a dizzying array of code names and acronyms. In February, Wired disclosed that the black budget "appears to be about $56 billion, the same as last year," but this "may only be the tip of an iceberg of secret funds."

While the scandalous nature of such outlays during a period of intense economic and social attacks on the working class are obvious, less obvious are the means employed by the so-called "intelligence community" to defend an indefensible system of exploitation and corruption.

Which brings us back to the HBGary hack.

"Operation MetalGear"

While media have focused, rightly so, on the sleazy campaign proposed to Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by the high-powered law firm and lobby shop Hunton & Williams (H&W) to bring down WikiLeaks and tar Chamber critics, the treasure trove of emails leaked by Anonymous also revealed a host of Pentagon programs pointed directly at the heart of our freedom to communicate.

In fact, The Tech Herald revealed that while Palantir and Berico sought to distance themselves from HBGary and Hunton & William's private spy op, "in 2005, Palantir was one of countless startups funded by the CIA, thanks to their venture funding arm, In-Q-Tel."

"Most of In-Q-Tel's investments," journalist Steve Ragan wrote, "center on companies that specialize in automatic collection and processing of information."

In other words Palantir, and dozens of other security start-ups to the tune of $200 million since 1999, was a recipient of taxpayer-funded largess from the CIA's venture capitalist arm for products inherently "dual-use" in nature.

"Palantir Technologies," The Tech Herald revealed, was "the main workhorse when it comes to Team Themis' activities."

In proposals sent to H&W, a firm recommended to Bank of America by a Justice Department insider, "Team Themis said they would 'leverage their extensive knowledge of Palantir's development and data integration environments' allowing all of the data collected to be 'seamlessly integrated into the Palantir analysis framework to enhance link and artifact analysis'."

Following the sting of HBGary Federal and parent company HBGary, Anonymous disclosed on-going interest and contract bids between those firms, Booz Allen Hamilton and the U.S. Air Force to develop software that will allow cyber-warriors to create fake personas that help "manage" Pentagon interventions into social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

As Ragan points out, while the "idea for such technology isn't new," and that "reputation and persona management techniques have been used by the government and the private sector for years," what makes these disclosures uniquely disturbing are apparent plans by the secret state to use the software for propaganda campaigns that can just as easily target an American audience as one in a foreign country.

While neither HBGary nor Booz Allen secured those contracts, interest by HBGary Federal's disgraced former CEO Aaron Barr and others catering to the needs of the militarist state continue to drive development forward.

Dubbed "Operation MetalGear", Anonymous believes that the program "involves an army of fake cyber personalities immersed in social networking websites for the purposes of manipulating the mass population via influence, crawling information from major online communities (such as Facebook), and identifying anonymous personalities via correlating stored information from multiple sources to establish connections between separate online accounts, using this information to arrest dissidents and activists who work anonymously."

As readers recall, such tools were precisely what Aaron Barr boasted would help law enforcement officials take down Anonymous and identify WikiLeaks supporters.

According to a solicitation (RTB220610) found on the FedBizOpps.Gov web site, under the Orwellian tag "Freedom of Information Act Support," the Air Force is seeking software that "will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly [sic] consistent."

We're informed that "individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries."

Creepily, "personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user's situational awareness by displaying real-time local information."

Aiming for maximum opacity, the RFI demands that the licence "protects the identity of government agencies and enterprise organizations." An "enterprise organization" is a euphemism for a private contractor hired by the government to do its dirty work.

The proposal specifies that the licensed software will enable "organizations to manage their persistent online personas by assigning static IP addresses to each persona. Individuals can perform static impersonations, which allow them to look like the same person over time. Also allows organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization."

While Barr's premature boasting may have brought Team Themis to ground, one wonders how many other similar operations continue today under cover of the Defense Department's black budget.

Corporate Cut-Outs

Following up on last month's revelations, The Guardian disclosed that a "Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an 'online persona management service' that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world."

That firm, a shadowy Los Angeles-based outfit called Ntrepid is devoid of information on its corporate web site although a company profile avers that the firm "provides national security and law enforcement customers with software, hardware, and managed services for cyber operations, analytics, linguistics, and tagging & tracking."

According to Guardian reporters Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, Ntrepid was awarded a $2.76M contract by CENTCOM, which refused to disclose "whether the multiple persona project is already in operation or discuss any related contracts."

Blurring corporate lines of accountability even further, The Tech Herald revealed that Ntrepid may be nothing more than a "ghost corporation," a cut-out wholly owned and operated by Cubic Corporation.

A San Diego-based firm describing itself as "a global leader in defense and transportation systems and services" that "is emerging as an international supplier of smart cards and RFID solutions," Cubic clocks in at No. 75 on Washington Technology's list of 2010 Top Government Contractors.

Founded by Walter J. Zable, the firm's Chairman of the Board and CEO, Cubic has been described as one of the oldest and largest defense electronics firms on the West Coast.

Chock-a-block with high-level connections to right-wing Republicans including Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter and Dan Coates, during the 2010 election cycle Cubic officers donated some $90,000 to Republican candidates, including $25,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and some $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics'

With some $1 billion in 2009 revenue largely derived from the Defense Department, the company's "Cyber Solutions" division "provides specialized cyber security products and solutions for defense, intelligence and homeland security customers."

The RFI for the Air Force disclosed by Anonymous Ragan reports, "was written for Anonymizer, a company acquired in 2008 by intelligence contractor Abraxas Corporation. The reasoning is that they had existing persona management software and abilities."

In turn, Abraxas was purchased by Cubic in 2010 for $124 million, an acquisition which Washington Technology described as one of the "best intelligence-related" deals of the year.

As The Tech Herald revealed, "some of the top talent at Anonymizer, who later went to Abraxas, left the Cubic umbrella to start another intelligence firm. They are now listed as organizational leaders for Ntrepid, the ultimate winner of the $2.7 million dollar government contract."

Speculation is now rife that since "Ntrepid's corporate registry lists Abraxas' previous CEO and founder, Richard Helms, as the director and officer, along with Wesley Husted, the former CFO, who is an Ntrepid officer as well," the new firm may be little more than an under-the-radar front for Cubic.

Amongst the Security Services offered by the firm we learn that "Cubic subsidiaries are working individually and in concert to develop a wide range of security solutions" that include: "C4ISR data links for homeland security intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions;" a Cubic Virtual Analysis Center which promises to deliver "superior situational awareness to decision makers in government, industry and nonprofit organizations," human behavior pattern analysis, and other areas lusted after by securocrats.

The Guardian informs us that the "multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces."

"Since then," Fielding and Cobain wrote, "OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East."

While CENTCOM's then-commander, General David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that the program was designed to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda," in light of HBGary revelations, one must ask whether firms involved in the dirty tricks campaign against WikiLeaks have deployed versions of "persona management software" against domestic opponents.

While we cannot say with certainty this is the case, mission creep from other "War on Terror" fronts, notably ongoing NSA warrantless wiretapping programs and Defense Department spy ops against antiwar activists, also involving "public-private partnerships" amongst security firms and the secret state, should give pause.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In Blow to Press Freedom, Justice Department Moves to Seize WikiLeaks Twitter Accounts

In a new blow to press freedom and internet users' privacy rights here in the heimat, Obama's Justice Department won a significant victory on Friday.

As part of the secret state's campaign against whistleblowers and transparency advocates, U.S. Magistrate Theresa Buchanan granted federal prosecutors access to WikiLeaks-related Twitter accounts.

The 20-page ruling, issued in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, upheld government demands that it be allowed to seize the Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks supporters Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a leftist member of the Icelandic parliament, computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp, the cofounder of the Dutch ISP XS4All.

Jónsdóttir was specifically targeted for her role in helping WikiLeaks release the Collateral Murder video last year that exposed the wanton slaughter of a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including two Reuters photojournalists, by a U.S. military Apache helicopter crew. Two children were also seriously wounded in the unprovoked attack.

The ruling also grants access to the Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, the imprisoned and tortured Army private indicted for "aiding the enemy" over his alleged leak of incriminating documents that disclosed state crimes, charges which carry a potential death penalty.

Meanwhile, the cyber-guerrilla collective Anonymous, responsible for the HBGary hack that revealed plans by the Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to target WikiLeaks and Chamber opponents, "has promised to avenge Manning, and wage a media war with the U.S. military," The Tech Herald reports.

Buchanan's ruling ordered that the micro-blogging site cough-up information to the government about what internet and email addresses are associated with the whistleblowers, as part of an "ongoing investigation" by a federal grand jury believed to be seeking criminal charges against WikiLeaks supporters.

The judge rejected arguments by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and private attorneys representing the account holders, dismissing claims that there were First Amendment issues involved because the activists "have already made their Twitter posts and associations publicly available."

In dismissing privacy concerns, Buchanan also ruled that the account holders had "no Fourth Amendment privacy interest in their IP addresses," and that federal privacy law did not apply because prosecutors were not seeking the contents of the communications themselves, a spurious argument.

Denouncing the ruling, EFF noted in a press release that "secret government demands for information about the subscribers' communications came to light only because Twitter took steps to ensure their customers were notified and had the opportunity to respond."

The ACLU and EFF are also seeking from the court similar orders issued by the Obama administration to other companies, widely reported to include Google and Facebook.

When the story first broke, WikiLeaks demanded that Google and Facebook reveal the contents of subpoenas they may have received from the government. However both multibillion firms, chock-a-block with contracts from the secret state as disclosed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have refused all comment, leading critics to assume they have already complied with orders to hand over the data.

The ACLU's Aden Fine, a staff attorney with the group's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project said that Buchanan's ruling "gives the government the ability to secretly amass private information related to individuals' Internet communications." Decrying the judge's order, Fine commented: "If this ruling stands, our client may be prevented from challenging the government's requests to other companies because she might never know if and how many other companies have been ordered to turn over information about her."

EFF's Legal Director Cindy Cohn added, "with so much of our digital private information being held by third parties--whether in the cloud or on social networking sites like Twitter--the government can track your every move and statement without you ever having a chance to protect yourself."

Underscoring Cohn's point, EFF revealed back in August that "a number of documents from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) highlighted the government's ability to scour not only social networks, but record each and every corner of the Internet."

Both privacy watchdog groups plan to appeal the ruling.

As Antifascist Calling reported last month, the secret state began a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange last July after the secret-spilling web site began releasing a mountain of classified files on the imperialist Empire's criminal invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

That probe was accelerated after WikiLeaks Cablegate revelations began last November and the group threatened to release compromising files on a "major American bank," believed to be the Bank of America.

While WikiLeaks hasn't followed up, Zero Hedge reported Friday that Anonymous "is claiming to be have emails and documents which prove 'fraud' was committed by Bank of America employees, and the group says it'll release them on Monday."

CNET News noted that "Buchanan's order isn't a traditional subpoena. Rather, it's what's known as a 2703(d) order, which allows police to obtain certain records from a Web site or Internet provider if they are 'relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation'."

Investigative journalist Declan McCullagh reports that a 2703(d) order "is broad" and covers "connection records, or records of session times and durations," and "records of user activity for any connections made to or from the account," including internet addresses used.

In other words, the order covers "all records" and "correspondence" relating to the accounts and is also "broad enough to sweep in the content of messages such as direct messages sent through Twitter or tweets from a nonpublic account."

According to EFF's Cindy Cohn, the Justice Department narrowed their request "to avoid asking for content" so as to avoid a federal appeals court decision that a "a 2703(d) order is insufficient for content data and a search warrant is necessary." Cohn told CNET "it sure seemed like the order sought" to sweep up message content as well.

Cohn told Bloomberg News even though Buchanan's order didn't involve content, "the judge downplayed what can be learned from non-content information that we give to third-parties all the time."

In February, San Francisco-based attorney John Keker who represents Jacob Appelbaum, argued in court that "it is incredibly powerful to know who the opposition is and who they're working with," and that turning over such information to a grand jury would violate Fourth Amendment guarantees against warrantless searches and seizures by the national security state.

For their part, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Davis argued in court that the government's request was "routine."

Davis told the court, "this is a standard--as this court knows well--investigative measure used in criminal investigations every day of the year all over the country."

As the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers escalates, prosecutions and threats of the same have focused journalists and corporate watchdogs in their gunsights.

Secrecy News disclosed last week that former National Security Agency official Thomas A. Drake, charged last year "with unauthorized retention of classified information about controversial NSA programs, should not be allowed to argue in court that overclassification is widespread or that he was engaged in whistleblowing in the public interest."

According to federal prosecutors, while "the defendant may claim that the current classification system is ineffectual or illegal and prevents his ability to air allegations of waste, fraud and abuse to the attention of the public," the secret state is arguing that such concerns are "irrelevant." Illegal or not, the defendant's "obligation" was to "protect classified information."

This from an administration that claimed one of its "top priorities" would be to "Protect Whistleblowers"!

As Salon's Glenn Greenwald pointed out last year: "Most of what our Government does of any real significance happens in the dark."

"Whistleblowers are one of the very few avenues we have left for learning about any of that," Greenwald wrote. "And politicians eager to preserve their own power and ability to operate in secret--such as Barack Obama--see whistleblowers as their Top Enemy."

"Hence," the Salon columnist informed us, "we have a series of aggressive prosecutions from the Obama administration of Bush era exposures of abuse and illegality--acts that flagrantly violate Obama's Look Forward, Not Backward decree used to protect high-level Bush administration criminals." And, I might add, "high-level criminals" within his own administration.

As the World Socialist Web Site pointed out last month, "the aim" of the Obama administration "is not only to extract revenge for WikiLeaks having published thousands of US Embassy cables detailing Washington's involvement in spying, torture and assassinations. It is also intended as a warning to any individual or group that tries to expose the dirty reality of imperialist diplomacy."

With any semblance of public accountability, let alone justice, closed off by America's capitalist elites, in and outside of government, whistleblowing web sites like WikiLeaks, Public Intelligence, Cryptome and Anonymous, may very well be the last line of defense we have for exposing state crimes against what little remains of our democracy.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"The WikiLeaks Threat" and Other Tales from the Dark Side

It all began with news that WikiLeaks would soon shine a spotlight on the thieves dominating the global financial sector, those self-styled "masters of the universe" reigning over capitalism's Borg hive.

Scant months later, as a result of hubris and egomaniacal greed, an enormous window was smashed open and a sharp, merciless light flooded the dark recesses of the dirty world of corporate spying.

Last November, Julian Assange told Forbes that WikiLeaks next target would be a "major American bank."

"It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume," Assange informed journalist Andy Greenberg. "For this, there's only one similar example. It's like the Enron emails."

This was no idle threat. Back in January, Swiss whistleblower Rudolf Elmer, a former executive with Switzerland's Bank Julius Baer turned over two CDs to Assange at a London press conference.

WikiLeaks first brush with notoriety, readers will recall, came in 2008 when a federal district court judge in San Francisco first clamped down and then rescinded an order that would have shuttered the web site over their release of highly-compromising internal Baer documents; files which revealed secret trust structures used for asset hiding, money laundering and tax evasion.

The next Baer disclosures are reportedly chock-a-block with new information on tax dodges by "about 40 politicians along with business people, multinational conglomerates and figures from the art world," leaks which The Independent claims could spark a major international scandal.

Elmer, once Baer's man in the British-controlled corporatist paradise, handed Assange information that purportedly included "all the back-up data held on Julius Baer's computer server in the Caymans at the time he was sacked, including accounts, correspondence, memos and resolutions dealing with 114 trusts, 80 companies, 60 funds and 1,330 individuals," according to The Guardian.

It was enough to get Bank of America executives to break out in a cold sweat. After all, Assange told Forbes that WikiLeaks has the hard drive of a bank official loaded with some 5 gigabytes, or 200,000 pages of text, disclosures that would "take down" a major American bank and reveal a pervasive "ecosystem of corruption."

Better break out the biohazard suits!

Shortly after the Forbes interview, The New York Times reported that a high-level conference call amongst key executives, led by BofA's chief risk officer, Bruce R. Thompson, brain-stormed what damaging information might lay buried in the dark silicon brain of that missing hard drive, and concluded that the bank's "counterespionage work was only just beginning."

In full crisis mode, BofA brought in the ultra-spooky consulting firm and private spy shop Booz Allen Hamilton, former National Intelligence oberführer Mike McConnell's current haunt along with the high-powered law firm and lobby shop Hunton & Williams (H&W).

Clocking in at No. 9 on Washington Technology's 2010 list of "Top 100 Government Contractors," Booz Allen raked-in some $3.3 billion last year from various defense and intelligence agencies across the secret state.

Reporting for CorpWatch, investigative journalist Tim Shorrock informs us that "among the many services Booz Allen provides to intelligence agencies ... are wargaming ... as well as data-mining and data analysis, signals intelligence systems engineering (an NSA specialty), intelligence analysis and operations support, the design and analysis of cryptographic or code-breaking systems (another NSA specialty), and 'outsourcing/privatization strategy and planning'."

For their part, Hunton & Williams have long been connected with lobbying for right-wing causes and corporate clients (two terms entirely synonymous) in the banking and energy sectors. The Center for Responsive Politics' web site reports that anti-union stalwarts, far-right Koch Industries, paid the firm some $160,000 last year for lobbying and other unspecified "services."

Other clients, according to OpenSecrets and SourceWatch, include Acxiom Corporation, American Electric Power, the climate change-denying Americans for Affordable Climate Policy, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Duke Energy, Entergy Corporation, Gas Processors Association (the friendly "fracking" people!), General Dynamics, MasterCard, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Southern Company, Wells Fargo and many, many more!

According to published reports, in early December H&W's go-to guy, John W. Woods, held a meeting with BofA's management team touting the firm's expertise--and connections to the White House and Congress--in hopes of convincing the bank to retain them for their internal probe of WikiLeaks.

It didn't help matters in the "perception management" department when word leaked out that the bank had begun buying up web addresses and domain names that might prove embarrassing should disclosures bring forth those proverbial "smoking guns."

So BofA crisis managers did what they do best when faced with similar sticky situations: they turned to the "experts" and outsourced.

In turn, Booz Allen and H&W also did what they do best: they subcontracted out the dirty tricks portfolio to security grifters meant to do the heavy-lifting they believed would provide that indispensable element of "plausible deniability" lusted after by capitalist thugs and governments everywhere.

Unfortunately for the principals, that high-speed corporate spy train was about to make an unannounced stop.

Anatomy of an "Information Op"

Last month The Tech Herald revealed that private security firms HBGary Federal (currently offline), HBGary, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies were contacted by Hunton & Williams and called upon to "develop a strategic plan of attack against Wikileaks."

We learned that H&W "would act as outside counsel on retainer, while Palantir would take care of network and insider threat investigations. For their part, Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal would analyze WikiLeaks," The Tech Herald reported.

According to journalist Steve Ragan, that campaign was to have included a dirty tricks operation targeting critical journalists, including Salon's Glenn Greenwald, WikiLeaks supporters, their families and the group itself through "cyber attacks, disinformation, and other potential proactive tactics."

It seemed like a smart bet at the time. After all, HBGary Federal sold themselves as "experts in threat intelligence and open source analysis" with a focus on "Information Operations (INFOOPS); influence operations, social media exploitation, new media development."

Palantir claimed their security "products" are "broadly deployed throughout the National intelligence and defense communities" as well as "Fortune 50 companies focused on cybersecurity, counter-fraud and insider threat investigations."

Palantir's Government division even bragged that they deliver "the only platform that can be used at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels within the US Intelligence, Defense, and Law Enforcement Communities," and that they can draw "in any type of data, such as unstructured message traffic, structured identity data, link charts, spreadsheets, SIGINT, ELINT, IMINT and documents."

Playing second fiddle to none, Berico told prospective clients that "we are trusted advisors in the areas of technology integration, high-end consulting, cyberspace operations, and intelligence analysis for specialized units and agencies throughout the intelligence community (IC)."

As a dark world denizen of the Pentagon Berico had partnered-up with SAIC and--guess who!--Booz Allen, "winning" a five year, $130 million contract with the Army Intelligence Campaign Initiatives Group (AI-CAG).

According to Berico publicists we learned that the firm "will assist the AI-CIG government program office in producing and developing strategies, concepts, architectures, road maps, and analyses regarding integration of existing and future ISR programs, as well as support to the Army's Intelligence mission."

Meanwhile, a second covert op, also brokered by H&W and using the same players was being stitched-up on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

ThinkProgress investigative journalist Lee Fang revealed that sordid corporate campaign sought to undermine Chamber critics through the production and selective leaking of false documents that could then be called out as fabrications.

Fang reported that "the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams" and the above-named security outfits "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"

"The security firms," Fang wrote, "hoped to obtain $200,000 for initial background research, then charge up to $2 million for a larger disinformation campaign against progressives."

Rounding out what appears to be part of a larger "public-private partnership" targeting corporate and government critics, The Tech Herald learned that the H&W team "were recommended to Bank of America's general counsel by the Department of Justice," and that the firm was "using the meeting to pitch Bank of America on retaining them for an internal investigation surrounding WikiLeaks."

On paper it seemed like a slam dunk.

Anonymous Enters the Frame

Published reports, notably those of Ars Technica journalist Nate Anderson, have since revealed that Aaron Barr, HBGary Federal's CEO claimed he could exploit social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and IRC and "easily" gather information about WikiLeaks and their supporters which could then be used to "take down" the organization.

But when Barr boasted to the Financial Times that he had penetrated the cyber-guerrilla collective Anonymous, the group that launched distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and other firms which cut-off funds to WikiLeaks after Cablegate revelations, claiming "he had collected information on the core leaders, including many of their real names, and that they could be arrested if law enforcement had the same data," it was a boast too far.

Shortly thereafter, the masked cyber-marauders wrote: "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."

In a stunning coup, Anonymous had penetrated HBGary Federal and parent company HBGary's "secure" servers, seizing a treasure trove of more than 70,000 internal emails and other documents, then posted them on the internet along with a search engine.

It didn't help win hearts and minds when Forbes' Andy Greenberg reported that "the head of one of those firms also suggested going after the thousands of individuals who have donated to the group."

"A quick search of the company's WikiLeaks-related conversations," Forbes reports, "shows that Aaron Barr, the HBGary chief executive who first caught the attention of Anonymous by boasting that he'd penetrated the group and identified its leaders, also suggested other tactics against WikiLeaks ... namely, tracking and intimidating anyone who had given money to WikiLeaks."

Another in a long line of "smartest guys in the room," Barr averred that "the security firms 'need to get people to understand that if they support the organization we will come after them. Transaction records are easily identifiable'."

While BofA has sought to distance the bank from the project and Hunton & Williams have refused to comment, leaked emails paint a damning picture indeed.

In early December, John Woods wrote executives at HBGary, Berico and Palantir that "Richard [Wyatt, another H&W partner] and I am meeting with senior executives at a large US Bank tomorrow regarding Wikileaks. We want to sell this team as part of what we are talking about. I need a favor. I need five to six slides on Wikileaks--who they are, how they operate and how this group may help this bank. Please advise if you can help get me something ASAP. My call is at noon."

Barr replied, "Sure thing. I will work on it tonight. Sam?"

Eli Bingham, a top Palantir executive chimed in, "Fine by me."

A day later, Palantir code monkey Matthew Steckman wrote that Woods and other principles should review the attached WikiLeaks slide deck.

That now-infamous PowerPoint presentation appearing under the Palantir logo, titled "The WikiLeaks Threat," was rushed into production by the firms' self-styled "Themis Group," named after the Greek Titan who embodied divine order, law and custom. Lacking imagination, it was suspiciously similar to a 2008 Pentagon proposal to destroy WikiLeaks.

• Feed the fuel between the feuding groups. Disinformation. Create messages around actions of sabotage or discredit the opposing organizations. Submit fake documents and then call out the error.

• Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed not to 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.

• Media campaign to push the radial [sic] and reckless nature of WikiLeaks activities. Sustain pressure. Does nothing for the fanatics, but creates concern and doubt among moderates.

• Search for leaks. Use social media to profile and identify risky behavior of employees. (The WikiLeaks Threat: An Overview by Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies, December 2, 2010)

In their presentation, Themis Group luminaries averred that "this threat requires advanced subject matter expertise in cybersecurity, insider threats, counter cyber-­fraud, targeting analysis, [and] social media exploitation."

Lusting mightily after a contract they believed could be worth millions, not to mention media publicity that just might land them future deals with the secret state, they claimed that "Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies represent deep domain knowledge in each of these areas."

"If the deal came through," Ars Technica reported, it would put HBGary Federal in a "healthy position." The Themis Group then "decided to ask for $2 million per month, for six months, for the first phase of the project, putting $500,000 to $700,000 per month in HBGary Federal's pocket."

On a parallel track, in late January Barr wrote Woods that he was "doing research on the anonymous group for a security presentation I am giving next month and have collected information that identified the organization operations and communications infrastructure as well as key players by name. I don't think anyone else has this data. ... I thought you might be interested to hear this given the other opportunity we discussed."

Woods replied: "I have a client that may be interested. Pursuant to a mandate from my client, we are working through Booz Allen on this type of activity. You should expect a call from Bill Wansley at Booz shortly."

With plans (apparently) moving forward, Barr contacted William J. Wansley, a Senior Vice President with Booz Allen Hamilton January 28 on what he claimed were alleged links between Anonymous and WikiLeaks he had scraped from Facebook, Twitter and IRC. For his part, Wansley had written Barr informing him of the upcoming meeting at Booz Allen "to discuss how you may be able to support our project."

In a February 5 email to Woods, Barr, ever the publicity whore, cited the Financial Times piece writing, "I have made significant progress on the group and have 80-90% of their leadership mapped out. Meeting with Govies next week. I have tight few weeks and have told the folks supporting our other effort that I will not be able to give them much support until my presentation is over on Feb. 14th. Sorry for the timing."

Woods replied, "Good luck with the government. We look forward to seeing the [Anonymous] paper when it is published."

Nuclear Fallout

While they're now running for cover, Greg Hoglund and Penny Leavy, the husband and wife duo at the helm of parent company HBGary, wrote that Barr's disclosures would demonstrate how "HBGary Federal flexes private intelligence muscle:"

HBGary Federal, the specialized and classified services arm of HBGary, flexes it's muscle today by revealing the identities of all the top management within the group Anonymous, the group behind the DDOS attacks associated with Wikileaks. HBGary Federal constructed and maintained multiple digital identities and penetrated the trust upper management of Anonymous, and was subsequently able to learn actual identities of the primary management team. This information was critical for law enforcement, yet all the intelligence work was done without law enforcement or government involvement. Only after achieving the mission did Aaron Barr, the CEO of HBGary Federal, reveal this information to the Feds. This underscores the need for new blood in the intelligence community and the abilities of small agile teams that are unhindered by the bureaucratic machine. (Greg Hoglund to Aaron Barr, "Re: story is really taking shape," Friday, February 4, 2011)

One might also add, any public oversight over out-of-control private and public surveillance machines.

Underscoring that point, Secrecy News reported that the Obama regime refuses "to rescind certain classified legal opinions issued by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that asserted legal justifications for the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program," claiming that "the review process" is "ongoing," and likely to continue indefinitely.

Barr's "muscle flexing" presentation wasn't meant to be. Even as he boasted that he had "mapped out" Anonymous and was planning on meeting with "Govies next week," in reality it was Anonymous who had brought their own unique cartographic skills to bear in exposing BofA's dirty little WikiLeaks project!

Weeks later, HBGary Federal crashed and burned and Aaron Barr has since resigned. Barr told ThreatPost he needed to "focus on taking care of my family and rebuilding my reputation."

For their part, HBGary's Hoglund and Leavy have been reduced to pleading with Anonymous that their corporate and personal emails remain private. And given the brisk business between HBGary and secret state agencies such as the CIA and the National Security Agency, one can see why they'd want to quietly melt back into the shadows. Good luck with that!

Meanwhile across the icy Potomac, Forbes reported that three Hunton & Williams partners, John Woods, Richard Wyatt Jr. and Robert Quackenboss, will soon be answering charges filed last month with the Washington, D.C. Bar Association that could lead to their disbarment.

According to the complaint filed by attorney Kevin Zeese on behalf of his clients and, the trio are charged with soliciting illegal acts that include domestic spying, cyber stalking, spear phishing, cyber attacks, and theft in furtherance of the Themis Group's black op.

Proving the old adage that the best defense is a good offense, Anonymous was at it again, taking down two web sites, Americans for Prosperity and Northern Quilt, connected to far-right puppetmasters, billionaires David and Charles Koch.

Last Sunday, Anonymous declared war on the Koch brothers for their support of Wisconsin governor, and Koch sock puppet Scott Walker, for his unconscionable attacks on the wages and workplace rights of public employees and workers everywhere.

In a statement dubbed OpWisconsin, Anonymous wrote: "It has come to our attention that the brothers, David and Charles Koch--the billionaire owners of Koch Industries--have long attempted to usurp American Democracy. Their actions to undermine the legitimate political process in Wisconsin are the final straw. Starting today we fight back."

The group accuses the brothers Koch of stitching-up a plan, in the interest of fighting "deficits" mind you, that would hand them a monopoly over Wisconsin utilities; a "privatization" at fire sale prices.

"Koch Industries, and oligarchs like them," declared Anonymous, "have most recently started to manipulate the political agenda in Wisconsin. Governor Walker's union-busting budget plan contains a clause that went nearly unnoticed. This clause would allow the sale of publicly owned utility plants in Wisconsin to private parties (specifically, Koch Industries) at any price, no matter how low, without a public bidding process. The Koch's have helped to fuel the unrest in Wisconsin and the drive behind the bill to eliminate the collective bargaining power of unions in a bid to gain a monopoly over the state's power supplies."

"Anonymous hears the voice of the downtrodden American people," the cyber-guerrillas proclaimed, "whose rights and liberties are being systematically removed one by one, even when their own government refuses to listen or worse--is complicit in these attacks."

In what could be a preview of a new virtual offensive against vicious capitalists and their political bagmen here in the heimat, Anonymous threw down the gauntlet and declared--as BofA, the Chamber of Commerce and Themis Group thugs learned to their dismay: "We are actively seeking vulnerabilities."

It seems there's quite a few people out there besides Assange who enjoy "crushing bastards"!