Leaked emails have revealed a plot by private internet security firms to bring down WikiLeaks. The plot was allegedly created on behalf of the Bank of America — the largest bank in the US.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange has said Bank of America will be the subject of future leaks.
Computer-hacker group Anonymous revealed the plot after stealing 50,000 internal emails from internet security company HBGary Federal.
The hackers attacked the HBGary Federal website after executive Aaron Barr boasted to the media that the company was working to expose members of WikiLeaks, The New York Times said on February 11.
Anonymous supported WikiLeaks in December by shutting down the websites of Visa, Mastercard and PayPal after those companies cut off WikiLeaks’ ability to raise funds via their services.
The emails included a report commissioned by law firm Hunton & Williams, apparently on behalf of Bank of America, Thetechherald.com said on February 7.
The report, titled The WikiLeaks Threat, detailed a broad plan on how three internet security companies — HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies — could bring down WikiLeaks.
The report named the companies “Team Themis”.
The report suggested a number of tactics. These included giving fake documents to WikiLeaks and then attacking their credibility when they were published, fuelling internal feuds within WikiLeaks and manufacturing concern over the security of the site.
It also advised launching cyber attacks on the WikiLeaks site to steal data on sources of information and a “media campaign to push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities”.
The report also contains a chart of people, including journalists and WikiLeaks supporters, whose careers could be threatened to scare them into silence.
“These are established professionals that have a liberal bent,” the report said, “but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals”.
On February 14, Wired.com reported an email from Barr saying that Team Themis, “[a]lso need to get people to understand that if they support the organization we will come after them. [Financial] transaction records are easily identifiable.”
The report also speculates on alleged weaknesses of WikiLeaks: “There is a fracture among the followers because of a belief that Julien [sic] is going astray from the cause and has selected his own mission of attacking the US.
“Despite the publicity, WikiLeaks is NOT in a healthy position right now. Their weakness are causing great stress in the organization which can be capitalized on.”
The emails also show Team Themis was preparing to discredit activist groups campaigning against the US Chamber of Commerce, Salon.com said on February 15.
Bank of America and the US Chamber of Commerce have denied any involvement with the plans, Wired.com said. However, their lawyers, Hunton & Williams, have refused to comment on the matter.
Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies tried to place the blame on HBGary Federal by claiming to have no knowledge of the sinister aspects of the plan.
However, they were quickly exposed when leaked emails between Barr and a Palantir employee showed discussions about targeting outspoken journalist Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com said on February 15.
The report also contained Palantir’s logo on each page.
Palantir and Berico have since broken ties with HBGary Federal, Salon.com said.
Penny Leavy, president of HBGary, an affiliate to HBGary Federal, said that the actions of Anonymous were “criminal”.
“Anonymous should be regarded as the criminal group it is,” Leavy told the British Guardian on February 15. “They have shown that they will go after security companies and anyone who works with the government.”
These companies, along with Hunton & Williams, have deep connections with the US government and the US’s largest corporations.
Salon.com said on February 11: “Hunton & Williams was recommended to Bank of America’s General Counsel by the Justice Department — meaning the U.S. Government is aiding Bank of America in its … attacks on WikiLeaks.”
Greenwald, who has campaigned for the alleged leaker of the WikiLeaks cables, Bradley Manning, said of being targeted: “My initial reaction to all of this was to scoff at its absurdity …
“But after learning a lot more over the last couple of days, I now take this more seriously — not in terms of my involvement but the broader implications this story highlights.
“The real issue highlighted by this episode is just how lawless and unrestrained is the unified axis of government and corporate power.”
John Cole at Balloon-juice.com said on February 11: “One thing that even the dim bulbs in the media should understand by now is that there is in fact a class war going on, and it is the rich and powerful who are waging it.
“Anyone who does anything that empowers the little people or that threatens the wealth and power of the plutocracy must be destroyed.
“There is a reason they are targeting wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald … You have to understand the mindset — they are playing for keeps.”
This plot comes as the US government attempts to find evidence that WikiLeaks encouraged or helped with the theft of secret documents.
Civil liberties groups have challenged a US government subpoena of social networking site Twitter to force the site to hand over account information from people associated with WikiLeaks.
Information is being sought from the accounts of Assange and Manning, among others, the Washington Post said on February 15.
Others whose accounts are under subpoena are Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, and WikiLeaks volunteers Jacob Applebaum and Rop Gonggrijp, the February 17 Age said.
They are alleged to have taken part in preparing the leaked “Collateral Murder” video for release, which featured US soldiers in a helicopter slaughtering unarmed civilians and journalists in Iraq.
The US government is also demanding Twitter “disclose the names, dates and locations of all persons who have used its services to receive messages from WikiLeaks or Mr. Assange”, the February 15 Australian said.
The Australian said Assange slammed the orders against Twitter, saying: “This is an outrageous attack by the Obama administration on the privacy and free speech rights of Twitter's customers.”
A lawyer representing one of the Twitter clients said in court that giving the government access to the accounts would essentially end free speech online, by allowing the government to trace all those connected with WikiLeaks, the Post said.
Assange has also said the Australian government is helping the US investigate Australians involved with WikiLeaks. He told Dateline on February 13: “There is assistance being afforded to the United States, and that is something that really needs to come out.
“[PM Julia] Gillard and [Attorney-General Robert] McClelland need to disclose all the assistance they have afforded foreign countries against Australians involved in WikiLeaks.”