You are hereMother Jones: ChamberLeaks: What Did The Chamber Know?

Mother Jones: ChamberLeaks: What Did The Chamber Know?

February 11, 2011- In recent days, the release of thousands of emails hacked from the server of an online security company has revealed a plan to entrap and discredit prominent foes of the US Chamber of Commerce. I give more background here, and ThinkProgress has details on specific union groups, bloggers, and activists  targeted by the security company, HBGary Federal, and its executive, Aaron Barr.

While the Chamber on Friday denied any knowlege of the entrapment plan or any other "questionable actions," emails that I've perused suggest that the Chamber clearly was involved on some level in a scheme to investigate and discredit its opponents. According to the emails, the Chamber's law firm was looking for groups that could help it prove—or at least hint at—a liberal conspiracy against the Chamber.

According to the emails, Chamber law firm Hunton & Williams wanted to hire digital sleuths that could demonstrate that the business group's opponents had been working as a "single entity instead of a true 'grasroots' campaign." That phrase and others suggest that the Chamber's ultimate goal was to openly accuse its foes of a left-wing form of astroturfing.

HBGary Federal and two other IT security firms, Palantir, and Berico Technologies, were working on a presentation scheduled to take place at the Chamber this upcoming Monday. In the meeting they planned to pitch their services as a "Corporate Information Recoinassance Cell." The cell would supposedly collect online information on the Chamber's foes from social networking sites and other sources and organize it to demonstrate previously hidden relationships.

Early emails sent between the security firms by Pat Ryan of Berico Technologies outline the proposed project as described by the the Chamber's law firm:

A client of theirs is  targeted by some other entity, specifically a labor union, that is trying to extract some kind of concession or favorable outcome.

They suspect that this entity is running a public campaign against their client by coordinating the actions of hundreds of seemingly separate entities to create a negative public impression of the client. The ultimate goal would be to extract the concession under duress – essentially extortion in their view. They haven’t told us the name or nature of the client, so I can only guess at what this means, but you can imagine for instance an environmental campaign targeted at an oil company as a notional example.

They seek to understand the true nature of the campaign and its command and control structure in order to expose the fact that the client is dealing with a single entity rather than a true "grassroots"campaign.

They further suspect that most of the actions and coordination take place through online means - forums, blogs, message boards, social networking, and other parts of the "deep web." But they want to marry those online, "cyber" sources with traditional open source data, tax records, fundraising records, donation records, letters of incorporation, etc. I believe they want to trace all the way from board structure down to the individuals carrying out actions.

Other emails indicated that the Chamber is already familiar with the security firms and the nature of their proposal. What had "sold the Chamber to begin with", wrote Pat Ryan, was "the Iranian shipping demo." He was referriing to a  presentation put together by Berico employee Sam Kremin, which appears to have been uploaded to YouTube. Kremin details how he unmasked Iran's cargo shipping "corporate shell structure" by importing data from the web and mapping relationships between people, companies, and shipping records. (Incidentally, the Chamber has taken flak for opposing Iranian trade sanctions).




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