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National Journal: Chamber of Secrets


Political dirty tricks go high tech. 

March 6, 2011- It is ironic that a trio of defense contractors who concocted a high-tech plan to discredit liberal critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce chose “Team Themis” as their moniker.

The Greek goddess of law and order, Themis personified good governance and justice, depicted by her familiar blindfold and pair of scales. Yet the plan that the contractors proposed last month to the law firm Hunton & Williams, which represents the chamber, was arguably lawless in the extreme. It involved privacy invasions, hacking, and creating fake “insider personas” and false documents to infiltrate and discredit watchdog groups like U.S. Chamber Watch and other liberal activists.

The plan was never carried out, but now 20 House Democrats are calling for a congressional investigation into whether the contractors conspired to commit forgery, wire fraud, or criminal defamation, and whether government-funded intelligence technologies pose a threat to U.S. citizens. The CEO of one of the firms, HBGary Federal, has stepped down. And the controversy has created a public-relations nightmare for the chamber, which has vigorously denied any knowledge of the plan.

“We see a clear possibility that people could be silenced through high tech, subversive means,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who’s leading the call for hearings by the House Judiciary and Armed Services committees, on which he sits, and by the Intelligence and Oversight and Government Reform panels. “And when these means were actually acquired at taxpayer expense, it makes it even more unsavory.”

The decision to dub the project “Team Themis” is only one of many ironies in a complicated saga that spotlights the intensifying, high-stakes clash between labor and business coalitions, both in statehouses and nationally. For one thing, the dirty tricks plot to undermine chamber critics was uncovered by activist hackers who used dirty tricks to publish some 40,000 HBGary Federal e-mails.

Hunton & Williams, moreover, is the same firm that sued the Yes Men for fraud on the chamber’s behalf last year, after the pranksters impersonated the business association at a press conference. Hunton & Williams officials did not respond to requests for comment. In another ironic twist, the chamber has long championed free speech and citizens’ right to organize anonymously—only to find itself linked with a plot to undermine both.

FULL STORY HERE:

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