You are hereForbes: Congressman Probing HBGary Scandal Fears ‘Domestic Surveillance’

Forbes: Congressman Probing HBGary Scandal Fears ‘Domestic Surveillance’

Rep. Hank JohnsonMarch 23, 2011- When a small team of hackers launched a 24-hour assault on software security firm HBGary Federal last month, they did so to take revenge on its CEO, who had sought to penetrate the global collective they aligned themselves with known as Anonymous.

They did that and more. Now a Congressional subcommittee has asked to see all HBGary Federal’s contracts with the U.S. military and the National Security Agency (NSA), along with those agencies’ contracts with two other private security firms, Berico Technologies and Palantir Technologies.

The hacked HBGary Federal emails that were posted online showed the three firms had proposed a plan to the Chamber of Commerce’s legal representative Hunton & Williams to infiltrate and discredit the Chamber’s opponents with fake documents,  personas, and potentially even malicious software. There were also proposals to track and intimidate supporters of WikiLeaks.

The man behind the investigation, Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia’s 4th House District, penned a letter signed by 19 other members of Congress calling for a subcommittee investigation on March 1. He believes the Chamber, Hunton & Williams, and the three security firms were in discussion regarding a “potentially illegal” scheme, according to a memo from his office.

Given the classified and convoluted nature of the alleged activities (not to mention lobbyists who will undoubtedly take issue with it), it’s possible Johnson’s Congressional probe will lead him and others down a long and winding rabbit hole. That’s also because of the wider implications he sees behind the HBGary revelations: domestic surveillance on Americans.

I spoke to Rep. Johnson on Monday and asked him about how the investigation was going, and why he had instigated it at all:

FORBES: Why was it important to you to spearhead this investigation into government and NSA contracts with HBGary, Berico and Palantir?

JOHNSON: Well I read various news reports of the possible scandal and I asked my staff to look a little further into it. Once we did it appeared to me that the implications being put forth were very serious and rose to a level of more than mere suspicion. There were no denials of accuracy by the three government contractors, so with that I felt duty bound to move for further investigation.

James Miller of the Department of Defence said in last week’s subcommittee hearing that he needed to check about handing over those contracts. Have there been any developments with that?

No, but I assume that we should receive the documentation. And just in case we’re going to request the documentation in writing from the Department of Defence as well as the director of national intelligence. Also the Justice Department may have documentation pertinent to this and we’d like to see this as well. [It transpired from the HBGary emails that the Justice Department had recommended the law firm Hunton & Williams to the Chamber of Commerce.]

Does the investigation also extend to Hunton & Williams?

I’m not calling for a limited scope of the investigation. I think the investigation should proceed as far as the facts take us.

What do you think of Palantir and Berico’s attempts to distance themselves from HBGary Federal?

I would think that would be a normal response for a company finding themselves exposed in this way.

Do you think they are implicated more than they say?

Quite frankly I’d say there is a reasonable suspicion that they may be more involved than they are revealing at this time.

What concerns you the most about the contracts with these companies and the software they were selling?

[We're] talking about government contractors who may have developed tools to track and control information from foreign terrorists organizations. When those contractors using that kind of technology, developed pursuant to government contract and utilising American tax payer dollars, then turn the tools into domestic surveillance and marketing to business organizations, with the goal of discrediting and disrupting and actually destroying organizations that disagree with their clients, doing that domestically is like turning spying tools on the very people who paid for them.  You should not use tools developed to get at foreign terrorist agents on American citizens who are choosing to exercise their first amendment rights.



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