<nettime> Glenn Greenwald: The leaked campaign to attack WikiLeaks and its supporters

nettime's avid reader nettime at kein.org
Fri Feb 11 08:26:42 PST 2011

Friday, Feb 11, 2011, Glenn Greenwald

There's been a very strange episode being written about the past couple of 
days involving numerous parties, including me, that I now want to comment 
on.  The story, first reported by The Tech Herald, has been been written 
about in numerous places (see Marcy Wheeler, Forbes, The Huffington Post, 
BoingBoing, Matt Yglesias, Reason, Tech Dirt, and others), so I'll provide 
just the summary. 

Last week, Aaron Barr, a top executive at computer security firm HB Gary, 
boasted to the Financial Times that his firm had infiltrated and begun to 
expose Anonymous, the group of pro-WikiLeaks hackers that had launched 
cyber attacks on companies terminating services to the whistleblowing site 
(such as Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, Amazon and others).  In retaliation, 
Anonymous hacked into the email accounts of HB Gary, published 50,000 of 
their emails online, and also hacked Barr's Twitter and other online 

Among the emails that were published was a report prepared by HB Gary -- in 
conjunction with several other top online security firms, including 
Palantir Technologies -- on how to destroy WikiLeaks.  The emails indicated 
the report was part of a proposal to be submitted to Bank of America 
through its outside law firm, Hunton & Williams.  News reports have 
indicated that WikiLeaks is planning to publish highly incriminating 
documents showing possible corruption and fraud at that bank, and The New 
York Times detailed last month how seriously top bank officials are taking 
that threat.  The NYT article described that the bank's "counterespionage 
work" against WikiLeaks entailed constant briefings for top executives on 
the whistle-blower site, along with the hiring of "several top law firms" 
and Booz Allen (the long-time firm of former Bush DNI Adm. Michael 
McConnell and numerous other top intelligence and defense officials).  The 
report prepared by these firms was designed to be part of the Bank of 
America's highly funded anti-WikiLeaks campaign.

The leaked report suggested numerous ways to destroy WikiLeaks, some of 
them likely illegal -- including planting fake documents with the group and 
then attacking them when published; "creat[ing] concern over the security" 
of the site; "cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on 
document submitters"; and a "media campaign to push the radical and 
reckless nature of wikileaks activities."  Many of those proposals were 
also featured prongs of a secret 2008 Pentagon plan to destroy WikiLeaks. 

One section of the leaked report focused on attacking WikiLeaks' supporters 
and it featured a discussion of me.  A graph purporting to be an 
"organizational chart" identified several other targets, including former 
New York Times reporter Jennifer 8 Lee, Guardian reporter James Ball, and 
Manning supporter David House.  The report claimed I was "critical" to 
WikiLeaks' public support after its website was removed by Amazon and that 
"it is this level of support that needs to be disrupted"; absurdly 
speculated that "without the support of people like Glenn, WikiLeaks would 
fold"; and darkly suggested that "these are established professionals that 
have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose 
professional preservation over cause."  As The Tech Herald noted, "earlier 
drafts of the proposal and an email from Aaron Barr used the word 
'attacked' over 'disrupted' when discussing the level of support."

In the wake of the ensuing controversy caused by publication of these 
documents, the co-founder and CEO of Palantir Tech, Alex Karp, has now 
issued a statement stating that he "directed the company to sever any and 
all contacts with HB Gary."  The full statement -- which can be read here 
-- also includes this sentence:  "personally and on behalf of the entire 
company, I want to publicly apologize to progressive organizations in 
general, and Mr. Greenwald in particular, for any involvement that we may 
have had in these matters."  Palantir has also contacted me by email to 
arrange for Dr. Karp to call me to personally convey the apology.  My 
primary interest is in knowing whether Bank of America retained these firms 
to execute this proposal and if any steps were taken to do so; if Karp's 
apology is genuine, that information ought to be forthcoming (as I was 
finishing writing this, Karp called me, seemed sincere enough in his 
apology, vowed that any Palantir employees involved in this would dealt 
with the way they dealt with HB Gary, and commendably committed to telling 
me by the end of the week whether Bank of America or Hunton & Williams 
actually retained these firms to carry out this proposal).

* * * * *

My initial reaction to all of this was to scoff at its absurdity.  Not 
being familiar with the private-sector world of internet security, I hadn't 
heard of these firms before and, based on the quality of the proposal, 
assumed they were just some self-promoting, fly-by-night entities of little 
significance.  Moreover, for the reasons I detailed in my interview with 
The Tech Herald -- and for reasons Digby elaborated on here -- the very 
notion that I could be forced to choose "professional preservation over 
cause" is ludicrous on multiple levels.  Obviously, I wouldn't have spent 
the last year vehemently supporting WikiLeaks -- to say nothing of 
aggressively criticizing virtually every large media outlet and many of 
their leading stars, as well as the most beloved political leaders of both 
parties -- if I were willing to choose "career preservation over cause."

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.  For one thing, it turns out that the 
firms involved here are large, legitimate and serious, and do substantial 
amounts of work for both the U.S. Government and the nation's largest 
private corporations (as but one example, see this email from a Stanford 
computer science student about Palantir).  Moreover, these kinds of smear 
campaigns are far from unusual; in other leaked HB Gary emails, 
ThinkProgress discovered that similar proposals were prepared for the 
Chamber of Commerce to attack progressive groups and other activists 
(including ThinkProgress).  And perhaps most disturbing of all, 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 defense against/attacks on WikiLeaks.

That's why this should be taken seriously, despite how ignorant, trite and 
laughably shallow is the specific leaked anti-WikiLeaks proposal.  As 
creepy and odious as this is, there's nothing unusual about these kinds of 
smear campaigns.The only unusual aspect here is that we happened to learn 
about it this time because of Anonymous' hacking.  That a similar scheme 
was quickly discovered by ThinkProgress demonstrates how common this 
behavior is.  The very idea of trying to threaten the careers of 
journalists and activists to punish and deter their advocacy is self-
evidently pernicious; that it's being so freely and casually proposed to 
groups as powerful as the Bank of America, the Chamber of Commerce, and the 
DOJ-recommended Hunton & Williams demonstrates how common this is.  These 
highly experienced firms included such proposals because they assumed those 
deep-pocket organizations would approve and it would make their hiring more 

But the real issue highlighted by this episode is just how lawless and 
unrestrained is the unified axis of government and corporate power.  I've 
written many times about this issue -- the full-scale merger between public 
and private spheres --  because it's easily one of the most critical yet 
under-discussed political topics.  Especially (though by no means only) in 
the worlds of the Surveillance and National Security State, the powers of 
the state have become largely privatized.  There is very little separation 
between government power and corporate power.   Those who wield the latter 
intrinsically wield the former.  The revolving door between the highest 
levels of government and corporate offices rotates so fast and continuously 
that it has basically flown off its track and no longer provides even the 
minimal barrier it once did.  It's not merely that corporate power is 
unrestrained; it's worse than that:  corporations actively exploit the 
power of the state to further entrench and enhance their power.

That's what this anti-WikiLeaks campaign is generally:  it's a concerted, 
unified effort between government and the most powerful entities in the 
private sector (Bank of America is the largest bank in the nation).  The 
firms the Bank has hired (such as Booz Allen) are suffused with the highest 
level former defense and intelligence officials, while these other outside 
firms (including Hunton & Williams and Palantir) are extremely well-
connected to the U.S. Government.  The U.S. Government's obsession with 
destroying WikiLeaks has been well-documented.  And because the U.S. 
Government is free to break the law without any constraints, oversight or 
accountability, so, too, are its "private partners" able to act lawlessly.  
That was the lesson of the Congressional vesting of full retroactive 
immunity on lawbreaking telecoms, of the refusal to prosecute any of the 
important Wall Street criminals who caused the 2008 financial crisis, and 
of the instinctive efforts of the political class to protect defrauding 
mortgage banks.  

The exemption from the rule of law has been fully transferred from the 
highest level political elites to their counterparts in the private sector.  
"Law" is something used to restrain ordinary Americans and especially those 
who oppose this consortium of government and corporate power, but it 
manifestly does not apply to restrain these elites.  Just consider one 
amazing example illustrating how this works. 

After Anonymous imposed some very minimal cyber disruptions on Paypal, 
Master Card and Amazon, the DOJ flamboyantly vowed to arrest the culprits, 
and several individuals were just arrested as part of those attacks.  But 
weeks earlier, a far more damaging and serious cyber-attack was launched at 
WikiLeaks, knocking them offline.  Those attacks were sophisticated and 
dangerous.  Whoever did that was quite likely part of either a government 
agency or a large private entity acting at its behest.  Yet the DOJ has 
never announced any investigation into those attacks or vowed to apprehend 
the culprits, and it's impossible to imagine that ever happening.

Why?  Because crimes carried out that serve the Government's agenda and 
target its opponents are permitted and even encouraged; cyber-attacks are 
"crimes" only when undertaken by those whom the Government dislikes, but 
are perfectly permissible when the Government itself or those with a 
sympathetic agenda unleash them.  Whoever launched those cyber attacks at 
WikiLeaks (whether government or private actors) had no more legal right to 
do so than Anonymous, but only the latter will be prosecuted. 

That's the same dynamic that causes the Obama administration to be obsessed 
with prosecuting WikiLeaks but not The New York Times or Bob Woodward, even 
though the latter have published far more sensitive government secrets; 
WikiLeaks is adverse to the government while the NYT and Woodward aren't, 
and thus "law" applies to punish only the former.  The same mindset drives 
the Government to shield high-level political officials who commit the most 
serious crimes, while relentlessly pursuing whistle-blowers who expose 
their wrongdoing.  Those with proximity to government power and who serve 
and/or control it are free from the constraints of law; those who threaten 
or subvert it have the full weight of law come crashing down upon them.

* * * * *

What is set forth in these proposals for Bank of America quite possibly 
constitutes serious crimes.  Manufacturing and submitting fake documents 
with the intent they be published likely constitutes forgery and fraud.  
Threatening the careers of journalists and activists in order to force them 
to be silent is possibly extortion and, depending on the specific means to 
be used, constitutes other crimes as well.  Attacking WikiLeaks' computer 
infrastructure in an attempt to compromise their sources undoubtedly 
violates numerous cyber laws.  

Yet these firms had no compunction about proposing such measures to Bank of 
America and Hunton & Williams, and even writing them down.   What accounts 
for that brazen disregard of risk?  In this world, law does not exist as a 
constraint.  It's impossible to imagine the DOJ ever, ever prosecuting a 
huge entity like Bank of America for doing something like waging war 
against WikiLeaks and its supporters.  These massive corporations and the 
firms that serve them have no fear of law or government because they 
control each.  That's why they so freely plot to target those who oppose 
them in any way.  They not only have massive resources to devote to such 
attacks, but the ability to act without limits.  John Cole put it this way:

    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 for these clowns going after Think Progress 
and unions, just like there is a reason they are targeting Wikileaks and 
Glenn Greenwald, Planned Parenthood, and Acorn. . . .

    You have to understand the mindset- they are playing for keeps. The 
vast majority of the wealth isn't enough. They want it all.  Anything that 
gets in their way must be destroyed. . . . And they are well financed, have 
a strong infrastructure, a sympathetic media, and entire organizations 
dedicated to running cover for them . . . .

    I don't even know why we bother to hold elections any more, to be 
honest, the game is so rigged. Webre a banana republic, and it is just a 
matter of time before we descend into necklacing and other tribal bullshit. 

There are supposed to be institutions which limit what can be done in 
pursuit of those private-sector goals.  They're called "government" and 
"law."  But those institutions are so annexed by the most powerful private-
sector elites, and so corrupted by the public officials who run them, that 
nobody -- least of all those elites -- has any expectation that they will 
limit anything.  To the contrary, the full force of government and law will 
be unleashed against anyone who undermines Bank of America and Wall Street 
executives and telecoms and government and the like (such as WikiLeaks and 
supporters), and will be further exploited to advance the interests of 
those entities, but will never be used to constrain what they do.  These 
firms vying for Bank of America's anti-WikiLeaks business know all of this 
full well, which is why they concluded that proposing such pernicious and 
possibly illegal attacks would be deemed not just acceptable but 

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