ALSO: HBGary's CEO finally resigns, VR files D.C. Bar complaint...
[Now UPDATED with full text of letter]
By Brad Friedman on 3/1/2011, 1:05am PT  

Washington Post's Dan Eggen reports tonight for Tuesday's paper that "more than a dozen" Democrats in the U.S. House are now calling on "Republican leaders" to open an investigation into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plot which had been set to target the Rightwing lobbying firms' perceived political enemies (which turned out to include me and my family at the top of their list, as reported in detail previously) with a proposed $12 million smear, forgery, fraud, and disinformation campaign.

While the Democrats letter calling for a Congressional probe will not be released until Tuesday [Update: The full text of the letter is now posted at the end of this article below], Eggen's reportage makes it clear that their concerns focus on the same disturbing point which we highlighted in one of our first detailed reports on this matter. Namely, that the Chamber's law firm Hunton & Williams was organizing the plot with three government-contracted cyber-security/intelligence firms that had planned to turn tools developed for the "War on Terror" against U.S. citizens, journalists, and progressive organizations [emphasis added]...

A group of House Democrats is calling on Republican leaders to investigate a prominent Washington law firm and three federal technology contractors, who have been shown in hacked e-mails discussing a "disinformation campaign" against foes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In a letter to be released Tuesday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and more than a dozen other lawmakers wrote that the e-mails appear "to reveal a conspiracy to use subversive techniques to target Chamber critics," including "possible illegal actions against citizens engaged in free speech."

The lawmakers say it is "deeply troubling" that "tactics developed for use against terrorists may have been unleashed against American citizens."

As we also noted some weeks ago, Eggen reports, "The companies proposed forming a 'corporate information reconnaissance cell' and discussed tactics such as creating online personas to infiltrate activist Web sites; planting false information to embarrass U.S. Chamber Watch and other groups; and trolling for personal information using powerful computer software."

Those "other groups" would include the non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization, as co-founded by The BRAD BLOG, in response to VR's campaign launched in late 2009 to help expose the U.S. Chamber's perfidy and mafia-like tactics in their extremist Rightwing corporate "advocacy". The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the nation's largest corporate lobbying firm and has spent millions in disinformation campaigns fighting against clean energy legislation and health care insurance reform, just to name two of their recent projects.

While a Congressional investigation would normally be a no-brainer in a plot as pernicious as the one exposed here --- revealed by the release of tens of thousands of emails detailing highly dubious, and most likely illegal, schemes of this sort --- the fact that the U.S. Chamber and its member corporations also spent millions as the top funders of Republican Congressional campaigns in 2010 makes the likelihood of such hearings questionable in the now-GOP-controlled House.

A letter to Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice, demanding a special prosecutor be assigned to this case would be equally, if not more appropriate. Unfortunately, the DoJ is also compromised in this affair, having been the ones, incredibly enough, to refer the Chamber's law firm Hunton & Williams to the Bank of America for a parallel plot with the same three private security firms, in order to target WikiLeaks with a focus on discrediting their perceived supporters such as Salon journalist Glenn Greenwald. Given the DoJ's dubious involvement here, it seems similarly unlikely that they would take up such an investigation themselves either, but a letter calling for same from Congressional members might help.

In more new developments in this story tonight...

Aaron Barr, the CEO of HBGary Federal, one of the three cyber-security firms whose emails were originally stolen and released by the "hacktivist" collective Anonymous, exposing the insidious plot three weeks ago, has finally resigned from the company. What took ya so long, Aaron?

Barr had been a key driver of the scheme being developed for the Chamber, and the reason that Anonymous originally decided to hack the company's website and data servers after he'd bragged about a plan to expose the names of some of the supposed leaders of the group.

Barr and HBGary were subsequently used as convenient scapegoats by the other two firms involved, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies (together calling themselves "Team Themis"), though it later became clear via the released emails that top officials at both of those firms, as well as at least three lawyers at the powerful law firm Hunton & Williams, were very much a part of the plot's development.

The three attorneys at H&W, John W. Woods, Richard L. Wyatt Jr., and Robert T. Quackenboss participated in the development of the scheme, according to the emails, and appear to have failed to issue any objections despite the plans to plant false documents, create "fake personas" to infiltrate the progressive organizations opposing the Chamber, and to target leaders of the groups and their families in hopes of discrediting them by exploiting "pressure points" in hopes of intimidating them.

Last week, VelvetRevolution/StopTheChamber filed a notice of complaint against the three attorneys with the D.C. Bar Counsel's Board of Professional Responsibility. The 14-page complaint [PDF] details "an extended pattern of unethical behavior that included likely criminal conduct," involving an apparent conspiracy "to engage in domestic spying, fraud, forgery, extortion, cyber stalking, defamation, harassment, destruction of property, spear phishing, identity theft, computer scraping, cyber attacks, interference with business, civil rights violations, harassment, and theft."

The complaint filing was covered last week by Legal Times and on Monday by the Washington Post. I am on the road for the next week or so, so have been having trouble keeping up. But as time allows, I hope to cover the VR complaint in a bit more detail, as it offers some important, previously unreported points.

Other targets of the scheme are similarly considering bar complaints as well as possible civil action against the parties involved.

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UPDATE: Rep. Hank Johnson's announcement about the letter is here, the PDF version is here, a text version follows in full below...

March 1, 2011

Honorable Darrell Issa Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary

Honorable Mike Rogers, Chairman, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Honorable Howard McKeon, Chairman, Armed Services Committee

Dear Chairman Issa, Chairman Smith, Chairman Rogers and Chairman McKeon,

We ask that your Committee immediately begin an investigation with hearings into the issues raised by recent reports alleging that three federal defense and intelligence agency data security contractors, and a leading law firm, planned a “dirty-tricks” campaign that included possible illegal actions against citizens engaged in free speech.

A series of email messages recently published on the Internet indicates that defense data security contractors HB Gary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies (collectively calling themselves “Team Themis”) and the law firm of Hunton & Williams planned a campaign to sabotage and discredit critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including U.S. Chamber Watch, the union federation Change to Win, the Center for American Progress, the Service Employees International Union and other organizations.

The published correspondence appears to reveal a conspiracy to use subversive techniques to target Chamber critics. The techniques may have been developed at U.S. government expense to target terrorists and other security threats. The emails indicate that these defense contractors planned to mine social network sites for information on Chamber critics; planned to plant “false documents” and “fake insider personas” that would be used to discredit the groups; and discussed the use of malicious and intrusive software (“malware”) to steal private information from the groups and disrupt their internal electronic communications.

Given evidence of their proposal to infiltrate computer systems, discredit and disrupt the operations of U.S. advocacy groups, Team Themis and Hunton and Williams may have conspired to carry out or previously carried out actions in violation of federal law, including:

· Forgery under 10 USC §923

· Mail and Wire Fraud under 18 USC §1341 and 18 USC §1343

· Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Computers 18 USC §1030

The possibility that any one of these crimes was committed warrants investigation. It is deeply troubling to think that tactics developed for use against terrorists may have been unleashed against American citizens. The central questions at issue here are:

· Did the government contractors violate any federal laws?

· Are there adequate laws in place to protect American citizens from intrusive and/or unethical electronic surveillance tactics?

· Were government resources inappropriately used to target American citizens?

Possible proof the defense and security contractors may have traded on their government work is inferred by a November 3, 2010, sales proposal from Team Themis to Hunton & Williams: “Who better to develop a corporate information reconnaissance capability than companies that have been market leaders within the [Defense Department] and Intelligence Community?”

We are prepared to assist the Committee in gathering the necessary and relevant information to conduct appropriate hearings. At a minimum, we submit that the Committee may wish to obtain any correspondence and documents from the parties concerning the planned campaign and any other similar activities, including the government contracts under which the contractors in question have been paid millions of dollars.

Particularly as events continue to develop around the world, we can all agree that free and open debate, discussion and criticism as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are absolutely necessary to a healthy and vibrant democracy. We must guarantee not just free spoken, print and broadcast media but unfettered Internet and electronic communication as well. Citizens who exercise their rights should not be the victims of illegal and insidious electronic attack any more than peaceful protesters should be the victims of intimidation or physical violence.

Enclosed you will find a packet of summary information describing the parties and recently revealed events in more detail.

The emails and documents that have come to light thus far provide a window into a deeply concerning set of circumstances, but not all of the facts are known. We believe it is therefore incumbent upon the Committee to investigate this matter thoroughly and with the utmost urgency. We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to working with you.


Hank Johnson, Keith Ellison, Luis Gutiérrez, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Sheila Jackson Lee, Chris Murphy, Edolphus Towns, Betty Sutton, Peter Welch, Raúl Grijalva, Bruce Braley, Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Tim Ryan, Pete Stark, Maxine Waters, Bob Filner, Barney Frank, Donna Edwards

CC: Rep. Elijah Cummings
CC: Rep. Jonn Conyers
CC: Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger
CC: Rep. Christopher Smith
CC: Sen. Patrick Leahy
CC: Sen Diane Feinstein
CC: Sen. Carl Levin

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For much more the U.S. Chamber Plot, please see the links below for The BRAD BLOG's previous coverage of this disturbing story...

2/28/11: Colbert Interviews Greenwald on the Revealed Plot to Turn 'Terror Tools' Against U.S. Citizens, Journalists and Progressive Organizations

2/20/11: VIDEO: 'Hacker News Network' and 'GRITtv' Cover U.S. Chamber Disinfo/Smear Plot

2/18/11: U.S. Chamber Plot Update: Malware, Fake Personas, Government Contracts, Public Shame, Bar Complaints, Media Failures and Other News

2/15/11: Special Green News Report on the U.S. Chamber Plot

2/14/11: Late Updates on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Plot to Target, Discredit, Defraud Political Enemies

2/14/11: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thugs Used 'Terror Tools' for Disinfo Scheme Targeting Me, My Family, Other Progressive U.S. Citizens, Groups

2/10/11: Hacked Emails Show U.S. Chamber of Commerce Targeted VelvetRevolution.US, Other Progressive Groups With Massive Disinfo Campaign