ThinkProgress has learned that a law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business trade association representing ExxonMobil, AIG, and other major international corporations, is working with set of “private security” companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents, including ThinkProgress, with a surreptitious sabotage campaign.
According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams. Hunton And Williams’ attorney Richard Wyatt, who once represented Food Lion in its infamous lawsuit against ABC News, was hired by the Chamber in October of last year. To assist the Chamber, Wyatt and his associates, John Woods and Bob Quackenboss, solicited a set of private security firms — HBGary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) — to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions, in particular ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com.
According to one document prepared by Team Themis, the campaign included an entrapment project. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win. View a screenshot below:
The security firms hoped to obtain $200,000 for initial background research, then charge up to $2 million for a larger disinformation campaign against progressives. We don’t know if the proposal was accepted after Phase 1 was completed.
The e-mails ThinkProgress acquired are available widely on the web. They were posted by members of “Anonymous,” the hactivist community responsible for taking down websites for oppressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and American corporations that have censored WikiLeaks. Anonymous published the emails from HBGary Federal because an executive at the firm, Aaron Barr, was trying to take Anonymous down. Barr claimed that he had penetrated Anonymous and was hoping to sell the data to Bank of America and to federal authorities in the United States. In response, members of Anonymous hacked into Barr’s email and published some 40,000 company e-mails.
It is widely believed that Wikileaks has sensitive information about Bank of America, and plans to expose it later this year. This revelation prompted Bank of America to hire the law/lobbying firm Hunton and Williams, which in turn, according to the e-mails posted online by Anonymous, hired HBGary Federal and other firms to go after Anonymous and supporters of Wikileaks. For instance, one proposal from HBGary Federal and its associates proposed targeting Salon reporter and Wikileaks-supporter Glenn Greenwald with “actions to sabotage or discredit” him.
ThinkProgress has published a series of articles investigating the Chamber and its activities. We exposed the Chamber’s efforts to coordinate a lobbying campaign on behalf of large banks, including JP Morgan, to kill significant portions of financial reform. In October, we published a series looking into the Chamber’s efforts to solicit donations from foreign corporations for the same account the Chamber used to run partisan attack ads during the midterm campaign, as well as the Chamber’s participation in secret fundraising meetings convened by the billionaire plutocrats David and Charles Koch.
ThinkProgress will be posting more details of the Chamber lobbyist campaign to target progressives soon.
– With reporting from Scott Keyes