How Anonymous stole 75,000 emails from a corporate ‘security’ firm and exposed a plot to destroy WikiLeaks allies

Here is an important interview on this brewing government-corporate anti-WikiLeaks scandal, and one of the clearest explanations I’ve seen. Glenn Greenwald and Sam Seder explain the issues at length. At issue are well over 75,000 emails stolen by Anonymous (the diverse and uncoordinated band of Wikileaks merry hacksters) from a server belong to, of all things, a corporate firm specializing in “security” services. Some security. What those emails reveal is stunning, and people are just starting to go through them.

Covered in this interview are: (1) The details of a coordinated corporate attack on WikiLeaks defenders, found in several proposals embedded in the emails; (2) A discussion of the “government-corporate complex” (my phrase) — including these firms, companies like BofA, the Chamber of Commerce, big-time law firms and the DoJ; (3) The vulnerability of “liberal” journalists to the kind of silencing tactics discussed in the hacked proposals; (4) Whether or not the activity discussed represents a conspiracy under the law; (5) The indifference of the Justice Department to (and its implicit cooperation with) this kind of malfeasance; (6) The potential for indictments at the state level. This is well worth your listening time.

Greenwald’s latest update is here.

There’s a transcript posted at, the home of Seder’s new podcast. After the break, I want to quote part of the discussion, especially how the emails were obtained — who got them and by what process — in order to provide basic context for this brewing scandal.


Here’s a section from the beginning of the interview that provides important context — how the whole thing got started and what the emails contain (my emphasis, paragraphing and annotation throughout):

Glenn Greenwald: Well, the story essentially is pretty simple in terms of what actually happened which is that the CEO of this security firm, HBGary, whose name is Aaron Barr, basically conducted an investigation into this group called Anonymous which is basically a world-wide group of hackers who gained notoriety because they announced that they were going to retaliate against anyone who unfairly targeted WikiLeaks.

So about two months ago they [Anonymous] launched a bunch of cyber-attacks on companies that had terminated their services with WikiLeaks such as Amazon and MasterCard and PayPal and Visa, basic denial of service attacks that just slowed down those sites for a day or so and so this HBGary that touts itself as an internet security firm, they do work for the government, started boasting that they had investigated Anonymous, had infiltrated them and had uncovered the identities of numerous leading hackers who are part of this group.

Sam Seder: … But it turns out he [Aaron Barr] was wrong and Anonymous basically struck back, and paraphrasing them, you have stuck your finger in the beehive and now you’re about to get stung.

GG: Right and get stung he definitely did. What they [Anonymous] basically did was is they tricked, I think somebody at the company [HBGary] into providing them with the passwords to the email system and they [Anonymous] were able to hack into the email account for which he, this Aaron Barr, was the administrator and download 50,000 or more now, 75,000 emails on HBGary’s server.

They also hacked into his Twitter account and sent out all kinds of embarrassing and vulgar messages having annexed that account as well as other online accounts, and among the 70,000 emails that they were able to obtain and they were just randomly obtained them. They weren’t searching for anything in particular.

They [Anonymous] didn’t know that there was anything specifically incriminating [in the emails], but among these emails were at least two proposals designed to, on behalf of perspective clients, basically discredit and attack and destroy people who were taking certain political positions that the perspective client disliked. In one case they [HBGary] wanted to propose to Bank of America targeting WikiLeaks and various supporters, including me, with all kinds of nefarious and potentially illegal schemes to discredit, attack and threaten those supporters out of advocating for WikiLeaks.

And in another case, on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, they [HBGary] wanted to do the same to progressive groups and activists who are critical of the Chamber of Commerce and that’s what has kind of produced a lot of controversy is that the firms that were involved in these discussions, not just HBGary but also Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and most of all Hunton and Williams the very large and well connected DC law firm that represents both the Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America. These are very serious and legitimate players and so to see all of them discussing an email on these kind of odious schemes to basically destroy the credibility of political adversaries is why this has become a news story.

The ensuing discussion unpacks the on-going relationships between these “security” firms, the law firm Hunton and Williams, major corporate players like BofA, and the Obama Justice Department:

GG: It’s an ongoing relationship and beyond those three firms this is all being coordinated by and solicited from Hunton and Williams and specifically a partner there, John Woods, and Hunton and Williams is a serious player in Washington lobbying and legal circles and one of the emails specifically indicates that Hunton and Williams became in contact with Bank of America because an official at the Justice Department, talking to Bank of America about what they should do about WikiLeaks, recommended Hunton and Williams, so it was the DOJ that put Hunton and Williams in touch with Bank of America to do this kind of work and of course the Justice Department is obsessed with harming and otherwise prosecuting and otherwise impeding what WikiLeaks is doing.

See why I call it the “government-corporate complex”, for want of a better name? (And I do want a better name.)

Note that the hackers weren’t targeting anything special; this was just a random sweep from the email system. Can you imagine what the rest of the emails contain, if this arguably criminal activity is so casually and openly discussed? (By the way, the potential criminality of the proposals is dealt with by Greenwald.)

Later in the interview, there’s a discussion in the proposals about how easily the “security” believe they can make people like Greenwald back down. Greenwald says, quoting from the corporate presentation:

“There are established professionals that have a liberal bent but ultimately, most of them if pushed, will choose professional preservation over cause such as the mentality of most business professionals.”

Note the phrase “if pushed”. What do you think “pushed” means, when spoken by a corporate “security” firm, and in the context of a journalist like, say, Jonathan Alter or Richard Wolffe, who literally depend on access for career and livelihood? Or a journalist who works for a corporate giant like NBC or CBS? I don’t have an answer, but it seems an obvious question.
Greenwald and Seder then consider how likely it is that the firm is just expressing a tried and true method for silencing “liberal” mainstream journalists, one that’s already in place — in other words, that this kind of “extortion” (to use Greenwald’s phrase) may be simply an ongoing practice.

The interview and its underlying subjects are fascinating, and we’re just at the beginning of the scandal. Please take the time to download or listen. This is the best orientation to this story I’ve found.

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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