U.S. Chamber of Commerce Faces Incriminating E-mail Leak

February 15, 2011; Source: Washington Post | Remember when Anonymous popped up to defend WikiLeaks against PayPal and other sites which shut down WikiLeaks’s capacity to receive and process donations? The strategy was to use distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to temporarily disrupt the sites that had cut WikiLeaks off in response to the U.S. government’s pique over the release of hundreds of thousands of secret State Department cables.

This story from the Washington Post involving Anonymous and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce begins with a security contracting firm called HBGary Federal which apparently identified the leader of Anonymous. It looks like the security firm needed a little extra security, because Anonymous retaliated by breaking into HBGary’s computers and discovering “tens of thousands of internal company e-mails” involving plans for counterintelligence aimed at enemies of the Bank of America and the Chamber, including planting fake documents, inserting “fake insider personas” or “scraping” personal information on social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn (violating their terms of service), and launching cyber-attacks.

Although some of the plans were apparently generated by the Hunton & Williams law firm, which works for the Chamber, the Chamber has denied any knowledge and said that it had no involvement in Hunton strategy blueprint. Denials aside, the e-mails are smoking regarding the firms’ connection to the Chamber, including a reference to Hunton’s “key client contact” with the Chamber, its presentation to the Chamber of a demonstration of how the strategy would work (that apparently “sold” the Chamber), and a Dec. 1 e-mail that said that Hunton expected the Chamber “to pony up the cash for Phase II.”

Other firms linked to HBGary and the Chamber are cutting ties with the California-based security firm. The website ThinkProgress released some of the information about the Chamber’s dalliance with HBGary on Feb. 14. The NPQ Newswire has on occasion covered news about the Chamber‘s playing fast and loose at the margins of political electioneering, but testing the boundaries of what 501(c)(3)s, (c)(4)s, and (c)(6)s can do with political campaigning is different than hiring dirty tricks firms willing to use and misuse social media sites.—Rick Cohen