WikiLeaks and its inner circle of supporters may not have been the only targets of a group of security firms that offered to take on the secret-spilling site on behalf of Bank of America. In an email conversation, the head of one of those firms also suggested going after the thousands of individuals who have donated to the group.
Last week the loose hacker group Anonymous released a set of more than 40,000 emails from HBGary Federal, the security firm whose servers it hacked earlier this month. One of the files in those emails was a PowerPoint presentation that described “the WikiLeaks Threat,” created by a group of three security firms that suggested Nixonesque tactics for sabotaging the site on behalf of Bank of America, including spreading misinformation, launching cyberattacks against it, and pressuring journalists.
Over the weekend, the loose hacker group Anonymous published another 27,000 emails from HBGary Federal’s sister company HBGary, and also created a search engine for those documents on its WikiLeaks-like site, Anonleaks.ru.
A quick search of the company’s WikiLeaks-related conversations shows that Aaron Barr, the HBGary chief executive who first caught the attention of Anonymous by boasting that he’d penetrated the group and identified its leaders, also suggested other tactics against WikiLeaks that weren’t included in that PowerPoint: namely, tracking and intimidating anyone who had given money to WikiLeaks. The security firms “need to get people to understand that if they support the organization we will come after them,” he wrote in an email. “Transaction records are easily identifiable.”
WikiLeaks has had its funding sources limited since December, when PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard all stopped accepting payments to the group. The site still solicits donations, however, via mail and bank transfer. Though governments could likely subpoena banks or wire transfer companies for information about those transactions, it’s not clear how HBGary Federal’s Barr planned to intercept that information.
The emails also show that it was Barr who suggested pressuring Salon.com journalist Glenn Greenwald, though Palantir, another firm working with HBGary Federal, quickly accepted that suggestion and added it to the PowerPoint presentation that the group was assembling.
HBGary Federal, Palantir, and a third security firm, Berico Technologies, were recruited by the law firm Hunton & Williams to prepare a proposal for Bank of America, which is rumored to be the subject of an upcoming megaleak of sensitive documents from WikiLeaks. The firms also did work on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to research its critics that would help to “discredit” and “shame” them.
Palantir and Berico have both said in statements that they’ve cut ties with HBGary Federal and wouldn’t participate in the strong-arm tactics represented in the leaked emails. The hacked firm itself has argued on its website that the posted documents were “falsified.” The company didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.
In a statement on the filesharing site the Pirate Bay, a representative of Anonymous responded that “Anonymous has falsified nothing; we leaked your inboxes in full with no edits. In fact, most of your emails contain S/MIME digital signatures, proving that they’re real.”
The leaked emails also reveal several comments from Barr about his attitude toward WikiLeaks and Anonymous. “O [sic] believed in what wikileaks did when they released the helicopter video. I now believe they are a menace,” he writes in one message to a HBGary colleague.
“Its all about power.” he adds in another email. “The Wikileaks and Anonymous guys think they are doing the people justice by without much investigation or education exposing information or targeting organizations? BS. Its about trying to take power from others and give it to themeselves. I follow one law. Mine.”