The Tech Herald

Themis: House Democrats call for hearings over Chamber plot

by Steve Ragan - Mar 3 2011, 14:00

House Democrats are calling for an immediate Congressional investigation to see if three data intelligence firms might have violated the law when they conspired with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies, and HBGary Federal, along with lobbyist law firm Hunton & Williams, are being linked to the U.S Chamber of Commerce, via leaked emails from Anonymous.

Based on the publically available information, the idea was for the four organizations to help the Chamber develop a plan that would discredit critics. The story, centering on the Chamber as well as Team Themis, a name selected by the three firms who collaborated with Hunton & Williams, was first reported by Think Progress in early February.

In response to the Think Progress report, the Chamber said that, “The security firm referenced by ThinkProgress was not hired by the Chamber or by anyone else on the Chamber’s behalf. We have never seen the document in question nor has it ever been discussed with us.”

“HBGary’s proposal, which has been written about by ThinkProgress, was not requested by the Chamber, it was not delivered to the Chamber, and it was never discussed with anyone at the Chamber. The leaked e-mails appear to show that HBGary was willing to propose questionable actions in an attempt to drum up business, but the Chamber was not aware of these proposals until HBGary’s e-mails leaked.”

Fast forward to Monday, when Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia 4th District), as well as 19 others who disagreed with the Chamber’s statements, called for a Congressional investigation into the actions of three data intelligence firms, each a government contractor.

“We are deeply concerned by evidence that intelligence contractors may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy to target American citizens on behalf of powerful corporate interests,” Johnson said in a statement.

In a letter, which is published here, Johnson and the others asked for an investigation to determine if the contractors violated any federal laws, if there are adequate protections in place for American citizens, and if government resources were inappropriately used against American citizens.

The timeline of the Team Themis emails show that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce plot took place before the same group helped Hunton & Williams target WikiLeaks and journalists. This explains in part why the law firm had the three intelligence companies in mind when they went to them for help in December.

Since the reports of their actions surfaced, Hunton & Williams has remained silent on the issue. However, a disciplinary complaint was lodged against the law firm’s top talent by two of the groups targeted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The complaint, filed on behalf of StopTheChamber and VelvetRevolution, said that Hunton & Williams:

“…solicited, conspired with and counseled three of its investigative private security firms 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...”

Berico and Palantir denied any role in the plans focusing on WikiLeaks and the Chamber, and severed ties with HBGary Federal. In addition, Matthew Steckman, a Palantir employee, was suspended for his part in the planning process.

Earlier this week, Aaron Barr, the CEO of HBGary Federal announced that he would resign his position to focus on family and rebuilding his reputation.

There is no word if the Congressional investigation will actually move forward. Letters like this are common and purely political. In the off chance that there is an investigation, we’ll report on its status.

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