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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Government contractors targeted critics of Chamber of Commerce...

Government contractors targeted Chamber of Commerce's critics
Three data security firms submitted a plan to the Chamber of Commerce's law firm to monitor and discredit the chamber's critics, e-mails show. A proposal to help Bank of America was also requested.
February 15, 2011|By Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Hoping to win a lucrative agreement with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, three data security contractors for federal defense and intelligence agencies developed a proposal to monitor and manipulate the chamber's left-leaning critics, according to recently released e-mail correspondence.

Employees of the firms compiled short dossiers on a few activists that included photographs, references to their families and charts of their relationships with other liberal and labor leaders.

A review of the correspondence, dating from late October through last week, suggested that the surveillance and intelligence gathering had begun only on a superficial basis in anticipation of a coming meeting with chamber officials.

The proposals were received by Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents the chamber.

The firm, which also represents Bank of America, solicited a separate proposal from the security firms to help the bank deal with a threat by WikiLeaks, the international hacker organization, to release some of the bank's internal data.

Chamber officials as well as a spokesman for Bank of America said they knew nothing of the surveillance proposals until the e-mails were released Friday by Anonymous, a group that is sympathetic to WikiLeaks.

"No money, for any purpose, was paid to any of those three private security firms by the chamber, or by anyone on behalf of the chamber, including Hunton & Williams," the chamber said in a statement.

Hunton & Williams did not respond to requests for comment.

But in some of the e-mails, employees of the security firms and lawyers at Hunton & Williams refer to contacts they had made with the chamber about the proposed intelligence gathering.

The revelations in the e-mails triggered anxiety among some of those who were targeted.

"We are appalled at the allegations that have come to light in these e-mails," said Inga Skippings, communications director of the Service Employees International Union, some of whose allies were the subject of the intelligence gathering project. "The chamber should immediately come clean about its involvement with Hunton & Williams and the private security firms that allegedly planned these underhanded tactics."

ThinkProgress, an arm of the liberal Center for American Progress and a consistent critic of the chamber, first reported on the e-mails on its blog last week....

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