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General News    H1'ed 8/22/11

Feeling Friendly This Week? Beware

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Are you feeling friendly this week? Perhaps you'd like to meet Holly Weber, above, or others like her on their Facebook, Linked In and Twitter accounts.

Or maybe recent news has prompted you to get active in politics -- or even to protest in some way? Demonstrations outside the White House this weekend in Washington, DC prompted arrests of more than 100 environmentalists. Much larger mass protests against both Democrats and Republicans are planned this fall in the city on various issues.

Be careful, whatever your views. New evidence emerged in Washington last week of sophisticated avatar, phishing and surveillance plots. The snitch scams were reportedly run by government-affiliated IT contractors targeting those who published WikiLeaks documents or similarly embarrassed federal officials or key members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Holly Weber, the lovely University of Denver alumn, for example, doesn't really exist. She is an avatar of a composite.

A related controversy erupted this month over whether the anti-secrecy group Anonymous created, The Plan...War Against the SystemThis is part of a series of YouTube videos this summer recruiting membership signup to Anonymous via the Web. In response, Anonymous Message warns against taking The Plan seriously. The FBI has arrested Anonymous members since early this year on charges they illegally retaliated against PayPal, VISA and other companies that cut off services to WikiLeaks.

So, who made The Plan recruitment video? Secret agents? As for its 365,000 or so recent viewers? Those who sign up online for more information may not be thinking any more clearly than those who think that "Holly Weber" suddenly wants to be their Facebook friend.

Let's examine developments further -- and why you should care:

For starters, the fictitious Weber is not the model and CSI actress of the same name, shown above in a Luke Force photo. Instead, the avatar is a creation of HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr, according to emails stolen by Anonymous in February from the federal IT contractor.

Reporter Lee Fang of the ThinkProgress last week broke this story as a new twist to the scandal. Here's Fang's recap:

Earlier this year, ThinkProgress obtained 75,000 private emails from the defense contractor HBGary Federal via the hacktivist group called Anonymous. The emails led to two shocking revelations.

First, that an assortment of private military firms collectively called "Team Themis" had been tapped by Bank of America to conduct a cyber war against reporters sympathetically covering the WikiLeaks revelations. And second, that late in 2010, the same set of firms began work separately for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a Republican-aligned corporate lobbying group, to develop a similar campaign of sabotage against progressive organizations, including the SEIU and ThinkProgress.

We reported about HBGary Federal and Barr, shown above, last February in Spy vs. Spy As Hackers Square Off Over DC Dirty Tricks. The Chamber and its law firm have denied improper conduct. HBGary, a privately held Sacramento contractor, failed to respond to our request for comment then, and on Friday referred our follow up comment request to Ted Vera, COO of its spin-off HBGary Federal. So far he has failed to respond.

You may think you have nothing to do with this. But you are involved as a U.S. taxpayer, even if you avoid social media entirely.

Former Navy and National Security Agency analyst Wayne Madsen reported on Feb. 21, for example, an Air Force bid solicitation last year for contractors to create social media avatars for 500 fictitious people. One requirement was that their IP addresses change daily so that those in the public could not tell that comments on social media sites were from fake people. Madsen reprinted the government requirements in full on his subscription-only site.

To be sure, this particular Air Force contract was relatively modest in size. But scant oversight exists on their number and scope. The Defense Department last month refused a request from two U.S. senators to learn more about surveillance on U.S. citizens: Administration rebuffs Wyden, Udall on surveillance query.

Leaders of both parties are reluctant to probe more vigorously. In the summer of 2008, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama illustrated the bipartisan consensus against oversight. He campaigned in Democratic primaries against immunity for telecom companies that violated customer privacy. But he voted for immunity after he in effect secured the Democratic nomination following Hillary Clinton's halt of her campaign in June.

Obama went on to name his close friend, Harvard Law School constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein, shown above in a Wikipedia photo, as White House regulatory czar at the Office of Management and Budget. This was after Sunstein co-authored Conspiracy Theories, a 2008 paper advocating disruptive communications tactics similar to those of HBGary.

In the paper, Sunstein, one of the nation's most widely published constitutional and regulatory scholars, complained that millions of Americans believe in conspiracies, thereby hurting government. He proposed five solutions. His main recommendation was for the government to hire reporters and academics -- or those who pretend to have such jobs -- as secret agents to influence circles where bad ideas proliferate.

In Obama Confidant's Spine-Chilling Proposal, Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, described Sunstein's approach as follows:

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Andrew Kreig Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter Page       Linked In Page       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Andrew Kreig is an investigative reporter, attorney, author, business strategist, radio host, and longtime non-profit executive based in Washington, DC. His most recent book is "Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters," the (more...)

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