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Corporate State Secrets

Glenn Greenwald has a disturbing report concerning WikiLeaks, Bank of America, and the merger of corporate and government power in this country. I’m loathe to use the overused word “fascism” but the textbook definition of that particular f-word is the alignment of the government and economy of a country around corporatist interests.

Just in case you haven’t been following along, after WikiLeaks published US diplomatic cables (the release of which likely played no small part in the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt) they then threatened to release highly damaging reports on a major American bank — widely believed to be the Bank of America. Meanwhile, several corporations, including Paypal, MasterCard, Visa, and Amazon, likely under pressure from the US government, terminated services to WikiLeaks in an effort to knee-cap them. In response, a loose-knit group of hackers called Anonymous carried out cyber attacks against those corporations. Then, last week, a top executive at computer security firm HBGary Federal, boasted that his firm had infiltrated Anonymous and was going to expose them. In retaliation, Anonymous hacked virtually every computer at HBGary Federal and published 50,000 of their emails online.

What ties this all together is that some of the emails published detail a report prepared by HBGary Federal that propose countermeasures against organizations and individuals that support WikiLeaks. Many of these countermeasures appear to be serious crimes. But even worse, they expose to a disturbing amount of lawlessness being carried out by the major institutions — both private and public, and often in collaboration — in our country.

Here’s a quick excerpt from Greenwald’s report, but the whole thing is definitely a must read:

But the real issue highlighted by this episode is just how lawless and unrestrained is the unified axis of government and corporate power. … The exemption from the rule of law has been fully transferred from the highest level political elites to their counterparts in the private sector. “Law” is something used to restrain ordinary Americans and especially those who oppose this consortium of government and corporate power, but it manifestly does not apply to restrain these elites. Just consider one amazing example illustrating how this works.

After Anonymous imposed some very minimal cyber disruptions on Paypal, Master Card and Amazon, the DOJ flamboyantly vowed to arrest the culprits, and several individuals were just arrested as part of those attacks. But weeks earlier, a far more damaging and serious cyber-attack was launched at WikiLeaks, knocking them offline. Those attacks were sophisticated and dangerous. Whoever did that was quite likely part of either a government agency or a large private entity acting at its behest. Yet the DOJ has never announced any investigation into those attacks or vowed to apprehend the culprits, and it’s impossible to imagine that ever happening.

Why? Because crimes carried out that serve the Government’s agenda and target its opponents are permitted and even encouraged; cyber-attacks are “crimes” only when undertaken by those whom the Government dislikes, but are perfectly permissible when the Government itself or those with a sympathetic agenda unleash them. Whoever launched those cyber attacks at WikiLeaks (whether government or private actors) had no more legal right to do so than Anonymous, but only the latter will be prosecuted.

UPDATE: Forbes magazine has an interesting update on all this. Interesting quote in an email from HBGary Federal CEO: “I follow one law. Mine.”

UPDATE 2: More from Forbes. “Rarely in the history of the cybersecurity industry has a company become so toxic so quickly as HBGary Federal. Over the last week, many of the firm’s closest partners and largest clients have cut ties with the Sacramento startup. And now it’s cancelled all public appearances by its executives at the industry’s biggest conference in the hopes of ducking a scandal that seems to grow daily as more of its questionable practices come to light.”



  1. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    This is an extraordinary report and unfortunately, throws much light on several questionable decisions regarding war crimes prosecution, corporate meddling in government actions, etc., etc., etc. and I’m talking about just the last three years or so. Thank you for posting this.

    Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink
  2. Bard wrote:

    The United States Government acting in a direct way to limit the rights of it’s citizens. Obviously this will be a huge story on Fox News…

    Your Search for “hb gary” did not return any results.

    Well they must be saving the story for tomorrow because it’s so big…right…right?

    Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Permalink
  3. Authority will always operate on the “do as I say and not as I do” principle. That which is in power seeks to stay in power.

    The Constitution grants the citizens of the United States the right to overthrow the government. Consider the irony of government-approved revolution. There is no such thing.

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 12:47 am | Permalink
  4. H. Rider Haggard wrote:

    Has Wikileaks “threatened to release highly damaging reports on the Bank of America”? I don’t think so. I think they threatened to release documents concerning a major American bank. BofA just naturally assumed they were the guilty party.

    As it says in True Grit, “The wicked flee where no man pursueth.”

    [good point — I fixed the original post. –iron]

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink
  5. Mad Hatter wrote:

    I’ve been using the f-word for some time now. It’ll be interesting to see how the American people respond once it becomes crystal clear that we’re well on our way down the road to facism. I’m a little pessimistic but I don’t think the average American will have the guts or will to do what will be necessary to reverse course.

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  6. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    Mad Hatter et alia: I have been “open-mouthed” for some time now at the misuse of the N-word and the F-word by those who are actually behaving like nazis and facists!! I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed. I can now cancel my stay at the “F”unny farm! 🙂

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  7. Jeff wrote:

    This is an incredible story, and yet I doubt many people will hear about it or even care. Add to that the fact that the overuse of the F-word has become so commonplace that most people don’t understand what it means anymore, and you end up at a place where people might actually defend this kind of behavior. I’ll be passing this link along, and hoping I don’t get chewed out for spreading left-wing propaganda.

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  8. I hate to do this Iron Knee, but I think you’re hanging a bit too much of one of your points on something that needs a citation / support.

    “the textbook definition” needs a cited source to make justifying your use of a badly overused term. (I’m not disagreeing with you IK. But I am noting that that particular f’word is too loaded to safely use without something to make clear that you mean the term as it is defined, not as it is abused. Yeah, the one-time English Prof is showing… sorry.)

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:


    See especially the section on Fascist corporatism:

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  10. Jason Ray wrote:

    Just to play the devil’s advocate:

    Keep in mind while reading Glenn Greenwald’s article that several of the things he says are provided without backup and imply motivations that are not actually supported. For example, he states the following:

    “And perhaps most disturbing of all, Hunton & Williams was recommended to Bank of America’s General Counsel by the Justice Department — meaning the U.S. Government is aiding Bank of America in its defense against/attacks on WikiLeaks.”

    It means nothing of the sort. I work in the legal industry and if someone asked me for a recommendation on a law firm dealing in this area I would also recommend Hunton & Williams (and Booz Allen, for that matter). That doesn’t mean I am aiding B of A in its attacks on Wikileaks – it means that I was asked for a referral to a good lawyer that knows the space and I gave them one.

    While I completely agree that the degree of entanglement between big corporations and the government is frightening, and I also completely agree that there is far more corruption and manipulation of government by corporations than is hinted at in mainstream media, we all should be cautious about jumping to conclusions because we read soemmthing on the Internet.

    Never ascribe to malice what can be equally ascibed to stupidity – and avoid assuming conspiracy when actions can be equally explained by greed and bad judgement.

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  11. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    TD and JR — Wonderful observations — Thank you! JR — observations on a couple of your comments:

    “we all should be cautious about jumping to conclusions because we read something on the Internet.” Cure for jumping to conclusions is simple: know your sources to be legitimate and follow citations — seems to be done too little by too many. 🙂

    “Never ascribe to malice what can be equally ascibed to stupidity ” It is difficult to attribute to “stupidity” things that become an observable pattern of behavior. “Malice” seems more suitable. 🙁

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  12. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    IK — Ask a librarian: is Wikepedia the MOST reliable source for information? (That’s supposed to be humorous!)

    Definition of FASCISM
    1) often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

    Webster’s seems to think that your statement is quite close to the mark as well! Thanks for all you find and share!

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  13. Jason Ray wrote:


    Thank you for the positive comments 🙂 I recall a telling point made to me years ago about the reliability of sources – if you were at the supermarket and saw a newspaper with the headline “JFK Found Alive!” it makes a big difference whether that paper is the Wall Street Journal or the Weekly World news 🙂

    I have to say, unfortunately, observable patterns of behaviors are all too often based on stupidity (The prosecution cites Bill O’Reilly v. Science) and that actions can be hurtful and antisocial without being intentionally malicious. I have seen enough collusion and conspiracy in my career to have NO doubt that we only see the very tip of the iceberg, but I also know that in most cases it isn’t so much grand conspiracy as unenlightened selfishness that’s to blame.

    There is no question that America is a capitalist society, so money talks and that those in control of the most money are the ones that get heard. Corporations had an unhealthy and undemocratic controlling influence on government before the Citizens United decision and its gotten worse since.

    One last thing we can do, however, is remember Sam Walton’s observation, “The customer can fire anyone here, from the CEO on down, just by choosing to spend their money elsewhere.” Money in politics is used to buy votes, but you can get enough people to vote without spending money if you try hard enough (prosecution cites Egypt v. Mubarak). We all can make a difference and help move things in a better direction, but we have to act not just yak *grins*

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
  14. Iron Knee wrote:

    Prosecutor Jason, I agree wholeheartedly with all of your points, but not with your conclusion. I think you don’t have to think there is any conspiracy or malice in order to believe Greenwald’s report. Unadulterated greed (either corporate and government) is enough motivation and explanation.

    Politicians know where their bread is buttered (in those corporate campaign contributions) even without conspiring with their corporate donors.

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  15. Patricia: Thanks for the compliment.

    I just wanted to make sure that IK’s comments didn’t get derping attacks based on incorrect understanding of the terms. I’m not at all surprised that IK had it right: it *sounded* spot on to me. But I didn’t want someone reading the comment to misconstrue what IK was getting at because of misuses of the word elsewhere on the Internet.

    IK: Sorry to sometimes be a bit too English Prof-y. I really did think about that comment for about an hour or so before I decided to drop it in here. (It doesn’t help that I had just finished reading some herp-a-derp on reddit when I finally made up my mind….)

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  16. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    You guys make my day quite often 🙂

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  17. Iron Knee wrote:

    No, I totally appreciate that you guys don’t let me get away with anything. If I wanted readers who simply agree with everything I write, I’d work for Fox News. The fact that you guys are intelligent, critical, and aren’t afraid to let me know when I’m sloppy is fundamental to a good discussion.

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  18. ebdoug wrote:

    I was reading the politcal signs on Late Night humor: An older man was holding up a sign saying “I fought the Nazis, and they don’t look like Obama.”
    Re: The Sam Walton quote: I shop on-line and ordered two of the same for Granddaughters from Target. I received one. Call, they sent a second. I was very impressed.
    Last week I “shopped” at Lowes for the first time and ordered on-line three brooms for$10.99 each. In an undamaged box arrived three brooms with metal handles, not mentioned on-line. One metal handle was cracked in the middle. So I e-mailed, I uploaded picture of broken (dangerous) broom. Nothing back from them. Today I called NC where Lowes is headquartered. Even with the order number, he had to take all my info again over the phone. E-mail address, etc. “You will hear from us about how you can return the broom by UPS.” There is no way I’m going to wrap an $11 broom for return with UPS after I uploaded the picture. And that is the last I shop with Lowes, whose stock dropped all day probably with word that BerkshireHathaway sold its holding in Lowes. Oh, and I took time to contact corporate office with the same picture I uploaded to their Web Site.
    I’ll stick to Target.
    When Wal-mart went on-line, I bought three items. The shipping was nearly equal to the price of the items: a toaster, a scale, etc. I wrote them and explained they did not have to shop the items to store, have someone stock it, suffer from five finger discount unless it is a warehouse employee. Their shipping dropped dramatically.

    Monday, February 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

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  1. Political Irony › Security Experts in Glass Houses on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 4:34 am

    […] Here’s an interesting twist to the story about HBGary Federal, the computer security firm whose computers were hacked into recently. The larger story involves WikiLeaks, Paypal, Amazon, Bank of America and others — you can read more about it here. […]