Sunday, September 14, 2014

LEE FANG - The Business of America is Dirty Tricks - Meet the United States Chamber of Commerce

Following the 2010 midterm elections, a group of defense contractors, including Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley data analysis startup, exchanged hundreds of emails discussing how to customize their wares for an exciting new prospective client. The contractors were developing a state-of-the-art surveillance system and had been in direct conversations with the Chamber and its law firm—by coincidence, Powell’s old employers at Hunton & Williams. The spying operation would gather massive amounts of personal information, some from meta-data scraped off social media accounts (like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and some stolen through illicit “custom malware” attacks. The group, nicknamed “Team Themis” after the Greek goddess of law and order (say what you will about the kids who helm Silicon Valley startups, they have a well-developed sense of irony), would keep tabs on an array of journalists, activist groups, and labor unions. As one of the people crafting the proposal explained, Team Themis would resemble the “fusion cell” used by the Joint Special Operations Command—the elite military unit that hunted down Osama bin Laden.
For these contractors, the opportunity seemed like a natural application for their technology. After all, Palantir, a Big Data firm founded in part with an investment from the Central Intelligence Agency’s venture capital arm In-Q-Tel, has won contracts from several U.S. intelligence agencies, the Marines, and the Army. And Palantir’s proprietary software scans through immense quantities of information, searching for patterns. It’s tracked Taliban insurgents and Somali pirates, and it’s gained traction within the private sector, including a well-publicized contract to help JPMorgan Chase detect fraud.
The two other firms that make up Team Themis, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies, employ a roster of executives with extensive backgrounds in clandestine cyber-security work. The president of HBGary Federal’s sister company, HBGary, is a legendary developer of “rootkits”—undetectable software that can be planted on a target computer for malicious purposes. For a modest charge of $60,000, HBGary offered a rootkit designed in partnership with General Dynamics that could monitor keystrokes, delete files, and crash a computer infected with its proprietary code. HBGary Federal—which, as the name suggests, is the government-sector wing of the company—attempted to sell contracts to the U.S. Air Force, among other clients.[***]
Now why would the Chamber of Commerce, America’s premier lobbying group, want to develop its own miniature National Security Agency? Consider the events that led up to its negotiations with Team Themis. Ever since the landmark electoral triumph of 2010, the Chamber has been consumed by paranoia. And it’s not hard to see why; institutional paranoia was, in many ways, the winning strategy that landed the House of Representatives firmly within the control of the nihilistic right. Just days before the Chamber’s attorneys reached out to the defense contractors, Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs for the Chamber, appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio show to discuss the ways in which the Obama campaign sought to make the Chamber an “enemy of the state.”
Lower-grade versions of this jumpy, persecution-haunted self-image have since landed the Chamber in the same ever-vigilant, ever-fearful posture of keystroke-monitoring that fuels our postmodern digital surveillance state. It speaks volumes about the present synergies of our interwoven omnisurveillance sectors that diplomatic paranoia and its private-sector cousin are now used indiscriminately to market each other. .. read more: http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/the-business-of-america-is-dirty-tricks