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Legal Ethics Forum: Hunton & Williams vs. Wikileaks

By FZ - Posted on 03 March 2011

-By Brad Wendel

February 15, 2011- Several stories in the mainstream media and progressive blogs have reported on a meeting in which several security firms pitched for the business of Hunton & Williams in connection with the threatened disclosure of Bank of America documents by Wikileaks.  (See the WaPo, NYT, the Guardian, and Salon, and this post on a DailyKos affiliated blog.)  Hunton & Williams represents BoA, and the firms were trying to figure out a way to get out ahead of the disclosures and protect the bank as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The proposal involved a strategy of disinformation aimed at discrediting Wilkileaks as well as prominent supporters in the media, including Glenn Greenwald at Salon.  Numerous documents have come to light detailing the proposals to Hunton & Williams, including a PowerPoint presentation in which the three security firms, HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies, and Berico Technologies proposed to submit faked documents to Wikileaks and subsequently expose them as fakes.  The presentation also suggested threatening the career of Greenwald, as well as reporters at the New York Times and the Guardian. 

In a separate but related series of emails, HBGary also proposed to Hunton & Williams that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce employ its services to attack its union-backed critics, including an organization called ChamberWatch.  According to the NYT story:

The e-mails include what appears to be an exchange on Nov. 9, 2010, between Aaron Barr, HBGary Federal’s chief executive, and John W. Woods, a Hunton & Williams partner who focuses on corporate investigations. Mr. Barr recounted biographical tidbits about the family of a one-time employee of a union-backed group that had challenged the chamber’s opposition to Obama administration initiatives like health care legislation.

“They go to a Jewish church in DC,” Mr. Barr apparently wrote. “They have 2 kids, son and daughter.”

A week later, Mr. Barr submitted a detailed plan to Hunton & Williams for an extensive investigation into U.S. Chamber Watch and other critics of the chamber, including the possible creation of “in-depth target dossiers” and the identification of vulnerabilities in their computer networks that might be exploited.

Another PowerPoint presentation prepared for Hunton & Williams said the research that HBGary Federal and its partners could do for the law firm on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce would “mitigate effect of adversarial groups” like U.S. Chamber Watch. The presentation discussed the alleged criminal record of one leader of an antichamber group, and said the goal of its research would be to “discredit, confuse, shame, combat, infiltrate, fracture” the antichamber organizations.

After the story broke, one of the firms involved apologized to Greenwald and distanced itself from HBGary.  The Chamber of Commerce called the proposal "abhorrent."  Hunton & Williams, however, has remained silent, perhaps hoping the story will go away.  Greenwald has stated that Hunton solicited these proposals.   Whether it invited the proposals or received them unsolicited, it seems clear that Hunton was intimately involved in considering a campaign to attack journalists, fabricate documents, and possibly engage in computer crimes.