By Jerome Taylor
The computer hackers' collective Anonymous has uncovered a proposal by a consortium of private contractors to attack and discredit WikiLeaks.
Last week Anonymous volunteers broke into the servers of HB Gary Federal, a security company that sells investigative services to companies, and posted thousands of the firm's emails on to the internet.
The attack was in revenge for claims by the company's chief executive Aaron Barr that he had successfully infiltrated the shadowy cyber protest network and discovered details of its leadership and structure.
Hacktivists, journalists and bloggers have since pored over the emails and discovered what appears to be a proposal that was intended to be pitched to the Bank of America to sabotage WikiLeaks and discredit journalists who are sympathetic to the whistle-blowing website.
The PowerPoint presentation claims that a trio of internet security companies – HB Gary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies – are already prepared to attack WikiLeaks which is rumoured to be getting ready to release a cache of potentially embarrassing information on the Bank of America.
The presentation, which has been seen by The Independent, recommends a multi-pronged assault on WikiLeaks including deliberately submitting false documents to the website to undermine its credibility, pioneering cyber attacks to expose who the leakers to WikiLeaks are and going after sympathetic journalists.
One of those mentioned is Glenn Greenwald, a pro-WikiLeaks reporter in the US. Writing on Salon.com Greenwald stated that his initial reaction to was "to scoff at its absurdity".
"But after learning a lot more over the last couple of days," he added, "I now take this more seriously – not in terms of my involvement but the broader implications this story highlights. For one thing, it turns out that the firms involved are large, legitimate and serious, and do substantial amounts of work for both the US government and the nation's largest private corporations."
A separate email written by Mr Barr to a Palantir employee suggests that security companies should track and intimidate people who donate to WikiLeaks. Security firms, Mr Barr wrote, "need to get people to understand that if they support the organisation we will come after them. Transaction records are easily identifiable."
The Bank of America does not seem to have directly solicited the services of HB Gary Federal. Instead it pitched the idea to Hunton and Williams, a law firm that represents the bank.
A Bank of America spokesman denied any knowledge of the proposals: "We've never seen the presentation, never evaluated it, and have no interest in it." A spokesman for Hunton and Williams declined to comment. HB Gary Federal has acknowledged in a statement that it was hit by a cyber attack but has suggested the documents online could be falsified.
However, the two other security firms named on the presentation have not denied the authenticity of the documents. Instead, both Berico and Palantir issued angry statements distancing themselves from HB Gary Federal and severing ties with the firm.
But a statement from Anonymous claimed the presentation showed how sections of corporate America were "entangled in highly dubious and most likely illegal activities, including a smear campaign against WikiLeaks, its supportive journalists, and adversaries of the US Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America".