New cyber-intelligence leaks reveal US government targeting journalists

Wikileaks has published thousands of leaked emails from a US cyber-security contractor. Whistle-blowing journalist Barrett Brown was released from federal prison as a result, but the emails discussed targeted journalists and governments. In February of 2011, emails belonging to HBGary Federal were obtained by hacking collective Anonymous. Wikileaks has now published those emails in a searchable database containing over 60,000 emails.

The newly released emails were a dedication to Brown, who spent almost two years behind bars for reporting on the HBGary leaks and the 2012 hack of the private intelligence company Stratfor. Wikileaks published some 5.5 million emails from that hack between 2013 and 2014. Brown was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison for obstruction of justice, threatening a federal officer and being an after the fact accessory. Included in the HBGary Federal emails was a company proposal to spy on Russia with mobile devices and wireless sniffers. This hinted at the NSA’s capabilities prior to Edward Snowden’s 2013 disclosure.

Emails showed that HBGary executive Greg Hoglund proposed sniffing operations in Russia by targeting cell phone carriers Mobile TeleSystems and Vimpelcom. “NSA has all the collection resources you could imagine; CIA likewise has operatives coming out the wazooo. What they don’t have is an ability to manage complex campaigns,” Hoglund wrote.

HBGary’s CEO Aaron Barr added to the proposal by mentioning a plan to infiltrate groups and governments with fake personas on social media. “I will create a few personas for the executive members of the company so there can be some email traffic. You will at some point be able to use this guy’s accounts as compromised,” Barr wrote. “If this looks too big we could probably pitch this as a whitepaper to either a large defense contractor like ManTech,” he added. Barr had to resign from HBGary after scandal followed the 2011 hack. The HBGary Federal subsidiary was shut down and Virginia-based ManTech ended up purchasing HBGary.

Plantir Technologies at one point teamed up with HBGary to target Wikileaks and its volunteers. The project was pitched to Bank of America prior to Wikileaks releasing some of the bank’s documents. Plantir is a big data analysis company that serves the US military and intelligence communities. It’s founder Peter Thiel is a major backer of Trump and now a member of his transition team.

Strategies to go after journalists who supported Wikileaks showed up in a 2010 email from Barr to Plantir engineer Matthew Steckman. Among the proposed strategies was disinformation, a strategy that creates messages with the intent of sabotaging or discrediting the opposing organization. The presentation proposed submitting fake documents and then calling out the error. The tactic was used against Wikileaks when it started publish emails from John Podesta.


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