A subcommittee of 19 members of US Congress is seeking to launch an investigation into the activities of security firm HBGary Federal following revelations that the company with Berico Technologies and Palantir Technologies, may have conspired to sabotage opponents.
In a letter sent to four members of the House of Representatives, the Congressional subcommittee said HBGary Federal and its partners "planned a 'dirty-tricks' campaign that included possible illegal actions against citizens engaged in free speech".
Because HBGary Federal has contracts with the US military and intelligence agencies, the Congressional probe is looking into suspicions that the company may have used tools bought by by taxpayers to launch private attacks on citizens and groups who foot the bill. They requested to see the company's contracts with the US military and the National Security Agency.
"We are deeply concerned by evidence that intelligence contractors may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy to target American citizens on behalf of powerful corporate interests," Congressman Hank Johnson said in a statement posted on his website. He wrote the letter and was on the House Armed Services and Judiciary committees.
"We believe a full Congressional investigation is warranted to determine whether laws were broken and whether existing laws are sufficient to protect Americans from high-tech dirty tricks."
The trouble began last month when HBGary Federal chief executive officer Aaron Barr went public with his research into the hacktivist group Anonymous.
Subsequently, the group said that HBGary Federal was preparing to sell a document with the identities of its members to the FBI. They defaced the HBGary website, posting a taunting letter on it, and stole at least 50,000 emails belonging to the firm and posting them to torrent sites.
In those emails, the company was proposing a plan to law firm Hunton and Williams to discredit whistleblower website Wikileaks. It was later revealed that other plans called for similar attacks against foes of the US Chamber of Commerce, including watchdog group US Chamber Watch, the union-based Change to Win, think tank Centre for American Progress, the Service Employees International Union and other organisations.
The conspirators' plan called for obtaining information on Wikileaks sources by launching cyberattacks against the site's servers. It also planned to discredit the organisation by planting phony documents on the site and then calling into question its legitimacy. It also sought to intimidate Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for investigative news website Salon, a vocal champion of Wikileaks.
Barr resigned on February 28.
Lawmakers said these activities might be illegal, violating mail and fraud, forgery and computer fraud statutes.
They were seeking answers to whether the Government contractors violated federal laws, whether there are adequate laws in place to protect American citizens from intrusive and/or unethical electronic surveillance tactics, and whether government resources were inappropriately used to target American citizens.
In their request for an investigation, the lawmakers cited the need for "free and open debate, discussion and criticism as guaranteed by the US Constitution".
And this pertains to internet activities as well; they said no citizen should be the target of "illegal and insidious electronic attack any more than peaceful protestors should be the victims of intimidation or physical violence".
In an interview with Foreclosureblues, Rep. Johnson stated he has requested documents from the Department of Defence, the director of national intelligence and the Justice Department.