Bombshell: Chamber of Commerce lobbyists solicited firm to investigate opponents families, children

More head-exploding stuff, via a TP cross-post.  Be sure to read the final email in full on how they planned to use social media to exploit the account of their targets.

Thursday, ThinkProgress published an exclusive report that the law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a right-wing trade association representing big business, is working with set of “private security” companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents, including ThinkProgress. According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the Chamber hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams. Attorneys for the firm solicited a set of private security firms “” HB Gary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) “” to develop a sabotage campaign against progressive groups and labor unions, including ThinkProgress, the labor coalition Change to Win, SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and

New emails reveal that the private spy company investigated the families and children of the Chamber’s political opponents. The apparent spearhead of this project was Aaron Barr, an executive at HB Gary. Barr circulated numerous emails and documents detailing information about political opponents’ children, spouses, and personal lives.

One of the targets was Mike Gehrke, a former staffer with Change to Win. Among the information circulated about Gehrke was the specific “Jewish church” he attended and a link to pictures of his wife and two children (sensitive information was redacted by ThinkProgress):

Another target was Brad Friedman, co-founder of The Brad Blog. Barr’s profile of Freidman included information about his life partner and his home address (sensitive information redacted by ThinkProgress):

This tactic of targeting opponents’ personal lives and family was not simply a random event. Rather, it was a concerted and deliberate effort to use anything possible to smear the Chamber’s political opponents. To dramatize his firm’s intimidation tactics, Barr sent an email to Hunton & Williams attorney John Woods that contained personal details about fellow Hunton attorney Richard Wyatt, who was representing the Chamber. The email was intended to show Woods and Wyatt how “vulnerable” they are:

A TP cross-post

27 Responses to Bombshell: Chamber of Commerce lobbyists solicited firm to investigate opponents families, children

  1. crf says:

    Amercian business. Not a lot of money for jobs. Not a lot of demand for their products.

    But plenty to spend on their friendly corporate fascists: the US chamber of commerce.

  2. Paulm says:

    Criminal. CC is really just a front end for big fossil companies.
    I can’t believe its membership has not taken action.

  3. John McCormick says:

    Here is one email that should be used frequently to voice your opinion of the immoral, likely illegal use of Arron Barr’s time:

    I just sent him a note suggesting he get a grip on reality. I’ll be forwarding him lots of scientific findings as well as Dr. Hansen’s papers.

    John McCormick

  4. This has the look of a protection racket done on behalf of the Chamber. This matter deserves the full attention of the Department of Justice.

    These are strange times, when a lose group of anonymous hackers with an unsavory past become the defenders of freedom while the Chamber of Commerce is the sponsor of mob-type behavior.

  5. Bill W says:

    Editorial note: the TP cross-post link is the same as the link to Thursday’s report, rather than a link to the original TP version of this report.

  6. Prokaryotes says:

    MEMO: Health Insurance, Banking, Oil Industries Met With Koch, Chamber, Glenn Beck To Plot 2010 Election

    In 2006, Koch Industries owner Charles Koch revealed to the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore that he coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets and other anti-government efforts through a twice annual meeting of wealthy right-wing donors. He also confided to Moore, who is funded through several of Koch’s ventures, that his true goal is to strengthen the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90%” of all laws and government regulations. Although it is difficult to quantify the exact amount Koch alone has funneled to right-wing fronts, some studies have pointed toward $50 million he has given alone to anti-environmental groups. Recently, fronts funded by Charles and his brother David have received scrutiny because they have played a pivotal role in the organizing of the anti-Obama Tea Parties and the promotion of virulent far right lawmakers like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). (David Koch praised DeMint and gave him a “Washington Award” shortly after the senator promised to “break” Obama by making health reform his “Waterloo.”)

    What is required to LOCK UP CHARLES & DAVID KOCH?

  7. if I can exploit her account through one of her social connections I can exploit the home network/system.

    When a computer security company like HBGary talks about “exploiting” a system, it very likely means they want to hack into it.

    If they can hack into a home system to the point of running arbitrary programs on it, then the possibilities are endless — they can steal information, destroy data, plant incriminating ‘evidence’, possibly make bank transactions, etc.

    This looks really serious. Lee Fang needs to make sure the next PDF file they receive isn’t in fact a piece of malware.


  8. John McCormick says:

    Another email that did not deserve redaction:

    John W. Woods

    Mr. Woods’ practice focuses on conducting internal investigations, advising on information security legal issues and representing corporations in government investigations and business crimes. He has a particular focus in advising corporations in the legal response to network security intrusions and data breaches. He regularly counsels clients on the related topics of electronic discovery and electronic surveillance.

    Write him a note and remind him he has or will lose his moral compass and maybe his livelihood.

    John McCormick

  9. Davos says:

    Interesting how the window screen cap says “Rough data collected today” …seems like they have quite a mining operation going on, tapping into both legal and illegal sources.

    It reminds me of whoever was tapping into Sarah Palin’s email account…just ‘getting whatever was there’ and figuring out later what could be done with it. [except…this seems to be the work of a hired hand (hired by a law firm that represents the Chamber)]

    I wonder how many steps away from the target (the Chamber) the evidence has to be before they get directly in trouble for it. If someone hires someone who hires someone who hires someone who hires someone else to do some illegal things, can the original group not be liable for that, or does the implied foreknowledge automatically stick?

  10. climate undergrad says:

    Note to media: this is more evidence (ie more than zero) of less-than-acceptable practices than anyone has ever presented against climate scientists, the EPA, or the IPCC.

  11. Lou Grinzo says:

    Paulm (#2) says: “I can’t believe its membership has not taken action.”

    I can. What is the CoC membership, overwhelmingly? Corporations. Why should we expect them to do ANYTHING about any situation until they perceive that it is in their own best interest to do so? Answer: Never.

    That’s where we come into the picture: Making it clear ot those member corporations, through purely legal means, that it is in their best interest to stop this kind of reprehensible behavior. Write letters to editors, tell friends and neighbors, write to corporations and complain, and above all else, organize boycotts. Make it clear to them when they see a hit to their bottom line exactly why it’s happening. This is critical! They have to see an unmistakable connection between their actions and the loss of revenues. Anything less than that won’t change a thing. (If a company is particularly image sensitive, embarrassing them will work almost as well as a boycott because of the threat of lost sales it carries. A company that sells household cleaning products to tens of millions of consumers is much more image aware than one that sells industrial machinery to a few dozen other corporations.)

    If you want to change what corporations do, you have to think like a corporation, which means valuing money above everything else, to the point that nothing else even registers on their scale.

  12. Frank Zaski says:

    This is FUEL for a major write in, call in, LTE and protest campaign against the top funders of the Chamber. These big companies don’t like their names dragged thru the mud (as they deserve). Some resources:

  13. Kevin says:

    See this story re HBGary (one of those presumably to be hired by the Chamber) getting attacked by Anonymous … looks like they stirred a hornets nest. Wouldn’t it be great if Anonymous got into the accounts of those who’ve been putting out so much disinformation re climate. Then we see some really interesting conspiracies.

  14. Kinda just business as usual isn’t it? The wolves run the show while the sheep hold signs and chant kumbayah…

  15. gus says:

    Paulm noted: “I can’t believe its membership has not taken action.”

    I’d imagine many smaller chambers are afraid of the US CofC’s power, have bought into their BS that they “help small business,” or simply bite their tongues. But I know the one in my area actually voted to secede from them because of their blatantly GOP lies and big-corporate shilling:


    Area Chamber opts to go it alone
    Cancels U.S. Chamber membership over political ads

    STURBRIDGE — The Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce cancelled its membership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Dec. 22.
    The decision came in response to numerous complaints from the local chamber’s board of directors about negative campaign ads supported by the U.S. Chamber last fall. Cancellation took effect immediately.
    “One of our members who had been traveling brought up something that he saw while on the road at our October meeting,” said Alexandra McNitt, executive director of the Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce. “The member, who is a Republican, was offended and appalled by something he saw in a Republican campaign out in Colorado. He asked if anyone had seen the ad … no one had. We had a full agenda for that month and had to put it on the November agenda.”
    According to McNitt, the group objected to the negative advertising and tone of the ad, which “reeked of exaggeration and desperation.” The group noticed several similar campaigns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire by the national chamber. This lead to a larger conversation by the group that begged the question, “Is this an appropriate way to be represented?” as she put it.
    “By going that deep into the negative, they lost the opportunity to try to get constructive,” she said. “We then looked at the consequences of leaving the Chamber and they weren’t that many. Frankly, the U.S. Chamber doesn’t really do a whole lot for its independent parts. The main reason that we were part of the U.S. Chamber was that we thought it was the right thing to do from a citizen’s standpoint.”
    When contacting the Worcester and Boston chambers, they realized that they were not alone in their recent decision. They discovered that Boston had never joined the USCC, stating, “Joining would not be a good investment.”
    Worcester stopped paying their dues to the USCC in the past few months and has stopped being an active member. The director of the Worcester branch told McNitt that he would be talking to his members soon to decide if they will officially leave the USCC.
    One of the largest problems that the Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce had with national branch was its apathy toward independent groups’ views that didn’t match their own, such as climate change and health care. The main reason that the USCC would contact the local chamber was to alert them of their views, but according to McNitt, the USCC never asked to listen to their views or ask for updates on their projects.
    The main objectives of the Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce are economic development issues, sign bylaws for small businesses to promote their stores and promoting tourism in the towns they represent, which are Southbridge, Sturbridge, Charlton, Brimfield, North Brookfield, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, Brookfield, Holland, Spencer, Wales and a small number of businesses in Northern Connecticut.
    “Our primary goal is to be a voice for the business community,” she said. “The Boston Chamber, which is far bigger than we are, focuses on businesses in the metro area, but also works with legislation at the state capital to help businesses. We’re small and we are advocates for the businesses in the towns we represent. We argue for things that are more helpful for businesses. At one point, Sturbridge had a split tax rate where the people had a lower tax rate than the businesses and we helped change that. That was unfair and it was a deterrent for businesses looking to come to the town.”
    The Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1945 when a surge of local Chambers of Commerce were formed after World War II and decided to work together.
    “It’s a good way for businesses to work together to a common objective,” she said. “Rather than have a single business go out on a limb to advocate for something that may be in their best interest, they work with other businesses to see where there might be mutual benefits that can be achieved together.”
    The Central Mass South Chamber of Commerce is funded largely by an annual $275 due that businesses pay and several events that raise money for the chamber, such as seminars and luncheons with legislators, golf events and clambakes in the summer.
    The USCC was not available for comment.

    Adam T. Silva may be reached at (508) 909-4050, or by e-mail at

  16. Ziyu says:

    Ahh…Democratic capitalism…If you don’t want to fairly compete with industries, lobby Congress for advantages. If there’s too much resistance, hire firms to sabotage them and lead an intimidation racket.

  17. cervantes says:

    Well, so far you haven’t suffered the fate of Karen Silkwood. You know they will stop at nothing.

  18. Chris Winter says:


    Thomas J. Donahue
    President and CEO
    U.S. Chamber of Commerce
    1615 H Street NW
    Washington, DC 20062-2000

    Quite a nice Chamber of Commerce you’ve got there, Tom. Be a shame if something happened to it.

    Oh, wait; something already did happen to it.

    You happened to it, Tom. You’ve been denying both well-supported science and sound policy in the service of a few large but regressive corporations whose leaders choose to send as many jobs as possible out of the U.S. and shuck as much as possible of the costs of their operations onto the U.S. taxpayer while keeping their own huge bonuses.

    Now we learn that you have unleashed a coterie of Mayberry Mafiosi — Aaron Barr and the rest — to target the families of those who publicly disagree with these actions. Of course, you aren’t the first to pursue such an ill-considered course. Back in 1981, the Chamber gave the Reagan administration a list of 18 federal employees whose firing it urged.

    Not quite the same thing, you argue? Close enough, I say. Both are instances of exerting undue influence. In 1981, private interests attempting to change government policy by removing the officials enforcing that policy. In 2011, private interests attempting to suppress dissent by intimidating the families of the dissenters.

    What the Chamber is doing rewards those who cling to short-sighted energy and environmental policies. This is not going to help the vast majority of Americans. Indeed, it could well doom them to poverty — or worse, in the long term. In the recent past, many public-spirited corporations and local chambers of commerce have withdrawn their memberships. Did this tell you nothing? Evidently not, or you would not have launched this latest folly.

    Your mission statement reads: “To advance human progress through an economic, political and social system based on individual freedom, incentive, initiative, opportunity, and responsibility.”

    Let us know when you’re going to start.

  19. The brave Egyptians and Tunisians have show the power of ordinary people that are sick to their back teeth of abuse of power and associated corruption.
    Business is supposed to compete for the affections of their customers by providing superior products and services and the kind of actions shown in this post would be more likely to be found in the monopolistic behaviour of a drug baron defending his patch. Shame on the US CoC but, given that climate change is going to bring untold misery for our children is anybody up for prosecuting them under the 8th amendment for these actions?

  20. Anne van der Bom says:

    Lou Grinzo,

    I can. What is the CoC membership, overwhelmingly? Corporations. Why should we expect them to do ANYTHING about any situation until they perceive that it is in their own best interest to do so? Answer: Never.

    Apple left the CoC, because they did not agree with their views on climate change. They feared it would affect their corporate identity in a negative way. They were more than right.

  21. Scrooge says:

    There has to be a movie script or book in here somewhere. The Godfather has already been done. So has james bond and dr no. Maybe something along the lines of the new fascist guide on how to take over a govt.

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    This is the way capitalists always work. Up front propaganda, never-ending brainwashing in their wholly owned MSM. Then political advertising, the buying of politicians, suborning elected officials including judges, operating a ‘revolving-door’ between the Big Business corporations and the bureaucracy, to ensure that law and enforcement benefit the masters.’Capitalist democracy’ is the most perfectly self-contradicting expression ever confected by the wit of liars.
    But things can get a lot worse. In the old days in the US, unions were simply broken up by hired thugs with billy clubs. Workers’ camps were terrorised and burned to the ground. Scabs abounded. And today, in much of the poor world where businessmen are less inhibited than they are (for now) in the West, every year hundreds if not thousands of union organisers, environmentalists, workers with indigenous groups ie opponents of capitalist depredation, are simply murdered, tortured or ‘disappeared’. As the end-stage of market capitalism approaches, as ecological crises gather, as resource depletion intensifies and as the Ponzi scheme of ever-expanding debt begins to collapse. the Masters will resort to tactics like these, and worse, because they have no moral inhibitions against do whatever is necessary to protect their wealth and power, which is all they value.

  23. Leland Palmer says:

    This is fascist intimidation.

    This is the sort of thing that fascist or criminal organizations do.

    At their core, segments of our financial elites believe in the effectiveness of fascist style propaganda and intimidation.

    This tells us something about them, I think, and their fitness to rule us.

  24. Scott says:

    By all rights, there should be another wave of member departures from the Chamber of Commerce which now is wholly owned by the carbon industry.

  25. This seems to be a reflex among climate deniers.

    When I made my first video criticizing Anthony Watts, he spent a week of creepy midnight googling investigating me and, disgustingly, my family.

    Right. I got the message Mr Watts – but I can’t say I was surprised.
    My parents went through this when they dared to oppose a large nuclear project sited
    within the city limits of our town – the threats, the intimidation, the whole nine yards.
    The events of the last few weeks in Egypt should suggest once again that this type of thing doesn’t
    work – but authoritarians are slow learners.
    In the end, that’s why we will win.

  26. PIngo says:

    LOL, I am not the least bit surpriused.

  27. J Bowers says:

    Here’s a new story from the Guardian which is relevant.

    Revealed: how energy firms spy on environmental activists

    Leaked documents show how three large British companies have been paying private security firm to monitor activists