ChamberLeaks: Military Contractors Palantir And Berico Under Scrutiny

Excerpt of contract between Berico and HBGary, signed by Berico co-founder Nick Hallam. Click to enlarge.

Last month, ThinkProgress revealed a campaign organized by lawyers for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against its opponents using three security contractors, Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies, and HBGary Federal. During an Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) asked military officials to provide contract information related to the government’s business with the firms involved in the Chamber proposal. Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), requested that the information be made available to the full subcommittee.

Palantir, Berico, and HBGary may have used techniques and technologies developed under military contracts in their pro-Chamber campaign. For months, the security firms — who named their collaboration “Themis,” after the Roman goddess of law and order — worked on behalf of the Chamber’s law firm, Hunton & Williams LLP, creating electronic dossiers on political opponents of the Chamber through illicit means.

What is known about the business relationship between these firms?

BERICO TECHNOLOGIES: Berico’s co-founders, CEO Guy Filippelli and COO Nick Hallam have issued a statement claiming that Berico “does not condone or support any effort that proactively targets American firms, organizations or individuals,” calling the actions “reprehensible.”

However, Berico’s initial proposal to Hunton & Williams called for the “open source collection of information on target groups and individuals that appear organized to extort specific concessions through online slander campaigns.”

Furthermore, Berico COO Nick Hallam signed a contract with HBGary in November to “better conduct cyber investigations and corporate campaign analysis” in response to the request of Hunton & Williams.

Excerpt of nondisclosure agreement between Berico and HBGary, signed by Berico co-founder Nick Hallam. Click to enlarge.

In December, Hallam signed a nondisclosure agreement with HBGary to use Palantir on behalf of Hunton & Williams to “provide information, insight, and analysis relating to nongovernmental organization corporate campaigns and labor union corporate campaigns.”

In pursuit of this unethical project to proactively target the Chamber’s political adversaries, Berico employees then uploaded data scraped from Facebook onto Palantir’s servers.

Emails indicate that Berico CEO Guy Fillippelli met with Hunton & Williams partner Bob Quackenboss, the primary contact with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to negotiate pricing of the spying campaign.

PALANTIR TECHNOLOGIES: In his testimony, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander described how Palantir’s tools provide the defense and intelligence communities “a way of visualizing what’s going on in the networks” [of terrorists]. Alexander explained that military contracts generally specify whether technologies developed for the defense department can be used for commercial applications.

Palantir co-founder and CEO Dr. Alex Karp has issued a statement that Palantir has “a commitment to building software that protects privacy and civil liberties.” However, Palantir was in fact the company that first asked HBGary to conduct illicit invasions of privacy.

Palantir was the first company approached by Hunton & Williams to conduct the pro-Chamber espionage campaign in the middle of October, 2010. Even before learning the identity of the law firm’s corporate client, Palantir’s Matthew Steckman then asked Barr to provide “digital intelligence collection” and “social media exploitation” — i.e., illicit and unethical hacking. Emails indicate that the pro-Chamber spying was approved by Palantir founder Alex Karp, the board of directors, and Palantir general counsel Matt Long.

Excerpt of contract between Berico and Palantir, signed by Berico co-founder Nick Hallam and Palantir general counsel Matt Long. Click to enlarge.

Under contract from Berico, Palantir developed a database designed to hold data scraped from social media sites, and both Berico and HBGary uploaded such illicit data to the Palantir servers. It is unknown whether Palantir has deleted all such data scraped from Facebook and LinkedIn for their projects. It is also unknown how much data scraped from social media sites still resides on other Palantir projects.

After the conspiracy was revealed, Berico and Palantir have cut ties with HBGary for its “reprehensible” “cyber attacks.” Palantir has now suspended software engineer Matthew Steckman “pending a thorough review of his actions.”

However, top officials of the Themis companies signed contracts to work together to use Barr’s “abhorrent” and “reprehensible” methods on behalf of Hunton & Williams and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Simply disowning HBGary and putting a “26-year-old software engineer” on leave shouldn’t make the questions about the extent of this unethical conspiracy go away.

View a timeline of the ChamberLeaks events.