Biglaw, Partner Issues, Privacy, Technology

Hunton & Williams Gets WikiLeaked

Hunton & Williams is having an uncomfortable week, and will get its very own page in the WikiLeaks saga. Thanks to a feud between hacktivist group Anonymous and a security firm, emails that Hunton lawyers exchanged with that security firm were leaked in a major document dump last week.

Journalist (and lawyer) Glenn Greenwald of Salon is now calling the firm’s lawyers the “central cogs” in a devious plot to take down WikiLeaks and its supporters (he’s especially miffed as he was named in a secret PowerPoint as one of those supporters). The New York Times named Hunton as the intermediary between security firms offering up unseemly sabotage tactics and clients like Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

So how unseemly were these alleged tactics, and which Hunton partners are getting blasted by the press?

From my WikiLeaks-expert colleague here at Forbes, Andy Greenberg:

According to a report at the tech news site Tech Herald, data intelligence firms including Palantir, Berico and HBGary were all recruited by the law firm Hunton & Williams to propose ways of subverting or sabotaging WikiLeaks on behalf of Bank of America. Those plans were found in the hacked email account of HBGary executive Aaron Barr, after he was targeted by the loose hacker group Anonymous in retaliation for what the group believed was an attempt to infiltrate its ranks and identify members to the FBI.

WikiLeaks supporters were not the only targets of a possible smear campaign. ChamberWatch, an anti-business-lobby group, was also on the hit list. Slate sums up the leak of internal emails between HBGary and Hunton well:

Emails reveal that lobbying firm Hunton & Williams reached out to three security contractors to investigate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s political opponents, meeting with representatives and taking proposals for a $2 million contract. (Nobody was ever hired, but the project was nicknamed “Themis” after the Roman goddess of law and order).

Greek titan, actually. Though it seems like this would have been more aptly named Project Nemesis.

“The proposals included distributing fake documents and launching cyber-attacks,” and creating “fake insider personas” on social media sites attributed to activists, the Washington Post writes.

(Um, yeah. That last one’s not legal. At least not in California.)

Based on what we know now, it doesn’t seem like Hunton actually accepted or endorsed any of these tactics, nor does it seem that Bank of America or the Chamber of Commerce knew about or signed off on “Project Themis,” protecting them from legal fall-out.

But what about PR fall-out? Hunton & Williams is not commenting to the press so far.

Three partners are caught up in the mess, named by Think ProgressRichard Wyatt, John Woods and Robert Quackenboss. (It would be awesome if Bob Quackenboss were an evil mastermind, ‘cuz that’s a great villain name.)

Salon’s Greenwald has posted a screenshot of partner John Wood’s firm bio and is calling for his head. Or at least, calling for lots of phone calls. Greenwald writes:

Perhaps some polite email and telephone encouragement from the public is needed for Woods to account for what he and his firm have done.  In exchange for the privileges lawyers receive (including the exclusive right to furnish legal advice, represent others, and act as officers of the court), members of the Bar have particular ethical obligations to the public.  At the very least, the spirit — if not the letter — of those obligations is being seriously breached by a lawyer who appears to be at the center of these kinds of pernicious, lawless plots and then refuses to account to the public for what he did.

The firm’s getting lots of bad press… unless it actually turns out to be good press. Hunton has a noted privacy and information security practice, with its own blog and Twitter feed. Perhaps potential clients will come away from this impressed by the Hunton’s devious ways.

More facts emerge about the leaked smear campaigns [Salon]
Hackers Reveal Offers to Spy on Corporate Rivals [New York Times]
Did Security Firms Pitch Bank Of America On Sabotaging WikiLeaks? [Forbes]
EXCLUSIVE: US Chamber’s Lobbyists Solicited Hackers To Sabotage Unions, Smear Chamber’s Political Opponents [Think Progress]
Hacked e-mails reveal plans for dirty-tricks campaign against U.S. Chamber foes [Washington Post]
Hunton & Williams Linked to Hacked E-Mail Affair [Am Law Daily]

(hidden for your protection)

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