Today, Tuesday 29 November 2016, WikiLeaks publishes in searchable format more than 60 thousand emails from private intelligence firm HBGary. The publication today marks the early release of US political prisoner Barrett Brown, who was detained in 2012 and sentenced to 63 months in prison in connection with his journalism on Stratfor and HBGary. Coinciding with Mr Brown’s release from prison WikiLeaks is publishing a searchable index of the HBGary emails. WikiLeaks published the Stratfor emails in 2012.
The HBGary emails are from four email accounts of key people from HBGary and HBGary Federal. HBGary was founded in 2003 by Greg Hoglund to provide cyber security-related services to corporate clients. A separate entity, HBGary Federal, was managed by Aaron Barr to do similar work for government agencies and so had staff with security clearances and worked with companies such as Booz Allen Hamilton (one of the contractors Edward Snowden worked for).
In February 2011 Aaron Barr did an interview with the UK’s Finanical Times that stated he had been investigating the internet activist group Anonymous and claimed to have uncovered the real identities of some of what he described as the leaders of the organisation. In retaliation Anonymous penetrated Barr’s organisation and took emails from the accounts of four key people from HBGary and HBGary Federal: Aaron Barr and Greg Hoglund, but also Ted Vera (then Chief Operating Officer at HBGary Federal) and Phil Wallisch, a former Principal Technical Consultant.
These emails and revelations from them started to be published on the internet, predominantly through the work of Barrett Brown and a crowd-sourced investigative journalism project he ran: Project PM. As a result, later that month Barr was forced to step down, HBGary Federal closed and HBGary, Inc. was sold to ManTech International. This would have been little consolation to Mr Brown, who a month later on 6 March 2012 had both his and his mother’s houses raided by the FBI, seeking “Records relating to HBGary, Infragard, Endgame Systems, Anonymous, LulzSec, IRC chats, Twitter, wiki.echelon2.org, and pastebin.com.” Agents seized his laptops.
Barrett Brown’s work through Project PM was one of the first collaborative investigations into the US corporate surveillance industry. Looking into coporate firms that work hand-in-hand with the government to surveil on citizens, Mr Brown was one of the first to shed light on this unaccountable industry.
The HBGary revelations that came out through the work of Barret Brown and others showed that HBGary and related companies were involved in plans to spread disinformation and to attack watchdog organisations, including WikiLeaks and US Chamber Watch. For example, the emails revealed a plan to form a group called Team Themis with a number of companies from the industry to „ruin“ WikiLeaks by submitting false documents in the hope they would be published, as well as discrediting WikiLeaks staff and supporters (including the journalist Glenn Greenwald). HBGary was also bidding to fulfil a tender from the US Air Force to assist it in manipulating social media to spread propaganda about the Air Force.
The emails also reveal that HBGary tried to discredit the watchdog group US Chamber Watch, a critic of the US Chamber of Commerce, again through disinformation. The plan was to make a „fake insider persona“ within US Chamber Watch to lead them to publicise false information in an attempt to „prove that US Chamber Watch cannot be trusted with information and/or tell the truth.“
Barrett Brown was indicted on felony counts due to his journalistic work on the HBGary emails and other related corporations. He has been in prison ever since, often being put into solitary confinement and having his communications restricted. The HBGary emails largely disappeared from the internet. Today the HBGary emails are safe for all to search in honour of Mr Brown’s work and in celebration of his release.