'Dirty Tricks' Lawyers Targeted in Ethics Complaint



, a critic of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and one of the targets of a planned Hunton & Williams dirty tricks campaign, is striking back.

The group has filed an ethics complaint with the D.C. Bar Association, reports the Blog of the Legal Times.

The complaint asks the Bar to revoke the law licenses of three Hunton & WIlliams (H&W) partners for ethics violations stemming from the alleged plot. Specifically, the complaint charges that:

"Attorneys John W. Woods, Richard L. Wyatt Jr., and Robert T. Quackenboss... counseled and assisted their client, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and their three private security contractor investigators, HBGary Inc, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies, to commit criminal and fraudulent conduct."

The complaint also outlines the criminal conduct committed and which planned to include:

Creating forged documents, Defamation, Cyber stalking, Spear phishing, Violation of privacy, Fraud, Extortion, Harassment, Destruction of property, Domestic spying, Scraping of computer data, Identity Theft, Cyber attacks, Interference with business, Civil rights violations, Conspiracy [list reformatted for space.]

The complaint notes that Woods -- whose bio identifies him as having some computer network security and electronic surveillance expertise -- had recently written an article labeling the relatively innocuous act of an attorney "friending" a witness, without disclosing why he wanted access to the witness's restricted information, as an ethical violation.

For their part, a Hunton & Williams spokeswoman says the "D.C. Bar proceedings are confidential and so we decline to comment." When asked about the plot and the emails that revealed it, the spokeswoman responded with a "no comment."

Plotting to Destroy Credibility

The complaint is rich with detail. Apparently the plotting on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce began in November. That's when H&W asked the three security firms already tasked with targeting Wikileaks (known as Team Themis) to target groups opposed to the Chamber. Later, Woods told the team it was their "'Iranian shipping' presentation that 'sold the Chamber'."

The proposed Chamber campaign would include planting false information at anti-Chamber organizations, getting those groups to publicize the bad information and then "outing" that information as false, all in an effort to destroy the groups' credibility.

Another proposal was to go after one of the groups, Velvet Revolution, using the following strategy:

"(1) "Attack [one of the VR principals] and after a series of attacks on his person start making ties to the back office folks ... discrediting them by association. Done in the right way this can cause them to distance themselves and also funders from [the principal]." (2) "Attack their antics as self-serving and childish." (3) "[c]reate some [false] information and get them to run with it."

The complaint lays out a dozen or so communications between the H&W partners and Team Themis, between "early November" and February 3, 2011, that make clear Themis was acting at the request and direction of H&W, and that H&W knew what the activities of Team Themis were.

Anonymous Hits Back

The plot was discovered by accident. On February 4, the CEO of one of the Team Themis firms told the Financial Times he had identified the leaders of Anonymous, a hacker collective that defends Wikileaks, and he warned they would be arrested. Anonymous quickly responded to that news, vigilante-style:

"within two days, Anonymous seized control of [the firm's] website, defaced its pages, extracted more than 70,000 company e-mails, deleted backup files, seized [the CEO's] Twitter account, and took down the founder's website rootkit.com. It then posted all those emails in a searchable form on the Internet."

And within those emails was information about the plot. Attorney Kevin Zeese, who filed the ethics complaint and serves on the board of one of the targeted groups commented on the plot's accidental discovery:

"Hopefully, it does not mean that these types of corporate cyber attacks and dirty tricks are widespread. I have heard from people in other movements, e.g. environmental, that they have faced these kinds of attacks...So, it may be a common tactic....This needs to be investigated and stopped as it is an attempt to prevent political action by citizens."

The FBI Notified

In a backhanded way, Zeese notes, the planned dirty tricks campaign was good news for his group, because "it shows we were being effective." And, he says, the planned campaign was not the first time H&W had targeted the group: "We know Hunton & WIlliams was active against us because when we published a press release on PR Newswire, they received a call from Hunton & Williams threatening them to the point where they refused to publish the release."

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StopTheChamber appears to have been the victim of an earlier dirty tricks effort. "We also received numerous death threats via email when our project took action," Zeese says. "We decided the best response was to let the FBI know and to do so publicly. As soon as we went public in our response the threats stopped. It was like a switch being turned off."

In addition to the ethics complaint, Zeese says, StopTheChamber.com has reported those other activities to the FBI and asked it to investigate. The group is also speaking with its attorneys about possible legal actions against all the players in the plot, not just H&W.

A Long, Grueling Process

Litigation takes a long time, and ethics complaints are no different. They can take years to process, and unlike litigation, it's all done behind closed doors. Unfortunately if any disciplinary action is taken, it may or may not be made public. So it'll be a long time before this plays out, and even when it ends, we may never know -- unless, of course, Zeese and his group succeed in getting the big law firm partners' law licenses revoked.

That would be huge news, and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the old power structure, where money dictates power. Money will of course still be powerful, but if Anonymous's hack can lead to the disbarment of three big law attorneys -- or even criminal prosecution, if the FBI decides to investigate -- computer skills may indeed be proved supreme.