Corporations routinely hire shady investigative firms to target nonprofit organizations using former intelligence, law enforcement, and military personnel. So says a new report by the Center for Corporate Policy, which we warn you is scary reading.

In effect, corporations are now able to replicate in miniature the services of a private CIA, employing active-duty and retired officers from intelligence and/or law enforcement. Lawlessness committed by this private intelligence and law enforcement capacity, which appears to enjoy near impunity, is a threat to democracy and the rule of law. In essence, corporations are now able to hire a private law enforcement capacity – which is barely constrained by legal and ethical norms – and use it to subvert or destroy civic groups. This greatly erodes the capacity of the civic sector to countervail the tremendous power of corporate and wealthy elites.

Titled “Spooky Business,” the report offers many examples of free-market spies subverting, or planning to subvert, civil society organizations. But we took special notice of the story of Team Themis, a joint venture of HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies, and Berico Technologies to provide free-market ratfuckery at prices of up to two million dollars a month. Brett Kimberlin’s nonprofits were on the target list.

Team Themis offered to infiltrate critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a “brief” for Hunton & Williams, they propose to “use the following tactics to mitigate effect of adversarial groups.” These tactics include: “Discredit, Confuse, Shame, Combat, Infiltrate, Fracture.” They proposed using these tactics against the Center for American Progress, MoveOn.org, Velvet Revolution, Move to Amend, JTMP (Justice Through Music Project), U.S. Chamber Watch, Brad’s Blog, Joe Trippi, Brave New Films, New Left Media, Agit-PoP, Courage Campaign and the Ruckus Society.

Let us recall what Robert Stacy McCain has said before about Team Themis:

Barrett Brown’s obsession with Team Themis was fundamentally misguided. Aaron Barr’s wacky “Super Spy” ideas were never carried out by HBGary, by any of HBGary’s Team Themis partners, or by anyone acting on behest of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Furthermore, the idea that this Team Themis stuff was the subject of important “investigative journalism” by Barrett Brown and his grandiose Project PM group is ridiculous. Go read Nate Anderson’s excellent February 2011 Wired article, “Spy Games: Inside the Convoluted Plot to Bring Down WikiLeaks.”

That’s 4,400 words and Anderson was able to publish that rather exhaustive account within a few days of the HBGary hack. Barrett Brown then spent the next 18 months digging through the HBGary e-mails with his Project PM friends . . . for what?

We might have an answer to McCain’s “for what?” if Barrett Brown was not in jail, but there you are. McCain’s post is mostly about Brown, and how no one should pay any attention to the Team Themis story because of whatever shortcomings Brown has. But we suggest further inquiries into Team Themis were warranted before Brown got sidetracked into “leadership” of Anonymous.

  • Has the Chamber ever actually hired professionals from the dark world of intelligence contracting to “combat” and “infiltrate” and “shame” and “discredit” its opponents?
  • Are there other clients who would pay for “dirty tricks” and entrapment schemes against some of these same targeted nonprofits?
  • McCain puts Team Themis into a false context, framing it as an anomaly, but according to the report from the Center For Corporate Policy, Team Themis is no outlier. Just how did Aaron Barr ever get the impression that the Chamber would be interested in ratfucking Velvet Revolution or JTMP in the first place?
  • McCain says that Team Themis “was assembled to attempt to get contracts to protect clients against Anonymous hackers.” What on Earth would Brett Kimberlin have to do with Anonymous hackers, hmm?
  • In closing his post, McCain suggested that the only real war was the one against himself, and that it is being waged by Mr. Kimberlin. Does that explain why McCain’s lawyer in Kimberlin v Walker, et al works for a former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor?

In the last few days, the Center for Corporate Policy’s report has received notice from many outlets, including The GuardianSalon, Bill Moyers, and the L.A. Times. Surely it is time for McCain the historical revisionist to deny that the War on Democracy is real, just as he denies the War on Women is real, just as he denies that Groundswell’s war on rational government is real. Every time someone writes about Barrett Brown, R.S. McCain has something to say about it. Now that the Team Themis story is being shown in a truer context, divorced from the personality of Barrett Brown, what does McCain have to say about organized, for-profit defamation and harassment of activists? This is his time to speak.

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