On the heels of press reports this week that U.S. Chamber of Commerce lawyers commissioned private security firms to infiltrate and discredit unions and other political opponents came revelations Feb.15 that plans to defame individual employees of the groups were also in the works.

Thousands of newly-released memos show the Chamber’s campaign of sabotage was aimed at Change-to-Win, the labor coalition, the Service Employees International Union, labor-funded Chamber watch-dog groups and other progressive organizations that oppose its pro-business agenda.

ThinkProgress, an affiliate of the Center for American Progress, released statements Feb. 15 showing that Mike Gehrke, who was employed full time by Change-to-Win, was among the individuals targeted in the project. The sabotage campaign is evident in some 67,000 memos and e-mails, according to an investigation by ThinkProgress.

The biggest part of the campaign can best be described as an entrapment scheme.

The idea was to create false documents, possibly fake financial reports, and “leak” them to progressive groups opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the documents as fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents.

Another category of schemes involved was creating false “inside persons” at the Chamber to specifically generate communications with Change to Win.

Among the 67,000 e-mails many show the Chamber’s law firm, Hunton & Williams, meeting with security companies in late 2010. As late as Jan. 13 there was an e-mail indicating that the security companies assumed the entire sabotage operation was a “go.”

A Feb. 3rd e-mail, however, showed that the Chamber lawyers wanted the security companies to produce the campaign without being paid, “an then present jointly with H & W to the Chamber” on or around Feb. 14.

That maneuver allowed the Chamber, as late as Feb. 15, to claim it had never paid any companies for plans to sabotage progressive groups.

The Chamber’s lobbying firm, Hunton & Williams, hired three computer security outfits – HBGary Federal, Palantir and Berico Technologies-to use a wide range of tactics against SEIU, CTW, the labor-backed USChamberWatch and an independent website, StopTheChamber.com. The security outfits called their project “Themis.”

The memos show the Chamber turned to Hunton & Williams for help after the progressive groups raised questions during last year’s election campaign about foreign corporations using the Chamber as their conduit for campaign contributions. Foreign donations to U.S. campaigns are illegal. The Chamber denied the charge.

In addition to the entrapment scheme the tactics planned against Change to Win, SEIU and the others included:

–         Exposing personal information about workers for the progressive groups, and their families, including Gehrke. One e-mail details which “Jewish church” (sic) he attended. Another named his wife and children.

–         Violating the “terms of use” and “exploiting vulnerabilities” in social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook to gather the personal information about Gehrke and others.

The security companies planned to charge the Chamber $200,000 for their initial background research and then charge the Chamber as much a $2 million for the entire campaign of disinformation against the progressive groups.

The security companies pushed hard to convince the Chamber that they were worth it.

In another e-mail from one company to another, after a conference call between the three security companies and the Chamber lawyers, said, “We need to blow these guys away with descriptions of our capabilities, IP, and talent. Make them think that we are [James] Bond, Q, and money penny all packaged up with a bow.”

One other piece of disinformation occurred last year and affected StopTheChember.com, the independent, non-union Chamber foe.

Website operator Brad Friedman reported on a blog that he received “hundreds of death threats” after Fox News ran a story falsely claiming his group had “put a bounty on the head” of the Chamber. “The article came out of the blue, so somebody clearly tipped off Fox News. We don’t have direct evidence, but it’s interesting,” said Friedman.

The discrediting-plus-disinformation campaign, from late 2010 through early February, was “a concerted and deliberate effort to use anything possible to smear the Chamber’s political opponents,” ThinkProgess said. According to the e-mails and memos the three computer security firms expected to be paid $250,000-$300,000 monthly.

“An e-mail from February 3 showed that Hunton & Williams wanted the firms to work on spec and then present jointly with H&W to the Chamber on or around February 14,” ThinkProgress said. “The e-mails also reveal that lawyers from Hunton & Williams met with the Chamber numerous times in order to brief them on the status and progress” of the disinformation-discreditation campaign.”

“This is a new era of dirty tricks,” StopTheChamber’s Friedman wrote in a blog, “picking up where the ratfuckers left off in the Nixon administration, and they seem to be getting away with it with impunity. That’s what should be covered,” he said.




John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.