Dem rep. seeks to investigate security contractors over Chamber of Commerce emails

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) made news with his comments about Guam.
Hank Johnson

Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson (Ga.) plans to spearhead investigations into whether three companies broke the law with alleged plans to sabotage liberal critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In letters sent today to Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Johnson said his office intends to review federal contracts with the security firms HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies.

Johnson wrote that he was concerned those companies "may have violated the law and/or their federal contracts by conspiring to use technologies developed for U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism purposes against American citizens and organizations on behalf of private actors."

The three security contractors have been the subject of scrutiny since February, when documents were leaked online that appeared to reveal tactics the companies planned to use to discredit groups like Chamber Watch -- an adversary of the Chamber of Commerce -- as well as Wikileaks and columnist Glenn Greenwald, a supporter of Wikileaks. Part of the proposed plan, the documents say, included submitting fake documents to Wikileaks and then exposing them as forgeries, according to the New York Times. The companies also allegedly planned to threaten the careers of Wikileaks supporters like Greenwald and conduct extensive, personal background research into their targets.

The plan appeared to be an attempt to win the business of a law firm that represents the Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber claimed to have no knowledge of the plan, calling it "abhorrent."

Johnson and 19 other House members earlier this month asked Republican leaders to investigate the incident for possible violations of the law, such as forgery or computer fraud, but Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, declined, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Johnson said in a statement today that "this scandal cries out for a full investigation" and promised to conduct it himself, if need be.

"We need aggressive action to defend American citizens in the cyber domain," he said.