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Anonymous has published (on behalf of Wikileaks) a long post on a leak from the Bank of America's insurance unit, alleging wrongdoing. The webpage was relatively inaccessible on Monday morning.  (Source: Anonymous/"Bank of America Sucks")

An employee at BAC's Balboa Insurance unit questions his boss as to why they're destroying document tracking numbers.  (Source: Anonymous/"Bank of America Sucks")

A roadside view of Balboa Insurance's New York City offices shows off space in a slick glass high-rise.  (Source: infoUSA)

Much like the movie "Conspiracy Theory" it's hard to know exactly what to believe here.  (Source: Warner Brothers)
"Anon is Wikileaks' army..." but is the effort's organizer exposing wrongdoing or profiteering off the release?

The group Anonymous has become an increasing headache for the U.S. government and its allies.  After their crackdown on Wikileaks, a band of 4-Chan connected hackers organized attacks on government and financial institutions.  Some members went as far as to say the group was at "war" with the government of the United States and Britain.

Now the tie between Anonymous and Wikileaks has grown even stronger, and the group is posing a headache for another financial institution.  Only this time, rather than a direct attack via distributed denial of service, Anonymous is assisting Wikileaks,in whistleblowing itself, airing what it feels are incriminating documents from inside the second largest bank in the U.S. -- the Bank of America.

I.  What's in This Latest Leak?

The Bank of America (BAC) emails -- long awaited from Wikileaks – are finally being released, though it's unclear whether they're the same ones the infamous leaks site originally claimed to have obtained.  Published on the site bankofamericasuck.com/, they are, in theory, available for the entire world to see.  The site, however, was down for much of this morning.

We managed to reach the body of the site via Google's cache.  Some of the images loaded, others didn't.  The site counter reported over 950,000 page views when we arrived (though the site has been active for some time now).

Update: We since found the whole archive of the post's images here.

The page contains a wealth of emails posted as PNG screenshots, which include both correspondence between Anonymous and the leaker and internal emails leaked from a former Bank of America Unit.  An ex-employee at the Balboa Insurance Group obtained the emails.  Balboa is a home insurance company that was purchased by Bank of America in 1999 from Countrywide.

The unit was recently sold to QBE Insurance, a multi-national insurance group.  Balboa is estimated to be worth $1.7B USD.

The emails detail what seems like suspicious actions at Balboa (and by proxy, Bank of America).

The unit makes most of its money from placing mandatory insurance policies on liens, such as home mortgages, farm loans, etc.  The insurance policy increases the amount the mortgage holder has to pay in escrow.

It appears that Balboa was eager to disguise something that was going on.  In emails a supervisor, Jason Vaughn, informs his subordinates to remove a long list of images from Rembrandt/Track Source -- two databases that the company used.  Mr. Vaughn appeared to be fulfilling a directive from his management.

The emails were sent in November 2010.

So why did the bank need to delete all these images?  Well it's possible it was for some sort of routine maintenance, but the leaker claims that it was to prevent the federal government from getting potential proof of wrongdoing on foreclosed properties.

This indeed seems to be the case based on further comments from Jason Vaughn, the supervisor.  After the documents were unable to be deleted, the team resorted to removing the numbers from the tracking numbers system to prevent them from showing up in searches.  At this point Mr. Vaughn expresses misgivings, writing:

I'm just a little concerned on the impact that this has on the department and company.  Why are we removing all record of this error?  We have told Denise Cahen, and there is always going to be a paper trail when one of these sent documents come back, this to me, seems to be a huge red flag to auditors...What am I missing?  This just doesn't seem right to me.

Mr. Vaughn voices his concerns to supervisor Peggy Johnson.  Given that the leaker in other emails to Anonymous stated that he had complained about suspicious activity while working at Balboa, that the leaker could be Mr. Vaughn.

II.  Employee Claims Leak Was in Response to Personal Attack by BAC

The disgruntled former employee who leaked the documents claims that the Bank of America personally attacked him after his firing.

He says the company is like a cult, stating, "If an employee were to speak up to point out wrongdoing, they're instantly cast out of the circle.  I, for example, was demoted and had my desk moved to a completely different area so I wouldn't have further contact with the employees on the associate level and could only have direct contact with management."

The leaker reports that he was then fired and that the filed fake accusations of terrorism against him.  He reports police coming out and forcibly searching him and his roommate, and encounter that lost him his girlfriend who reportedly couldn't handle the situation.

He describes, "I'm well known through-out Bank of America.  They saw to that when they show everyone my picture and labeled me as a terrorist.  I want their employees to see what I can prove so they know why that was done to me.  There are a lot of good honest people, and their concerns are constantly silenced, because it's cheaper and easier to fire people and sweep their issues under the table than it is to fix the problems."

The employee makes reference to late San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb; saying that he feared that he would end up like Mr. Webb a victim of a "suicide".  In other words, he felt that the Bank of America might kill him for what he knew.

He also complains about the bank mailing him a box of his personal belongings with one of his plants spilling soil out onto his American flag, damaging it.  He asked for compensation for the flag -- apparently an item of personal value -- but was ignored.


III.  Lots of Conspiracy, Little Meat

The Bank of America leaker talks about "proving" to the world and his former coworkers that Balboa Insurance and the Bank of America were knowingly committing wrongdoing.

The frustrating part is that the emails in their current form hint at that, but they offer no concrete proof.

Bank of America acknowledged to Reuters that the emails were real, but it says the insurance documents referenced were clerical and administrative documents and not related to foreclosures.

States a company spokesperson, "We are confident that his extravagant assertions are untrue."

While it's tempting to jump on the conspiracy train, it's possible that Bank of America is telling the truth -- that the leak was a flight of fantasy by a paranoid bitter ex-employee.  It's possible that the whole situation is being inflated into something that it isn't.

There is the possibility, however, that the leaker is at least partially correct -- that there was a cover-up of wrongdoing.  If this is the case it will likely require the retrieval and analysis of the referenced documents.  As those documents may have been compromised, it may be necessary to get them from a backup source.  And additional emails would also be helpful in supporting the theory.

Ultimately Anonymous/Wikileaks/its insider source may be holding back, not releasing the full information initially.

Another important question -- regardless of the veracity of the leaker, is the motives of the individuals involved at Anonymous/Wikileaks with the publication of this data.  Anyone who can get on IRC chats and has basic computer skills can join up with Anonymous.  That someone could be a great crusader for the truth or a greedy trader looking to manipulate the market by leveraging the bad news to profit off options trading.

The latter possibility should not be discounted.  Anonymous members are exactly that -- anonymous.  And it's possible they're being duped here into pushing this story for the benefit of some secret organizer.  It'd be virtually impossible to pinpoint such misconduct, as BAC is a huge company thus is a common target of speculative options.

The news will almost certainly have a deleterious effect on the company's stock price.  If nothing else, it makes the bank look bad -- thuggish.  And the possibility that more damaging material may be yet unpublished also will likely draw down the stock.

MSNBC was among the news stations that suggested this possibility early in the story's arc.  But this possibility should be readily apparent to anyone with basic knowledge of the stock market.

IV. What Do We Know?

Is someone profiteering off this release?  Was BAC plotting to cover up foreclosure information and was willing to threaten a former employee to do so?  What is the leaker's real identity?  Is BAC/Balboa innocent?  There are no concrete, provable answers to these questions at the present.

What is clear is that a certain number of internal documents from Bank of America have been exposed.

And it's also seems highly likely that Anonymous is working closely with Wikileaks or that Wikileaks' remaining members have joined Anonymous.  Wikileaks has been proclaiming for months that it had incriminating information from a major American bank.  While it's possible that Anonymous found some of its information on its own, it seems far too coincidental given the intimate connection between many in the Anonymous community and Wikileaks.  

Many members of the site increasingly appears to be looking to play "Army" for the troubled whistleblowing organization.  This appears to be the latest manifestation of those efforts.  

As opposed to past DDoS attacks, "doxing" attempts, and their less-than-legal ilk, the publications represents what's arguably a change for the better with regards to the loose entity's pro-Wikileaks campaign.

In this case, it at least published documents that seem worthy of investigation.  While it's possible, as we mentioned, that its members (and Wikileaks, perhaps) are being duped, its current activity is arguably more understandable than past outright malicious activities.

If Wikileaks is indeed behind the current publication, this is a promising return to the site's roots.  Among the site's first major breaks was in exposing corruption at Julius Baer.

The current post is labeled "Part #1".  One might hope "Part #2" delivers cold hard evidence.  Because there will need to be a lot more evidence if Anonymous  -- or its leaking friend -- hopes to prove anything to the world.  The current post by Anonymous teases at this big conspiracy, but then never provides sufficient proof to fully back this extremely bitter ex-employee's wild claims.  Without that proof, this leak will become merely another fruitful stomping ground for the ever-present conspiracy theorists of the world. 



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RE: losers
By spread on 3/14/2011 11:37:08 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
"Anonymous" = a bunch of teenage terrorists. I hope that as they get caught, they get sentenced to hard time in a federal prison, and not just a slap on the wrist.


Because they terrorize us with the truth and their investigative journalism.

Like uncovering the corruption of HBGary, Bank of America, Scientology... etc. All bad things, right?


RE: losers
By nafhan on 3/14/2011 11:56:52 AM , Rating: 2
So, if someone does something good they should be allowed to break the law at will? I'm going to say no... Even though I like the concept of Anonymous and I applaud some of the stuff that's been done by some of their members. That doesn't change my mind about whether or not illegal activities should be punished as proscribed by the legal system (it should).

Also, there was that article the other day about how they are planning to terrorize the families of US Service members. That and the numerous DoS attacks, could arguably be called terrorism....


RE: losers
By seraphim1982 on 3/14/2011 12:37:58 PM , Rating: 1
That is the MOST hypocritical post I've read in a while.

So you are saying if someone who breaks the law, in the name something good, is "more" wrong over a corporation that BLATANTLY breaks the law. This is the reason why America is crumbling economically.... White collar crimes go unattended, where as small blue collar crimes are putting everyday joes in jail (raising the stock of private jails and at the same time hindering the middle class). In the end, money is being funneled from what's left of the middle class to the corporate elite in America.

Tell me, the where is the line between civil unrest / terrorism? If you read any news you'd realize that they are just reacting to the US government actions. Many of DDos attacks targeted websites, but DID NOT impact any business of these sites.

Plans of terrorizing families of US Service members is NO different, than officials in the US government calling for the assassination of Julian Assange on live TV or the treatment of Bradley Manning. One is terror, which a BROAD word in today's media, one is a direct threat of death....threat of death is by far worse.


RE: losers
By lamerz4391 on 3/14/2011 12:57:58 PM , Rating: 2
So basically what you are saying is that you are OK with the threats of violence against military folks and their families? Nice guy.

Also, there is no argument that there was massive corruption in the financial industry. Just look at Angelo Mozilo. But this guy offered no PROOF in THIS INSTANCE that there was law breaking. Mick got it right in saying that in Part 2 there better be more meat, otherwise this looks like sour grapes.


RE: losers
By The Raven on 3/14/2011 3:28:38 PM , Rating: 2
As I understand it they are not making threats of physical violence. I sounds like harassment to me but what do I know. Just if I were them, I would start changing pass words and such to passphrases if you get my drift ;-|


RE: losers
By nafhan on 3/14/2011 3:48:01 PM , Rating: 4
Actually, you're bringing up stuff I didn't say and attributing it to me... I said that someone who breaks the law should be held accountable for it. Both groups you mention (some members of Anonymous and "teh-big-ebil-corporations-that-are-conspiring-agai nst-us-all-and-must-be-destroyed") may fall into that group. I believe there are times and places where breaking the law is ethically or morally sound and advisable (including some of the things Anonymous has done). However, morally sound and legal are not the same thing, and you seem to be confusing the two.

You can't draw a line between civil unrest and terrorism because they aren't mutually exclusive, so it's not a valid question. An action taken could be one, both, or neither.

My observation is that when the term terrorist is used, it's generally used correctly, and misuse of the term is often by omission and replacement by a euphemism (i.e. those freedom fighters just blew up a bunch of old ladies!).

It sounds like your definition of terrorist would be something along the lines of "uses terror to accomplish goals, but the terror has to be arbitrary evil as defined and set forth by seraphim1982." Hmmm...


RE: losers
By Uncle on 3/14/11, Rating: 0
RE: losers
By nafhan on 3/14/2011 4:54:05 PM , Rating: 1
No, I didn't make a mistake; I meant what I said (and don't really understand why that's such a difficult concept). You seem to be purposefully rewording my statements into a launching point from which you go off on a tangent.

Also, the anti-American BS is soooo 2008. :)


RE: losers
By JakLee on 3/14/2011 7:02:01 PM , Rating: 2
But responding in kind only puts you in the same moral boat. THAT more than anything I believe is the current failing of America. It isn't that we don't do the right thing, or do something we think is right; it's that we also do the wrong things, sometimes for the right reasons.

It should be our goal to morally lead from the front, work within the law to change things. Isn't that what the whole Declaration of Independence was about - things were unfair and we had no redress through the law - so we quit Britain and started our game without them. And our game was based on new rules designed to (hopefully) give everyone fair redress through the law (and no taxation without representation).

So yeah, the "bad guys" and "evil corporations" may be breaking the law all willy nilly. But they will be caught, they will be punished. It is not always fair, but it is RIGHT. We expect the police to follow the law, even when it makes their jobs infinately more difficult, and we judge them harshly when they take shortcuts over peoples rights. So too we need expect these companies to follow the laws, and judge them harshly when they chose not to. But that does not give us the right to go "apocolypse now" on them.

I really want to support wikileaks as an idea, but can't really stomach the tactics they, and ANON are using. Anyone who threatens military families with blanket harrassment (or worse?) are on my DNG list. I was OK with their "online protests" against some corporations but to attack military families just puts them into a position of lame to me.

So I guess what I am saying: use the law first; only when that fails are "other" methods appropriate. However, if you must resort to "other methods", take the moral high road or you just as much of scum as those you fight against.


RE: losers
By Hyperion1400 on 3/14/2011 10:58:08 PM , Rating: 2
Sometimes, the rules really are made to be broken.


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