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, 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. 

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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