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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
quote: My understanding of profiteering is when you price gouge someone during times of hardship and they have no other choice. (Kinda like the XBL price hike ;-P)
quote: That's what it used to be. But nowadays you can short a stock, then release bad news about the company to drive down its stock price, earning a tidy profit.