Anonymous releases WikiLeaks secrets on Bank of America
BofA denies accusations; question remains of why WikiLeaks held back
The surprising thing about today's release of embarrassing information about Bank of America's lending and business practices isn't that both are morally questionable, but that it came from the hactivist group Anonymous rather than WikiLeaks, which has been rumored to be holding it for more than a year.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed in a 2009 interview to have obtained 5 GB worth of private data from the lost laptop of a Bank of America executive that would embarrass, if not incriminate, BofA executives responsible for shady business practices.
At the time Assange said WikiLeaks was trying to figure out how to release the information so as to create the biggest impact.
Waiting until after WikiLeaks' founder had been hunted down, imprisoned and prosecuted for sexual-assault charges that may or may not have had anything to do with pressure from a U.S. government he also embarrassed was probably not the method he sought.
Instead, Anonymous announced this morning on a Twitter feed it had released the information -- a series of emails and documents -- on a site called bankofamericasuck.
The documents and emails appear to document a pattern of purposely concealing critical information about its foreclosure and loan-insurance policies, and attempts to delete data that could reveal those policies later.
It's not clear if that practice is actually illegal or just slimy.
BofA claims the information is untrue, though its anti-WikiLeaks aggression casts some doubt on that. On one hand you could wonder why Anonymous had to release the information, rather than WikiLeas, as Reuters and others have done.
It's actually consistent with Anonymous' policy of defending WikiLeaks when it feels WikiLeaks has been attacked, however.
It took down Visa, Mastercard and other sites during the Assange arrest debacle, and has attacked others it considers enemies of the freedom of information.
The most recent threat came directly from Bank of America, which allegedly tried to hire three security firms to attack the group, with the assistance of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- a business lobbying group based in Washington, D.C.
Why WikiLeaks never leaked is still a question.
It recently released informationimplicating Swiss bank employees in tax-evasion schemes, so it's not out of action, or even avoiding the banking sector for some reason.
WikiLeaks has become far more careful about documenting and allowing others to verify (and do the actual publishing) of its incriminating data, following criticism from the international press about whether its political positions show the kind of bias that might cast doubt on the information it releases.
There's no indication if it held back on BofA while waiting for someone else to confirm the information, or, possibly, if it was just holding it back as a way to keep some leverage over a major opponent.
It's also possible that Anonymous is taking over as a WikiLeaks proxy when a release of provocative information is likely to cause major legal or political conflicts.
Having Anonymous release the information directly, rather than having WikiLeaks funnel it through the NYT, Times of London and other top-shelf journalism organizations that fact check it the way they would a politician's promises, gives WikiLeaks' opponents more ground to charge that the documents are fake and the charges are lies -- at least until someone has time to check them out.
On the other hand, it gives both WikiLeaks and Anonymous more freedom to strike back at immediate threats, rather than waiting sometimes weeks until news organizations whose criteria for publishing provocative information are much more conservative than those of WikiLeaks or Anonymous, if only because they're not anonymous, and both law enforcement and those wishing to sue for defamation always know where to find them.