#OpISIS 8.8: Winter 2010-2011 (Part 4)

In Parts Two and Three of this sub-series, I addressed two public statements that Julian Assange made in 2009 and 2010, respectively, both of which became the catalyst for a myriad of knee-jerk reactions, poor decisions and what HBGary Federal’s Aaron Barr might describe as tragic events. In October 2009, Assange announced that he possessed five gigabytes of data from Bank of America:

At the moment, for example, we are sitting on 5GB from Bank of America, one of the executive’s hard drives.

A year later, Assange told Forbes that WikiLeaks was going to publish a U.S. bank “megaleak” in early 2011:

We have one related to a bank coming up, that’s a megaleak. It’s not as big a scale as the Iraq material, but it’s either tens or hundreds of thousands of documents depending on how you define it.

Everyone assumed that the “megaleak” was the five gigabytes of BofA data that Assange mentioned in 2009. People took the rumors so seriously that Bank of America completely lost their shiz, Palantir and HBGary created the “The WikiLeaks Threat” presentation, Aaron Barr spied on Anonymous, and Anonymous completely decimated both Barr and HBGary, in return.

(bit of a delay on that five days…life happens)

But here’s the extraordinary part of the story: The “megaleak” was never about the five gigabytes of BofA data. At least not according to WikiLeaks.

When WikiLeaks volunteer, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, left the organization in September 2010, WikiLeaks claims that he stole (and later destroyed) the five gigabytes of data on the way out the door. Assange made the “megaleak” comment two months after Domscheit-Berg allegedly stole the material and so, logically speaking, the “megaleak” could not have been about the five gigabytes of Bank of America data.

So what happened to the “megaleak” and why didn’t WikiLeaks publish it? Questions remain that no one seems terribly curious about including how many Bank of America sources did WikiLeaks have, as well as this little conspiratorial nugget I’m adding to the conversation, “Did Assange use a little known actor to temporarily bluff his way into convincing Bank of America that he still had five gigabytes of damaging information?”

OperationLeakS and BankOfAmericaSuck.com

On October 16, 2010, a month after Domscheit-Berg left WikiLeaks with a handful of source material, someone on Twitter created the handle @OperationLeakS. A month after that, on November 11th, Forbes conducted that infamous interview with Assange during which he announced that WikiLeaks had an upcoming “megaleak” about a U.S. bank. That interview was made public on November 29th. 

Panic ensued and on December 2nd, John Woods of Hunton & Williams sent an email to then-CEO of HBGary Federal, Aaron Barr, stating that the firm had an upcoming meeting with Bank of America on how to handle WikiLeaks. You can find more details at #OpISIS: Winter 2010-2011 (Part 2)

Then, on Christmas Day, whoever was managing the @OperationLeakS Twitter account (or someone associated with it) registered the website, BankOfAmericaSuck.com.


Four days later, @OperationLeakS tweeted, “Bank of America WikiLeaks Fraud Documents Coming,” and they included a link to the website. At the time, the front page of the website looked like this:


It appears that the person behind this website was interested in making money more so than anything else, half a million dollars to be exact, and they purposely tied themselves directly to WikiLeaks’ Bank of America documents to do just that. In fact, in the middle of the BofA shitstorm that Assange’s “megaleak” comment had just caused, they strongly implied that they had WikiLeaks’ alleged Bank of America documents and if WikiLeaks didn’t publish them, they would.

At the time that this website was created, Palantir and HBGary had just come up with a plan three weeks prior on how to take down WikiLeaks, the WikiLeaks support community, and journalists like Glenn Greenwald. One of their ideas included submitting fake documents to WikiLeaks. Just saying.

In January 2011, BankofAmericaSuck.com continued to push the rumors that WikiLeaks’ next target was Bank of America by reposting a Salon article with a headline that read, “Bank of America Has Been Confirmed to be WikiLeaks Next Leaks.” The source for the headline was then-CNBC journalist, John Carney, who I mentioned in my previous article for spreading the rumor:

Bank of America is the target of the next ‘megaleak’ from WikiLeaks, according to a person who has close contact with top people at Wikileaks…

Our source has confirmed that Bank of America is indeed the target of the next big leak. The source couldn’t elaborate on the materials held by Assange.

The obvious question that no one seems to have asked is whether or not the person behind the trolly “BankOfAmericaSuck” website was Carney’s source. I mean, Carney wasn’t even a WikiLeaks fan. A month before he made this announcement, he called Assange “an enemy of the American government,” so it’s kinda weird that anyone close to WikiLeaks, or an alleged source for that matter, would go to Carney of all people to confirm WikiLeaks’ next target.

Bank of America Documents a Real Snore

On February 9, 2011—and only after Assange became aware of Palantir and HBGary’s “The WikiLeaks Threat” BofA presentation that suggested floating fake documents to WikiLeaks— Reuters reported, “Assange suggests bank documents are a snore.”

Assange has said privately he does not know if his cache of internal Bank of America data, whose public release he has suggested might be imminent, contains any big news or scandal, according to three people familiar with the WikiLeaks leader’s private discussions about the material.

They said that Assange said it consists of e-mails from the hard-drive of a Bank of America executive’s computer and that the latest messages are dated sometime in 2006.

The sources said that Assange privately acknowledged the material was not self-explanatory and that he personally was unable to make much sense of it. Assange indicated it would require a substantial amount of effort by financial experts to determine whether any of the material was newsworthy, according to the sources.

The information in the Reuter’s article conflated Assange’s 2009 and 2010 statements, it was never confirmed or denied by WikiLeaks (at least not that I am aware of), and the rumor that the five gigabytes of BofA documents were a big ol’ nothing burger was already being circulated by none other than The Guardian’s David Leigh almost a week prior, per the londonersdiary.standard.co.uk.

But what does this have to do with the “megaleak?” Again, at no point did Assange say that the “megaleak” was the five-gigabyte BofA hard-drive. And Reuters doesn’t tell us when Assange made these alleged statements about the documents. For all we know, he said it privately in 2009, after announcing he had possession of the five gigabytes of BofA material.

Put it this way, why would Assange tell insiders in early 2011 (who then told Reuters) that the five gigabytes of BofA data wasn’t “self-explanatory” and that he might have to hire financial experts if Domscheit-Berg stole the data five months prior? It doesn’t make any sense.

What would make sense is if:

a. Assange made these statements prior to announcing the “megaleak” and was specifically referring to the five gigabytes of BofA data

b. Assange was referring to the “megaleak” and everyone erroneously conflated the “megaleak” with the five gigabytes of data meaning they were two completely different sets of source material

c. Assange never made these statements

d. WikiLeaks lied about Domscheit-Berg stealing the five gigabytes of BofA data, they had it the entire time, the “megaleak” was indeed the same as the five gigabytes, and for some reason they could not, or chose not to publish it

Sigh. Why has no one tried to hammer down these answers? Moving forward, I’m going to cover the rest of the @OperationLeakS/Bank of America story with the assumption that:

a. Domscheit-Berg stole the five gigabytes, or

b. WikiLeaks lost the five gigabytes, or

c. For whatever reason they chose not to publish it, and

d. The “megaleak” was different source material from the five gigabytes

With that said, much of this is clearly about asking questions and speculation. So, a month after the rumors began to circulate about unspecified Bank of America documents being a dud, @OperationLeakS decided to peddle his “Bank of America” documents to Anonymous.

Unspecified BofA Docs a Dud; OpLeakS Peddles Insurance Emails to Anonymous

Approximately a month after the Reuters article “OpLeakS” a.k.a. @OperationLeakS reached out to Barrett Brown via chat. According to Parmy Olsen, OpLeakS was a “young man” who “acquired a trove of e-mails and needed some advice. The leak, he said, involved Bank of America.”

Intrigued, Brown invited him into his secret Skype group with Topiary and WhiteKidney for a conference call. OpLeakS came on with a thick New Jersey accent and monotone voice. At first Brown and Topiary were excited by what they were hearing. OpLeakS, a staunch Anonymous supporter, said he had been contacted by a former employee of Bank ofAmerica, someone who had worked there for seven years and who had joined when the bank bought Balboa Insurance. 

After OpLeakS sent Brown a taste of what he had in his possession, Olsen wrote that Brown was “unimpressed” and that the claims made to OpLeakS by the former BofA employee sounded embarrassing to the bank but “nothing that could bring down an entire multinational bank.” According to Brown, “He didn’t seem to have what he thought he had.”

Members of Anonymous also said that OpLeakS never followed through with his promise to send more information probably because there wasn’t more information.

Anonymous’ disinterest in the documents didn’t dissuade OpLeakS from publishing them. Olsen wrote, “OpLeakS posted several tweets over the weekend of March 12 and 13 hinting that ‘Anonymous’ had e-mails that exposed ‘corruption and fraud’ at Bank of America.”

One Twitter account wrote:

[O]n Monday @OperationLeakS is going to release info on Bank of America trying to confuse loan numbers and foreclose on peoples homes.

Another wrote:

Bank of America facing a black Monday with leaks impending?

And when “OpLeakS” finally leaked the documents on “Black Monday,” it turned out to be one email thread dated November 1, 2010. One. That is, aside from this so-called whistleblower’s general grumblings about the company, you know, like he didn’t like the dress code. Despite big claims that the emails proved mortgage fraud, no one was impressed. According to Olsen:

The mainstream media, from CNN to USA Today to the BBC, had excitedly reported on the e-mails, but by the end of the week all agreed the ‘take-down’ had been a flop…

Worse, the hype had come not from a group of hackers, but from one monotone-sounding man with a limited understanding of finance whose voice had been globally amplified by invoking the name ‘Anonymous’ at the right time and with the right subject matter.

But it wasn’t just that the documents were a complete flop and that “OpLeakS” invoked the name “Anonymous” directly after the collective made headlines for demolishing Aaron Barr and hacking HBGary’s emails. What Olsen missed entirely is that before “OpLeakS” hijacked the name “Anonymous” for his own personal trolling mission, he repeatedly and purposely invoked WikiLeaks’ name to social engineer everyone into believing that he had their Bank of America documents—directly after Assange made the “megaleak” comment, no less.

Brian Penny, the So-Called BofA Whistleblower

This so-called Bank of America whistleblower turned out to be Brian Penny, a dude who in no way has a “heavy New Jersey accent,” so the question is who helped him carry out these shenanigans? That, or he was somehow able to disguise his voice as such when speaking to Barrett Brown and other members of Anonymous.

Penny claims that he worked at Countrywide and Bank of America from October 2005 to January 2011, but this is grossly misleading. Penny didn’t work for Bank of America in 2005. He worked for Countrywide Financial which wasn’t bought out by Bank of America until 2008.

Bank of America also acquired Balboa Insurance in 2008, a subsidiary of Countrywide that the now-defunct financial company purchased in 1999. This was the company that Penny worked for after BofA absorbed Countrywide, and his “Bank of America leak” was from none other than Balboa Insurance.

So sure, Penny technically worked under the umbrella of Bank of America but he was directly employed by an insurance subsidiary. Make no mistake, Penny was not some upper level Bank of America executive moving money around to offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands at the behest of rich clients. Not by a long shot.

Was Penny a Source for WikiLeaks?

Nowadays you can concoct virtually any conspiracy theory you want and no one seems to blink an eye so yes, you can easily speculate that Penny either trolled WikiLeaks or was a short-lived source, and here’s why: First, the @OperationLeakS Twitter account was created one month before Assange told Forbes that WikiLeaks was planning on publishing a “megaleak,” suggesting advance notice.

Penny (or his associates) also registered BankOfAmericaSuck.com one month after Assange made that statement and then promptly announced that they had “WikiLeaks Bank of America documents.”

However, the Twitter account never mentioned Bank of America until after Assange mentioned a “megaleak.” Although the account was created in October 2010, whoever controlled it at the time either deleted all of their tweets between October 2010 – December 3, 2010, or they didn’t start tweeting until the following day, indicating that this very well may have been a grift from the very start. 

The Bank of America Posters

In Part Three of this sub-series, I mentioned that an “ex-WikiLeaks volunteer” leaked two Bank of America posters to Forbes’ Andy Greenberg that were allegedly commissioned by WikiLeaks to promote an upcoming release. At least one of the posters (below) was published on WikiLeaks website, which seems to indicate that a Bank of America publication was, indeed, in the works.

You can see the BofA logo on the playing cards and the word “foreclosure” on top of the “Ethics For Sale” sign. Penny’s entire schtick was that he had Bank of America documents that showed “force-placed insurance fraud in foreclosures.” According to nymag.com:

Members of the hacker group Anonymous have released documents from someone claiming to be a former employee of Bank of America…

A representative for Anonymous told Reuters that the documents ‘relate to the issue of whether Bank of America has improperly foreclosed on homes.’ Consumer groups have accused U.S. lenders, including Bank of America, of foreclosing on homes without the proper documentation.

And the headline for this article that Penny himself wrote reads, “I put the closure in foreclosure.” Even RT got in on Penny’s “FORECLOSED” story:


Greenberg reported that the posters were created in late 2010, which was around the time Assange mentioned a “megaleak,” but I couldn’t find anything that confirmed this. However, during Assange’s 2010 interview with Forbes when he mentioned the “megaleak,” he also stated that the leak would reveal an “ecosystem of corruption.” That interview was conducted by none other than Greenberg who was leaked the posters. Here’s the second poster he received:

The fact that this poster included the same words that Assange used during the November 2010 “megaleak” interview makes it hard to argue with Greenberg’s reporting about the posters’ creation date.

The February 2011 Reuters Article

Aside from the aforementioned Reuters article being a complete dumpster fire in terms of conflating Assange’s 2009 and 2010 statements, it did mention something I found interesting (my emphasis):

The sources said that Assange privately acknowledged the material was not self-explanatory and that he personally was unable to make much sense of it. Assange indicated it would require a substantial amount of effort by financial experts to determine whether any of the material was newsworthy, according to the sources.

After @OperationLeakS/Penny published the Balboa Insurance emails on the BankOfAmericaSuck.com website, others made remarkably similar observations. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

[Bank of America] found itself the target of yet another whistleblower…That might be bad news for the bank if the allegations weren’t so perplexing.

And Slate’s Annie Lowrey:

Nobody knows yet how the foreclosure fraud scandal will shake out. And it may well be that Anonymous, who claims to have more information, will yet shed some light on how it all happened. But so far, the details released by Anonymous are about as revealing as its name.

And housingwire.com

The string of e-mails are vague and unorganized. All e-mails include a disclosure from Balboa at the bottom. Direct Bank of America employees are not named in the e-mails. 

So, did the media and their sources get it wrong when they said in February 2011 that Assange couldn’t make sense of the five gigabytes of BofA material? Or was he actually talking about different source material that he called a “megaleak?” Even better, is it possible that WikiLeaks was trolling Bank of America the entire time? Or worse, they themselves got trolled?

Coming up, Penny’s life as a self-professed, online troll and how I found the source for the five gigabytes of BofA data! Maybe.

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