Co-Owner of a Pentagon Contracting Admits To Online Smear
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
Earlier this month we posted a story involving Leonie Industries, a private firm that’s been awarded around 120 million dollars in Pentagon contracts for services they call “information crafting,” but what most people would call propaganda. Leonie had become the target of two USA Today journalists, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, who were asking questions about oversight of those Leonie contracts, and the effectiveness of its work. Additionally, they reported that Leonie co-founders Camille Chidiac and Rema Dupont owed a significant amount of unpaid taxes – a claim not quite disputed by Leonie, but countered when those tax bills were suddenly paid up.
At almost exactly the same time, Locker and Vanden Brook became targets themselves; this time of an online smear campaign meant to discredit the reporters. “Something I’ve never experienced in thirty years,” Locker said of the Internet attacks.
In our earlier post, we reported on speculation in the media on who was responsible for the smears. Gawker‘s John Cook pointed the finger squarely at Leonie, citing an unnamed source. A post on Leonie’s blog denounced the smears, saying “While Leonie has no reason to believe that any employee was involved in this activity, an internal investigation is being conducted to determine whether any employee was so involved. If that investigation determines that there was such involvement, appropriate action will be taken.”
Now we can report that it was, in fact, someone at Leonie who led the attacks. Specifically, it was Camille Chidiac, the co-founder who owns 49% of the firm.
A late Thursday post on Leonie’s blog says Chidiac admitted to “involvement” in the attacks, and says he was the only person responsible. “In 2008, Mr. Chidiac resigned as an employee of Leonie, and since then, he has not been involved in any way with the operation and management of the company and its contracts,” reads the post. “Accordingly, Mr. Chidiac does not have access to Leonie’s bank accounts and other financial resources, derived from government contracts or otherwise, and he used non-Leonie funds to participate in the online activity.”
The language used by Leonie is careful chosen – precisely what one would expect from a firm built to influence opinion. “Involvement in the online activity” isn’t quite a guilty plea, but it’s clear Leonie is doing its best to distance itself from Chidiac.
For his part, Chidiac is less sanguine. In a statement on his own website, Chidiac says after “unfair, personal attacks” on him and his family by the two reporters, he merely registered “unofficial fan sites” for the two:
“They…were not ‘fake websites’ and were not intended to ‘smear’, mislead or misinform anyone. Instead, they were intended to create open dialogue in an open forum related to the reporters past articles. Due to the un-moderated nature of the forums, some of these discussions quickly degenerated from legitimate criticism to immature and irrelevant rhetoric by unknown users.”
Of course, the online attacks on Locker and Vanden Brook involved much more than just a couple “unofficial fan sites” – fake Twitter and Facebook accounts were registered in their names, derogatory information began appearing on Wikipedia and other sites, and other online smears were launched, clearly targeting the two. In the words of one observer quoted in USA Today, it was a “sophisticated reputation attack.”
An official Pentagon inquiry is reportedly already underway.