I don’t know who the author of this is but it proposes a conspiracy theory suggesting Chet Uber got Zapem to go after Rauhauser in retaliation for Neal’s leaking data about Project Vigilant.
What Tangled Web
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The year is 2009. President Obama is trying to sell the country on the Affordable Care Act, but is finding increasing resistance at the numerous town hall meetings held around the country. Rick Santelli’s rant in February of that year led to the creation of the Tea Party, as a response to Obama and the last years of the George W. Bush presidency, and, for the most part, those opposed to the ACA and the burgeoning Tea Party are winning the messaging war.
From traditional media to blogs to social media like Twitter and Facebook, a vast uprising against the President and his policies is taking place. The left realizes they have a serious problem on their hands, and that the President’s healthcare agenda is at risk of dying before it ever sees the light of day. So, what do they do?
Well, in the summer of 2009, the most progressive of the progressive gather together at the Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh, PA. Among those gathered are a who’s who of the progressive left, perhaps the most prominent among them AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Also there are lesser known progressives, like failed politician Darcy Burner of Washington State, and activists Neal Rauhauser and Beth Becker. Trumka closes out the weekend of progressive love with a rabble-rousing speech, in which he talks about how the left has to take the fight to the right like never before and has to utilize the power of social media in order to do so:
“When I was growing up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, I sure wasn’t tweeting about it. Or that one day, the Premier Organizing Conference would be right here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In just a few years, you’ve grown into a real important force in politics and also in American journalism.
See, we’re seeing a revoultion in communication and we face a big challenge in keeping Progressivism at the head of the curve. Many of us in the Labor Movement had fretted at the death of Labor Beat, at newspapers across America. But what you’re doing in the blogosphere is the equivalent of letting a thousand flowers bloom, every week.
As I began writing my speech, I began to focus on how very important you are. To facts. To fairness. To the economy. And, quite frankly, to democracy itself.
We’re sharing progressive ideas at an increasing speed. Labor’s ideas are certainly in the mix. We have many eloquent spokespeople and many supporters blogging regularly at the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, and a lot of others. Sam Stein’s work at the Huffington Post has been outstanding…and the phenomenal work at Media Matters. We thank their team for holding the traditional media accountable for reporting accurately.”
Trumka continued, echoing the thoughts and strategies found in a blog post by a man named Umair Haque, called “10 Rules for 5G Warfare”. It’s uncertain whether Haque was an attendee at Netroots ’09, but the post was written and posted during the same days that the conference ran. We’ll compare Trumka’s words to Haque’s ideas shortly.
“It will take real grass-roots action to bring about change. As you know, my organization, the AFL-CIO, is one of the best grassroots organizations in the world. We have the people and we have the process to mobilize them. That’s why politicians love us.
See, my intention when I became President of the Federation in September is to concentrate on strengthening that in September. Looking at the bottom up, rather than the top down. Because it’s our coalition, the people in this room, that form the world’s most active grassroots operation. And together, we can bring together the labor, the economical, environmental and anti-poverty and equal-justice organizations all together under a single banner.
With the tools and the savvy that we have on our side, we can disarm the Dittoheads now invading the Town Halls and Health Care Town Hall meetings.”
The portion highlighted above seems to fall directly in line with Haque’s ideas on how the left could win the messaging war over ObamaCare. The 10th point of Haque’s 10 rules is this :
Attack the base. This is a controversial tactic — but it’s often the key to winning a 5G war.Physical wars have to be fought on the front-lines. But information wars don’t. Your best bet is to attack not the enemy’s front-lines — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Sarah Palin — but the base of hard-liners who still oppose reform — hard, swiftly, and repeatedly, with better information faster.
Shorter Trumka and Haque : Attack the everyday people you find in the digital world. Attack them hard. Attack them mercilessly.
So, we have a hint that there was a definitive messaging strategy being developed in the ranks of the progressive left. The aforementioned Rauhauser and Becker seemed to take these ideas and words to heart, because in the aftermath of the 2009 Netroots conference, they formed a company called Progressive PST. The company’s mission statement seems to be a direct echo of both Haque and Trumka :
Progressive PST was founded in 2009 by a group of Daily Kos bloggers who noticed the extreme disparity in uptake and effective usage of Twitter as a communication tool between the Republican and Democratic parties. After much research and beta testing, Progressive PST has developed a set of proprietary tools which help Democratic candidates and advocacy groups use Twitter for more than just traditional microblogging messaging. While Twitter is our primary area of expertise, as Progressive PST’s client base has grown, our services have grown to include strategies for the effective use of Facebook as well. Progressive PST was born in the Netroots and its mission is to help to elect more and better Democrats across the country.
While Twitter’s power and popularity wasn’t quite the same in 2009 as it is in 2013, there was still a very active and vocal group of conservatives on the site, who rallied around the #tcot hashtag. As Becker and Rauhauser noted in their company description, the right side of the aisle was kicking the crap out of the left, especially on Twitter. We’ll come back to Progressive PST’s “proprietary tools” in a little bit, but for now, we continue on trying to building the timeline.
Rauhauser and Progressive came to be known to the right mostly because of an episode deemed Twittergate, which came to light in the summer and fall of 2010. According to the person who developed this narrative, a Twitter user who went by the handle @Zapem, Rauhauser took part in an concerted trolling effort against Tea Partiers and conservatives in the run up to the 2010 midterm elections. Zapem went so far as to develop an entire video about the episode, although most on the left, and even some on the right, found Gawkers Adrian Chen’s recounting of the story to be adequate.
Zapem tried to sell her bit of investigative work as a major story, although most major outlets really didn’t touch it, because of the somewhat complex task involved of trying to follow people across multiple Twitter accounts and other such issues. However, Zapem did get the story to take hold in the conservative blogosphere, resulting in Rauhauser getting google bombed about as well as one can be. Before some more recent action involving Rauhauser and other things he’s alleged to have been involved in, from 2010 to mid-2012, when you searched his name, the only thing you’d find were posts relating his involvement in Twittergate.
We’re a bit into this story now, without much if it seeming to have a point. Well, we’re getting there. The above information is just to give one an idea of the shape of the framework of who and what and why these people were operating the way they were three to four years ago.
The point of this post is to posit an idea about the relationship between Zapem, Rauhauser and an organization known as Project Vigilant. You see, concurrently, during the time that Rauhauser was attending Netroots ’09 and forming Progressive PST with Becker, he was also part of Project Vigilant (PV), a private infosec/data mining/social engineering/hacking firm with alleged ties to the government. The man in charge of Project Vigilant during Rauhauser’s time with the organization is a man named Chet Uber. According to both Uber and Rauhauser, the two have known each other going as far back as the late 90s, and have been fairly close friends at one time or another during the course of their relationship.
Now, what’s interesting and just recently came to light, is how the two had a falling out. Some leaked phone calls of Uber talking to a man named Tom Ryan were released earlier this year. While some are saying that some of Uber’s claims about PV’s activities might be outright lies or exaggeration, we ARE willing to trust the man on the details of both his relationship and falling out with Rauhauser.
According to Uber, Rauhauser went rogue right around 2009, stealing a piece of software that PV had been developing for the United States government. A piece of software that, at least partially, was intended to be plugged into Twitter for what’s known as “persona management.” Here’s Uber’s recounting of when Rauhauser went rogue on him:
“But, in 2009, Neal all of a sudden started posting stuff, up on the Internet, about Project Vigilant. And he opened a Twitter account, and started posting stuff about Project Vigilant. Neal had a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) so ironclad that it wasn’t even funny.
And I’m like, “What’re you doing?”
And he says, “Well, you guys weren’t doing anything and so I thought I’d help you with the public image”.
And I go, “Neal, we don’t even want people to know we exist!”
So when I went to see Neal, I was at the point where I just recovered from both experimental heart surgeries, and at the point where I was just then able to get out and move around again. And when I got there, Neal had nothing for me.
(Rauhauser was running a data center in Champaign-Urbana, IL, as part of his work with PV, according to Uber)
Um, but, what Neal had done when I walked in the room was… He was running a company called PST.
And I was listening to him on the phone, pretend to be Sarah Palin, pretend to be all these right-wing people, and he had all these aliases, and he was pretending he was in Anonymous.
And he was with someone named Beth Becker. She was living there. And he had, prior to that, been having sex with Beth.
But while I was there, he kept taking trips to see a lawyer in the far left wing political scene. And it was a woman, and he was cheating on Beth, and I had to listen to Beth cry for months on end. And, you know, kind of starting to get the story?
So I don’t have a lot of proof, but I can testify to what I heard, to what I saw. He had the twitter warfare engine I asked him to build. But he didn’t have anything for me, for Project Vigilant. So essentially what he did, what we went to the bureau and reported was… We had a government only technology product that was stolen from us, given, sold and offered to non-governmental organizations and non-profits, to be used in the political process.
Neal and I got into a huge fight during this period of time, before I had driven out there, he had never told me the drive had crashed. He had told me he had great success and he was done. And the other people were done with their parts or getting close. I happened to be writing one of those parts.
And he says, Chet, I’ve got customers.
And I go, what do you mean you’ve got customers? You weren’t asked to market this and you know this is a (dot) specified project. That means you can’t sell to somebody that doesn’t have .gov or .mil in their organizational title, so, something that isn’t a government agency.
And he says, well I’ve decided this should be put into the hands of people who want to make changes in the world.
I said, you don’t have the right to make that decision.
And he says, well, while I was working for you, I started working on the side again.
I say, you can’t do that. I mean, you can, I can’t stop you, but intellectual property is covered under the NDA and it doesn’t belong to you anymore. You own a percentage of it, as per your contract, but that’s it! You don’t have control over it, but what you have is a right for life to maintain the product you delivered to us, but you can never resell it, you cannot integrate it in any future product, and you can never release it to the public.
And then he says, well one of the customers is the AFL-CIO.
And I said, Neal, do you understand what would happen if the AFL-CIO got a hold of this?”
It’s unclear if the AFL-CIO was ever given PV’s “Twitter information warfare” engine, but it’s interesting to note that Uber confirms the time as 2009, and that the AFL-CIO also pops up. Because, as already noted, Rauhauser was an attendee at the Netroots 09 conference, the same conference at which AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka spoke about trying to win the messaging war. The same conference from which Progressive PST was also born.
Given that though, it seems likely that the “proprietary” software mentioned in the Progressive PST bio is the same software that Uber alleges Rauhauser stole. Rauhauser himself seemed to hint at his possession of this software in 2011, when he posted to Daily Kos about a Computational Troll Dynamics Supercomputer.
We get a step closer to the whole point of this exercise with this thought in mind, that Rauhauser was essentially a “rogue agent” from PV, who stole a proprietary piece of software meant for the government, and instead started shopping it around to the grassroots activism types. From Uber’s perspective, as noted in his comments above, this was an unforgivable move. In fact, Uber flatly states he hates Rauhauser for the betrayal:
“Okay? Don’t get me wrong. I hate Neal more than you could even begin to hate Neal. I don’t know if that’s true, but, trust me. I have people in my organization that have suggested to me that we simply kidnap and kill him and run him through a woodchipper.”
To recap so far : Rauhauser is known in progressive leftist circles, and starts Progressive PST in the wake of Netroots 09. Progressive PST claims to have “proprietary software” for social media, more specifically Twitter. This software is likely the piece that Rauhauser is alleged to have stolen from Uber and PV, and it appears that Rauhauser was attempting to shop it around to the AFL-CIO, who’s president was the closing speaker at that same Netroots 09 conference.
In 2010, Zapem comes on the scene and pulls off an impressive smear job of Rauhauser over Twittergate.
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
At the time, and even as late as 2012, Zapem appeared to be an independent entity that popped up out of nowhere in an attempt to help the targets of Twittergate, and to expose Rauhauser as the mastermind behind the concerted trolling operation. Where it gets weird, however, is in the same leak that originated the Uber/Ryan calls, there was a list of PV members names, emails and other information.
This page contains a listing for one “Michelle Matthews”, and an email address email@example.com. For those familiar with Zapem, the name most know her by IS Michelle, and anyone who’s communicated with her in at least the last year or so, typically received emails from that address. This pastebin references a “Bitzee”, and touches on subjects that Zapem was deeply involved with, including the fact that she’s speaking to an AnonKitsu, an alleged member of Anonymous that the Zapem profile was known to have talked to quite extensively at one point.
What does this all tell us? Well, it appears that Rauhauser and Zapem were both members of Project Vigilant, although it’s unclear whether their memberships were concurrent. If that’s the case, then the narrative that perhaps makes most sense is that PV was sending out agents to sow disinfo and discord among popular activist movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.
However, the whole point of this exercise has been to propose this theory : Zapem was drafted by Uber to go after Rauhauser, after Rauhauser’s betrayal of Uber.
In terms of timing, it makes sense. Rauhauser goes rogue in 2009. Trolls the Tea Party with Twittergate in 2010. Zapem shows up with an impressive array of knowledge about everything Rauhauser’s doing, including Progressive PST etc. Uber, in his leaked conversation, talks about his experience with Rauhauser and how Rauhauser was running Progressive PST, and was making connections with powerful organizations like the AFL-CIO.
Zapem google bombs Rauhauser, and Rauhauser falls out of favor, both in his political life, and in his secretive hacker life.
While this saga continues through to today in some respects, it does seem as though this narrative and timeline put together some of the pieces best.
Think of it what you will.