Bank of America rumored to be in WikiLeaks' crosshairs
By Rick Rothacker, McClatchy Newspapers, MCT
December 2, 2010, 10:41 pm TWN
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina -- Could Bank of America be the next WikiLeaks target?
The Charlotte-based bank said Tuesday that it has "no evidence" that the organization known for revealing U.S. defense secrets has possession of one of its executives' hard drives. But published interviews with WikiLeaks' founder suggested otherwise, sending the bank's stock shares to lows not seen since last year.
In a Forbes magazine interview posted online this week, WikiLeaks' Julian Assange said his outfit plans a "megaleak" regarding a major U.S. bank in early 2011. The release includes tens of thousands of documents and would reveal unspecified unethical behavior, he said.
Assange didn't disclose the name of the bank to Forbes, but he told Computerworld in October 2009 that his organization was "sitting on" five gigabytes of information from a Bank of America executive's hard drive.
"Now how do we present that? It's a difficult problem," Assange said in the interview, which didn't gain attention much until Tuesday. "We could just dump it all into one giant zip file, but we know for a fact that has limited impact. To have impact, it needs to be easy for people to dive in and search it and get something out of it."
Bank of America issued a statement Tuesday as reports swirled online, speculating Bank of America was the major U.S. bank in WikiLeaks' sites.
"More than a year ago, WikiLeaks claimed to have the computer hard drive of a Bank of America executive," spokesman Scott Silvestri said. "Aside from the claims themselves, we have no evidence that supports this assertion. We are unaware of any new claims by WikiLeaks that pertain specifically to Bank of America."
In a posting Tuesday, Forbes writer Andy Greenberg, who interviewed Assange, said he couldn't confirm that Bank of America will be the subject of the next document release. Assange also told him that WikiLeaks has "potentially damaging" information on multiple financial firms, beyond the "megaleak" in question.
The report of a possible leak is the latest batch of bad news for a company that was mired in controversy last year over its Merrill Lynch acquisition and its acceptance of government bailout dollars. Last December, the bank paid back the U.S. Treasury and named a new chief executive, Brian Moynihan, who has been working to revive the nation's biggest bank.
WikiLeaks has gained international attention in recent months for acquiring confidential Pentagon and U.S. State Department documents, and then revealing them to the public and media outlets. The organization, in the past, has also revealed private-sector information, including documents related to a bank in Iceland.
Bank of America makes for a large target. It has nearly 300,000 employees spread around the world and plenty of ex-executives let go after acquisitions and cost-cutting moves. Lately, the bank has faced questions about its handling of home foreclosures. It also inherited losses and legal troubles from its Countrywide and Merrill Lynch purchases.