Leonie Industries is a federal contracting firm specializing in information operations, which it provides to the Department of Defense under contract for use in the Afghanistan theater. Leonie is reported to have won some $90 million worth of such contracts as of mid-2012, and has been criticized by media and legislators for tax violations on the part of its owners. It is best known for an online "smear campaign" against a journalist and editor who had reported on those tax problems; after an investigation by media outlets prompted a federal inquiry, a co-owner eventually admitted to being responsible for the acts in question, although several important details have yet to be addressed as of late May 2012.
Misinformation Campaign Against Journalists
In early 2012, the publication of a USA Today article portraying the firm's DoD work as unduly expensive and potentially ineffective was preceded by an untraceable online campaign to discredit the author and an editor via misleading message board posts, Wikipedia edits, and online materials falsely created in their names, all of which are widely believed to have been executed with the complicity of Leonie Industries. Leonie had been the focus of another article by the same journalist in which the firms' owners were noted to have owed several million in back taxes at the time that they were awarded a DoD contract.
USA Today's article on the targeting of that journalist, Tom Vander Brook, and an associated editor, Ray Locker, notes several instances of timing that would collectively point to unnamed "contractors" that had been queried for the original story:
"For example, Internet domain registries show the website TomVandenBrook.com was created Jan. 7 — just days after Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook first contacted Pentagon contractors involved in the program. Two weeks after his editor Ray Locker's byline appeared on a story, someone created a similar site, RayLocker.com, through the same company."
After USA Today contacted the Pentagon, the office overseeing information operations made an informal inquiry that seems to have involved calling suspect contractors. This was followed by another circumstance indicating that one of those contractors was indeed behind the targeting:
"The websites were taken down following those inquiries. Various other sites and accounts were removed for violating their providers' terms of service."
Although this report doesn't mention any potential culprits by name, the original article made mention of Leonie Industries, which had declined requested interviews and instead referred the reporter to a representing the firm - a circumstance that had been noted in the original piece, but which wasn't brought up in the second piece on the disinformation campaign that seemed to have been prompted by inquiries made in the process of writing the article. Following USA Today's revelations, John Cook of Gawker wrote that "a source familiar with the story confirms that the contractor responsible is Leonie Industries," and wondered aloud why USA Today itself didn't say as much. When asked about this by Cook in an e-mail, Vander Brook replied, "We didn't name who's responsible because we don't know," although he confirmed that "somebody in the information operations community" was likely behind it all.
A few weeks after USA Today announced the incident, Rep. Hank Johnson called for an inquiry into the matter. In early 2011, Johnson called for a similar inquiry into the Team Themis affair, but it was blocked by Rep. Lamar Smith, who would later introduce SOPA.
On May 11 of 2012, Leonie Industries put out a press release in which it referred to claims of its involvement in the disinformation campaign as "unfounded allegations."
On May 24 of 2012, USA Today announced in another article that Leonie Industries co-owner Camille Chidiac had now publicly admitted to having been responsible for the campaign. This admission came via a statement through his attorney, and includes the following:
"I take full responsibility for having some of the discussion forums opened and reproducing their previously published USA TODAY articles on them. I recognize and deeply regret that my actions have caused concerns for Leonie and the U.S. military. This was never my intention. As an immediate corrective action, I am in the process of completely divesting my remaining minority ownership from Leonie."
For other disingenuous and amusingly incomplete statements of "regret" by executives of contracting firms, see our entry on Palantir.