As 2011 begins, Bank of America braces for possible unflattering WikiLeaks disclosures
Wake up, good morning and happy new year. It's been simmering for months but it seems a good time to ask: How might the rumored threat of a WikiLeaks disclosure of internal bank records from a Bank of America executive's hard drive hurt the financial institution and possibly its customers? Bank of America, after all, is a major player in Florida and the Tampa Bay area.
Clearly, Bank of America and CEO Brian Moynihan (AP photo, left) are taking seriously WikiLeaks' chief Julian Assange's remarks in late November that his organization intended to "take down" a major American bank and reveal an "ecosystem of corruption." Bank of America's had a pile of public relations and legal troubles long before WikiLeaks hinted BofA was its intended target, so Assange's promised Gotcha! has put Bank of America executives on Full Damage Control.
According to a Sunday New York Times story, a team of 15 to 20 top Bank of America officials, led by the chief risk officer, Bruce R. Thompson, has been overseeing a broad internal investigation -- "scouring thousands of documents in the event that they become public, reviewing every case where a computer has gone missing and hunting for any sign that its systems might have been compromised."
The story adds that BofA's internal team drawn from departments like finance, technology, legal and communications has hired consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to help manage the review. It has also sought advice from several top law firms about legal problems that could arise from a disclosure, including the bank’s potential liability if private information was disclosed about clients.
These details advance a hometown Charlotte Observer story that ran before Christmas headlined "Cloud of suspense surrounds Bank of America, WikiLeaks." The story reports the bank apparently has recently stepped up security internally, taking steps to block access to websites such as Gmail on company laptops.
In addition, the Financial Times reports that hundreds of website addresses that disparage Bank of America executives and board members have been registered in recent days in an apparent effort to protect the bank and its senior leaders, according to internet companies who track the buying and selling of such domain names. More than 300 online addresses that disparage BofA officials using variations on "sucks" and "blows" -- typical terms used online in web sites dissing companies -- including BrianMoynihanBlows.com and BrianMoynihanSucks.com, referring to the bank’s chief executive, were registered on December 17.
If -- and that may be a big if given WikiLeaks' Assange and his own legal troubles -- Bank of America is in fact the still unidentified bank whose records may be released, you can be sure BofA will have its hands full. The bank's already suffered loads of Bad Karma for years and it looks like 2011 may prove no better.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist