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Bank of America's campaign to fight WikiLeaks is flawed

If Bank of America were to rebrand itself based on major events of recent years, it might start calling itself the Bad Karma Bank given all of its self-inflicted, dunderheaded publicity.

B of A's purchase of stock brokerage giant Merrill Lynch was a public relations and shareholder disclosure disaster. The undignified retirement of former CEO Ken Lewis, a big player in building the megabank, was hardly what he or the bank had hoped for. B of A's ill-conceived purchase of Countrywide Home Loans spurred the bank's decision Monday to buy back billions in soured mortgages from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

And B of A's prominent role in home foreclosure practices from hell — especially targeting the wrong homes in foreclosure action, including the one that was paid for in cash and others already sold to new buyers — raises issues of competence, if not negligence.

Now looms WikiLeaks, the new online enterprise that's already published reams of revealing and embarrassing U.S. diplomatic cables. Wiki­Leaks chief Julian Assange recently indicated there soon will be a dump of internal documents from a big bank. The bet is the records are from Bank of America, documents that WikiLeaks says will reveal an "ecosystem of corruption."

While Bank of America isn't entirely sure it's the bank in WikiLeaks' sights, the institution is taking defensive steps in case those documents are as damaging as promised.

The bank has assembled a team of 15 to 20 top officials lead by aptly titled chief risk officer Bruce R. Thompson to scour internal documents in case they become public and to review cases in which lost or misplaced laptops may have compromised B of A records systems, reports the New York Times.

The bank hired consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to help manage its internal review, and talked to some high-powered law firms. This is already getting pricey. But this last step taken by B of A is my favorite.

Well aware that the Internet is notorious for creating websites that can criticize and insult big companies for any number of reasons, the bank has reportedly hired a company to register more than 300 mostly naughty website addresses with domain names that could disparage Bank of America Corp. executives and directors. California-based MarkMonitor registered these websites, which include names most likely to malign the bank or its top executives. Among those registered, which means others may not use the site names: BrianMoynihanSucks.com and BrianTMoynihanSucks.com. Moynihan is Bank of America's CEO. This is a loser's game. For example, the website BrianMoynihan­Stinks.com was not registered. And there are thousands of other derogatory domain name options.

If MarkMonitor's strategy was to protect Bank of America's reputation on the Internet, it's not working so far. A Web-based news service called Domain Name Wire last month reported on MarkMonitor's massive name registration on behalf of Bank of America.

The Dec. 20 story carried the blazing headline "Bank of America Wants You To Know Its Executives Don't Suck."

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Bank of America's campaign to fight WikiLeaks is flawed 01/03/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 3, 2011 9:19pm]
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