Report shows how Uber hired CIA-backed intel team to dig dirt on critics, and then lied about it
Remember a couple of years ago when Uber threatened to "go after" the families and loved ones of critical journlists, including Pando's Sarah Lacy?
And remember when Uber's investors and defenders insisted that the whole thing was a giant misunderstanding -- just a drunk exec spouting bullshit -- and that Uber would never, ever, ever hire private investigators to dig into its critics?
Remember when Travis Kalanick said that such a thing would "show a lack of humanity?"
Well, guess fucking what. They all lied.
Thanks to an excellent, and terrifying, piece of reporting by the Verge, we now know the specifics of at least one operation, masterminded, by Uber's "Head of Global Threat Operations" to secretly investigate the plaintiff in a proposed lawsuit against Uber.
The smear campaign specifically focussed on "actions that tarnish [plaintiff Andrew Schmidt's] professional reputation" and was outsourced to a company called Global Precision Research LLC, which the Verge points out has linkes to the CIA.
The Verge's lede says it all:
Schmidt and his client were being investigated by a secretive research firm, staffed by veterans from the CIA and the National Security Council, on behalf of Uber’s top executives. As soon as the lawsuit was filed, those executives took an interest in Schmidt and his client, sending out operatives to dig up what they could find on Uber’s new antagonists.
That investigation has turned into a legal disaster for Uber, and the presiding judge has already ruled the evidence constitutes "a reasonable basis to suspect the perpetration of fraud." The result is a rare window into how one of the most powerful and litigious companies in the world responds to a major class action lawsuit. As Uber continues to attract new lawsuits and accusations, the investigation into Schmidt and his colleagues shows just how far the company will go to defend its position, both inside and outside the courtroom.
The whole story is a must-read if you want to really understand how nasty Uber was, even before it started to take billions of dollars from murderous governments.
It also proves how willfully blind Uber's most vocal investor-supporters like angel investor (and secret Sequoia scout) Jason Calacanis have to be to continue insisting that Travis Kalanick is a good guy. Or as Calancanis put it after Uber's threats against journalists were made public:
I can say without reservation that @travisk is not only of the great entrepreneurs of our time, he's also one of the best humans I know... the @uber team will learn from mistakes & show the world how f-ing awesome they truly are. Mistakes were made, but greatness will follow.
Calacanis made those comments, and his prediction that Uber would learn from its mistakes, in November of 2014. The oppo research campagin against Andrew Schmidt began one year later, at the end of 2015.
When the campaign against Schmidt was first uncovered, Kalanick insisted "whoever is behind these calls, it is not us." In other words, he flat-out lied.
So yes, as we now know, Uber and Kalanick did indeed learn from having its smear campaign against Sarah and others exposed to the world. They learned that instead of keeping their secret oppo team in house, they sould outsource the work to a shady CIA-backed intel outfit so they would have plausible deniability next time they got caught.
What was that phrase?
"A lack of humanity."