Private files belonging to America’s biggest police union, including the names and addresses of officers, forum posts critical of Barack Obama, and controversial contracts made with city authorities, were posted online on Thursday after a hacker breached its website.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which says it represents about 330,000 law enforcement officers across the US, said the FBI was investigating after 2.5GB of data taken from its servers was dumped online and swiftly shared on social media. The union’s national site, fop.net, remained offline on Thursday evening.
“We have contacted the office of the assistant attorney general in charge of cyber crime, and officials from FBI field offices have already made contact with our staff,” Chuck Canterbury, the FOP’s national president, said in an interview. The FBI did not respond to a request to confirm that it was investigating. Canterbury said he was confident that no sensitive personal information or financial details of their members had been obtained. “Some names and addresses were taken,” he said. “It concerns us. We’re taking steps to try to notify our members but that is going to take some time.”
Threads from the FOP’s members-only online forum were also leaked, including some in which officers expressed anger at Obama, supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor and “illegals” who were in the US without documentation. A 2010 post in the name of Robert Schafer from Virginia described Obama as an “antipolice, antilaw and order President”. In 2009, Donald Hartman of Indiana condemned the FOP leadership for endorsing the nomination of the “radical socialist” Sotomayor. Anthony Orlando of Tennessee suggested the FOP leadership “follow her lead, step down and give their seats to a minority or smart latina”.
Canterbury, the FOP president, said the union had called in security contractors to investigate and the hack had been traced to an IP address in the UK. “They were able to feed our system a pseudo-encryption key that the system should not have accepted but did because of software errors,” he said. FOP servers in Tennessee and Ohio were being examined.
In an online posting, a person using the screen name Cthulhu said he or she had released the files after receiving them from a source who wished to remain anonymous and wanted them made public “in light of an ever increasing divide between the police groups and the citizens of the US”. In a statement to the Guardian, Cthulhu added: “Our role is simply to present the material in an unadulterated form for the public to analyse.”
Canterbury blamed “anti-police rhetoric” for the hack. “This is just a group that is negative towards law enforcement,” he said. In the posting, Cthulhu denied being “anti-police”. Cthulhu also claimed to be holding back a total of 18 terabytes of police data, yet Canterbury insisted that nowhere near that amount of information was in the FOP systems.
Hundreds of contracts between regional authorities and local fraternal order of police lodges across the country were posted online as part of the hack. Some such deals have been sharply criticised as shielding police officers from prosecution or disciplinary action following the excessive use of force. Alex Vitale, an associate professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College, said the leaked contracts could shed light on agreements frequently struck behind closed doors.
“Police associations, they’re certainly not very transparent,” said Vitale. “No one really knows what is going on inside police unions. The most troubling thing is that they have been able to work out disciplinary procedures that shield them from oversight, as in what steps that the employer has to go to discipline or terminate someone.”