Monthly Archives: February 2012

Wikileaks to release emails from Stratfor hack

In December, members of the Antisec wing of the collective Anonymous claimed to have downloaded the email spools of the private intelligence firm Stratfor.  Today, Wikileaks held a press conference in which they announced that over 20 media organizations had been secretly analyzing the 5 million+ emails, and they would now begin releasing the emails.  A few stories in mainstream western media have now appeared (e.g., Forbes, Wired).  I’ve followed this hack a bit, and I played the video of the Wikileaks press conference in the background this morning.  Here are a few things that interested me about the press conference that I haven’t seen in media reports.

Most striking to me was how differently reporters assessed the accuracy of Stratfor’s intel, depending on geography.  Apparently, Stratfor investigated PETA on behalf of Coca-Cola, and investigated Bhopal activists on behalf of Dow Chemical.  While some might find this concerning, I didn’t hear any indication that the information obtained by those efforts was false.  In contrast, two reporters from the Al Akhbar newspaper in Lebanon stated that much of the information gathered about the situation in Beiruit was false.

The Al Akhbar reporters said this situation was a particular problem, because the CIA was recently forced to shut down its intelligence operations in Lebanon.  This increased US reliance on a private firm like Stratfor.  Apparently, though, Stratfor, to maximize profits, provided a lot of intel on Lebanon by using Google Translate to read open source material written in Arabic, literally losing the meaning in translation, instead of hiring analysts fluent in the language.  Further, their evaluation of sources was, according to one reporter, “racist” in the sense that if an ideologically extreme Arab made a statement and an ideologically extreme Israeli made a different statement, Stratfor analysts would discount the Arab and take the Israeli seriously.

I’ve read only a few of the emails myself, and I can’t speak to the accuracy of any claim.  However, it does seem clear that the notion of Stratfor just being a service that reads and analyzes open-source material is incorrect.  Unless the released emails are heavily fabricated, Stratfor initiated intelligence gathering operations on the ground, bribed confidential informants around the world, and encouraged their employees to control sources by “psychological” or “sexual” means.

Finally, no matter your personal political persuasion, Stratfor’s internal glossary of intelligence terms is hilarious.  I will close with some definitions from it.

Backgrounder: General analysis that gives the customer better situational awareness. The customer never actually reads the Backgrounder. Its primary use is as cover when the customer screws something up. Backgrounders are the basic intelligence tool for shifting blame to the customer.

or

He Won the Cold War: Egomaniacal Bullshitter

and

He Won the Vietnam War: Deranged Egomaniacal Bulshitter

and, in conclusion, a definition made more intriguing by (and perhaps at odds with) the claims of the Al Akhbar reporters:

Duplicitous Little Bastards: Israeli intelligence

A few Tweets

I joined Twitter at the end of December 2011 because I realized that I was using my computer less and less, and my smart phone more and more, relatively speaking — and I was using my phone to find and read content that intrigued me.  I plan to use my Twitter account almost as a note-taking service — I will tweet news articles, etc., that intrigue me and that I might want to come back to later.

My account is @aaron_sterling, and you can see it in the rightmost column of this blog.  Here are three items that are good examples of things I found interesting, but which, after today, I won’t be “elevating” to the status of a blog entry.

  1. The computer security company McAfee has produced a document titled 2012 Threat Predictions (pdf file).  I skipped over some of it, but the parts I read were fascinating.  For example, they see BitCoin as an extremely insecure currency, they believe illegal spam will diminish and be replaced by “legal spam” (equally annoying), and they think far more attackers will target hardware exploits instead of the traditional software exploits.  Worth a look.
  2. Enrique Zabala has produced a Flash animation that explains Rijndael/AES visually.  It is beautiful.
  3. Rajarshi Guha and co-authors are designing a type-ahead chemical substructure search engine.  This addresses a longstanding open problem in cheminformatics, which is: searching for chemicals in a database is slow (in worst case probably exponential because the Subgraph Isomorphism Problem is NP-complete), but can it be made faster?  At least for important special cases, this tool seems to be competitive in speed with Google’s type-ahead search engine for other content: it provides the chemist suggestions, given the prefix of the input available, before the chemist even hits the enter key.