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.
He Won the Cold War: Egomaniacal Bullshitter
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