Strategic Forecasting, Inc., usually abbreviated to Stratfor, is an international security firm used by private individuals, corporations and countries to analyze their security stituations. In December, the FBI started investigating hacking into Stratfor’s systems that had resulted in 30,000 subscribers credit card information being dumped onto the Internet. Now, WikiLeaks has announced that it is dumping five million internal and external e-mails from Stratfor onto the Web.
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has accused Stratfor of being a shadow CIA, telling Reuters, “Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the U. S. government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations and journalists. What is a grave concern is that the targets of this scrutiny are, among others, activist organizations fighting for a just cause.” By which, he probably means himself, Anonymous and the rest of the hacktivist universe. According to Assange the e-mails “…reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations … and government agencies,” the statement says. “The e-mails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods.”
Stratfor is taking a high road, sort of. In a statement released just after midnight Eastern time, the company said that it refuses to be intimidated by WikiLeaks. The company’s CEO has not resigned and the company said that some of the e-mails “may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic. We will not validate either. Nor will be explain the thinking that went into them. Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them.”
The whole incident puts a lie to everything Assange has ever said about WikiLeaks. He always claimed that they were a forum for whistleblowers. But it is the group Anonymous that claims it has hacked into Stratfor and transferred the data to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks held itself above criminal charges by using whistleblowers, who in many cases are protected from prosecution. But Anonymous is not a whistleblower and the theft of the credit card information and publication of it by anyone crosses any lines of legal protection.
Stratfor provides geopolitical analysis to subscribers. This is information that a company would use to determine its future actions inside a country or assess risks to its employees or even make educated guesses about stock purchases or investments. The company said in its statement that it has worked hard to cultivate “good sources” in many countires “as any publisher of global geopolitical analysis would do.” In a global economy, it is vitally important for a company to know what is going on inside any nation and what might happen in the near future. Anonymous and WikiLeaks insists that what goes on in Stratfor is dark and evil and the e-mail dump is intended to let the public know the “truth” about Stratfor operations.
George Friedman, CEO and founder of Stratfor, said there is probably not anything of earthshattering significance in the e-mails. “God know what a hundred employees writing endless e-mails might say that is embarrassing, stupid or subject to misinterpretation…As they search our e-mails for signs of a vast conspiracy they will be disappointed.” So far, Friedman is right. The e-mails published already include an assessment of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ cancer treatments and a somewhat humorous dictionary of intelligence terminology titled “The Stratfor Glossary of Useful, Baffling and Strange Intelligence Terms.”
Anonymous bragged about the “partnership” with WikiLeaks on their AnonSec Twitter account. Assange is bragging about the “two dozen media organizations worldwide” that have accepted the Stratfor material for publication, including newspaper publisher McClatchy Company, L’Espresso and La Repubblica newspapers in Italy, the NDR/ARD state television broadcaster in Germany and Russia Reporter. They gave some of the e-mails to The Yes Men, an anti-corporate activism group. Andy Bichlbaum, of The Yes Men, said that e-mails relating to an “elaborate hoax” executed to criticize Dow Chemical’s handling of the Bhopal chemicla disaster in India in 1984, show “the way corporations operate, They operate with complete disregard for the rule of law and human decency.” It is unclear whether he meant the manner in which Dow Chemical operated in 1984 or the way Stratfor operated in criticizing Dow Chemical.
There is an enormous irony about Julian Assange’s view of how much “secrecy” others are allowed to have. He has thrown world-class temper tantrums over the publication of Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s memoirs, Bill Keller’s unflattering recollection of the experience of working with Assange, and the release of the interviews that Assange gave to his biographer when he backed out of the publication of the biography after spending all the advance money. In Assange’s world, only he is allowed any iota of privacy but everyone and everything else in the world is guilty of dark and dangerous deeds if they want to keep their credit card information private.
Assange remains under house arrest in England, pending his final appeal on the extradition order to return him to Sweden to complete the investigation into two charges of sexual misconduct. Applying Assange’s own logic to the year-long battle to get him to return to Sweden to answer questions, one must assume he’s guilty as hell of raping those two women.