Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks made headlines again on Monday morning, this time for dumping upwards of 5 million emails obtained from the servers of Stratfor, a self-described “global intelligence firm” based out of Austin, TX, that provides subscription-based news and analysis, but which some have equated to a “shadow CIA.”
And the emails released by Wikileaks do appear to show some desire by Straftor employees to cloak their activities in the language of fictional spy thrillers, which Wikileaks was only too quick to highlight it its press statement trumpeting the release of the emails, which it deemed “The Global Intelligence Files” or #GIFiles on Twitter.
As Wikileaks quoted from the emails:
“[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control… This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase” - CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.
Also, Wikileaks pointed out that the emails appear to show Stratfor getting cozy with reviled corporations, the U.S. government and journalists by providing intelligence tailored to them. Two examples cited by Wikileaks are Stratfor’s covert tracking of the online activities of activists protesting Dow Chemical for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, and Stratfor working with Goldman Sachs to create a fund to trade on Stratfor’s intelligence, called “StratCap.”
Wikileaks didn’t say where the emails had been obtained from, but the hacktivist collective Anonymous began taking credit even before Wikileaks officially released the emails. Indeed, Stratfor’s website was knocked offline on December 25, 2011 and Anonymous Twitter users boasted they had successfully hacked the firm, destroyed four servers and taken the 5 million emails, also stealing unencrypted customer credit card data.
CEO George Friedman posted a video message days later when Stratfor’s website had been restored, admitting that the company knew it had been hacked in “early December” and that it was a failure on the part of the company due to its “rapid growth.” Friedman said that the emails from his 100 employees would not reveal any sort of corruption or “vast conspiracy” on the part of Stratfor. “We are what we said we are, a publishing organization focused on geopolitics.”
Indeed, an initial look at the Stratfor emails that Anonymous and Wikileaks claimed would reveal the company’s conspiratorial ties turns up mostly expected information: Yes, Stratfor is looking to traffic in state secrets, much like Wikileaks itself. Yes, the organization is enamored with with Right wing talking points and conspiracy theories. Yes, Stratfor keeps an entertaining glossary of psuedo-militaristic terminology and disparaging nicknames of its intelligence sources and competitors. But beyond that, there haven’t been any major revelations from the documents, yet, unlike Wikileaks’ previous notable dumps.
Even a seemingly incriminating line that’s been widely quoted in the hours following the Wikileaks Stratfor dump, including by the New York Times, turns out to have a relatively innocuous narrative behind it.
“Admit nothing, deny everything, make counteraccusations,” reads the line. But that turns out to have been just a joke about a colleague that mistakenly ate another one’s frozen lunch out of the office refrigerator.
“Wow, these #Stratfor emails are really hot stuff. Next up: George Friedman’s coveted tapioca pudding recipe,” tweeted Wired’s Danger Room blog, mocking the non-news.
Still that didn’t stop Anonymous Twitter accounts from celebrating the release and promoting it as a new era of cooperation between the amorphous hacker group and the organization fronted by Julian Assange.
“Why’d #Anonymous give the Stratfor #GIFiles to WikiLeaks? Transparency, whether forced or voluntary, is necessary to understanding our world,” tweeted YourAnonNews.
“#Anonymous thanks #Anonymous & @Wikileaks for exposing Stratfor & gov’t corruption w/ #gifiles leak. wikileaks.org/the-gifiles.ht… We are legion. <3” tweeted AnonyOps, another such account.
Others were more ambivalent about the release: “What do you think of the #GIFiles leak? Too early? Did @wikileaks make the right move? Share,” tweeted TheAnonIRC account.
And Wikileaks itself noted that the real gems of the emails could be yet to come.
“Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections,” Wikileaks said in its statement.
Indeed, Wikileaks collaborated with more than 25 media organizations around the globe this time around, but as The Atlantic Wire noted, they are all much smaller names compared to the media partners it had in its previous major dump — the late 2010 “Cablegate” dumping of 250,000 classified diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department, in which the organization partnered with five major newspapers, including the New York Times, The Guardian in the UK and Der Speigel in Germany.
Anonymous’ initial support for Wikileaks goes back to the immediate aftermath of the “Cablegate” release, when PayPal, MasterCard and Amazon all stopped processing electronic donations to Wikileaks saying that the agency had violated the companies’ terms of service. All of those corporate websites and others were subsequently attacked by DDoS strikes initiated by hackers operating under the banner of Anonymous who claimed to be standing up for Wikileaks and Assange (even naming their coordinated strikes “Operation Avenge Assange”).
Since then, Wikileaks has suffered financially, with the group being forced to auction-off various trinkets to help pay for its overhead.
As for Stratfor, the company has reacted to Monday’s dump of its employees emails releasing a lengthy statement that read in part:
“Some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic. We will not validate either. Nor will we explain the thinking that went into them. Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them.”