WikiLeaks' Stratfor Email Release Raises Uncomfortable Questions
WikiLeaks is back in the news again. This time the whistle-blower Website has released its first set of internal emails stolen from Stratfor back in December.
The links to the 167 messages are allegedly just the first installment of the "more than 5 million emails" dating from July 2004 to December 2011, WikiLeaks said in a statement accompanying the emails. The documents reveal the "inner workings" of Stratfor Global Intelligence, a Texas-based company WikiLeaks claims provided confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and several government agencies.
In a quick perusal of the messages included in the first set, eWEEK found Excel spreadsheets containing "client" information, notes between Stratfor employees discussing stories they'd heard from their network of sources, and internal documents about proper procedures on how to collect and analyze information and maintain confidentiality. The stories, tagged as "insight," cover topics such as Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's medical history, rumors of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) being traded between private groups in Georgia, Mexico and Russia, and a former Spanish prime minister's opinions concerning terrorism.
"The emails show Stratfor's web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods," WikiLeaks wrote.
Stratfor has refused to comment on the authenticity of the emails, and in a statement called the release "deplorable."
"Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them," Stratfor said in its statement.
A group of individuals claiming to be affiliated with hacktivist collective Anonymous breached Strategic Forecasting's servers, defaced the Website, stole and dumped credit card numbers, user names and passwords belonging to subscribers, and stole internal and external emails in late December. Stratfor was offline for about 18 days to rebuild its site to prevent a similar attack.
It is not clear how WikiLeaks obtained the documents, or when. The site coordinated its release with more than two-dozen publications and analysts around the world, including McClatchy, Rolling Stone magazine and Italy's La Republica, Spain's Publico and New Zealand's Sunday Star-Times. The "partners" are "conducting journalistic evaluations" of these emails and will publish "important revelations" in the coming weeks, the site said.
Shortly after the attack, Stratfor CEO George Friedman wrote in a letter to customers that there was nothing damaging or significant in the stolen emails.
"God knows what a hundred employees writing endless emails might say that is embarrassing, stupid or subject to misinterpretation. ¦ As they search our emails for signs of a vast conspiracy, they will be disappointed," Friedman wrote
Some of the messages posted in this first batch reveal some potentially questionable practices, but it's not clear whether they are taken out of context or an example of how the company's analysts normally operate. For example, in a December email chain, Friedman told an analyst, "If this is a source you suspect may have value, you have to take control of him." The discussion centered on whether a source had credible information or was repeating gossip, and Friedman said only by controlling the source by any means, including financial and psychological, would it be possible to evaluate the source.
In another internal memo from August 2011, Friedman discussed a venture between a Goldman Sachs managing director Shea Morenz and Stratfor to establish a captive strategic investment fund called StratCap. StratCap will use Stratfor's "intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like," Friedman allegedly wrote.
The messages "may be authentic," while some others "may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies," Stratfor said. "We will not validate either," read the statement.
Stratfor's Friedman has lashed out at critics, claiming Stratfor had been mischaracterized after the attack. "At the core of our business, we objectively acquire, organize, analyze and distribute information," Friedman said at the time, and denied it engaged in any kind of covert spying for corporations or government agencies.
WikiLeaks called Strafor a "private intelligence" company and claimed the "Global Intelligence Files," as the Stratfor emails have been dubbed, showed how government, diplomatic and media sources gave Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The informants were a mix of covert and overt informants and were paid by Swiss bank accounts and pre-paid credit cards, WikiLeaks claimed.
The larger body of emails also allegedly contain "privileged" information about the U.S. government's attacks against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks currently besieged with a sexual harassment case in Sweden and the subject of investigation for his role in the release of U.S. State Department diplomatic cables in late 2010, as well as Strafor's attempts to "subvert" WikiLeaks, according to the statement accompanying the leaked "Global Intelligence Files" on the site. "There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange," the site claimed.