Wikileaks & Stratfor: Exposing the Murky World of Private Intelligence
Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick, 27th Febraury 2012
Wikileaks is making public about 5 million emails of Stratfor (a private company that makes money out of selling strategic intelligence). In the global economy, knowledge of coming political events help companies make money out of futures. As trading in futures becomes important for bonds, stocks, currency and even food and raw materials, so does the value of information. So what was earlier the exclusive preserve of governments is now becoming an industry, with Stratfor a new animal in this global security zoo. Along with Blackwater, renamed as Xe Services and now once again name changed to Academi, Stratfor is seeking to get into the larger security market.
Stratfor did not stop with only providing information to its clients. From the treasure trove of its emails, it is clear that it also did what all intelligence agencies do. It was also monitoring activists who were fighting for the rights of the victims of the Bhopal gas leak, for Dow Chemicals. . At a price, its services were available – from collecting dirt on opponents of its clients to “fixing” them if required. A private dirty tricks agency.
Wikileaks itself was a target of Stratfor. There are more than 4,000 emails detailing the efforts of the US agencies and Stratfor in attacking Wikileaks and Julian Assange.
The emails makes it clear that Stratfor was also closely tied up with CIA and Mossad. Both must have found the veneer of “independent analysis” that Stratfor provided as very useful in shaping the public discourse. As Stratfor also gave out free backgrounders on critical issues, a host of people (including me) find it useful as basic information. It is widely used by journalists and analysts all over the world, despite its pro-American stand. What stands out – from a preliminary analysis by Wikileaks – is how close it was to the agencies of the US Government. Wikileaks states,
Stratfor claims that it operates "without ideology, agenda or national bias", yet the emails reveal private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with US government policies and channel tips to the Mossad – including through an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks’ contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables to Israel.
What is even more disturbing in the Stratfor emails, is how it was modelling itself on the ethics or the lack of it of the intelligence agencies. George Friedman , the head of Stratfor tells Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla in an email on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez, "[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."
When the Anonymous break-in had occurred in December last year , Stratfor had claimed that the list of private clients that had been made public was not of clients for whom it provided intelligence services. Friedman, the Stratfor head had stated.
Contrary to this assertion the disclosure was merely a list of some of the members that have purchased our publications and does not comprise a list of individuals or entities that have a relationship with Stratfor beyond their purchase of our subscription-based publications.
It is now clear from the emails that this was deliberate misinformation – Stratfor did have private clients for whom they did considerably more than just supply publications. The size of the payments as visible from its invoices is to the tune of half a million in some cases, easily making these the most expensive publications in history!
Goldman Sachs had partnered with Stratfor to pioneer a new venture called StratCap, which would use Stratfor's strategic knowledge for promoting investment funds indeed an innovative instrument for making money. In doing this, it would cross many of the barriers regarding conflict of interest – if it bet on a war to push up prices, how much of this would colour what Stratfor would put out regarding the situation? Would Stratfor be willing to stoke the fires of war in order to make a financial killing as StratCap?
The private intelligence network of Stratfor was similar to that of any Government intelligence agency – it was based on private informants in governments of countries, companies and journalists. They were paid through slush funds, some of which were illegal based on the US laws. Of course Stratfor was protected by its close contacts with the US agencies.
Wikileaks is working with 25 news partners including The Hindu to analyse these 5 million Stratfor emails. Once again, the electronic age shows how difficult it is maintain a public façade that is different from a private one. And Wikileaks has once again showed that in spite of being hamstrung by the US agencies stopping PayPal and credit card companies from transferring money, it still continues to fight the good fight.