WikiLeaks Splays Stratfor Wide Open
Millions of email messages from private intelligence firm Stratfor have fallen into the hands of WikiLeaks, which has published a small handful of the missives. The company collects and analyzes information at the behest of a wide variety of clients, including many major industrial organizations. It suffered a breach months ago at the hands of Anonymous.
WikiLeaks on Monday released the first 200 of what it says are 5 million emails stolen from global geopolitical analyst firm Stratfor.
The emails, written between July 2004 and late December 2011, reveal Stratfor's web of informers, its payoff structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods, WikiLeaks stated.
Stratfor denounced the act as a deplorable, unfortunate and illegal breach of privacy. It warned some emails might be forged or altered and declined to discuss them further.
The hacker community Anonymous, which had breached Stratfor's servers in December, claims that it had provided WikiLeaks with the files from that theft. However, it did not confirm whether the files it took then are the ones now being published.
What's Being Published
The emails show, among other things, that Stratfor provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations such as Dow Chemical, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and various government agencies and organizations, including the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, WikiLeaks stated.
In the case of Dow Chemical, the services appear to focus on Bhopal, a city in India that in 1984 suffered one of the world's worst-ever industrial catastrophes when a gas leak from the Union Carbide plant there killed thousands of people and caused more than half a million related injuries. Union Carbide faced civil and criminal cases over the incident. The company is now a wholly own subsidiary of Dow.
One set of published emails indicates that Stratfor investigated North American grassroots supporters for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
Another set seems to indicate that Coca-Cola sought Stratfor's help in 2009 to look into the possibility of demonstrations by animal rights activists to disrupt the Vancouver Olympics.
Is Stratfor Being Evil?
Stratfor describes itself as a subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis, servicing individual and corporate subscribers with a thorough understanding of international affairs, including what's happening, why it's happening and what will happen next.
It uses an intelligence-based approach to gather information, both on the Web and through human sources. This information is then evaluated by its analysts.
Banks and many large corporations have their own analysts who do pretty much the same thing.
"Like a lot of analyst firms, [Stratfor] specializes in looking for trends and providing advice based on analysis," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.
George Friedman, founder and CEO of Stratfor, is a political scientist whose books include The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century and America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies.
Responding to WikiLeaks' publication of the stolen emails, Stratfor said it has worked to build good sources worldwide as any firm in its field would do and has done so in a straightforward manner. The company has also reiterated that it's not affiliated with any government.
Why the Owie for Stratfor?
Stratfor's problems begin when its recommendations are counter to positions its clients are taking, Enderle said.
"When someone finds out that a politician or business is receiving information that indicates one thing, but is publicly saying something else, that could cripple the politician's or business's credibility," he explained.
Given the sensitivity of its work, perhaps Stratfor should have taken more security precautions.
It's not possible to defend fully against breaches, because "breaches happen," said Joe Levy, chief technology officer of Solera Networks. Instead, companies have to employ "data devaluation" in their information systems to reduce the value of stolen information, he told TechNewsWorld.
Stratfor did not respond to our request for further details.