Special Report | ‘A shadow CIA’ – WikiLeaks, Lulzsec and the Stratfor emails
New in Ceasefire, Special Reports - Posted on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 12:00 - 1 Comment
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a document containing leaked information at a news conference in London on Feb. 27. The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began publishing on Monday more than five million emails from a US-based global security analysis company that has been likened to a shadow CIA. (Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters)
WikiLeaks releases Stratfor e-mails
On Monday last week, WikiLeaks began publishing the first of what it claims are 5.5 million e-mails from the U.S.-based global intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), dubbed a ‘shadow CIA’.
Reportedly snatched in December 2011 by the hacker group Anonymous, these emails – dating from 2004 to 2011 and under the heading of ‘Global Intelligence Files’ – have exposed the inner workings of Stratfor’s web of intelligence-gathering.
Announcing the release of the material on Monday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange kicked off a press conference in London by declaring that the e-mails documented ‘the private lives and private lies of private spies’.
In a statement, Stratfor said that ‘this is a deplorable, unfortunate – and illegal – breach of privacy’, adding that ‘some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic’.
Stratfor was founded in 1996 by political scientist and author George Friedman and defines itself as a ‘subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis’ with ‘an intelligence-based approach to gathering information’.
According to the leaks, the intelligence firm has garnished a list of high profile clients, including major corporations and government agencies such as Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, the US Marine Corps and the US Department of Homeland Security.
Dow Chemical and Coca-Cola
Some of the first e-mails to be released on Monday revealed major companies hired Stratfor to monitor the online activities of activist groups, especially due to fears that their efforts might develop into a successful and organized struggle against unlawful corporate actions.
In the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas tragedy in Bhopal, India, for instance, major chemical Dow requested surveillance on Yes Men, a group of activists seeking compensation for the victims of the tragedy.
The gas leak remains India’s worst industrial disaster to date, killing as many as 25,000 people and leading to the exposure of hundreds of thousands.
Stratfor officials assured Dow that ‘[Bhopal activists] have made a slight nod toward expanded activity, but never followed through on it’:
‘You’d think that the major players—especially Amnesty [International]—would have branched out from Bhopal to make a broader set of issues. I don’t see any evidence of it,’ wrote Stratfor Vice President Bart Mongoven.
Israel and Iran
In e-mails dated November 2011, a Stratfor source in Israel ‘was asked what he thought of reports that the Israelis were preparing a military offensive against Iran. Response: I think this is a diversion. The Israelis already destroyed all the Iranian nuclear infrastructure on the ground weeks ago’.
‘If a massive attack on Iran happens soon,’ the source added, ‘then the attack will
have political and oil reasons and not nuclear’.
‘The current “let’s bomb Iran” campaign was ordered by the EU leaders to divert the public attention from their at home [sic] financial problems. It plays also well for the US since Pakistan, Russia and N. Korea are mentioned in the report. The result of this campaign will be massive attacks on Gaza and strikes on Hezbollah in both Lebanon and Syria.’
These allegations were supported by one Stratfor official:
‘Israeli commandos in collaboration with Kurd forces destroyed few underground facilities mainly used for the Iranian defense and nuclear research projects,’ he wrote.
‘Even if the Israelis have the capabilities and are ready to attack by air, sea and land, there is no need to attack the nuclear program at this point after the commandos destroyed a significant part of it.’
Stratfor-founder and CEO George Friedman also argued that the attack had indeed taken place in a recently leaked e-mail dating 15 November 2011:
‘They [the Israelis] want it to be known that they did it in order to intimidate the Iranians […] The question is whether they did it or are taking credit for the accident. My judgment based on conversations is that they did do it. They are making that very public but unofficial. The mystery is how they did it.’
Furthermore, one e-mail mentions the news, covered by AFP in mid-November last year, that ‘Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak […] hailed the deadly munitions blast at a base of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and hoped for more such incidents’:
‘I don’t know the extent of the explosion,’ Barak told a military radio station, ‘but it would be desirable if they multiply’.
Pakistan and Osama bin Laden
In another leaked batch of Stratfor emails 12 unidentified Pakistani intelligence and army officials are suggested to have been aware of Bin Laden’s refuge in the Pakistani city of Abottabad, including a ‘General that had knowledge of the OBL arrangement sand safe house’.
Commenting on the WikiLeaks release, spokesman for the Pakistan army Athar Abbas told news channel Al-Arabiya that the allegations ‘are nonsense and not credible’.
The release of these e-mails – the first of 5.5 million – and their controversial content is said to be just the tip of the iceberg in exposing the underworld of corporate and governmental practices.
More information tying the think tank firm to other agencies and corporations is expected to surface the public domain in the coming days and weeks.
If there is any shred of truth to these documents, doubtless Stratfor employees and its various clients are looking over their shoulders, as well as its faithful subscribers, amongst which are former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and US Vice President Dan Quayle.
Stratfor leaker said to work for the FBI
It is interesting to find, however, that it has not taken long for the legitimacy of these leaks to come under fire, in effect it only took a little over a week after WikiLeaks detonated the Stratfor bomb.
On Tuesday, Fox News broke the story that five ‘top members’ of hactivist group LulzSec had been arrested that day with the help of the group’s frontman ‘Sabu’, dubbed by the Guardian as ‘the world’s most notorious computer hacker’.
LulzSec, an offshoot of the hacker group Anonymous – which allegedly provided WikiLeaks with the Stratfor e-mails and other material – is ‘believed to have caused billions of dollars in damage to governments, international banks and corporations’.
‘Sabu’ has been identified as 28-year old Hector Xavier Monsegur, an unemployed Puerto Rican and father of two living in New York.
On 7 June 2011, Monsegur was captured by the FBI and brought in to face 12 charges totaling some 124 years of imprisonment, to which the hacker is said to have secretly pleaded guilty. The sentence was then waived after Monsegur agreed to cooperate with the FBI as an informant, a role he has allegedly played over the last six months.
The Guardian writes:
‘A second [US court] document shows that Monsegur – styled this time as CW-1 [previously code-named CW] – provided an FBI-owned computer to facilitate the release of 5m emails taken from US security consultancy Stratfor and which are now being published by WikiLeaks.’
The FBI further stated that it provided ‘Sabu’ with a New York server into which his LulzSec co-conspirators could dump the leaked e-mails.
In other words, the FBI is suggesting that in actuality it was not the hacker group Anonymous that leaked the material to WikiLeaks directly, but rather the FBI, which in itself raises questions about the credibility of the e-mails.
However, the story coverage as broken by Fox News – a news corporation known for its undying efforts towards promoting journalistic truth and impartiality – is largely based on vague and unidentified ‘sources’ and ‘senior-level officials’.
In effect, this recent piece of news may simply be a desperate attempt at discrediting the Stratfor e-mails as quickly as possible. After all, why would the FBI encourage the leaking of false information to WikiLeaks unless it wanted someone (e.g. a foreign goverment) to believe it? That is, after all, the whole point of providing disinformation.
And why would it ever reveal that it had in effect provided such false information just one week after the release of the material?