The leak of over five million emails from the US-based intelligence firm Stratfor, including information about credit card details, passwords, and the identities of sources, sheds new light on the rapidly changing world of intelligence gathering and exposes those behind it. Al-Akhbar gained access to the data obtained and published by WikiLeaks, including sensitive material pertaining to the Middle East.
The Strategic Forecasting Inc., commonly known as Stratfor, is a private firm dealing in the lucrative business of intelligence gathering and assessment.
Founded in 1996, the company gained global prominence during the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999 when its seemingly cutting-edge analysis was publicized by various news agencies. But it was the events of 9/11 and the subsequent ‘war on terrorism’ that elevated the stature of the firm, turning it into a highly sought after informant for major Western media organizations like Bloomberg, Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, and the BBC.
Commonly referred to as the private CIA, Stratfor claims that it gathers its intelligence through a number of publicly accessible sources, such as wire services, chat hubs, other Internet sites, and unclassified government studies, in addition to well-placed sources internationally. The agency now boasts close to 300,000 subscribers and over two million recipients of free email updates.
Until recently, much of the inner workings of Stratfor had been shrouded in mystery. But last December, members of the internet activism collective Anonymous hacked into the system during the ‘LulzXmas’ campaign to highlight the plight of Bradley Manning, an American soldier currently incarcerated by the US government for suspicion of passing on information to WikiLeaks.
Preliminary readings of these new emails gradually shed light on how the institution is structured, the process of bringing and building up sources, and an intriguing insight into how employees interact with each other. Notably, and contrary to the impression Stratfor tries to project, the emails reveal a corporation that has organizational issues, at times shockingly uninformed, and over-dependent on certain sources in manufacturing their predictions that are highly coveted.
What is Stratfor?
Stratfor was founded over a decade ago in Austin, Texas by George Friedman, a former political science professor. Friedman is the company’s chief intelligence officer, financial overseer, and CEO.
Presenting himself as a ‘best selling author’ on the company’s About Us page, Friedman has a history of working on matters of security and defense with the American military, as well as other institutions like the notorious RAND Corporation.
A self-proclaimed disciple of neo-conservative icons such as Leo Strauss, Friedman has routinely emphasized the ‘jihadist threat’ of al-Qaeda. Indeed, the forecast report compiled by members of Stratfor for the decade between 2005 and 2015 is mainly concerned with the prominence of the United States as a global hegemonic power and its conflict with al-Qaeda
This post was published at The Common Sense Show on Oct 23, 2014.