The inner workings of one of the world's most secretive private intelligence firms looks set to be exposed by WikiLeaks, which announced yesterday that it had obtained a huge cache of the company's emails.
The whistle-blowing website's founder, Julian Assange, said the emails from US-based Stratfor would reveal the "seedy business" of private intelligence firms and how they have become increasingly unaccountable.
The publication is a coup for WikiLeaks after months of internal turbulence and financial difficulties caused by a concerted campaign by the US government to close it down and ongoing extradition proceedings against Mr Assange.
But the release is also deeply controversial. Unlike previous WikiLeaks exposés, most of which were the result of ideologically committed whistleblowers such as the now incarcerated US soldier Bradley Manning, the Stratfor emails are thought to have been stolen from its servers by members of the hacking collective Anonymous.
At a press conference in London, Mr Assange refused to elaborate on where the emails had come from. "As a source protection organisation and simply as a media organisation we don't discuss or speculate on sourcing," he said.
But members of Anonymous, via Twitter accounts that have been previously used to claim responsibility for hack attacks, announced that the emails had indeed been taken by them last December and handed to WikiLeaks.
The website has partnered with more than 25 media organisations around the world and said it would release the emails over the coming weeks. The first set, published yesterday, provided an insight into the workings of Stratfor, a Texas-based security think-tank that has been likened to a "shadow CIA".
Among the revelations were details that it has been hired by large corporations to investigate activist groups and NGOs. Mr Assange said the database contained 4,000 emails looking into the activities of WikiLeaks itself, which would be published over the coming days. Emails already released reportedly show that Stratfor looked into the animal rights group Peta in Canada. Stratfor also appears to have given the US company Dow Chemical information on activists from Bhopal, an Indian town that became the epicentre of the world's worst industrial disaster caused by an offshoot of a company later taken over by Dow.
One of the activist groups mentioned in correspondence between Stratfor and Dow Chemical employees is the Yes Men, who have campaigned on behalf of those injured in the Bhopal disaster. Mike Bonano, an activist who was given advance access to the emails, said: "When we heard we were being monitored by an intelligence agency it wasn't that big a surprise. One always suspects the government might be listening to you. What one doesn't expect is that it's not the government listening to you, it's a network of unaccountable corporations and their only set of standards is their bottom line."
A spokesperson for Dow Chemical said they could not comment on the specific emails, but added: "Major companies, including Dow, are often required to take appropriate action to protect their people and safeguard their facilities around the world from those who would threaten, disrupt and misrepresent the company and its employees."
For your eyes only: Stratfor's 'glossary of terms'
One of the more interesting files released yesterday was one that WikiLeaks claims is Stratfor's glossary explaining the "useful, baffling and strange" terms it uses in its work (apparently for internal use only). Here are some of the highlights...After Action Report: Final report on conclusion of an Op. Never show the customer. It's like showing someone how sausage is made. Nauseating.
ATF: Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Rednecks with a license to kill. Never, ever, ask for their help on anything.Barium Meal: When there is a leak, feed bits of radioactive (traceable, false) information to suspects. See which bit leaks. You will know who leaked it. The leaker will know you know. Livens up a dull day like nothing else we've ever seen.
BYM: Bright Young Man Doesn't know shit. Doesn't know that he doesn't know. Likely to burn you the first time out. Try to get him killed as quickly as possible.Case Officer: The person who manages an agent in the field. [Needs] the skills of a psychologist and the morals of a pimp.
Clandestine: Operation that has no open connection to anyone. Israeli maxim: "If you're captured, we don't know you. If you're killed, we won't bury you. So ... don't get captured [or] killed." Synonymous with suicidal.
Craft: Intelligence is not an art or a science. It is referred to by the professional as The Craft, after Alan Dulles' [a founder of CIA] book "The Craft of Intelligence." Craft covers all of the skills and abilities of intelligence from writing to briefing to spying. People are said to have "good craft", or "bad craft" or "no frigging craft at all." A man with good craft can go into a bar, meet a beautiful woman assigned to seduce him, get seduced and wake up in the morning with the woman working for him. That's great craft. Or a man is picked up by a beautiful woman, convinces himself that she really likes him in spite of the fact that he is 50, balding and overweight. After two drinks he comes to feel that they really are soulmates. He describes his latest operation in detail and never gets laid. This is a total lack of craft.FBI aka the Downtown Gang. Very good a breaking up used-car rings. Kind of confused on anything more complicated. Fun to jerk with. Not fun when they jerk back.
Hoover's Dress: Yes, Jedgar liked to pop a dress on once in a while, just to ... kick back and relax with Clyde [Tolson, his right-hand man]. The dress is Top Secret and kept in a vault in the Hoover Bldg. Play with that thought for a while and then decide if this profession is for you.Secret Service: They catch counterfeiters, break up child pornography rings and guard the president. Continual identity crisis. Not, shall we say, the most sophisticated crew you'll ever find.
Source – burnt: A source that was blown in the process of being used. Every source gets burnt. The Craft is in the how and when. They're all dead men boys; make 'em count.
Target: soft: The drunken congressman looking to get laid.
Target: hard: A 30-year veteran of Israeli intelligence who has gone totally paranoid.
War Wagon: Follow car on protective details that carries the shoulder weapons and counter-assault team. If [it] is needed, intelligence has failed.
Stratfor's chief: George Friedman
A regular pundit on American TV networks and author of numerous political books, Stratfor's founder, George Friedman, has become one of the most influential people within the ever-growing field of private intelligence. Born to Hungarian parents, his family fled Soviet Russia and set up in the US. After two decades within academia, Friedman turned to the private sector and created Stratfor in 1996. It has since become a highly influential intelligence think tank, with more than 300,000 clients subscribing to daily updates. Barron's magazine once labelled the group a "shadow CIA" but others have questioned the quality of their output. Cyber security experts also expressed surprise that much of the information taken by hackers in December was unencrypted.