WikiLeaks says Stratfor is a corporate CIA – a shadowy firm that vacuums up intelligence from the top levels of governments around the globe. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says that’s why his anti-secrecy group on Monday began releasing a trove of confidential Stratfor e-mails.
Stratfor has paid off informants, monitored activist groups on behalf of multinationals, and invested cash based on its intelligence findings, charged Mr. Assange during an appearance at London’s Frontline Club.
WikiLeaks is working with a network of international media organizations to organize and publish the e-mails, whose provenance remains unclear. It’s possible that explosive findings are yet to come. But an initial survey of the e-mails published so far on WikiLeaks's own website reveals not so much a corporate Central Intelligence Agency as a geopolitical version of the comedy “The Office,” complete with lunch theft, ribald interoffice accusations, jokes about interns, and unsubstantiated blather about world politics.
The e-mails also contain names, contact numbers, and internal passwords of dozens of clients and contacts – just the sort of non-vetted personal information that WikiLeaks has been criticized for publishing in the past.
The tortellini caper
One e-mail chain released by WikiLeaks involves the theft of a bowl of pesto tortellini from a refrigerator in Statfor’s Austin, Texas, office. The perpetrator owns up to what he terms a mistake in food identification, but not before dispensing an intel-world homily: “Admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter-accusations.”
Spying for Coca-Cola
The e-mails do reveal some clear examples of intelligence gathering on behalf of corporate clients. Among these was Coca-Cola, which prior to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was apparently worried about the animal rights group PETA, for some reason.
A Coke manager sent Stratfor a list of questions it wanted answered at a private briefing, including how active PETA was in Canada, what its methods were, and whether PETA had links to other activist groups. The threat to a soda firm from PETA remained unclear.
Criminality of British soccer teams
Other e-mails released include long lists of guidance – topics that Stratfor wished its analysts to cover. Organized by region, they were generally hortatory yet bland. A section on Eurasian economics, for instance, reminded that “bankruptcies and bank bailouts are important.”
Yet within these e-mails are occasional statements that perhaps bear further investigation. In a section on Britain written in 2009, for example, Stratfor urges close attention to who is buying the nation’s soccer teams.
“May seem silly, but European soccer leagues are avenues for money laundering. Good to know who is laundering what money,” states the e-mail.
Another section in that same 2009 e-mail notes that the Balkans is rife with organized crime, or “OC.” About the small Balkans nation of Montenegro, the e-mail makes the startling charge that “the entire country is OC, including the government.”
Stratfor equals Kremlin
Time wasting in the corporate world can take many forms, from unnecessary meetings to office basketball pools. At one point, the Stratfor staff engaged in a hearty round of “Stratfor’s Kremlin Model,” in which they discussed who among them was equivalent to which official in Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.
While undoubtedly learned, this discussion may have contributed just as much to the firm’s bottom line as would an interoffice Angry Birds tournament.
Stratfor itself has said the messages appear to be those stolen by hackers over the Christmas holidays. Beyond that, it will have little to say about the message content.
“Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them,” said the company Monday in a statement.