Whistleblowing website WikiLeaks today started to publish more than five million confidential emails from the global intelligence company Stratfor.
The emails, dated from July 2004 to late December 2011, are said to reveal the ‘inner workings’ of US-based firm known as the ‘Shadow CIA’.
Among the allegations to emerge is that Stratfor’s claim to be a media organisation providing a subscription intelligence newsletter is a front for ‘running paid informants networks’ and ‘laundering those payments through the Bahamas, through Switzerland, through private credit cards’.
Stratfor ‘is monitoring Bhopal activists for Dow Chemicals, Peta activities for Coca-Cola’, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed at a press conference in London today.
However, what could cause the greatest embarrassment for the U.S. government is his suggestion that information is also being gathered by paying contacts from agencies including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.
Assange said: ‘Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the U.S. government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations and journalists.’
Emails between George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor, and Karl Rover, a senior adviser to George Bush, are among those that are being released.
At today’s press conference, Mr Assange said he would not reveal where the emails had come from.
‘We are a source protection organisation,’ he said. ‘As a source protection organisation and simply as a media organisation we don’t discuss or speculate on sourcing.’
The documents are believed to have come from loose-knit hacker group Anonymous, which claimed to have stolen information from the firm in December.
Wikileaks said the emails show Stratfor’s ‘web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods’.
It also said the material contains privileged information about the U.S. government’s attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor’s own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks.
The group said there are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange.
But today Mr Assange said more information would emerge in the near future: ‘We have looked most closely at the actions against us, the bigger story is likely to come out of this probably in three or four days’ time.’
He added: ‘Today Wikileaks started releasing over five million emails from private intelligence firm Stratfor based in Texas.
‘Together with 25 other media partners from around the world we have been investigating the activities of this company for some months.
‘And what we have discovered is a company that is a private intelligence Enron.
‘On the surface it presents as if it’s a media organisation providing a private subscription intelligence newsletter.
‘But underneath it is running paid informants networks, laundering those payments through the Bahamas, and through Switzerland, through private credit cards.
‘It is monitoring Bhopal activists for Dow Chemicals, Peta activities for Coca-Cola.
‘It is engaged in a seedy business.’
Mr Assange said Stratfor was using the secret intelligence it had paid for to invest in a wide range of ‘geopolitical financial instruments’.
‘This makes News of the World look like kindergarten,’ he added.
Mr Assange said the exposure of the emails was part of a long history WikiLeaks has had in exposing the activities of secret organisations.
He said: ‘The activities of intelligence organisations increasingly are privatised and once privatised they are taken out of the realm of the Freedom of Information Act, of U.S. military law and so they are often used by governments who want to conceal particular activity.
‘But Stratfor is simply out of control.
‘Even as a private intelligence organisation it is being completely hopeless in protecting the identity of its informants, or even providing accurate information. It is engaged in internal deals with a financial investment firm that it is setting up.
‘It really is some type of Enron where there is not even proper corporate control within the organisation.’
WikiLeaks said it had worked with 25 media organisations to investigate and information would be released over the coming weeks.
The group said the emails expose a ‘revolving door’ in private intelligence companies in the U.S., claiming government and diplomatic sources give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money.
‘The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards,’ the group said.
‘Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.
‘The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients.’
WikiLeaks accused Stratfor of ‘routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders’, and claims an email from chief executive George Friedman in August 2011 suggested his concern over its legality.
In it, he wrote: ‘We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
‘I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either.’
The group said: ‘Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections.’
It said Stratfor did secret deals with dozens of media organisations and journalists – from Reuters to the Kiev Post.
‘While it is acceptable for journalists to swap information or be paid by other media organisations, because Stratfor is a private intelligence organisation that services governments and private clients these relationships are corrupt or corrupting.’
The group said it has also obtained Stratfor’s list of informants and, in many cases, records of its pay-offs.
ANONYMOUS: THE HACKERS WITH NO CENTRAL LEADERS, BASE OR MISSION
Anonymous is a notorious group of hackers around the world who have no central authority.
The group was previously in the news for briefly shutting down the FBI and Justice Department websites in the U.S. after popular file-sharing website Megaupload was closed down.
They work by agreeing on targets in internet chat rooms and then attacking at the same time. One of their most famous targets that generated much publicity was the Church of Scientology in 2008.
Anonymous also attacked the Amazon, Visa, MasterCard and PayPal websites in 2010 after the companies decided to stop working with Julian Assange’s controversial website WikiLeaks.
They have also attacked the websites of the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America for tightly controlling copyright, reported Agence France-Presse.
Last autumn one hacker affiliated with Anonymous was arrested for allegedly targeting Sony’s PlayStation Network, Qriocity music streaming and Sony Online Entertainment.