Whistleblower website WikiLeaks has exposed more than 5 million emails apparently obtained by the hacking of Stratfor, the private intelligence company dubbed the “shadow CIA”. The leak may be as high-profile as that of the State Department cables.
The emails, dated between July 2004 and late December 2011, give a glimpse on the inner workings of the company. They show how Stratfor gathers confidential information from paid insiders, including senior state officials, and provides it to large corporations and US governmental agencies.
The private correspondence confirms that Stratfor’s area of interests goes far behind those of a merely civilian firm. In one report, an insider in Russian defense revealed sensitive information on the tactical ballistic missile Iskander, including its development progress and the use during the August 2008 armed conflict with Georgia.
The think-tank is operating as an outsourced spy agency, recruiting sources and pumping them for insider information (and, as skeptics say, disinformation). It lacks capabilities that true special services have, like using spy drones or secretly raiding governmental archives James Bond-style. But otherwise Stratfor operates successfully, turning secrets into cash outside of the usual restrictions and need for accountability that their state counterparts face.
The company’s spy network scoured for info on things ranging from health condition of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to the laundering of drug profits by Mexican cartels, to the loss of faith in the Obama administration by US business elites. WikiLeaks itself was also an important topic of research for Stratfor, with more than 4,000 of the emails mentioning the website or its founder Julian Assange.
It also reveals Stratfor’s close ties with US agencies, from Marines Corps to Department of Homeland Security and what WikiLeaks calls a pro-American neoconservative political bias. “Stratfor claims that it operates 'without ideology, agenda or national bias', yet the emails reveal private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with US government policies and channel tips to Mossad,” the whistleblower website says in a statement.
WikiLeaks shared the material with more than 25 media outlets and activists throughout the world. The partners have been provided with early access to the database for journalistic investigation of the emails.
“Important revelations discovered using this system will appear in the media in the coming weeks, together with the gradual release of the source documents,” WikiLeaks says.
WikiLeaks did not specify how exactly it came into possession of the Stratfor emails. However, the company itself admitted in December that its data servers had been breached by the “hacktivist” group Anonymous. The hackers posted online the names, emails and credit card numbers of thousands of Stratfor subscribers.
Stratfor dismissed the leak, calling it “a deplorable, unfortunate – and illegal – breach of privacy.”
“Some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic. We will not validate either. Nor will we explain the thinking that went into them. Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them,” the company said in a statement.
It went on to confirm that the WikiLeaks disclosure must come from the Anonymous hack.