The Disappointing WikiLeaks Stratfor Revelations So Far

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WikiLeaks' steady drip of internal documents from the global intelligence outfit Stratfor hasn't unearthed any bombshells yet, but it has roped in a tantalizing roster of vaunted corporations and international actors that did business with the firm. From Coca-Cola to Goldman Sachs to the Knights of Columbus, Julian Assange's anti-secrecy site threw everything at the wall. Unfortunately, not much of it has stuck.  

As The Atlantic's Max Fisher yawned, much of Stratfor's business model as an intelligence firm consists of giving clients a brief of day-old New York Times articles and week-old Economist stories under the guise of valuable "intelligence." Reuters columnist Jack Shafer couldn't find a single scooplet yesterday but did say it revealed something about WikiLeaks and Stratfor: "Both organizations are capable of doing 'good' work. But little of that is on display here." What's all the complaining about? Here's what the leaks have revealed so far:

The sealed indictment against Assange One potential scoop from today is a story in The Sydney Morning Herald about "secret charges" drawn up by U.S. prosecutors against Julian Assange. According to The Herald, an internal Stratfor e-mail from vice president Fred Burton says the U.S. has a "sealed indictment on Assange." The newspaper emphasizes Burton's credentials saying he is "an expert on security and counterterrorism with close ties to the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies." Since Assange hasn't been charged for anything in the U.S., a secret indictment would certainly be newsworthy, especially since many have speculated that Assange's extradition to Sweden on sex charges could lead to an extradition to the U.S. Still, we're just left with Burton's word here with nothing else to back up the secret indictment. Is there nowhere in the 5 million obtained e-mails where Burton explains where he heard about the indictment?

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Coca-Cola vs. PETA In one of the more widely-pilloried stories, a surreptitious collaboration between Coca-Cola and Stratfor against animal rights group PETA turns out to be comically harmless. In the e-mails, a Stratfor employee assigns an intern to look at questions including how many PETA supporters exist in Canada, how likely they are to demonstrate against Coca-Cola and what collaboration exists between PETA Canada and PETA USA. As Shafer writes, "If asking an intern to look up some information constitutes spying, you could say that I’ve been in the espionage business for 30 years and my operatives have probed hundreds of government bodies, public institutions and corporations."

Goldman Sachs joins forces with Stratfor  The idea of the one of the most reviled investment banks teaming up with an intelligence firm certainly gained attention. Especially with sexy headlines like "Stratfor Plotted with Goldman Sachs to Set Up Investment Fund." Unfortunately, attempting to set up a fund is as far as the story goes, there's nothing else of substance there. There's no sign of nefarious activity.

The Knights of Columbus It would be interesting if the Roman Catholic fraternal service was up to any misdeeds with the global intelligence firm, unfortunately, even ardent WikiLeaks supporters such as Mother Jones reporter Adam Weinstein admit that the emails are "relatively innocuous." Essentially, the organization enlisted Stratfor to find out about the safety situation before a St. Patrick's Day tour of Emerald Isle. "Client is interested in a short briefing regarding security in Dublin, Ireland for an upcoming trip for staff members," read an e-mail. "Security team working on it."
International affairs There are a number of interesting e-mails concerning heavily-watched international affairs, however, it's difficult to know how much they can be trusted. One Stratfor e-mail, reported in The Telegraph, says Osama bin Laden was in "routine contact with Pakistan's spy agency." Another e-mail says "Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, may have less than a year to live after his cancer spread to the colon and bone marrow." Unfortunately, you essentially have to trust the employees at Stratfor to believe it. And that's ill-advised since the firm doesn't necessarily have a sparkling record. "I've found some Stratfor analysis to be flat wrong, and so perhaps harmful if conclusions are taken by policymakers at face value," writes Dan Murphy at Christian Science Monitor. 
Here's hoping something more substantial comes from the rest of the 5 million e-mail cache that hasn't yet been released. But just to counterbalance all the outward yawning and disappointment, it is worth noting that it's better to have dubious leaks than no leaks at all.  In the meantime, it's still too early to say what overall benefit the project will have.


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.