Wikileaks exposes the workings of a “Shadow CIA”.
It is sometimes astonishing how little the Wikileaks disclosures impact on the public. At the same time, it’s to be expected in an age that is as unconducive to critical thought as it is media-saturated.
A radical medium for disseminating information which bypasses the mainstream media, Wikileaks has “challenged power by challenging the normal channels of challenging power and revealing the truth.” It chips away steadily at systematic obscurity.
The movement’s history and progress should be read closely by anybody who has an interest in knowing what the powers that be are doing. That is to say, anyone who has a living conscience. To name but one example, the Iraq war logs release in October 2010 cables exposed 15,000 civilian deaths that had previously gone completely unrecorded.
Embattled figurehead Julian Assange faces extradition from the UK to Sweden and from there to the US, prompting articles and blogposts with titles such as ‘Whither Wikileaks?’ But what they tend to ignore is that Assange is merely the frontman for a movement made-up of innumerable hackers, conscientious journalists, and activists. Dubbed “the first stateless news organisation”, Wikileaks deliberately ignores rigid and dated state controls on publishing information. Its slogan, “We open governments,” says it all.
So why is it back in the news? At the beginning of the week it began releasing a cache of 5.5 million emails from employees of a private intelligence company, Stratfor, and its network of interlocutors and informants who include members of the intelligence services, diplomats, journalists and fake activists.
Stratfor has been dubbed a “shadow CIA”. As a private intelligence company, it is part of a broader phenomenon described as the privatization of security. The rise of private military and security companies – including intelligence “publishers” such as Stratfor – has allowed the trans-national security state to outsource warfare and escape accountability for the exercise of illegitimate power. It is precisely such entities that Wikileaks and the Anonymous hacking movement take aim at.
The releases document a symbiotic relationship with state security services. They contain an email in which Strafor’s CEO, George Friedman, claims: “We have also been asked to help the United States Marine Corps and other government intelligence organizations to teach them how Stratfor does what it does, and train them in becoming government Stratfors. We are beginning this project by preparing a three-year forecast for the Commandant of the Corps.”
Rachel Marsden of the Baltimore Sun addressed the massive irony inherent in the fact that state security agencies are now hiring private security agencies to learn from them: “The fact that the commandant of the Marine Corps “and other government intelligence organizations” might require your expertise in learning how to do what they’ve historically been entrusted by the public to do does nothing for my sense of security.” On the other hand, perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that Stratfor executives see the CIA as incompetent.
As the Wikileaks press release puts it, the leaks provide a snapshot of the “revolving door” process operating in private intelligence companies in the United States. They expose the exchange of personnel and information between public and private security organizations.
In a press conference at the Frontline Club Assange said, “The activities of intelligence organisations are increasingly privatised and once privatised they are taken out of the realm of the freedom of information act and out of the realm of US military law and so they are often used by governments that want to conceal activities.”
Alarmingly, a number of emails sent and received by Fred Burton and Stratfor’s Chief Intelligence officer George Friedman suggest that the US military did not bury Bin Laden at sea as the world was led to believe. The two executives, who have informants in the official security services, received information on the matter. After expressing doubt about the story on Bin Laden’s body being dumped in the Arabian sea, Burton sent a short e mail on 5th February 2011 with the following contents:
“Reportedly, we took the body with us. Thank goodness.”
Friedman received a short email on the same date from an unnamed interlocutor:
“Body is Dover bound, should be here by now.” (Note: Dover, Delaware is home to various FBI facilities)
On top of malfeasances, the leaks reveal a shocking level of incompetence on the part of this company, which as mentioned above has seemingly been hired by the US marines and other organisations. They illustrate that it has picked people who have spent as little as a semester in the Middle East as analysts for the region, and relied on Google Translate to read Arabic newspaper articles.
Some emails also betray the bigoted attitudes of senior members of the organisation, such as Fred Burton who wrote “I’m offended that we may believe an Iranian before a Jew”, and the same referring to Pakistanis as “Pakis.”
This will not surprise anyone who has ever dealt with people who work in the industry. The world didn’t need to wait for the Wikileaks release to know that such organisations are staffed by people who are as racist as they are robot-like. I’ll never forget reading the phrase “those who fail to live in developed societies”, or something very similar, in a Stratfor document some years back.
For all the alarming obscurity that these disclosures uncover however, they are not lacking in humour. In fact one aspect in particular is hilarious. Reportedly, the password that the hackers used to access the server was…STRATFOR.
I once heard a public talk from a wise man. Being a Muslim and an object of suspicion, he said: “Intelligence agencies, if you’re out there listening to this, hire intelligent people.”