Stratfor

SAN ANTONIO — Private intelligence firm Stratfor was paid by Coca-Cola to gauge the threat of Olympic protesters, provided Dow Chemical information on environmental activists, and sells what clients and subscribers consider the best geopolitical analysis that money can buy.

Now the Texas-based think tank is the latest target of WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange, who says his anti-secrecy group has more than 5 million of Stratfor’s emails and is promising to release damaging material in the coming weeks.

The first, small batch published Monday contained little that was particularly scintillating — but revealed clients that Stratfor has long safeguarded and refused to disclose. They range from local universities to megacorporations like Coca-Cola, which apparently worried about animal-rights supporters crashing and disrupting the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

“To what extent will US-based PETA supporters travel to Canada to support activism?” a Coca-Cola manager asked a Stratfor analyst in a 2009 email.

An initial examination of the emails turned up a mix of the innocuous and the embarrassing. But Assange has accused Stratfor of serious deeds, such as funneling money to informants through offshore tax havens and making investments based on its secret intelligence.

“What we have discovered is a company that is a private intelligence Enron,” Assange told London’s Frontline Club, referring to the Texas energy giant whose spectacular bankruptcy turned it into a byword for corporate malfeasance.

Stratfor denied there was anything improper in the way it dealt with its contacts.

“Stratfor has worked to build good sources in many countries around the world, as any publisher of global geopolitical analysis would do,” the company said in a statement. “We have done so in a straightforward manner and we are committed to meeting the highest standards of professional conduct.”

Headquartered on the fourth floor of a bank building in downtown Austin, Stratfor might be one of the smallest targets on which WikiLeaks has set its sights. Founded in 1996, the company was reported to have the equivalent of around 40 full-time employees in Austin in 2008 and regularly plucks interns from the nearby University of Texas campus.

According to one internal Stratfor document released by WikiLeaks, the company boasted having 292,000 paid subscribers but also acknowledged that the actual number of people reading its products is far fewer. Stratfor uses analysts to scour the Internet for open-source information, to determine where the world’s next crisis might strike.

But the company also pays for information. One email released by WikiLeaks described a $6,000-a-month payment made to a Middle Eastern source. In December, Stratfor founder George Friedman gave advice on handling sources to one of his analysts gathering information on the health of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.

“If this is a source you suspect may have value, you have to take control [of] him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control to the point where he would reveal his sourcing and be tasked,” the email read. “This is difficult to do when you are known to be affiliated with an intelligence organization.”

Printed on Thursday March 1, 2012 as: WikiLeaks to release information about fraudulent company

Political analysis company Stratfor has recently come under fire for allegedly being part of a plan to shut down local activist groups Occupy Austin and Deep Green Resistance Austin.

An unknown hacker group infiltrated Stratfor’s systems in December and obtained a large amount of confidential information, such as credit card numbers and company emails, and eliminated data on four Stratfor servers. Alleged emails between Stratfor employees and the Texas Department of Public Safety have caused debate regarding validity of the emails and whether online spying is taking place. In the messages, DPS officers instructed Stratfor to keep a close eye on Occupy Austin and Deep Green Resistance Austin.

In a statement released earlier this month, Stratfor CEO George Friedman said he did not know who the hackers were — many have claimed them to be members of the Internet activist group Anonymous – but that they allegedly hacked to expose corporate corruption.

Stratfor provides worldwide geopolitical analysis to subscribers around the world using traditional news outlets, open source monitoring of information and surveys from human sources.

Friedman said he expected the hackers to be disappointed with what they found.

“Of course we have relationships with people in the U.S. and other governments and obviously we know people in corporations, and that will be discovered in the emails,” Friedman said. “But that’s our job. We are what we said we were — an organization that generates its revenues through geopolitical analysis.”

In the emails, DPS officials sent Stratfor information on both activists movements and asked the company to gain understanding on how both groups operate. Stratfor employees reportedly suspected an alliance between Occupy Austin and Deep Green Resistance and thought it could be a threat.

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said DPS cannot verify the authenticity of the information contained in the emails.

Occupy Austin member Kit O’Connell said the Stratfor emails reaffirmed the group’s concern about infiltrators within Occupy Austin. O’Connell said the dates on the emails coincided with the arrests of many Occupy Austin members the night of Halloween for civil disobedience. On Halloween, one person left the group and accused specific members of breaking the law, O’Connell said.

O’Connell said although Occupy Austin group members have suspected other members of being infiltrators, there is no definite way to tell and no direct accusations have been made.

“Our movement is based around transparency and we do almost everything out in the open, although we are concerned of people spying,” O’Connell said. “It’s obvious some people in intelligence don’t know what to make of us and are afraid of us.”

He also said while many of Occupy Austin’s members are a part of Deep Green Resistance Austin, there is no formal alliance between the groups. There has been some talk about occupying the Stratfor building but nothing is set in stone, O’Connell said.

Stratfor officials have said they cannot comment on the emails at the moment but that measures are being taken to make sure something like this does not happen again.