As promised in December, WikiLeaks has begun to release a stash of documents related to the modus operandi of the "private intelligence" sector, using Texas-based Stratfor as a case study. Claiming to have hacked Stratfor's system to obtain millions of private emails, WikiLeaks has just released the first batch -- and what it suggests about the American intelligence community makes me feel as secure as day-old pizza in a frat house.
The CIA has long used private intelligence firms for "black ops," allowing for plausible deniability in the event that an operation goes pear-shaped and public accountability threatens. But these emails suggest that there's now far more to the incompetence of America's intelligence services than meets the eye.
Apparently the entities charged with keeping us safe now require full-blown lessons from the private sector in how to do their jobs. According to leaked email written by Stratfor's CEO, George Friedman: "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. This is a double honor for us."
Double honor for you; double horror for us! 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.
Do you know how a lot of these outfits in the thriving private intelligence sector operate? The company CEO, usually a former agency employee who has maintained UMBRA or "Top Secret" clearance, meets with a private or state client to pitch his outfit's services, then passes off the analysis work to some book-smart/sidewalk-stupid naif who has just been dragged kicking and screaming into the real-world workforce after frittering away a good decade or so ringing up a party tour of Ivy League schools on mommy and daddy's AmEx black card. Kids work cheap -- especially trust-funders. With few exceptions, that's who's really doing the work in protecting America's interests.
Continuing with Stratfor's email: "First, the professional intelligence community is acknowledging us as being the gold standard of intelligence. Second, we are being asked to use our honest and unhedged views to support what is for Stratfor -- an American company -- its homeland."
Phew! At least we can rest assured that all this stellar intelligence work is staying "in the family," right?
The email continues:
"Add to this the fact that Turkish Chamber of Commerce ... asked us to preside over their 40th anniversary celebration, and that the Turkish Foreign Minister and Energy Minister will speak at the event, and you can see both our global recognition and our commitment to speak the same words to every country. We can serve the world from the same platform."
Serving the world from the same platform? Speaking the same words to every country? That, I think (or at least hope), is where private intelligence companies and government agencies would differ.
A CIA officer who "serves the world" from his platform is typically put on trial for being a mole. But in the world of private intelligence, national allegiance isn't as important as the almighty dollar. This means that if a report is commissioned by an American client, whether a company or state entity, the same report could also be peddled to a Russian oligarch or Chinese businessman to benefit either those governments or their state-owned companies.
The only safeguards in this entire system are the personal ethics of the individuals involved -- which, it would appear, are tested regularly. According to WikiLeaks, another email from the Stratfor CEO to an analyst looking for information from an Israeli informant about the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez instructs: "[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control. ... This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase."
What do you think the odds are that this analyst told her boss to shove it and go sex up the target himself? And therein lies the biggest problem with this whole industry. Most would rather pimp for a paycheck than stand on ethics, and often lack the sophisticated knowledge, wisdom and foresight to realize the implications of their actions and decisions.