Wikileaks says it has several thousand private emails from US strategic intelligence consultancy Stratfor. But founder Julian Assange is yet to reveal the "extraordinary news" he promised.
Julian Assange made a number of serious allegations against Stratfor at a press conference on Monday, but kept reporters guessing about the details. The Wikileaks founder accused the US intelligence consultancy of running various operations of "questionable legality."
Assange said Stratfor monitored activists investigating a chemical disaster in the Indian region of Bhopal, and was being paid by Coca-Cola to spy on members of animal protection organization PETA.
New documents are supposed to show how Stratfor recruits and pays its informants, and according to Wikileaks, the emails, which are to be published incrementally shortly, date from between July 2004 and the end of December 2011.
Stratfor was the target of an internet attack on December 26 last year. Hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility, naming the attack "Operation Antisec." The group named the attack LulzXmas.
Who is behind Stratfor?
Stratfor, originally called Strategic Forecasting, is little known in Europe. It is called a "private US military consultant" in the US media, and its website says the company provides geopolitical analysis.
"Stratfor gained a little attention in the US at the end of the nineties and the early part of the last decade when it made some predictions connected to Iraq and al Qaeda that came true," says Daniel Hamilton of Johns Hopkins University in Washington. "Since then, a lot of [Americans] believe they deliver good analyses."
In principle, the company collects information and sells it to its clients. "The firm could be described as something between a private intelligence agency and a security firm," says Cologne-based political scientist Thomas Jäger. "It makes geopolitical and security analyses that are distributed exclusively to its subscribers."
It would seem to be particularly embarrassing for a company described by critics as a private secret service that its private data was stolen. In a statement on its website, Stratfor itself calls the email theft "a deplorable, unfortunate - and illegal - breach of privacy," but does not comment on the contents of the documents.
Instead, it is trying to calm its customers, says Jäger. "If you go on Stratfor's homepage, you can see that considerable pains are being taken to assure subscribers that it is still safe and good to read their analyses. The credit card numbers of subscribers were published some time ago, including those of high-ranking personalities. Henry Kissinger was among them. That has contributed considerably to putting the reputation of this company in a position where it has to be rescued."
The latest releases have damaged that reputation even further, and there are more to come.
Wikileaks said the emails "show Stratfor's web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods." More than 4,000 of the emails are also said to be about Wikileaks, Assange, and the US government's moves against Assange.
This may be the reason why Wikileaks targeted Stratfor for its latest coup. "Going by what I've read, it seems as though Wikileaks specifically went after Stratfor, because Stratfor went after Wikileaks," speculates Hamilton. He sees the new publications as revenge.
But as yet it remains unclear how explosive the material actually is. Hamilton is not expecting the latest revelations to have the same impact as the publication of thousands of secret reports from US diplomats in 2010. "The first information and quotations on the Wikileaks homepage don't indicate that something really surprising will come."
But not all the documents have been released yet. According to the platform's founder, Wikileaks has analyzed the activities of Stratfor for several months in cooperation with 25 media outlets across the world, which is said to reveal a scandal of enormous proportions. Assange has already announced one thing: "The big story will come out in around three or four days."
Author: Marco Müller / bk
Editor: Nicole Goebel