By Anshel Pfeffer
Three months ago, I met an analyst for the American strategic intelligence company, Stratfor, who was visiting Jerusalem. A mutual friend introduced us, as he was interested in meeting journalists who cover security affairs. No secrets were divulged.
Yesterday morning, I read the accounts of two other meetings he had during his trip to the region with a Palestinian journalist and a major in the IDF Intelligence Department, who had attended college with him. (He does not seem to have been able to get very much out of the major despite their friendship. )
These accounts were in the first emails published yesterday by the mega-leaks website, WikiLeaks. They are part of a cache of 5 million Stratfor emails purloined by the hackers collective Anonymous.
Ever since WikiLeaks posted on its website the U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, allegedly stolen by intelligence analyst Corporal Bradley Manning, which gave us a breathtaking view of American foreign policy and thousands of unguarded remarks by senior officials and politicians from around the world, we have been waiting for the next trove of internal documents to turn up. Finally, after 15 months they have arrived, and despite the hype that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tried to create, so far they are a total letdown.
Stratfor, for all its self-promotion, is not a "shadow CIA" as WikiLeaks is trying to portray it. Its assessments and intelligence-gathering capabilities rarely if ever succeeded in surpassing those of large media organizations, and the fact that among its clients were agencies of the U.S. government and major American defense companies is hardly sinister. In today's business world, private strategic intelligence companies are merely another service-provider, just like lawyers, accountants and lobbyists. The fact that it was paid by Dow Chemicals to monitor activists campaigning for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster is also perfectly legitimate. That Stratfor is staffed by former U.S. government employees who in turn are working now on government contracts is perfectly normal: Who would you expect to work for such a company?
There was an inherent contradiction in the WikiLeaks press conference yesterday in London. Assange and his chorus of "media-partners" were trying to convince us that Stratfor is a powerful and influential private intelligence colossus, while at the same time highlighting its often farcical conduct and lapses of judgment, such as using Google Translate for its briefings. This will not trouble conspiracy theorists, who will happily add Stratfor to the cast of the Military-Industrial-Zionist-Bankers complex. Supporting actors in Assange's show were journalists from the Hezbollah-supporting Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.
Five million emails is a lot of information to sift through, and a nugget of real value may actually turn up. Meanwhile it is mainly embarrassing for the Texas-based company, the kind of embarrassment any large company can expect if eight years of internal communications are suddenly exposed to the public eye.
In its previous revelations, WikiLeaks had some of the most prestigious newspapers in the world as its partners, the New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel and others, but none of them are still on speaking terms with Assange. All those news organizations fell afoul of Assange and his particular requirements. They objected to his cavalier attitude toward the safety of sources cited in the diplomatic cables, who were endangered when WikiLeaks revealed their names on unedited files dumped on the web. Many of the original WikiLeaks activists have also left the group in disgust. Yesterday Assange seemed comfortable in the adoring company of radical Spanish, Italian and Lebanese journalists, safely ensconced among those who will always trumpet his accusations and never question his motives.
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