Stratfor Wanted Assange Out by Any Means
By: Yazan al-Saadi
Published Wednesday, February 29, 2012
While publicly underplaying the significance of WikiLeaks activity in combating government secrecy, senior execs and analysts at private US intelligence firm Stratfor privately described WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a “terrorist” and “delusion nut” who “needs to be water-boarded” and made to “move from country to country” for the “next 25 years,” Stratfor leaked emails recently released by WikiLeaks and obtained by Al-Akhbar show.
The emails, part of over five million ones to be released, also suggest that senior Stratfor staff were apparently aware of secret charges reportedly by the US government to indict Assange and didn’t mind using “trumped up” charges to lock up the whistle blower well before WikiLeaks had gone after Stratfor. Assange is currently fighting an extradition to Sweden from the United Kingdom in relation to a sexual assault investigation involving two Swedish women that was ordered by the Swedish courts on 18 November 2010.
Most of the Stratfor email exchanges dealing with WikiLeaks and Assange are between mid-2010 to mid-2011.
Stratfor: Is WikiLeaks a Russian Front Company?
By 2010, WikiLeaks had already made a name for itself. It had published a number of ground-breaking documents dealing with a wide range of topics, including secret Guantanamo Bay procedures, the Climategate emails, the 2008 Peru oil scandal, the Milton report on toxic dumping in Africa, thousands of pager messages made during 9/11 and more. Despite all this, 2010 would be the year that truly elevated the organization, with release of the infamous "Collateral Murder" video, the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War logs, and more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables.
According to the emails, Stratfor began to turn its eye to WikiLeaks in 2010, particularly in regards to the releases pertaining to the United States. Stratfor was well aware of the Cablegate scandal months before WikiLeaks officially announced the release in 22 November 2010. In an email dated 6 June 2010, Fred Burton, Stratfor's vice-president for counter-terrorism and corporate security and former special agent with the US Diplomatic Security Service, converses with Michael Psillico, a US state department official, over the arrest of Bradley Manning for his alleged role in providing material to WikiLeaks. (doc-id 384492)
Nearly a week later, in response to a forwarded article about the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative in which WikiLeaks took part, Burton mused, “Who funds WikiLeaks? Could this be a Russian front company? The dude needs to be locked up.” (doc-id 387684)
In an email dated 2 August 2010, both Burton and Scott Stewart, vice-president of Tactical Intelligence, discuss Manning's future. Burton states, “I think they are setting Manning up for a treason prosecution (death penalty) and a life plea if he rolls over on others.” This was followed by an attempt at tasteless humor by Stewart, “He might enjoy prison...,” in turn prompting Burton to write, “He's a dumb ass.” (doc-id 365135)
Most of the private emails show that Stewart, and others, consistently underplayed the “hype” surrounding WikiLeaks.
In an internal debate, dated 5 August 2010, between analysts that discussed Assange’s release of an encrypted "insurance file," Stewart interjects into the conversation, “I think this is more of a publicity stunt than anything. I wonder how much money Assange has raised through this “ordeal” of being persecuted by the USG?” (doc-id 1176673)
He further insinuated that foreign intelligence agencies may have bought copies of the file from WikiLeaks, a claim that was quickly criticized by another analyst as not fitting into WikiLeaks’ ethos. However, a day later Stewart responded firmly, “They [hacktivists] try to portray themselves as all idealistic, but by and large, the hacker community is pretty mercenary. I can see him selling copies to intelligence agencies to make some quick scratch [money] and build his server farm...” (doc-id 1184240)
By the end of October, Stewart would write a draft article for Stratfor, titled “WikiLeaks, Lots of Fuss About Nothing” in which he takes the position that the Iraq war logs, released in October 2010, have “very few true secrets...that would cause serious damage to national security” and that “none of this is news.” (doc-id 970630)
His essential point is that government agencies need to revamp their classification systems in a way that isn't overloaded with “every possible piece of information.”
When a subscriber requested a comment on Stratfor's take on the leaks, Laura Goodrich, a senior Eurasia analyst, responds, “This latest round of WikiLeaks...revealed very little that was not previously known. There has not been a single Top Secret report like the Pentagon Papers of 1971...The leaks will not affect much in ways of operation, but are instead diplomatically embarrassing...such frank discussion are meant to be held in confidence since there are larger games and balances to be held outside of a bilateral discussion.” (doc-id 1209471)
This position of undermining the releases comes in stark contrast to concerns voiced by sources to Stratfor’s staff.
In one case, an FBI source responds to Burton's inquiry on WikiLeaks by saying, “Looks pretty bad – then again, nobody knew better than us how those State Department people write – so nobody should be surprised at some of it.” (doc-id 1051088)
In another, Burton noted that the British no longer trust the US to share intelligence because of “US leaks. Leaks compromised UK prosecutions about a year ago. We caught the Brits killing IRA in the past and they lied to us.” (doc-id 2741245)
The irony, or perhaps hypocrisy, behind Stratfor's position is further illustrated by the immense work involved within the firm to comb over and save the cable documents released by WikiLeaks.
Prior to the release of the diplomatic cables, George Friedman, founder and CEO of Stratfor, emailed all analysts to give them two tasks with regard to the cable documents leak. “First, is there anything significantly embarrassing to anyone. Second, is there any place where Stratfor is shown to be completely off base?” (doc-id 1029168)
The result of this operation was weekly reports on WikiLeaks (doc-id 410270) including comments by analysts on the cables, as well as actively downloading documents (doc-id 1031933), and even the creation of a mirror site (doc-id 1029237) with a password-locked system (doc-id 1044330) to ensure that Stratfor did not face any legal issues. In one email exchange thread, analysts suggest that Stratfor break the law and possibly caters to paying customers within US government agencies, namely the military, that are banned from reading any material with the word WikiLeaks in it. An analyst suggested editing out the word WikiLeaks from articles sent as long as the articles don’t include actual leaked content. It is unclear however based on emails examined by Al-Akhbar whether the recommendation was adopted as policy. (doc-id 1956493).
This awareness of the importance of WikiLeaks manifests itself, in a typically corporate fashion, when Marko Papic, a geopolitical analyst for the Eurasia department, suggests using the corporate and government fears of potential leaks for a possible business venture.
Papic writes, “I was wondering if it was possible for us to get some of that “leak-focused” gravy train. This is an obvious fear sale, so that's a good thing. And we have something to offer that the IT security companies don't, mainly our focus on counter-intelligence and surveillance that Fred (Burton?) and Stick (Scott Stewart?) know better than anyone on the planet.” (doc-id 1660708)
Going After Assange
Stewart views Assange as a “delusion nut” (doc-id 1630947), a sentiment similar to that shared by others within Stratfor. Burton in an off-the-cuff remark states that Julian Assange “needs to be water boarded until he gives us the code [to the insurance file].” (doc-id 1628042)
In another discussion (doc-id 1646125), Michael Wilson, a senior watch officer, dubs Assange “[a] fucking Swedish terrorists rapists (sic)”. For his part, Papic calls Assange “a douche,” clarifying that his problem is not with the leaks per-se, but with Assange's ego and his “anti-Americanism” (doc-id 1657261). In the same discussion, Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst, wonders if it were possible to persecute Assange on espionage charges.
Within the same discussion Chris Farnham, another analyst, notes a “close family friend in Sweden who knows the girl that is pressing charges.” Farnham says that his friend told him “that there is absolutely nothing behind it other than prosecutors that are looking to make a name for themselves.” (doc-id 1633932)
Another email suggests that members of Stratfor have intelligence that the US government “may try to prosecute Assange under other laws,” rather than the Espionage Act, since there are restrictions placed on the latter by the US Supreme Court. (doc-id 1084229)
Burton sent a cryptic message to the “secure” email list at the end of January 2011, writing, “Not for Pub[lication] – We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.” This statement seems to confirm Salon writer Glenn Greenwald’s suspicions, first made last April, of moves by the US Department of Justice towards charging Assange and WikiLeaks.
Yet nothing may reflect Stratfor's top official sentiments towards Assange and Manning more than one angry email from Bartholomew Mongoven, vice-President of Stratfor on 10 December 2010. “I'm in favor of using whatever trumped up charge is available to get this guy and his servers off the streets. And I'd feed that shit head soldier to the first pack of wild dogs I could find. Or perhaps just do to him whatever the Iranians are doing to our sources there.” (doc-id 389793)
The final word goes to Burton, who wrote earlier on 7 December 2010 during a discussion over Assange's arrest, “Ferreting out his confederates is also key. Find out what other disgruntled rogues inside the tent or outside. Pile on. Move him from country to country to face various charges for the next 25 years. But, seize everything he and his family own, to include every person linked to Wiki.” (doc-id 1056763)
Private intelligence firm Stratfor has called the ongoing release by WikiLeaks of millions of company emails “deplorable, unfortunate – and illegal – [a] breach of privacy.” Additionally, the Texas-based company alleged that “some of the e-mails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic. We will not validate either. Nor will we explain the thinking that went into them.”