An Unethical Record – Stratfor & the New York Times

Three months after WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files — more than 5 million e-mails from the private intelligence gathering company Stratfor — New York Times London Bureau journalist Ravi Somaiya told his readers “WikiLeaks has not released any significant material for more than a year.” (“Deportation Decision Awaits WikiLeaks Founder,” May 29, 2012, NYT) Yet on the day The Global Intelligence Files were released (February 27, 2012) WikiLeaks conveyed that Stratfor has paid diplomatic sources; advocated for the psychological and material mistreatment of at least one informant; sought to utilize early access to intelligence for a strategic investment fund by creating a vehicle (StratCap) that would “trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds”; monitored activists, including for its client Dow Chemical; and engaged in secret deals with media organizations. Somaiya’s dismissive superciliousness of The Global Intelligence Files is indicative of the Times’ treatment of WikiLeaks.

Through NYT eXaminer’s (NYTX) participation in an investigative partnership organized by WikiLeaks we have had access to The Global Intelligence Files and found material that the Times should find significant. The material shows that Times journalists rely on Stratfor despite the company’s interests in advancing U.S. corporate and government dominance at home and abroad, enhancing government secrecy and eroding civil liberties. In addition, Stratfor maintains a perverse relationship with its informants, which is incongruent with the Times’ own standards for the treatment of sources. The Global Intelligence Files also highlight examples of Stratfor employees consciously manipulating journalists at the Times — some of whom seem all too willing to be led by the inauspicious Texas-headquartered “global intelligence” company.

Stratfor claims to be “objective” and “non-partisan” but Times Editors are not oblivious to the company’s motivations or the fact that they gather intelligence in unethical ways. In 2003 Times reporter Matt Bai met with Stratfor CEO George Friedman on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq for an auspiciously timed profile of the company. The profile highlighted Stratfor’s belligerent attitude towards human rights and international law. Bai reported that George Friedman could “live with” a “slaughter” of the Kurds “if that would enable the Americans to get to Baghdad quicker.” (“The Way We Live Now,” Matt Bai, NYT, April 20, 2003). Despite such crass overtures, the Times provide Op-Ed space for George Freidman and lends credence to Stratfor analysts. Further, George Friedman argued in his recent essay “The Geopolitics of the United States: The Inevitable Empire,” that the “final imperative” for the U.S. as a dominant power is to “keep Eurasia divided among as many different (preferably mutually hostile) powers as possible.” Eurasia comprises the continental landmass of Europe and Asia and contains more than 70% of the world’s population.

Three years ago — preceding Obama’s mission in Pakistan which led to the extrajudicial assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the president’s secret orders  to send waves of cyberattacks against  Iranian nuclear facilities and his “Secret Kill List” to assassinate human targets by drone warfare — the Times published George Friedman’s Op-Ed “Afghan Supplies, Russian Demands” (February 2009, NYT), insisting that the Obama administration should “rely less on troops, and more on covert operations like the C.I.A.” in Afghanistan. Friedman’s preference for covert operations is interesting as these operations often escape public scrutiny and accountability, erode civil liberties and make a folly of international human rights and humanitarian law. Stratfor’s cavalier contempt for transparency reveals un-democratic tendencies antithetical to the ideal of an informed civic with the capacity to participate freely and fully in society — enabling the free and equal practice of self-determination. Though, it is perhaps unsurprising given Stratfor’s involvement in the TrapWire “counterterrorist” surveillance system used to monitor activists (Doc-ID: 5355966). (“TrapWire and Stratfor are business partners,” August 15, 2012, Darker Net).

Despite Stratfor’s  (at best) ambivalence toward — and at worst  support for — war crimes, advocacy for covert war, participation in the corrosion of privacy rights and cheerleading for Empire — often in the Times own pages — the e-mails obtained by WikiLeaks reveal that the Times Senior terrorism and national security writer Eric Schmitt (Doc-ID: 577559), London Bureau chief John F. Burns (Doc-ID: 501124) and others (Doc-ID: 12750) hold the information provided by Stratfor in high regard and value easy access to it. Many other Times journalists also hold accounts and their News Directors have sought Foreign Desk and bureau-wide access (Doc-ID: 620711). In 2009, Stratfor said they had 34 readers “with an @nytimes.com email address.” (Doc ID: 219254). Two Times journalists, Jane Perlez and Carlotta Gall, became close to the company following a meeting in Pakistan with Stratfor’s South Asia director Kamran Bokhari. The Times journalists sought and gained access to Stratfor intelligence and reciprocated by publishing Bokhari’s views six weeks later in “Rebuffing U.S., Pakistan Balks at Crackdown.” (October 14, 2009, NYT)

Intelligence vs. Journalism & the Unethical Treatment of Sources

Stratfor, founded in 1996, describes itself as specializing in “geopolitical analysis” for individual and corporate clients (in practice their clients include government agencies too). The company is privately owned and under the top-down leadership of founder and CEO George Friedman — who is the company’s Chief Intelligence Officer and financial overseer. (Doc-ID: 898587) George Friedman’s wife, Meredith Friedman, is the Chief International Officer and Vice-President of Communications. Fred Burton, formerly a special agent with the US Diplomatic Security Service, is Stratfor’s Vice-President for Counter-Terrorism and Corporate Security. Both report directly to George Friedman. Next in-line, the “Watch Officers,” comb over intelligence. Stratfor “Analysts” (also called “Handlers”) discuss and scrutinize intelligence, and find and build “relations with individuals in order to exploit information.” Stratfor informants form the essential base of the hierarchy. (“