When WikiLeaks released a trove of diplomatic cables penned by U.S. ambassadors at the end of 2010, it soon became clear the missives weren’t simply a fascinating window onto world affairs. Many of them were also a damn good read. Ironic, knowing and razor-sharp, the diplomats’ behind-the-scenes dispatches were hailed by some as a new literary genre.
WikiLeaks’ latest release — the first of a collection of more than 5 million e-mails from Texas-based private security firm Stratfor — also has value beyond the mere information revealed. For along with Stratfor’s stolen secrets (whose significance is, rightly, being debated), there are some very amusing documents that have come to light.
At first glance, Stratfor doesn’t appear fertile ground for literary flair. The firm, which has been called a “private CIA,” hawks intelligence analysis to government agencies and corporations. According to WikiLeaks, its customers include Dow Chemical, Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. Under these conditions, one might expect gravitas and a no-nonsense style. That, apparently, would be a misconception. (For its part, Stratfor refuses to deny or confirm the authenticity of the leaked e-mails but says that some of them “may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies.”)
Of the documents that have been released so far, the most amusing is undoubtedly “The Stratfor Glossary of Useful, Baffling and Strange Intelligence Terms.” The document, which can be read in full here, is meant to brief Stratfor employees on intelligence parlance. The author skids between flat asides, “Don’t try this at home kids,” and unabashed cynicism, “Green-carder: A source working for you because he believes that you will take him to America where he will own a Seven-Eleven.” There’s plenty more cynicism too. A WOG, for example, is defined as a “Wise Old Gentleman: Had a great success 30 years ago. Hasn’t done s*** since then except for reminiscing about his one success. Too smart to go into the field so he can’t be killed. Hope for a heart attack.” A Case Officer is a person with “the skills of a psychologist and the morals of a pimp.”
The glossary displays a cavalier approach to customer service. It defines After Action Report as “The final report on the conclusion of an Op. Never show the customer. It’s like showing someone how sausage is made. Nauseating.” It describes a Background Check as “Usually meaningless. Does run up the client’s bill and makes it appear that you are busy.” A Brief is “an intelligence report delivered to the customer.” The Glossary notes that “a good brief can make s*** smell good. Frequently has to.” It even reveals that intelligence officers have been known to pull their information from newspapers:
When the Brief has obtained zero valuable intelligence from analysis, he finds something in the inside of the morning paper, powers up a view graph, and “Briefs the Times.” Customers are frequently impressed. It’s a hoot.
It’s not only the Glossary that contains comedic gems. Personal e-mails are full of tidbits as well. Being spies, or at least pretend spies, Stratfor agents made up code names for various people and groups. Hizballah were referred to as Hizzies and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was known as Adogg. Stratfor employees referred their network of secret deals with media organizations, including Thomson Reuters as the “Confed F*** House.” Stratfor was invariably keen to take advantage of a business opportunity. A company vice president circulated an e-mail after WikiLeaks’ 2010 release of Afghanistan military logs asking: “[Is it] possible for us to get some of that ‘leak-focused’ gravy train?”
All of this is certainly chuckle-worthy. Some of it is so outrageous, in fact, that Stratfor’s allegation that some of the e-mails may have been “forged or altered” seems plausible. It’s certainly not the sort of stunt unknown to anticorporate activists. (One of the groups Stratfor is alleged to have scrutinized, the Yes Men, has frequently impersonated businessmen and bureaucrats to great effect. In 2007 a member of the group appeared on the BBC posing as a Dow Chemical spokesman. He promised compensation for the thousands of victims of 1984’s Bhopal disaster before the ruse was uncovered.) And though WikiLeaks has not admitted it, it’s generally believed that the Stratfor e-mails were obtained by the loose hacktivist collective Anonymous before they fell into the hands of Assange’s organization. (Anonymous has dismissed accusations of forgery as “pathetic” on Twitter.)
So far, however, there’s no concrete evidence that the e-mails are a parody. And given the fact that the U.S. government is a Stratfor client, that’s no laughing matter.