It’s clear now that, much like HBGary before it (see: Inside the World of Wannabe Cyberspooks for Hire) private security research firm Stratfor is a joke.
But according to The Atlantic International Editor Max Fisher, Stratfor was always a joke in the foreign policy community:
The group’s reputation among foreign policy writers, analysts, and practitioners is poor; they are considered a punchline more often than a source of valuable information or insight. As a former recipient of their “INTEL REPORTS” (I assume someone at Stratfor signed me up for a trial subscription, which appeared in my inbox unsolicited), what I found was typically some combination of publicly available information and bland “analysis” that had already appeared in the previous day’s New York Times. A friend who works in intelligence once joked that Stratfor is just The Economist a week later and several hundred times more expensive. As of 2001, a Stratfor subscription could cost up to $40,000 per year.
Fisher also chide Wikileaks for buying into Stratfor’s marketing hype:
It’s true that Stratfor employs on-the-ground researchers. They are not spies. On today’s Wikileaks release, one Middle East-based NGO worker noted on Twitter that when she met Stratfor’s man in Cairo, he spoke no Arabic, had never been to Egypt before, and had to ask her for directions to Tahrir Square. Stratfor also sometimes pays “sources” for information. Wikileaks calls this “secret cash bribes,” hints that this might violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and demands “political oversight.”
For comparison’s sake, The Atlantic often sends our agents into such dangerous locales as Iran or Syria. We call these men and women “reporters.” Much like Statfor’s agents, they collect intelligence, some of it secret, and then relay it back to us so that we may pass it on to our clients, whom we call “subscribers.” Also like Stratfor, The Atlantic sometimes issues “secret cash bribes” to on-the-ground sources, whom we call “freelance writers.” We also prefer to keep their cash bribes (“writer’s fees”) secret, and sometimes these sources are even anonymous.
I suppose much of that depends on whether these payments were made to, as Fisher suggests, freelance researchers/writers, or to, as Wikileaks implies, to government officials and employees. The Stratfor employee mentioned by that NGO worker may not be the only type of “informant” on the company’s pay role.
(via Alex Burns)