WikiLeaks: Private Intelligence Company Paid to Monitor Activists’ Activities

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April 2, 2012

On Feb. 27, 2012, WikiLeaks began releasing emails from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm based in Texas, that indicate the company was monitoring the legal activities of political groups around the world. The emails reveal a pattern of conduct that is designed to intimidate and harass activists, thus effectively denying the rights to free speech and peaceful protest.  This is the second release of previously confidential material exposed by Wikileaks. In September 2011, a searchable archive of over 250,000 unredacted U.S. State Department cables became available on the internet.

The range of subjects covered in the emails is extensive. They include reports of Osama bin Laden’s corpse being taken to Bethesda, Md to Stratfor employees applauding the Wikileaks exposure of State Department cables.

But the activities described in the emails also reveal a troubling trend in contemporary law enforcement and intelligence gathering circles- the expansive surveillance and tracking of political activists and groups for expressing their constitutionally protected rights.  Clients like Coca-Cola and Dow Chemicals paid Strafor as much as $8000 per report to have them monitor and collect information about the legal activities of political activists.
The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011, and reveal the inner workings of a company that provides proprietary intelligence services to government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, and private corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.
Examples of Statfor's targeting of activists exposed by Wikileaks include:
  • The company was paid to spy on activists like the Bhopal Medical Appeal, a small UK-based nonprofit, protesting the gas leak from Union Carbide's Bhopal, India pesticide plant from 1984. Long considered one of the world's worst industrial catastrophes, it was responsible for killing over 15,000 people, injuring 500,000, and creating a massive environmental disaster area that still affects the people who live in the region. The Bhopal Medical Appeal had worked with the Yes Men, activists who stage publicity stunts to highlight environmental and social abuses, to stage a protest outside the Dow office in the UK.   According to one report, Strafor monitored and cataloged the smallest details about the activists (e.g. one person from Bhopal spoke at a university or went to buy a washing machine) and sold the information to Dow Chemical. Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide in 1999.
  • Hired by Coca-Cola to monitor PETA activists in Canada, Stratfor  emails reveal concerns that protestors may take action at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. “To put some context onto this request, our client is looking forward toward the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and is somewhat concerned that PETA affiliates might be interested in carrying out direct action against Olympic sponsors and events during that time frame,” reads a June 2009 email released by Wikileaks. Emails allegedly sent between Stratfor and Coca-Cola employees appear to show that Coke wanted Strafor to ascertain details of PETA's Canadian activities, including how many supporters are there in Canada, how many of these are inclined toward activism, to what extent U.S.-based PETA supporters would travel to Canada to support activism, to what extent could members of related groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front, get involved in any protest activity, and details of PETA's cross-border planning for any potential protest.