Stratfor: needs more source

For once, Andrew Bolt may be right about something.

Following the exposure of former Nationals Senator Bill O’Chee as private intelligence company Stratfor’s prolific Australian source CN 65, Mr. Bolt wrote ”If O’Chee is Stratfor’s highest source in Australia, I’m not very impressed”.

Far from exposing Stratfor as a “corporate CIA”, the Wikileaks dump of 5 million private emails seems to showcase not the length of Stratfor’s reach but the lack of it. With a few notable exceptions (including the purported US indictment against Julian Assange), much of the information gleaned from Stratfor’s sources is trivial and publicly available to those willing to look hard enough for it. Many of the emails are nothing more than analysts forwarding media reports and news articles to one another.

Wikileaks obtained the documents from “hacktivist” group Anonymous when it broke into the company’s servers in December of last year. Anonymous was not only able to access the 5 million emails but also the names, personal details and credit card numbers of thousands of Stratfor clients and subscribers, including ANZ bank, Westpac, BHP and high profile individuals such as Malcolm Turnbull. Anonymous claims it was able to steal such vast amounts of data because Stratfor did not bother to encrypt it, something which Stratfor’s CEO later shamefacedly admitted to be true. Such disregard for security would be alarming – if the private intelligence company had any genuinely sensitive information.

The emails reveal that up until 2009 Stratfor did not have an organised network of paid sources, and instead relied on information offered in return for Stratfor subscriptions. As Stratfor’s Kamran Bokhari noted, ”there are limits to the quantity and quality of intelligence” that can be obtained in this manner.

That source CN 65, Bill O’Chee, is given an A rating  and is described as being ”well-connected politically, militarily and economically” gives some insight into the quality of Stratfor’s sources. Former Senator O’Chee was last year labeled as “the political dead” and his most recent venture into politics was as campaign manager for the unsuccessful LNP candidate in Wayne Swan’s seat of Lilley. So far his most exciting revelations include the well-known fact that there is systemic corruption in the Chinese mining sector and that Wayne Swan is ”the most appalling grub you have ever met”.  Perhaps his only significant intelligence coup was the revelation of increased US military presence in Darwin before it was announced during Obama’s visit in November last year – something that was already being widely reported on in the media at the time.

If Mr. O’Chee’s information is typical of Stratfor sources, the real concern is not the private intelligence company’s pernicious influence, but that so many international players appear to take it seriously. Much like Cablegate, Wikileaks’s release of the “Global Intelligence Files” is a storm in a teacup – more insult than injury.