The emails stolen from security consulting firm Stratfor last month will disappoint those looking for evidence of a global conspiracy, says George Friedman, Stratfor's founder and CEO.
In a written and video apology posted on his company's website today (Jan. 11), Friedman said the thousands of private emails stolen in the late December cyberattack by the hacking collective Anonymous will not reveal any colossal cover-up between Stratfor and its major international clients, which include Google, Chevron, AIG, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and the United Nations.
"God knows what a hundred employees writing endless emails might say that is embarrassing, stupid or subject to misinterpretation," Friedman said. "What will not appear is classified intelligence from corporations or governments. They may find, depending on what they took, that we have sources around the world, as you might expect."
There is no conspiracy
Friedman said the media hype portrayed his firm, based in Austin, Texas, and formally known as Strategic Forecasting Inc., as "no longer an organization that analyzed the world for the interested public, but rather a group of incompetents and, conversely, the hub of a global conspiracy." He called this interpretation "wildly off base" and said "as they [hackers] search our emails for signs of a vast conspiracy, they will be disappointed."
"Of course we have relationships with people in the U.S. and other governments, and obviously we know people in corporations, and that will be discovered in the emails. But that's our job. We are what we said we were: an organization that generates its revenues through geopolitical analysis," he added.
In his apology, Friedman explained the difference between Stratfor's "subscribers" and "clients," a distinction that he says has become blurred.
"The difference between clients and subscribers is important here. A client is someone you do customized work for. A subscriber is simply someone who purchases a publication, unchanged from what others read. A subscriber of The New York Times is not its client. Nevertheless, some of the media started referring to these subscribers as clients, reflecting the narrative of those claiming to speak with knowledge of our business."
Anonymity is a blessing and a curse
The real problem, Friedman said, is bigger than the attack on a single company, as his was not the first, and certainly won't be the last, to suffer at the hands of hacktivists. The issue is that in the "village commons of the planet," as he called the Internet, there is no accountability, and "it is possible to commit crimes on the Internet anonymously."
"Given the profusion of technical knowledge, the integrity of the commons is in the hands of people whose identities we don't know, whose motives we don't understand, and whose ability to cause harm is substantial," he said. "The consequence of this will not be a glorious anarchy in the spirit of Guy Fawkes, but rather a massive repression."
"I am curious as to whether they realize the whirlwind they are sowing, and whether they, in fact, are trying to generate the repression they say they oppose."
Friedman apologized and took full responsibility for Stratfor's failure to encrypt the credit card data it had stored on its servers.
He explained: "The failure originated in the rapid growth of the company. As it grew, the management team and administrative processes didn't grow with it. Again, I regret that this occurred and want to assure everyone that Stratfor is taking aggressive steps to deal with the problem and ensure that it doesn't happen again."