The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began publishing on Monday more than 5 million emails from a U.S.-based global security think tank, apparently obtained by hackers.
WikiLeaks did not say how it had acquired access to the vast haul of internal and external correspondence of Strategic Forecasting Inc (Stratfor) of Austin, Texas.
Hackers linked to the group Anonymous said at the beginning of 2012 that they had stolen the email correspondence of some 100 of the firm’s employees and would one day publish the data so the public would know the truth about its operations.
Stratfor describes itself as a subscription-based publisher of geopolitical analysis with an intelligence-based approach to gathering information.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Reuters: “Here we have a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the U.S. government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations, and journalists.”
“What is of grave concern is that the targets of this scrutiny are, among others, activist organizations fighting for a just cause.”
A Stratfor spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday evening in the United States.
Stratfor’s chief executive and founder, George Friedman, warned on January 11 that emails had been stolen but said the thieves would be hard pressed to find anything significant.
“God knows what a hundred employees writing endless emails might say that is embarrassing, stupid or subject to misinterpretation … As they search our emails for signs of a vast conspiracy, they will be disappointed.”
People linked to the loosely organized Anonymous group of activist hackers took credit. “Congrats on the amazing partnership between #Anonymous and #WikiLeaks to make all 5 million mails public,” AnonSec Tweeted. AnonSec is one of several Twitter accounts used to promote and organize activities associated with Anonymous.
It was not immediately clear what impact the release of the emails might have on Stratfor, its employees, clients and information sources.
Previous releases from WikiLeaks, such as secret video battle footage and thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2010 have infuriated the U.S. government and raised questions about the safety of confidential sources quoted in some of those documents.
WikiLeaks said it was working with two dozen media partners around the world who have access to a sophisticated database of the Stratfor emails. They include the U.S. newspaper publisher McClatchy Co..
“We have begun reviewing the emails and will publish as warranted,” said McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief, James Asher.
WikiLeaks said other media partners include L’Espresso and La Repubblica newspapers in Italy, the ARD state broadcaster in Germany, and Russia Reporter.
The group also gave a sneak peek of the emails to The Yes Men, an activist group that targets corporate greed.
The Stratfor emails discuss an elaborate hoax the group staged to criticize Dow Chemical Co’s handling of the Bhopal disaster, according to Andy Bichlbaum, one of The Yes Men.
“What is significant is the picture it helps to paint of the way corporations operate,” Bichlbaum told Reuters. “They operate with complete disregard for rule of law and human decency.”
After Stratfor’s computers were hacked into at least twice last December, the credit card details of more than 30,000 subscribers to Stratfor publications were posted on the Internet, including those of former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former U.S. vice president Dan Quayle.
The FBI began investigating the matter in December.
Australian-born Assange, 40, is currently under house arrest in Britain and fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes.