Stratfor, the Texas DPS ... and Occupy Austin
On Jan. 11, George Friedman, founder and CEO of Stratfor, the Austin-based "geopolitical analysis" company, posted a report about the December "Anonymous" hack of the Stratfor website, its credit card records, and its email archives. Several of the company's servers were also destroyed, Friedman reported, in sabotage "clearly designed to silence us by destroying our records and the website." Friedman reports on what happened, the company's response, and its plans going forward. Of the stolen emails, he writes: "Obviously, we were not happy to see our emails taken. God knows what a hundred employees writing endless emails might say that is embarrassing, stupid or subject to misinterpretation. 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."
On Jan. 22, a few Stratfor emails were posted and circulated on the Internet, and at least one – concerning Occupy Austin – calls into question Friedman's assurance that Stratfor possesses no "classified intelligence from corporations or governments." The posting is actually two internal email strings among several Stratfor employees, one (dated Oct. 16, 2011) briefly discussing Occupy and similar movements, the other (Nov. 16-17) addressing a national "deep ecology" group called Deep Green Resistance.
The discussion itself is fairly unremarkable, even superficial. But the second email string specifically recounts (apparently verbatim) information gathered by Stratfor from a "new source" identified as a "Texas DPS agent" who reports he (or she) has been working "U/C" (undercover) at City Hall and has gathered information about Deep Green Resistance from "contacts" there – that is, other Occupiers who unwittingly told the agent about an appearance of local DGR folks at a Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, general assembly. Based on his reading of the book Deep Green Resistance and the national group's website, the agent is convinced that DGR is "nothing but ... eco-terror[ists]." Although the agent wasn't present on Nov. 4, he was later told that Occupy and the DGR folks had a falling out over who was sufficiently "radical." After "some conflict between regular Occupy people and Deep Green," he was told, "Deep Green picked up all their stuff and left during the night." The DGR folks are particularly worrisome, reports the agent: "When my Occupy people refer to them as 'stupid, crazy motherfuckers,' that bothers me, because these Occupy people will tolerate just about anything."
The Stratfor response seems not quite as credulous. "Watch Officer" Marc Lanthemann reports (after a couple of hours of Web research) that while calling national DGR "weird is an understatement," it seems the local group is "not nearly as radical." Based on its book and Web postings, Lanthemann briefly summarizes national DGR's ideology as "a mix of hardcore environmentalism, anarchism, radical feminism and the general notion that we need to go back [to] living sustainably like the american indians by blowing up every pipeline and cell tower on the planet." (That somewhat hyperbolic summary is reasonably accurate; those interested can read much more at www.deepgreenresistance.org.)
What is not in the Stratfor emails is any acknowledgment that it's a bit unusual for a private research firm to be gathering undercover intelligence – officially or unofficially – from a state trooper. Contacted by the Chronicle, neither Stratfor nor the Texas Department of Public Safety would confirm either the legitimacy of the emails or the existence of the "Texas DPS agent" who apparently felt free to feed undercover "intelligence" to a private company. Stratfor's official position is not to comment (other than in its own publications) on anything concerning the Anonymous hacks; a spokesman would say only that Stratfor gathers information from "open and human sources" and digests that information when publishing its subscriber-based website on global politics.
And despite several attempts at prodding, DPS was even less forthcoming about whether its undercover agents might be infiltrating Occupy Austin, and more specifically whether it would be standard procedure – or even legal – for any such agents to pass their information on to a private research firm. A DPS spokesman described the alleged difficulty of investigating the email or determining whether an agent was assigned to Occupy, and based on their response, his superiors seemed utterly uninterested in finding out whether one of their own was leaking confidential information. In a statement that does not inspire confidence in the investigative abilities of the DPS, the agency issued a single sentence: "DPS cannot verify the authenticity of the information contained in the e-mail."
Sources within Occupy confirm that there was indeed an early November disagreement between local DGR and the Occupiers, primarily over whether a DGR manifesto had been promptly posted, as previously agreed, on the Occupy website – which drifted into broader disputes over which group was more "serious." As to surveillance, Kit O'Connell, Occupy's "Twitter magnet," said he wasn't present during the Nov. 4 assembly, but that after the Halloween overnight arrests, some Occupiers reported suspicions of one would-be activist who seemed to move behind police lines and point out additional people to arrest – and who hasn't been seen at City Hall since.
O'Connell said that while he couldn't speak for the whole group, in the wake of the Stratfor email publication: "People do seem shaken up a bit by this leak. Nobody's totally surprised that this is happening, but having direct proof of it changes the conversation from 'What if this is happening?' into 'Now we know this is happening.'"
Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who's done some legal work for Occupy, noted that in the past this kind of police surveillance has led to agents fomenting trouble or illegal actions where there were none. "We know from history that it's not a big step [from undercover surveillance] to manipulating the movements to their own [the informants'] ends. This is the big danger. And why should cops be infiltrating, and relying on informants to be infiltrating, pure First Amendment activity?"
Stratfor's DPS source also reported telling "the locals" – presumably the Austin Police Department – about the DGR presence. An APD spokeswoman said the department does not comment on tactics and, asked about the emails, responded, "APD is not mentioned [in the emails], and for our department to comment on how things are handled in another law enforcement agency would be inappropriate."
O'Connell acknowledged that there is one reassuring aspect of the emails – the authors don't seem to know what they're talking about, particularly concerning Occupy. "Some of them are concerned that we're going to overthrow the government, and others are concerned with making fun of us as dirty hippies. I don't like the idea of being surveilled, personally – but I'm less concerned when they seem to be so incompetent."