August 16, 2012
An email hacked from Stratfor that discusses the use of the TrapWire surveillance system has been decrypted, revealing insider claims that the widespread spy program was adopted by the White House, Scotland Yard, Canadian authorities and others.
When WikiLeaks published a trove of correspondence last week reported to be from the servers of Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, included in the data dump was at least one email that initially appeared as pure gibberish. The communiqué, sent from Stratfor Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton to seven other staffers within the private firm, has now been decoded, however, and its content suggests that the TrapWire surveillance program was put into the hands of the most elite and powerful governments and law enforcement agencies in the entire world.
The email, dated September 23, 2010, includes a string of correspondence between Burton and more than half-a-dozen colleagues exchanging information for a full day about how Stratfor is distributing feeds from its TrapWire system and with whom. Although encoded, the emails are encrypted in Base64 format, which can easily be decoded online. A decoded copy has also been uploaded to the Web by hacktivists aligned with Anonymous.
“Chatted with Mike M, the TW [TrapWire] operator and former CIA crony,” Burton writes in the first email included in the encrypted chain. “He said our feed was taking up 25% of the TW screens inside the client command posts and that the feedback they are getting is that the info being pushed in is more geo-pol centered vice tactical-security.”
“How can we fix? Who is auditing what is going in the pipe?” Burton asks his cohorts.
Stratfor is reported to have had a contract directly with the developers of TrapWire that allowed them a substantial cut of their profits in exchange for their assistance in promoting their product to high-ranked customers, other emails published by Wikileaks as part of the Global Intelligence Files suggest. One file included in the trove, a partnering agreement between Stratfor and TrapWire’s parent group, Abraxas, provides Burton and company with an 8 percent referral fee for any businesses they help sign on to the surveillance system [pdf].
The first reply to the encrypted Burton email is from Beth Bronder, whose public LinkedIn profile documents her as serving as the senior vice president of government & corporate solutions at Stratfor until November of that year. She was only at the agency for ten months before moving to Bloomberg Government and then the CQ – Roll Call Group, where she is listed as an employee today.
According to the decrypted emails, Bronder says that Stratfor is on top of trying to fix the feed being streamed to TrapWire clients in order to make it more “security focused” per his superior’s suggestion, but when Burton responds with the names of customers involved in the surveillance program, it is no wonder why Stratfor was so eager to entice their buyers with the best material available.
“This audience is the who’s who of the CT world,” the email from Burton reads, referring to counterterrorism. “TW has RCMP, MI5, Scotland Yard SO15, USSS White House and PPD, LAPD, NYPD, Las Vegas PD and Fusion, Seattle PD, SEA-TAC…etc.”
Since breaking the news of TrapWire last week, the science-fiction-like surveillance system has slowly but surely penetrated the mainstream media, although few agencies have responded to the attention by addressing their connection with TrapWire. Earlier this week, though, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne flatly refuted on behalf of the NYPD to the New York Times, “We don’t use TrapWire.” According to Burton’s claim, however, the NYPD was indeed a customer as of September 2010, as were the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, British intelligence and the US Secret Service and White House.
Other information collected in the last week have also suggested that the NYPD was in cahoots with TrapWire, but no correspondence is believed to have been published linking the surveillance system with the Executive Branch of the United States or any agencies in Canada. Although an unencrypted email from Burton that was circulated by hacktivists last week includes the claim that TrapWire was installed on the site of every major high-value target in the continental US, UK and Canada, no other correspondence is thought to have put these specific agencies in direct connection to TrapWire.
In the next line, Burton explains that intelligence caught by TrapWire was being fed directly to these high-profile customers, bypassing any complication that could arise by a more bureaucratic distribution. He even acknowledges that problems could be put in play if they relied on sending their surveillance to the US Department of Homeland Security or lesser government agencies.
“Our materials are on their screens INSIDE the walls,” Burton writes. “We circumvent the dysfunctional DHS/DC by having our info already on their 24×7 screen.”
“We need to laser focus pieces to capture their attn. Maybe even a video,” Burton adds. “Trust me, the agents and cops watching the TW feed WANT something interesting to see.”
In a 2005 interview with The Entrepreneur Center, Richard “Hollis” Helms, co-founder of TrapWire developers Abraxas, says the system “can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition, draw patterns, and do threat assessments of areas that may be under observation from terrorists.” He calls it “a proprietary technology designed to protect critical national infrastructure from a terrorist attack by detecting the pre-attack activities of the terrorist and enabling law enforcement to investigate and engage the terrorist long before an attack is executed,” and that, “The beauty of it is that we can protect an infinite number of facilities just as efficiently as we can one and we push information out to local law authorities automatically.”
In a unencrypted email from September 26, Burton writes that the “NYPD has done what no US Govt Agency has been able to do” in the counterterrorism arena because of TrapWire.”
Since the TrapWire scandal broke, Stratfor has kept mum on the allegations that they were directly affiliated with a widespread, international surveillance program, and are probably inclined to follow the tactic proposed by the head of the security firm earlier this year. In February, Stratfor CEO and founder George Friedman addressed the hack credited to Anonymous, saying, “Some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies,” but, also, “Some may be authentic.”
“We will not validate either, nor will we explain the thinking that went into them. Having had our property stolen, we will not be victimized twice by submitting to questions about them,” Friedman said.