This story is over 5 years old.


Stratfor Founder George Friedman Says PRISM Is American Citizens' Fault

What's Stratfor, LulzSec's most famous victim, up to? Defending the NSA, naturally.

Curious as to what happened Stratfor after LulzSec's infamous hack, and WikiLeaks attendant Global Intelligence Files release, I thought I'd check in to see what the company was up to. And what, to my surprise, did I find? An op-ed written by Stratfor founder and chairman George Friedman asking people to keep the NSA and its PRISM program “in perspective.” This from an individual that is paid by businesses to gather intelligence on countries, politicians, public figures, corporations, protesters and activists of all sorts.


Stratfor, for instance, spied on PETA supporters at the behest of Coca-Cola corporation. The company has also done work for Raytheon and Dow Chemical, amongst others. What is more, Stratfor is a company with close ties to government, received funding from ex-Goldman Sachs managing director Shea Morenz, and profited off of pretty shoddy intelligence. It's hard to take Friedman's thoughts on privacy seriously.

Well, Forbes thought well enough of Friedman and Stratfor to publish his op-ed. In some ways, it's reasonable. He does a good job explaining the history that led to the creation of the NSA, for one. In other respects, it is not. Friedman seems to believe that after 9/11 the American people let the NSA's brand of techno-surveillance happen.

He says that the NSA was well within its legal purview to intercept all telecommunications to guard against Islamic terrorism, because US citizens created the Constitution-skirting Patriot Act environment. "That was the point where they undermined the Constitution," writes Friedman, "and the American public is responsible for allowing them to do so." That is certainly one way of looking at it.

Friedman writes:

Part of the fear was that U.S. intelligence had failed again [like Pearl Harbor] to predict the attack. The public did not know what would come next, nor did it believe that U.S. intelligence had any idea. A federal commission on 9/11 was created to study the defense failure. It charged that the president had ignored warnings. The focus in those days was on intelligence failure. The CIA admitted it lacked the human sources inside al Qaeda. By default the only way to track al Qaeda was via their communications. It was to be the NSA’s job.


But, this conflicts with what we know about NSA surveillance history. The agency has, through ECHELON, been intercepting private and commercial communications in PRISM-like fashion for a quarter of a century. Edward Snowden's NSA leaks really just blew wide open the extent of the NSA's surveillance. For once, a majority of American people knew what was going on. They had, in effect, been stirred from their collective hallucination. Before, when NSA efforts were reported upon here and there, American's couldn't have cared less.

As the independent group Global Research noted last week, ECHELON is “the top secret surveillance program whose all-encompassing 'dictionaries' (high-speed computers powered by complex algorithms) ingest and sort key words and text scooped-up by a global network of satellites, from undersea cables and land-based microwave towers.”

If ECHELON was unable to intercept Al Qaeda communications in the years leading up 9/11, even after the first World Trade Center bombing (to say nothing of the group's other attacks, such as the one on the USS Cole), are we really to believe that the NSA's PRISM would be any more effective?

Viewed through that lens, it seems like PRISM is simply a rebranding effort. Also, a technological evolution in surveillance. ECHELON: Redux, so to speak. And, finally, a way for US bureaucrats and crypto-spies to feel good about themselves and earn their paychecks on the taxpayers' dime.


Ultimately, Friedman defends the NSA's efforts. He implies that it surveilled the world because it was just trying to help.

Where Friedman hits the right mark is in suggesting that terrorism as a concept is nebulous—that it entitles the NSA to surveill everyone. He also rightly critiques the United States' lack of formal declarations of war since World War II. But he does so for the wrong reasons.

He suggests—as a thought experiment, it seems—that the government could legally validate the NSA's surveillance efforts by passing a constitutional amendment simply declaring war or a state of emergency. This allows him to avoid a vital point: war or no war, should a people's government be allowed to surveill the people in such a total way?

He does write, "[the NSA leaks do] give us an opportunity to consider what has happened and to consider whether it is tolerable." But, the whole article rejects that line of thought. Ultimately, Friedman defends the NSA's efforts. He implies that it surveilled the world because it's trying to help.

What should also rankle people about Friedman's op-ed is Stratfor's modus operandi: for-profit intelligence gathering. Information is money to Friedman and his company. Whether he likes it or not, Stratfor is part of the spy-industrial complex. No amount of spin can change that. Stratfor profits off slick connections between government and industry. With contracts on the line, anyone in the industry is going to try to justify intelligence gathering activity any way they can.

Naturally, Friedman's op-ed is largely designed to be company PR. Stratfor's reputation was tarnished after the LulzSec hack. WikiLeaks' publication of the Spy Files hurt the company even more. He tries to reestablish the spy firm as a reasonable analyst of global events, but Friedman simultaneously defends the NSA and taps into anti-NSA sentiment—or at least attempts to. He wants to have it both ways, which is as absurd as blaming the American people for this mess in the first place.

Then again, isn't that the dark brilliance of this whole surveillance charade? That those who benefit most from the arrangement will go to any lengths to ensure the spy-industrial complex remains entrenched.