AUSTIN, TEXAS — Speaking to an audience on Tuesday at this year’s South by Southwest convention, Strategic Forecasting CEO George Friedman suggested that by publishing archives of U.S. diplomatic cables, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks actually “makes war more likely.”
And in a surprising claim, Friedman added that his company tended to engage in an “orgy of speculation” following major world events — such as the killing of Osama bin Laden and the possibility of a sealed grand jury indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — which is why Stratfor never published that information: because, he said, those claims are simply not true.
Friedman’s speech Tuesday marked the first time he has spoken in public about a devastating hack his company suffered at the end of 2011, which resulted in their entire email archives landing in the possession of WikiLeaks.
Opening his talk, Friedman was almost immediately interrupted by two activists with Occupy Austin, who “mic checked” him and offered the crowd a message about how Stratfor worked as a private spy agency on behalf of wealthy corporations. The crowd reacted negatively to the protesters, booing them loudly. Friedman quickly fell silent, waiting for security to usher them outside.
Continuing, he said that the hack on Stratfor was so completely thorough that their servers were “completely destroyed,” and that even he does not have a copy of the company’s emails anymore.
“I plan to ask the FBI to give me [a copy],” Friedman quipped.
He went on to suggest that hackers who attacked Stratfor had simply done it “for the lulz,” which Friedman called a “nihilistic” concept that he worried may be gaining traction on today’s Internet.
That led him to WikiLeaks, which he claimed to be inflating Stratfor’s profile tremendously by selectively publishing their emails. Reminiscing about the complexity of human conversation, and how that has been lost in the age of the Internet, he added that by elevating a single email from Stratfor, or diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks, as the subject of legitimate reporting, members of the press offer “complete falsification” due to a lack of human context.
“If you’re going to have diplomacy, you must have secrecy,” he said before suggesting that WikiLeaks had only served to “destroy life long relationships” between diplomats continents apart.
Again touching upon the need for more human context in online communications, he added that WikiLeaks, along with the rise of hacker groups like “Anonymous” and “LulzSec,” ultimately advances the Internet’s death march toward repression, instead of broader transparency.
Friedman transitioned into the constantly changing world of Internet security, saying that the “global commons” has evolved to become utterly crucial to business, yet the Internet is still “built with bubblegum and paper clips.”
“We’ve never had a system that so rapidly became so fundamental to what we do, which at the same time is so immature,” he said. “What is it, 20 [years old]? When the automobile was 20 years old, the Model T’s were out. [The Internet] is a Model T.”
He went on to warn that corporations and governments are much more powerful than Anonymous and WikiLeaks, meaning “they will win” in the ongoing power struggle simply by changing the rules of the conflict — I.E., changing the Internet itself.
“It’s not going to go on anymore because large corporations are getting hacked and it’s costing them large amounts of money, and these guys are powerful enough to make changes,” he warned.
“It may be, in the end, that repression is inevitable… I don’t know that Internet 1.0 — and we are still in beta — that this Internet will survive the way it is… [because] every justification for repression is being created by those who claim to oppose it.”
“Those who don’t want that to happen have to find a way to secure the Internet, because Joe McCarthy’s ghost is sitting out there waiting,” Friedman concluded.