(NaturalNews) Most Americans don't know that the federal government isn't the only entity out there in the intelligence business. There are a number of private companies in the U.S. and abroad that specialize in intelligence gathering.
One of the foremost U.S.-based firms is a company called Stratfor. Based in Austin, Texas, Stratfor employs scores of analysts who specialize in every part of the world. And though governments have their own intelligence apparatuses, that doesn't mean that they sometimes won't contract out their intel work to firms like Stratfor.
But does such government-private collaboration compromise a country's national security? That is the question being asked by a number of Canadian officials after discovering that more than a dozen Canadian agencies have subscriptions to Strategic Forecasting, otherwise known as Stratfor.
As reported by The Star newspaper:
At least 13 Canadian government agencies have had subscriptions with U.S. private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, Inc. or Stratfor, newly released WikiLeaks emails indicate.
Stratfor, sometimes dubbed a shadow CIA, came under fire recently after a leaked document prepared for an oil company outlined ways to counter activist groups, such as Greenpeace, who oppose Canada's oilsands development.
The same cache of leaked emails indicates Canadian federal agencies have purchased at least half a million dollars in Stratfor services.
Governments regularly use private intel firms
According to emails from January 2009 to February 2011, Canadian agencies spent more than $26,000 for one-year subscriptions for Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Under Canadian government policy, any contracts worth more than $10,000 must be posted online, and these were not.
One government official, Foreign Affairs spokesman Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, says that was just a technical oversight. The spokesman added that the subscriptions were "used widely within the department to help inform policy development and analysis."
According to the paper, Stratfor officials would not answer questions about the recent leaks. The Canadian Press was instead referred to a statement that the private intel firm posted online saying that its policy was not to comment on any WikiLeaks documents.
"Some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic," the statement reads. "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 questioning about them."
Canadian intelligence experts say some of the government's agencies use private firms like Stratfor to augment intelligence supplies.
"I think it's not uncommon," said one expert, Wesley Wark, in an interview with The Star. "Particularly for people in the intelligence analysis world of the Canadian government ... to have contracts from time to time with private-sector firms for delivery of certain kinds of analytical problems, which is basically what Stratfor does."
Wark went on to say that private intel services can often be expensive and outside the budgets of some government agencies.
In a different leaked email, dated March 3, 2011, one senior Stratfor executive lauds one of the firm's employees for brokering a long-term contract with Canada's National Defense. The deal, on behalf of the Canadian Forces College, spanned three years and was worth $240,600.
"We locked in a three-year commitment," the email says, with several replies from others in the firm congratulating the sale.
The Star reported that the leaks hinted that National Defense had the most expensive agreements with Stratfor:
According to the same email chain, National Defence paid Stratfor $78,225 in 2011, $80,175 in 2012 and $82,200 for this year. The contract was publicly disclosed by the department.
The deal gave the college "Authenticated Access to STRATFOR Enterprise Premium Portal," which includes "Up to 10 individual user accounts" with access to sophisticated analysis and geopolitical forecasts.
National Defence's publicly posted contract reports also show an agreement with Stratfor worth $182,377 from 2008 to 2011.
Classified government data-sharing?
There have been concerns that, although a private intelligence company, Stratfor could have had access to sensitive government information, but not all experts agree that that was the case.
"I don't think they (Stratfor) have formal access to classified material," said Wark. "But the people who work at Stratfor are for the most part former members of the American intelligence community and have some connections. ... But they're primarily, I think, working with open-source material."
The WikiLeaks site claims that Stratfor also provides intelligence services to U.S. firms and government agencies like "Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency."