Internal emails from Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor leaked by Wikileaks show that it is, at best, a sleazy operation, offering corporate and government clients dubious information and advice. Julian Assange goes further, crowing that Wikileaks’ cache of Stratfor emails reveals a corrupt and nefarious “global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards—which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.” The good news is that Alexis Ohanian, Internet do-gooder-in-chief and co-founder of geek Shangri-la Reddit, is not in cahoots with Stratfor. The bad news is that he wanted to be.
In 2011, Ohanian proposed consulting for Stratfor on social media strategy, according to emails newly leaked by Wikileaks as part of its Global Intelligence Files project, meant to expose the firm’s misdeeds. The negotiations stemmed from a chance January, 2011 meeting between Ohanian and Stratfor Chairman George Friedman in the green room at Bloomberg TV (the source of much of the evil in the world). “He’s a huge Stratfor fan,” Stratfor communications VP Meredith Friedman gushed after the meeting. “He and George met and talked about doing something with Reddit for social media.”
Emails show that Ohanian did indeed met with Stratfor on a trip to Austin for SXSW a couple months later. That meeting apparently went well, because soon after Ohanian emailed a proposal for a social media consulting gig. The brain that built Reddit does not come cheap:
We’re proposing $25,000 for April to include the following discovery phase:
- Audit of the Economist in social media & online
- This includes twitter, facebook, youtube, blogs, forums, social news, podcasts, etc.
- Audit of Stratfor in social media & online
- Audit of another competitor (if you so desire) in social media & online
- Three potential campaigns for going forward based on our analysis
- Five recommendations concerning your existing profiles (e.g., top 5 ways to improves how you’re using twitter right now)
Moving forward, assuming you love our expertise as much as we think you will, we’d be open to discussing consulting services on retainer.
Stratfor responded that they would consider the offer. In the meantime, Ohanian, who’s Armenian, said, he’d be “happy to introduce [Stratfor chairman George Friedman] to some of my pals in Armenia.”
A few days later, Ohanian followed up and offered a (very slightly) more affordable option: “If you’d like to call me up for a skype consulting session I run $1,000/hour,” he emailed Friedman. $1,000 an hour! Maybe the whole consulting thing was a secret act of subversion: bankrupt Stratfor with outrageous fees so it has to stop spying on people. I once spoke to Ohanian in real-life, for free; I wish I knew at the time what a deal I was getting.