In announcing today’s release, Wikileaks describes Stratfor as “a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations.” The group’s announcement says that the released emails “show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods” and calls the company “a money-making scheme of questionable legality.” It adds, “The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients.”

Maybe what these emails actually reveal is how a Texas-based corporate research firm can get a little carried away in marketing itself as a for-hire CIA and end up fooling some over-eager hackers into believing it’s true.

The group’s reputation among foreign policy writers, analysts, and practitioners is poor; they are considered a punchline more often than a source of valuable information or insight. As a former recipient of their “INTEL REPORTS” (I assume someone at Stratfor signed me up for a trial subscription, which appeared in my inbox unsolicited), what I found was typically some combination of publicly available information and bland “analysis” that had already appeared in the previous day’s New York Times. A friend who works in intelligence once joked that Stratfor is just The Economist a week later and several hundred times more expensive. As of 2001, a Stratfor subscription could cost up to $40,000 per year.