It's been a big week for national security controversies in Washington.
On Wednesday, a confidential Justice Department memo acquired by NBC made waves for its justification for the extrajudicial killing by a drone of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen suspected of association with al-Qaeda. Thursday, protesters stormed CIA director nominee John Brennan's Senate confirmation, upset over the White House's drone policies.
Less noticed was another related development: Wikileaks this week released another round of E-mails sent by private intelligence company Stratfor, several of which shed light on the quest to capture Awlaki. WhoWhatWhy.com, a nonprofit investigative journalism site which first analyzed the E-mails, says what's most interesting about them is their candor.
In one alleged E-mail sent in September 2010, a top Stratfor official wrote to a colleague that U.S. government agencies were exaggerating the importance of nailing al-Awlaki.
"There's been a ton of media spin and leaks later about Anwar al-Awlaki being the next bin Laden. OBL is becoming old news now," Reva Bhalla, Stratfor's VP of global analysis, wrote to a colleague. "CIA and [Joint Special Operations Command] want a new target to claim success, so there's a concerted campaign going on right now to play up al-Awlaki as the #1 terrorist. Al-Awlaki is much easier to target anyway and they have leads on him, so every agency wants to be the one to say they got him."
A Stratfor spokesman declined to comment on the E-mails but directed Whispers to an earlier statementreleased by the company, which called the publication of the E-mails by Wikileaks a "deplorable, unfortunate—and illegal—breach of privacy."
A number of government agencies, businesses and organizations rely on the intelligence Stratfor gathers and analyzes to make business and security decisions in overseas operations. A number of former intelligence officers and government officials have provided analysis and forecasting for Stratfor.
In another purported E-mail from January 2010, a press attache with the Embassy of Yemen in Washington very clearly explained to a Stratfor employee how the Yemeni government would go after Awlaki.
"I will assume a fair prosecution can be part of the plea but the [Yemeni] government is now very serious about hunting down al-Qaeda operatives," Mohammed Albasha wrote. "If ... they won't hand him over eventually we will strike. ... It's on."
In an interview, Albasha tells Whispers that the Yemeni government was negotiating with tribes protecting Awlaki at the time, an attempt that was ultimately unsuccessful.
Al-Awlaki was placed on a so-called "kill list" by the Central Intelligence Agency in April 2010. He died in a Predator drone strike in September 2011.