A WikiLeaks trove of leaked emails shows that the Reddit co-founder offered to consult for the infamous private intelligence firm, among other things.
On Monday, the social media website Reddit was abuzz with discussions and questions regarding an email exchange between the site’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian and the intelligence contractor Stratfor, which had been released to the public by WikiLeaks.
The email thread, which appears to have been initiated by Ohanian himself in January 2011, has as its subject line: “reddit cofounder consulting for Stratfor to bring in the social media dollars.” The email was addressed to Meredith Friedman, the VP of Communications for Stratfor.
In his email, Ohanian said it was “so fortuitous” to have met Meredith and her husband, and that he would be in Austin, Texas that March to speak at South by Southwest conference. Friedman responded saying she wanted to schedule a time for Ohanian to come into Stratfor’s Austin-based office to meet with “some of our folks.”
Friedman forwarded Ohanian’s original email to her husband George, as well as two other Stratfor employees, explaining that she and George had met Ohanian in the green room at Bloomberg. She wrote:
He’s a huge Strafor fan and he and I chatted while George was doing his interview on Bloomberg TV then he and George met and talked about doing something with reddit for social media. We invited him to visit Stratfor when he’s in Austin for South-By-Southwest in March. Geroge can fill you in more on his thinking but I wanted you to see we’d made this initial contact and think about how to capitalize on a relationship with Reddit.
While the controversy surrounding Ohanian’s intent to work at Stratfor has provoked a larger discussion in recent days, the emails appear to have been released by WikiLeaks in March 2013, as part of the group’s effort to shed light on the “inner workings” of Stratfor, which it called “a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defence Intelligence Agency.”
According to WikiLeaks, the organization possesses more than 5 million emails from Stratfor that illustrate the company’s “web of informers, pay-off structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods.”
After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2005, Ohanian started Reddit with Steve Huffman. Initially the site was funded by Y Combinator, who was later bought out by Condé Nast.
Ohanian left Reddit in 2009 and in September 2010 announced he had joined the Y Combinator team, amid speculation that Y Combinator was a stepping stone used to build up the Reddit readership.
Today Reddit’s readership comprises around 69.9 million monthly users. The site is famous for breaking news, but also has caused controversy, such as when users on the site investigated and propagated photos of the Boston bombing incident. Members on the site identified the wrong person as the bomber, resulting in many journalists and law enforcement officials inadvertently smearing an innocent — and, as it were, deceased — person’s name.
Ohanian has not explained why he wanted to work for Stratfor, but these emails appear to indicate he merely was trying to expand his resume and professional network.
In March of 2011, Ohanian sent another email to Meredith Friedman, thanking her for inviting him to Stratfor to have a conversation about a possible relationship, and included the following proposal:
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.
About a week later, Ohanian sent a follow-up email asking Friedman what she thought of his proposal and reiterated that he would be “happy to introduce George [Friedman] to some of my pals in Armenia.”
She responded, thanking Ohanian for his proposal, but said they would have to reconsider it at a later date. Not wanting to lose his potential working relationship with Stratfor, Ohanian responded that he was available for Skype consulting sessions at $1,000 an hour, “but I’d be happy to give you advice/download based on whatever you’re thinking about doing at the moment.
“There’s definitely a lot of potential for Statfor,” he wrote.
After these emails were revealed, Ohanian took to his personal Twitter account to explain that he never consulted for Stratfor:
I have never consulted for Stratfor.
— Alexis Ohanian (@alexisohanian) August 26, 2013
He also sent an email to Gawker saying that the reason he sent the proposal was because the company “asked me for a quote in the meeting, so I gave it to them.”
Ohanian said that his excitement to work with Stratfor was before WikiLeaks revealed anything about the company, so he wasn’t aware of the company’s more nefarious activities. After the email revelations, Ohanian tweeted that in 2007 he was paid to speak about new media at Booz Allen Hamilton, a government contracting giant and former employer of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.