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Bulgarian ICANN staffer linked to hacked intelligence firm

Former ICANN director Veni Markovski, who currently heads Eastern European relations at the organization, has been fingered by Wikileaks as a Stratfor source.

Stratfor is the “global intelligence” outfit, once described by Barron’s as “The Shadow CIA”, which had its email server pwned by the hacker group Anonymous last year.

Wikileaks was given over five million Stratfor emails by Anonymous, which it started to publish earlier this week.

According to several of these emails, Markovski reached out to Strafor, and was then cultivated as a “source”, after the company’s analysis was quoted in coverage of the 2008 South Ossetia war.

I think the emails say a lot more about Stratfor and its methods than they do about Markovski.

Shortly after making contact, Stratfor senior Eurasia analyst Lauren Goodrich asked a colleague to check out this “Shady Bulgarian”.

“Was wondering if he has OC [organized crime] or FSB [the Russian Federal Security Service] connections,” Goodrich wrote.

This background check seemed to extend to checking for media references and then reading the resume Markovski publishes openly on his web site.

The subsequent response from Stratfor analyst Fred Burton described Markovski as “hooked into the Bulgairan OC, but nothing too shady bout that since he is Bulgarian”.

Quite what “hooked into” was supposed to mean in this context is open to interpretation.

In September 2008 emails, Goodrich described him as a “Bulgarian billionaire telecommunications oligarch” and “kinda a strange guy, but very powerful in business circles.”

Markovski joined ICANN as manager of regional relations for Eastern Europe, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2007.

A familiar face at ICANN, he also served on its board of directors between 2003 and 2006. He’s chair of the Internet Society of Bulgaria, and founded the Bulgarian ISP bol.bg.

The Wikileaks emails reveal that Goodrich and Markovski communicated about political and security developments in the region from 2008 until at least June of last year.

One of the questions Markovski was asked, ironically, was “What can a small company like Stratfor do to protect itself from cyber-attacks?”

But the relationship, frankly, doesn’t appear to be much different to that of a journalist and his source. I’ve seen no evidence in the leaks of nefarious activity or of money changing hands.

Despite all the “Shadow CIA” marketing nonsense, there’s a substantial school of thought that says Stratfor is not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as it likes to make out.

Headlines such as “Stratfor Is a Joke and So Is Wikileaks for Taking It Seriously“, published in The Atlantic this week, strike me as probably closer to the truth.

If you want to judge for yourself, you can read the emails here.

UPDATE: Markovski provided the following statement: “I have not been involved with Stratfor. I am not in the position to address other people’s private emails, which are being quoted in your article.”