Wikileaks is publishing internal memos of the Stratfor security analysis firm. A few tidbits have emerged in these very early days, to wit:
1. Up to 12 Pakistani active-duty and retired officers from the Inter-Services Intelligence agency knew that Osama Bin Laden was in Abbottabad and were in regular contact with him. The Pakistani chief of staff is denying the report.
2. Dow Chemicals hired Stratfor to spy on activists in Agra who continue to protest over the Bhopal environmental disaster that blinded many workers and destroyed their health. I.e., Stratfor was not just doing analysis but was involved in private intelligence operations against civil society groups that had a right to protest.
3. Stratfor Vice President Fred Burton, a former State Department official involved in counter-terrorism, lamented that in the old days the US would simply have assassinated Venezuelan leftist leader Hugo Chavez and Bolivian leftist leader Evo Morales. The internal emails also suggest that Stratfor had placed a female asset in Venezuela, who was having sex with an officer and pumping him for information. The officer was said also to be “working with Israel.” Chavez is known for his criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.
4. Russia sold weapons to Iran but turned around and gave their security codes to Israel.
5. The fifth revelation is that often Stratfor analysts did not know what they were talking about and had an extreme rightwing bias. For instance, this memo on the revolution in Egypt attempts to argue that the officer corps was behind the revolution against Hosni Mubarak and that the masses were insufficiently mobilized to account for it. It is alleged that only 750,000 people came out in Tahrir Square, a small number for a country of 82 million. But in fact that was only in Tahrir. People demonstrated elsewhere in Cairo. And they were in the streets in Alexandria, Suez, Asyut and other cities. Even small towns saw burnings of police stations and HQs of the National Democratic Party. This memo makes a grassroots revolution that shook Egypt from Alexandria to Aswan into an officers’ putsch. While the officers tacked with the wind and did end up siding with the demonstrators against Mubarak, they were clearly playing political catch-up. It was revolutionary groups like April 6 that made the revolution in the cities, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the rural areas. The memo is frankly obtuse and if this is what Booz Allen was paying $20,000 a year for, they should demand their money back.
This fifth point, about the one percent interpreting the world for the one percent as being about the one percent, is a dire problem in our information system, since the one percent has the resources and can try to overwhelm reasoned analysis that recognizes the agency of the people. Ultimately, the political struggle here is an epistemological one (epistemology being the study of how we know what we know).
By. Professor Juan Cole
Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.