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Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

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5 Interesting Revelations from the Stratfor Memos

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.

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  • Philip Andrews on March 01 2012 said:
    first of all I'm a longtime subscriber to Stratfor so I'll declare that connection straight away. I pay my memebership and get some really good intelligence in return.

    I have been cforresponding with them for years. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't.

    As they have said, and I agree, Wikileaks is just as likely as any other source of information to be manipulated and/or manipulating. There is no such thing as clean information, just degrees of manipulated obscurity.

    Anyone in the US and/or other western ibtelligence community could be involved in what Stratfor is accused of. It doesn't make them any better or worse, reliable or unreliable, than anyone else. There is no morality in intelligence work, just what is possible and likely.

    Two further points;

    Russia is alleged to have given Israel codes for the Tor1. Were they the correct codes? Were they workable codes? Given moscow's relationship with Tehraqn what was the arrangement with this?

    The Egyptian 'Revolution' happened pretty mjuch as Stratfor described it. Stratfor was describing the underlying reality, not the illusion of the appearance. Anyone who knows the ME knows that militaries are in charge. Secret services are in charge. People are manipulated to actions by groups, re,ligious or otherwise with their own agendas. Nothinhg is ever as it seems, and especially not as the Western liberal tendancy would like it to be. The ME nations are past masters as 'dissimulation'. The Iranians are the most proficient, with Arab states not too far behind.

    Beware of trusting 'revelatory' sources like Wikileaks, and Western liberal tendancies that do not understand cultures not of their ilk.
  • Chris on March 05 2012 said:
    Mr. Cole,

    Excellent analysis. Your 5th point cannot be over stated.

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