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Tech Issues and the Stratfor Scandal

Monday, February 27th, 2012

I am having some tech issues with posts – though as they do not seem to be impeding the vigorous blogging efforts of Charles Cameron, I suspect the problem is on my end. Highly aggravating.

That said, here’s a must-read news story. Potentially very, very wide ripple effects:

GizmodoWikileaks Reveals Privately Run CIA’s Dirty Secrets

….Stratfor’s clients are the US Government, other countries and military organizations, as well as private companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman or Raytheon. They have a global network of spies in governments and media companies, including “secret deals with dozens of media organizations and journalists, from Reuters to the Kiev Post.” According to the emails, these spies get paid in Swiss bank accounts and pre-paid credit cards.

Wikileaks says that the emails also reveal the creation of a parallel organization called StratCap. Apparently, this organization would use Stratfor network of informants to make money in financial markets. Wikileaks claims that the emails show how then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman put StratCap in motion in 2009.

Here are some of the highlights, according to Wikileaks:

Global network of informants

The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards.

Who are their spies?

Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.

How they control their sources

“[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control… This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase” – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.

Using secret information to make money in financial markets

Stratfor’s use of insiders for intelligence soon turned into a money-making scheme of questionable legality. The emails show that in 2009 then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman hatched an idea to “utilise the intelligence” it was pulling in from its insider network to start up a captive strategic investment fund. […] CEO George Friedman explained in a confidential August 2011 document, marked DO NOT SHARE OR DISCUSS: “What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments,particularly government bonds, currencies and the like“…..


If I were George Friedman, I’d disappear about now.

I have never been overly impressed with Stratfor’s analytical prowess, having had readers, like Morgan, who from time to time sent me copies of their subscription level publication. Sometimes, Stratfor would produce spot on work but I found some of their forecasts to be marred by bizarre tangents and improbable assertions. Had I realized at the time that Statrfor’s real effort went into collecting inside information to play the markets I’d have been more generous in my assessment.

Geopolitical analysis was only Stratfor’s hobby. 🙂

Debating a Failure of Generalship and Leadership

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

A fascinating online discussion between US Army intellectuals Colonel Gian Gentile, Colonel Paul Yingling and journalist and Iraq War veteran Carl Prine:

Paul Yingling  A Failure in Generalship  –AFJ

….Having spent a decade preparing to fight the wrong war, America’s generals then miscalculated both the means and ways necessary to succeed in Iraq. The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq’s population. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) estimated in its 1998 war plan that 380,000 troops would be necessary for an invasion of Iraq. Using operations in Bosnia and Kosovo as a model for predicting troop requirements, one Army study estimated a need for 470,000 troops. Alone among America’s generals, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki publicly stated that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. Prior to the war, President Bush promised to give field commanders everything necessary for victory. Privately, many senior general officers both active and retired expressed serious misgivings about the insufficiency of forces for Iraq. These leaders would later express their concerns in tell-all books such as “Fiasco” and “Cobra II.” However, when the U.S. went to war in Iraq with less than half the strength required to win, these leaders did not make their objections public.

Gian Gentile A Few Questions for Colonel Paul Yingling on Failures in GeneralshipSmall Wars Journal

….Perhaps you see it differently, but the failure that I see in American generalship in both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (with precedence in Vietnam) is the idea that tactical and operational excellence through a certain brand of counterinsurgency (or any other form of tactical innovation) can rescue wars that ultimately are failures of strategy, or as Schlesinger more harshly puts it “national stupidity.”

In light of how you respond to these questions might you consider writing “A Failure of Generalship, Version 2” for Afghanistan?

If not, might you spell out the differences between what you saw as the failure of American generalship in Iraq from 2003-2006 with the past two years plus in Afghanistan.  In other words, how has American generalship been a failure in Iraq and not in Afghanistan?

Paul Yingling The Gentile-Yingling Dialogue: ISAF Exit Strategy – Neither International nor an Exit nor a Strategy – Small Wars Journal

….Those of us charged with strategic thinking ought to heed this example.  Imagine a failed Pakistan that results in a terrorist organization acquiring one or more nuclear weapons.  What would our response be in the aftermath of such a crisis?  What intelligence capabilities do we need to locate compromised nuclear materials?  What civil security and law enforcement measures might disrupt or minimize the impacts of such a threat?  What counter-proliferation capabilities are required to seize and render safe compromised nuclear weapons or materials?  Imagine further the capabilities required to avoid such a crisis.  What diplomatic measures might change the Pakistani strategic calculus that lends support to extremism?  What broader engagement with Pakistani civil society might render this troubled country less amenable to radical ideology?  Now imagine still further back to the institutional arrangements that generate national security capabilities.  Do we have the right priorities?  Are we buying the right equipment?  Are we selecting the right leaders?  Are we making the best use of increasingly scarce tax payer dollars?

Too often, what passes for strategic thought in the United States is actually a struggle among self-interested elites seeking political, commercial or bureaucratic advantage.  Such behavior is the privilege of a country that is both rich and safe.  However, a pattern of such behavior is self-correcting: no country that behaves this way will stay rich or safe for long.

Carl Prine A Colonel of Truth – Line of Departure

….Gentile and I agreed nevertheless that Yingling failed to seal the deal by naming names, something that would’ve allowed readers the chance to test empirically whether the LTC’s overall thesis had merit.  Here’s Yingling’s nutgraf, words scribbled during the worst days in Iraq when Gentile commanded a cavalry squadron in Baghdad and I was stuck in Anbar as a lowly infantry SPC:

These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America’s general officer corps. America’s generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America’s generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.

….Perhaps because it was so brief, Yingling’s essay lacked subtlety.  It’s not true that America’s generals in Vietnam saw the conflict merely in terms of conventional warfare, although some surely did.  He spun a dubious bit of scholarship on Malaya by John Nagl into a larger argument about Cold War generals choosing to orient American arms toward highly kinetic campaigns – as if the threat of Soviet arms in Europe had nothing to do with that.  And he peppered his analysis with bromides that remain unproven, perhaps my favorite being the chestnut that “?opulation security is the most important measure of effectiveness in counterinsurgency.”

That read better in 2007 than it does today. But Yingling’s larger point held true:  America’s generals failed to adapt our shrinking forces to how policymakers might direct their use, even if there was a re-emphasis on operations other than conventional war both in practice (Kurdistan, Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia, Kovoso, Bosnia, Timor, Cambodia) and theory.

This is an important discussion because the failure of generalship is merely part of a larger paradigm of leadership by abdication and moral evasion that is corroding the fabric of American society to a degree not seen since the 1970’s. Or perhaps since the 1870’s. Colonel John Boyd once chided his brother officers for being willing to take a bullet for their country but not willing to risk their careers for their country. How much worse then is an elite civilian political class that grabs the largesse of government contracts with great gusto but is chronically unable to do the hard work of providing strategic leadership when in office?

Truman’s famous desk sign that indicated the buck stopped at his desk. To update the sign to fit the spirit of the times would require replacing it with a dead fish rotting from the head.

Book Review: Narcos Over the Border by Robert J. Bunker (Ed.)

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Narcos Over the Border: Gangs, Cartels and Mercenaries by Dr. Robert J. Bunker (Ed.)I just finished my review copy of Narcos Over the Border. It is one of the more disturbing academic works recently published in the national security field, not excluding even those monographs dealing with Islamist terrorism and Pakistan. If the authors of this granular examination of Mexico’s immense problems with warring narco-cartels, mercenary assassins, systemic corruption, 3rd generation gangs and emerging “Narcocultas”of Santa Muerte are correct – and I suspect they are – Mexico’s creeping path toward state failure reprsents a threat to American national security of the first order.

The 237 page, heavily footnoted, book is organized into three sections: Organization and Technology Use by the narcos networks, Silver or Lead on their carrot and stick infiltration/intimidation of civil society and the state apparatus, and Response Strategies for the opponents of the cartels. Bunker’s co-authors Matt Begert, Pamela Bunker, Lisa Campbell, Paul Kan, Alberto Melis, Luz Nagle, John Sullivan, Graham Turbiville, Jr., Phil Wiliams and Sarah Womer bring an array of critical perspectives to the table from academia, law enforcement, intelligence, defense and security fields as researchers and practitioners. The effort to blend disciplinary approaches in Narcos Over the Border is both an intentional and commendable effort to break down academic and policy silos and bureaucratic “turf” perspectives that prevent analyzing Mexico’s security dilemmas as an interrelated threat increasingly resembling a full-fledged insurgency (albeit not on the classic Maoist Model).Some impressions I gained from reading Narcos Over the Border include:

  • The Narco-Cartels and the Zetas, which fight each other as well as Mexico’s military ( Mexican police generally are infiltrated, intimidated, outgunned and seriously outclassed by the Cartel gunmen, Zetas and Guatemalan Kaibiles) are better armed and better trained than are the Taliban. The deadly and efficient Zetas and Kaibiles are superior to regular Mexican military forces and have established safe haven training camps in Central America.
  • Narco-cartels are properly speaking, no longer narco-cartels but transnational criminal syndicates involved in a wider array of revenue generating activities, but with professional intelligence and military capabilities, and increasingly, political, social and religious agendas that are functionally reminiscient of Hezbollah and HAMAS.
  • The Mexican state is severely hampered in it’s response to the threat presented by the cartels by it’s own strategic use of corruption as a cost saving measure and a tool for sustaining elite control of Mexican politics, as well as a method of personal enrichment by members of Mexico’s ruling class.
  • The eschewing of the extreme violence by the cartels North of the border appears to be more of a sign of a strategic policy by cartel and Zeta bosses than a lack of capacity or evidence of a lack of infiltration into American society. To the contrary, Mexican cartel links to acutely dangerous American prison and street gangs such as the Mexican Mafia and MS-13 are significant and well documented.
  • The cartels are global, not regional or local operators.
  • The culture of the Narco-cartels, which draws on some romantic Mexican social and religious underground traditions, particularly the hybrid cartel La Familia , is morphing into a very dangerous “Narcocultas”, a neo-pagan, folk religion featuring ritualistic violence, beheadings and torture-murders carried out for reasons other than economic competition.
  • Mexico has departed the realm of having a serious law enforcement problem and has graduated to a significant counterinsurgency war against the cartels in which the Mexican state is treading water or making progress against some cartels (possibly displacing their activities to weaker states in Central America).

The authors do not assume the worst case scenario, state collapse, for Mexico but rather an insidious “hollowing out” of the state by the cartels and a mutation of Mexico’s native culture to host a 4GW nightmare. As Robert Bunker writes:

What is proposed here is that Mexico is not on it’s way to becoming a “rotting corpse” but potentially something far worse – akin to a body infected by a malicious virus. Already, wide swaths of Mexico have been lost to the corrupting forces and violence generated by local gangs, cartels and mercenaries. Such narco-corruption faced few bariers given the fertile ground already existing in Mexico derived from endemic governmental corruption at all levels of society and in some ways, it even further aided the ‘virus’ spreading through Mexican society from this new infection. Among it’s other symptoms, it spreads values at variance with traditional society, including those:

….conceivably derived from norms based on slaveholding, illicit drug use, sexual activity with minors and their exploitation in prostitution, torture and beheadings, the farming of humans for body parts, the killing of innocents for political gain and personal gratification and the desecration of the dead.

While meticulous, Narcos Over the Border is not all-encompassing in scope.  A fundamentally Mexico-centric collection of scholarly articles, it does not deal extensively with American policy makers involved in Mexico’s narco-insurgency, the intricacies of cartel financial operations or undertake case studies of narco activities in Mexican-American communities, though the authors do track narco-cartel and gang presence in cyberspace. Narcos Over the Borders represents a starting point for deeper investigation of narco-insurgency and for a national security comunity that has thus far treated Mexico as a third tier problem, a policy call to arms.Strongly recommended.

Egypt: Jan 25 and the internet

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Brainstormers on the Web ]

There are so many possible lessons to take here:

That a single image speaks louder than dozens of words. That we are more easily persuaded by images than by words. That FB and Twitter are clearly important to Egyptian youth. That dozens of words can convey nuances that a single image misses. That FB and Twitter were at best among the vehicles, rather than the drivers, of the events of January 25th.

That we’d do well to bear the Aristotelian distinction between material, formal, efficient and final causes in mind when talking about what “caused” or “becaused” those events – and elsewhere.

That the simple juxtaposition of two closely similar ideas can illuminate both, and perhaps create a spectral “third thing” which possesses the full detail of both with greater depth than either one in a single understanding, by a sort of stereo process not too different from stereoscopic vision or stereophonic sound.

That we live in exciting times…

Ark attack

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]

Every article I’ve read about the Mossad vulture makes some mention of another recent story, that of the Shark ‘sent to Egypt by Mossad’ of December — hence my choice to link instead to the Chinese allegation of Taliban-trained baboon platoons…

Links for this piece: vulturesbaboons

For your further edification, here’s LiveScience’s delightful illustrated compendium of the Top 10 Animal Recruits in War.

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