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Archive for February, 2012

A Wound That Does Not Cease to Bleed: The War in Vietnam

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Amigo of ZP blog, West Point military historian Colonel Gian Gentile, throws down the gauntlet in his review of Lewis Sorley’s new biography, Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam, in The National Interest:

The Better War That Never Was

DID GENERAL Westmoreland lose Vietnam? The answer is no. But he did lose the war over the memory of the Vietnam War. He lost it to military historian Lewis Sorley, among others. In his recent biography of William C. Westmoreland, Sorley posits what might be called “the better-war thesis”—that a better war leading to American victory was available to the United States if only the right general had been in charge. The problem, however, is that this so-called better war exists mostly in the minds of misguided historians and agenda-driven pundits.

In the battle over the memory of the Vietnam War, Sorley annihilates Westmoreland and leaves his character and reputation in smoldering ruins. Yet Sorley’s victory in the fight for the memory of Vietnam has not brought us a balanced historical biography of Westmoreland.  

 ….The better-war thesis argues that if only the U.S. Army had concentrated from the start on building up the South Vietnamese armed forces and winning the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people through limited applications of military force, we would have won the war. But the question remains: Precisely how could tactical adjustments early in the war have overpowered the political constraints placed on the army by the Johnson administration, which kept it from taking the fight to the North Vietnamese? Or the dysfunctional nature of the South Vietnamese government and military that precluded them from standing on their own? Or the declining popular support and political will in the United States as the war dragged on without a decent end in sight? Or, perhaps most importantly, how could tactical adjustments toward better methods of counterinsurgency have overpowered a communist enemy that fought the war totally while the United States fought it with limited means? In his Westmoreland biography, Sorley essentially ignores these questions.

Could the United States have prevailed in Vietnam? Yes, but it would have had to commit to staying there for generations, not a mere handful of years. The Vietnam War was an attempt at armed nation building for South Vietnam. Nations and their societies, however, are not built overnight, especially when they are violently contested by internal and external enemies. Thus, to prevail in Vietnam, the United States would have needed the collective will that it mustered to win World War II and would have had to be able to maintain it for generations. That kind of will—or staying power—was never a real possibility.

In war, political and societal will are calculations of strategy, and strategists in Vietnam should have discerned early on that the war was simply unwinnable based on what the American people were willing to pay. Once the war started and it became clear that to prevail meant staying for an unacceptable amount of time, American strategy should have moved to withdraw much earlier than it did. Ending wars fought under botched strategy and policy can be every bit as damaging as the wars themselves.

Well worth the read, not least for Gian’s model of how one historian carefully dismantles the thesis of another.

We are a mere three years from the fiftieth anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War, less than two years from the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy that brought LBJ into power and a year from the fiftieth anniversary of the infamous coup d’etat against American client, President Ngo Dinh Diem, that JFK had approved. Finally,  fifty years ago, Kennedy drastically increased the American military advisory mission to South Vietnam to just under 10,000 men and signed off on clandestine operations against North Vietnam.

All those fiftieth anniversaries amount to a golden jubilee of rancor.

The bitterness sown by the lost war in Vietnam still burns in American politics like red hot coals. Less bright perhaps than the open flame of 1968, but if you scratch the surface, you will find with no less heat. The war spawned division and polarization that twisted our politics and poisoned public debate to this day, echoing now as farce as much as tragedy.

During the 1980’s, Vietnam historiography was virtually a cottage industry. It was the subject that ate the profession as a generation of academics who cut their academic teeth during the era of antiwar protest on campus acquired tenure, middle-aged paunches and lost hair while nursing their political grievances in their scholarship. I personally recall, as an  undergraduate, the war being referenced (usually along with vitriolic abuse of Ronald Reagan) in every humanities class, no matter how remote the course, with some professors being known for the quality of their off-topic rants.

While Westmoreland bears heavy responsibility for his part in a losing a war, even as theater commander in Saigon he was only an executor, not a maker, of strategy, much less national policy. Westmoreland did not lose Vietnam in a stunning battlefield capitulation, so Gentile is right to defend “Westy” from being scapegoated for the poor strategic reasoning hatched in the Oval Office. Where Westmoreland was at fault was in his inability to either intellectually comprehend the bigger strategic picture in which he found himself struggling (most likely) or if he did, to effectively articulate the strategic environment in Southeast Asia to a domineering President who was stubbornly determined to brook no contrary advice (possible). Had Westmoreland tried, he likely would have failed (Brute Krulak’s effort in this regard got him physically ejected from the Oval Office by the seat of his pants by Johnson himself. I am dubious that LBJ would have been any happier with contradiction of policy from Westmoreland).

Gentile, much like my professors of yore, is deeply interested in the congruence between events in his own time with those of the Vietnam era., in particular, the salience of counterinsurgency doctrine in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. There is, of course, some continuity between the Vietnam era and today present, a historical thread seized by the COINdinistas themselves in their veneration of Galula and slurping knife-blade portions of soup, but the continuity has limits. I suspect a Millennial generation vet of Kandahar or Fallujah, should they venture to become a historian, will frame and seek to explain their wars without much reference to the societal touchstone that is Vietnam.

Perhaps by then, for American society, Vietnam will have finally ceased to bleed.

Should I whisper, should I scream? – Abu Musab al-Suri redux, Pt 1

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — abu Musab al-Suri, analytic blind spot, prophecy as strategy, redux redux redux ]
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Abu Mus’ab al-Suri appears to have been released from prison recently. Speaking of which, we seem to have a blind spot.

1.

Here’s how an Egyptian activist who was in prison with Abu Musab in 2005 described their conversations, as reported three days ago in The Arab Digest:

Abu Musab’s Philosophy in prison was about spreading hope, and what we have to do now to strengthen our connection to Allah; it is the strong power to restore trust in that we will prevail, and that the nation’s projects will not stop at the tyrants’ plans, and the occupation of Afghanistan. The prophet’s prophecies assures the return of Afghanistan and the rise of the black flags army from Khurasan. We will win and continue our role together till victory – May Allah relieve you Abu Musab – these words had a profound effect on our morale, they ended all of our pains in a moment when we foresee a future and our duties.

As my analyst friend Aaron Zelin, who kindly pointed me to this extract and has himself written on al-Suri for Foreign Policy said:

Yes indeed — Aaron is exactly right. And just to be clear on this, let me repeat myself:

Abu Musab al-Suri is the man who “wrote the book” – the 1,500-page book – on jihad. And as you may remember, his book builds to what Jean-Pierre Filiu calls “a hundred-page apocalyptic tract” while also commenting that there is “nothing in the least rhetorical about this exercise in apocalyptic exegesis. It is meant instead as a guide for action.”

And that black flags army from Khurasan? Those are not just any old black flags, they’re the banners of the “end times army” of the Mahdi.

2.

If you wrote a 1500 page book about jihad and devoted the last 100 pages to describing a set of “end times” prophecies that predicted where and in what order various battles would take place, would you have added those last hundred pages in because you had paper to spare and time to kill?

Or would you have climaxed your book with those hundred pages because those end times prophecies were what the whole business was all about?

And if, on the other hand, you were in the business of analyzing jihadist strategic literature with a view to understanding the jihadist enemy, would you more or less skip those last hundred pages because they’re just “repetitive theological justification” — because, let’s face it, it’s weird religious stuff?

3.

Abu Musab al-Suri is the man who introduced Peter Bergen to bin Laden, and of whom Bergen later wrote:

He was tough and really smart. He seemed like a real intellectual, very conversant with history, and he had an intense seriousness of purpose. He certainly impressed me more than bin Laden.

While he was at large prior to his capture in 2005, the FBI offered a $5 million bounty for information as to his whereabouts.

And Abu Musab al-Suri’s 1,500 page Call to Global Islamic Resistance has been described by counter-terrorist researcher Brynjar Lia as “the most significant written source in the strategic studies literature on al-Qa’ida”.

A source which has has a 100-page closing section which discusses “end times” hadith…

WTF? you might well ask — WTF?

4.

Here’s one answer to WTT? It comes from Tim Furnish, who (unless I’ve missed it, always a possibility) doesn’t mention al-Suri in his book Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, which as you can tell from the subtitle is precisely and exactly about Mahdist warfare — but he does let us know, right in the first paragraph, why Mahdist warfare is important, telling us:

Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones…”

Okay, perhaps you think Furnish is screaming — here’s something more like a whisper from J-P Filiu as to what a Mahdist movement might portend:

An appeal to the imminence of apocalypse would provide it with an instrument of recruitment, a framework for interpreting future developments, and a way of refashioning and consolidating its own identity. In combination, these things could have far-reaching and deadly consequences.

So. Should I shout, or should I whisper?

5, 6, 7…

This is getting too long, I have too much more to say, I want to tie this in with Richards Heuer and Clint Watts and the Psalms of David, so I’ll just list the books illustrated at the head of this post for your convenience now —

Brynjar Lia, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri
Jim Lacey, A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto
Philipp Holltmann, Abu Musab Al-Suri’s Jihad Concept
J-P Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam

— and I’ll be back with a follow-up post tomorrow.

America in Arms, John McAuley Palmer, a review

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

America in Arms, John McAuley Palmer (1870-1955)

Thanks to our blog friend Joseph Fouche, I discovered Brigadier General Palmer’s excellent history of how America has organized the army both in peacetime and in times of war. Fouche introduced Palmer in an excellent piece called, How Did We Get Here.

The Prologue to this excellent book begins:

When Washington became President, he had two main planks in his administration platform. His first plank called for a sound financial system; his second plank called for a sound national defense system.

Thanks to Alexander Hamilton, his Secretary of the Treasury, his first plank was installed before the end of his first administration. But it was not until 1920, more than one hundred and thirty years later, that Congress established a modern adaptation of his military organization. And it was not until 1940 that Congress completed the Washington structure by accepting the principle of compulsory military training and service in time of peace.

Thus begins one of the best written books I’ve read since Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie’s Military Strategy. While the authors cover different topics, both write in crisp, efficient prose and say what they mean the first time. One won’t find much fluff or nuance in either book; I like that.

Palmer traces the history of how America has organized to fight wars, and more often than not, the “how” is not pretty (we usually play catch-up in the early days of conflict). Palmer’s purpose in writing “this little book” was “to tell how Washington arrived at his military philosophy: how and why he was unable to persuade his countrymen to accept it; how their rejection of his advice affected their subsequent history; and finally how, after a century and a half their descendants have have been impelled to return to his guidance.” From the period of 1783 through 1911, Palmer’s book is history. Following 1911, Palmer provides “first-hand experience of the events described.”

Palmer begins with an early (pre-Constitution) inquiry to Washington by Congress on his views on a proper military policy for the new nation. Washington shopped the query around to Generals Steuben, Knox, Huntington, Pickering, Health, Hand and Rufus Putnam. Their responses were strikingly similar; “a well-regulated militia” would be sufficient for national defense. They agreed on a small regular army to patrol the Indian frontier and other “special duties” that could not be performed by citizen soldiers.

Palmer discovered Washington’s “Sentiment on a Peace Establishment” when researching his Washington, Lincoln, Wilson: Three War Statesmen. Washington’s treatise was pretty straightforward:

A Peace Establishment for the United States of America may in my opinion be classed under four different heads Vizt:

First. A regular and standing force, for Garrisoning West Point and such other Posts upon our Northern, Western, and Southern Frontiers, as shall be deemed necessary to awe the Indians, protect our Trade, prevent the encroachment of our Neighbours of Canada and the Florida’s, and guard us at least from surprizes; Also for security of our Magazines.

Secondly. A well organized Militia; upon a Plan that will pervade all the States, and introduce similarity in their Establishment Manoeuvres, Exercise and Arms.

Thirdly. Establishing Arsenals of all kinds of Military Stores.

Fourthly. Accademies, one or more for the Instruction of the Art Military; particularly those Branches of it which respect Engineering and Artillery, which are highly essential, and the knowledge of which, is most difficult to obtain. Also Manufactories of some kinds of Military Stores.

(Would highly recommend reading the entire piece.)

Palmer accounts for Washington’s seeming contradiction on the issue of militias, and points out that Washington was specific in his low opinion of an “ill-organized militia” (one based on short enlistments and political connections influencing the selection of leaders—a problem which endured in Lincoln’s Union Army). Washington favored a “well-organized militia” with the Swiss model ranking high in his esteem. Of the generals providing Washington with their thoughts, Palmer writes that Steuben and Knox were largely in agreement with Washington’s ideas. Both were in general agreement on the organization of small infantry divisions, or legions divided between New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South Atlantic. Under the direction of Congress, in 1786, General Knox (then Secretary of War) completed a Plan for a General Arrangement of the Militia of the United States.

The following plan is formed on these general principles.
1st.
That it is the indispensible duty of every nation to establish all necessary institutions for its own perfection and defence.
2’ndly,
That it is a capital security to a free State for the great body of the people to possess a competent knowledge of the military art.
3’dly,
That this knowledge cannot be attained in the present state of society but by establishing adequate institutions for the military education of youth— And that the knowledge acquired therein should be diffused throughout the community by the principles of rotation.
4’thly
That every man of the proper age, and ability of body is firmly bound by the social compact to perform personally his proportion of military duty for the defence of the State.
5’thly;
That all men of the legal military age should be armed, enrolled and held responsible for different degrees of military service.
And 6thly,
That agreeably to the Constitution the United States are to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.

Congress did not enact the Knox plan as the United States, still under the Articles of Confederation was “insolvent” and unable to act. Palmer estimated that had Knox’s plan been adopted in 1786, “it is my estimate that the advanced corps would have numbered 60,000 men at the end of three years.” Those numbers would grow progressively as the population increased, so that at the outbreak of the Civil War, “the first line of the civilian army would have numbered about 500,000 men. ” By WWI in 1914, that number would have been about 1.8 million.

As president, Washington’s military policy was closely aligned to the Knox plan (Washington amended the original). The change involved a reduction in the required training for the advanced corp—then, as now, costs were the motivating factor for the reduction, but Washington wanted to get a national infrastructure approved. As mentioned previously, the Swiss model factored heavily among Washington and his general’s thinking—with the essential difference between the Swiss plan and Knox being the “distribution of training time.”

The first Congress was reluctant to embrace Washington’s ideas and instead passed the “notorius Militia Act of 1792.” Palmer said this Act made “our military system worse than before the bill was introduced. The old militia organization [the “ill-organized” that Washington deplored] with its phony regiments and divisions now had Federal sanction and was made uniformly bad throughout the nation.”

Washington was defeated in his efforts to develop and deploy a national militia. Washington in warning of foreign entanglements in his Farewell Adress also reminded us of the realities nations must shoulder:

If we remain one People, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or War, as our interest guided by justice shall Counsel…Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectably defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Palmer covers the efforts of Jefferson, and then, Madison to develop a cogent national military organization. The War of 1812 illustrated the the dangers of “the ill-organized militia” as it was, as organized the militias were found wanting. A new force emerged from the War of 1812 and that new force was the regular army. Palmer concludes this chapter: “The history of our modern regular army really begins with the War of 1812. Since then it has never failed to give a good account of itself. It won the pride and gratitude of the American people just when the failure of the national militia had filled them with contempt and humiliation.”

“A new military gospel” was formed after the War of 1812, and the War Department became the new headquarters of the regular army. Madison’s successors had to start over as the archives (including Washington’s Sentiments) were destroyed when the British burned the capitol in 1814. John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War under Monroe, advocated an “expansible standing army”—the antithesis of Washington’s ideas. Palmer said, this “expansible-standing-army” plan hampered American plans for preparedness for more than a century…[through 1941] and…is not quite dead.” The problem was “how” to expand this force in time of war.

As Palmer traces the military policy from Florida to Mexico, and the Civil War, the same problems recurred: the standing army was stretched thin at the outset of conflict and ill-equipped to train recruits provided by the Several States. Added to this was the problems of short enlistments, that in some cases left commanders waiting to pursue the enemy while waiting for fresh troops (Battle of the City of Mexico).

After the Civil War Congress took action to attempt a solution to the broken military organization problem. The Burnside Commission was formed with veterans of the Civil War, but without Washington’s wisdom to guide them. Palmer recounts the accident of history where General Emory Upton had just finished reviewing Washington’s military writings—but missed Sentiments (referenced in a footnote). Upton missed the “key” to Washington’s thinking on an “efficient citizen army.” It appears Upton took the Washington he had read and connected to the expansible standing army idea—and missed Washington’s true intent.

Elihu Root became Secretary of War in 1899 and traced our military faults in the Spanish American war to “defective organization.” The defective organization, in Root’s estimation was this paragraph in Army regulations: “The military establishment is under orders of the Commanding General of the army in that which pertains to its discipline and control. The fiscal affairs of the army are conducted by the Secretary of War through the several Staff Departments”—dual control. While he was resisted, in 1903 the office of the chief of staff was created. Palmer calls this the first of Root’s “great reforms.” He followed by formalizing planning and organizing “the American war army.” A General Staff college was formed to educate those who would serve in the newly reorganized Army. Root and his use of Upton’s work made an indelible mark on the army, and in many ways made the army more professional and able. On the downside, I sense Root provided the shell of what is now the massive military bureaucracy.

I’ll conclude my chronological review here, as the author enters the narrative in first person while signed to Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War. Suffice it to say, Palmer’s recounting of “how” we have traditionally organized our army is a very informative read. I have seen many “reading lists” of generals and leaders, but haven’t seen this old book on any of those lists—it should be. The “tribal” disconnect between the regular army and the National Guard is explained (not in so many words, mind you), and Palmer’s recounting of the dangerous power of doctrine and dogma is worth the read. The writer of the biblical book Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” In America in Arms, military personnel and general reader will find that many of today’s challenges have been challenges since our Founding.

This book has my highest recommendation—especially if you are a serving army officer or have interest in American military organization. This is a great old book. Get a copy; Palmer has much to teach us.

Postscript: Another friend of this blog, Lexington Green, recommended Citizen and Soldiers: The Dilemmas of Military Service, by Eliot Cohen, in the comments to the same post posted at chicagoboyz.net. On Lex’s recommendation, I ordered and have Cohen’s book, but have not yet read.

Second Postscript: I purchased America in Arms from a used book dealer on abe.com, and was fortunate to get a first edition hardback (ex-library book) in excellent condition. This particular title spent time on the shelves of The Catlin Memorial Free Library, Springfield Center, NY, and was placed there by the Arthur Larned Ryerson Memorial; Mr. Ryerson perished on the Titanic. In addition, this particular edition was also published by Yale by the Foundation established in the memory of Philip Hamilton McMillan (check the wife and children entry), Yale Class of 1894. Quite a pedigree for any book; a book that will remain safely in my collection. (the photo above is a snap-shot of my copy)

On fire: issues in theology and politics – ii

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — burning and blasphemy ]
.

The question here is a simple one: which is the more blasphemous? burning holy scripture — or burning oneself, a human being?

Now I imagine you think the answer to that’s quite obvious, and I do too. But there are people with the opposite opinion to mine — and when we burn their scriptures, even by mistake, even making apologies afterwards, they get enraged, and kill people. There may be many other factors that contribute to their rage, but this is the trigger, the religious sanction, the thing that pushes them over the top.

Someone tweeted the other day:

Souls are being burned alive in Homs & others riot over ink & paper. Where’s the logic?!

It is not my purpose to attack or defend anyone’s beliefs or opinions here — what I would like to do instead is to see through the rage and glimpse that logic: I would like us to avoid needlessly triggering it.

I want to bring what may at first seem utterly incomprehensible to us, a little closer to our comprehension.

1.

In the Quran 5.32, we read:

We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.

On the one hand, that sets an extremely high value on human life — the Jewish equivalent is found in the Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a — and on the other hand, it can be claimed that that high value is set not by humans but by their Creator in his revealed Word, the Qur’an.

2.

What metaphor or analogy would allow me to understand that logic in terms of my own culture? Not the rage itself, not the killings — but the logic that potentiates them?

3.

If you think, as the melancholy Jaques has it in As You Like It, that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players – and as Hamlet might think, pondering what more things might be in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in philosophy – why then —

How does one weigh the value of the life of a Jaques, or Hamlet, of one of us, one single human being – of whom Shakespeare, again through his Hamlet, said:

how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! ..

against the value of a single copy of the Works of one William Shakespeare – who then continued on, through that same Hamlet’s voice, to ask:

And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

4.

Shakespeare, the First Folio, Hamlet?
God, the Scripture, you or me?

5.

It is said the imperishable Quran is writ in heaven before time was, and there is a hadith of Tirmidhi that describes Allah reciting Suras 20 and 36, Taha and Ya Sin, upon hearing which the angels responded “Happy are the people to whom this comes down, happy are the minds which carry this, and happy are the tongues which utter this”.

I am not a literalist, I am a poet — so that makes poetic sense to me, the way Shakespeare’s “all the world’s a stage” makes sense.

In reading these words, I see for a moment the beauty, the devotion that is possible towards this book, the fervent dedication.

I am not about to kill people in the name of Shakespeare or the Gospels — yet I can understand a reverence for that which is greater than I, for that which is more than we dream of, and for that which “comes down” from thence.

6.

Suppose the body is a perishable scaffolding, and the book an eternal transcript written in the immortal soul…

And now recall what that eternal transcript says:

We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.

The paradox here, surely, is that we are each of us the quintessence of dust – each of us more than is dreamt of in philosophy.

7.

May the soul of Mohamed Bouazizi rest at last.

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“…..

Ouch.

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. :)


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