The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged stratfor
What Stratfor's Fred Burton thought of Mubarak

✚  What Stratfor's Fred Burton thought of Mubarak

From the Wikileaks trove, here's their VP for intelligence's take, on February 11 2011, the day Mubarak stepped down:

The real kicker in all this is that the only reason we don't have a 9/11 type incident happening every week in this country is because of dictators like Mubarak. He's kept his boot on the throat of the Brotherhood and every other radical Islamic group for some time now. Yes, he has probably thrown many people in prison for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he's been one of our staunchest allies in the GWOT and we'll start paying the price (with more attacks on US facilities) when he's gone. If I were him, I'd take my millions, head to Tahiti and  giggle at Obama as he struggles with the flood of attacks that are sure to  come.

You see what I mean when I wrote that Wikileaks' over-hyping of what Stratfor is is ridiculous?

[Thanks, other J.]

Trapwire: It's Not the Surveillance, It's the Sleaze

Trapwire: It's Not the Surveillance, It's the Sleaze | Danger Room

From Wired:

Ever since WikiLeaks began releasing a series of documents about the surveillance system Trapwire, there’s been a panicked outcry over this supposedly all-seeing, revolutionary spy network. In fact, there are any number of companies that say they comb through video feeds or suspicious activity reports in largely the same way that Trapwire claims to do. What’s truly extraordinary about Trapwire was how it was marketed by the private intelligence firm Stratfor, whose internal e-mails WikiLeaks exposed.

The documents show Stratfor being less than straight with its clients, using temporary jobs in government to set up Trapwire contracts, and calling it all a “wet dream.” In their e-mails, executives at Stratfor may have been hyping up a surveillance technology. But what they really did was provide reconnaissance on the $25 billion world of intelligence-for-hire that’s ordinarily hidden from public view. In this case, the sunlight isn’t particularly flattering.

. . .

On Aug. 17 of that year, Stratfor and Trapwire signed a contract (.pdf) giving Burton’s company an 8 percent referral fee for any business they send Trapwire’s way. The essay was partially a sales pitch — a fact that Burton neglected to mention.

When Wikileaks published the Stratfor files, I thought the whole thing was completely overblown and Wikileaks had acted criminally and irresponsibly. (Nuance here: Wikileaks almost always acts criminally, in a strict legal sense, but not always irresponsibly or immorally. I'm overall rather pleased with their release of the Iraq documents and videos, and while their handling of the State Dept. cables could have been better I think it had a net positive effect.) The release of private information was part of the damage here — a relative who subscribed (to the $99-a-year brief service, hardly an evil corporate behemoth) had his credit card details released out on the internet, which was predictably used for fraud. Not to mention the principle that a company like Stratfor, and its employees, have the right to confidentiality (and the duty to protect their data systems better.) But what really stank was the way Wikipedia tried to make an ordinary business and strategic intelligence service sound like SMERSH.

The hyping of Stratfor as an international spy service, which many fools on the web (and some in the media) ate up like candy, was utter bullshit. Stratfor is a publishing company that puts out a mixture of journalism, commentary and analysis within a strategic framework. I'm not at all sold on their intellectual model, which stresses geo-strategic principles rather over ground knowledge, but it's perfectly legitimate. So is using government contacts to get information; it's called cultivating sources.

The above story shows the worse thing Stratfor is guilty of: sleaze. It marketed a product to its customers on commission. I guess Wikileaks revealed that, but if it was a better journalistic enterprise it would have recognized that this was the story worth highlighting, not a fantasy about Stratfor's plans for world domination.

[Via Steve Hynd at the always excellent Agonist]

Update: Liberal Koshari dissents with my take on Wikileaks' criminality:

I fully disagree with an unusually simplistic and inaccurate statement he made in one of his recent posts: 

"Wikileaks almost always acts criminally, in a strict legal sense, but not always irresponsibly or immorally."

Many would disagree, and most conservatives would agree, with the statement above. The legality of Wikileaks activities is extremely complex and a matter of debate as some believe it is protected as a whistleblower intermediary and would argue, like in the Pentagon Papers, the Supreme Court established that the American constitution protects the re-publication of illegally gained information provided the publishers did not themselves break any laws in acquiring it. Back in 2010, publishing those leaked documents was not illegal which is why Senator Joe Lieberman has put forward his proposed SHIELD law (stands for Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination), which made it a crime to publish leaked classified information if doing so endangered U.S. agents or was otherwise not in the national interest.

Point taken about the ambiguous legality of disseminating documents, but what about the legality of obtaining them? Clearly the many US govt. documents were obtained either through sources that broke the law or military code (i.e. Bradley Manning case) or through hacking which was itself illegal. Ditto for the Syrian email trove — to obtain them, something had to be hacked, surely? Likewise in the Stratfor case, the hacking of the company's servers was criminal. 


Stratfor's George Friedman has a rather breathless analysis of the implications of the Alexandria church bombing that sees it as some kind of precursor to an Islamic state in Egypt. That's quite a ridiculous jump to make when many other countries are experiencing terrorist attacks, and implicitly it assumes that a terrorist attack is a sign of a resurgent Islamist movement — as if the bulk of non-violent Islamist movements even support such an attack.

Let’s consider for a moment what an Islamist Egypt would mean. The Mediterranean, which has been a strategically quiet region, would come to life. The United States would have to reshape its strategy, and Israel would have to refocus its strategic policy. Turkey’s renaissance would have to take seriously a new Islamic power in the Mediterranean. Most important, an Islamist Egypt would give dramatic impetus to radical Islam throughout the Arab world. One of the linchpins of American and European policy in the region would be gone in a crucial part of the world. The transformation of Egypt into an Islamist country would be the single most significant event we could imagine in the Islamic world, beyond an Iranian bomb.

Well, that may well be true, but that "what if" is a pretty huge one. And concluding sentence is a masterpiece of mealy-mouthiness that doesn't say much:

At this point, however, anything out of the ordinary in Egypt must be taken seriously, if for no other reason than because this is Egypt, Egypt matters more than most countries, and Egypt is changing.