Stratfor and Sri Lanka: An initial study of ‘The Global Intelligence Files’
Groundviews and Wikileaks
Groundviews has in the past published two key article based on content obtained through Wikileaks. Wikileaks on Sri Lanka: A breakdown and implications was the first article on the unprecedented release of US diplomatic cables, and published just hours after the tranche was made available on the now well known, and much attacked website. Groundviews was told some time ago that the US Embassy in Colombo used this article as a key resource in going through the tranche of material on Wikileaks as it pertained to Sri Lanka. From draft to official text: Wikileaks reveals the US response to the end of war in Sri Lanka was a more specific piece, that looked at the drafting process of official statements in general by the US Government and in particular, a statement by the US State Department dealing with one of the most important events on Sri Lanka in 2009. This article was tweeted by the official Wikileaks account, and the resulting traffic spike temporarily crashed the site.
The tweet that triggered this article
Two days ago, Wikileaks published the following,
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) February 15, 2013
While the emphasis was on Latin America, Groundviews was keen to discover what information there was on Sri Lanka using the new search interface.
Background to The Global Intelligence Files
Almost exactly one year ago, WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files. The Files contain,
“…over five million e-mails from the Texas headquartered “global intelligence” company Stratfor. The e-mails date between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defence Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods.”
In a response to the unprecedented leak of emails never intended for free access and scrutiny in the public domain, Stratfor founder George Friedman flagged an important distinction between ‘subscriber’ and ‘client’, noting that the media reportage over the corporate entities mentioned in the leaked emails had often conflated both. A fair point, but unsurprisingly, Friedman did not go on to mention who Stratfor’s clients were.
Wikileaks is more than just a web based host for this explosive tranche of emails. As the Guardian notes, one of the leaked emails contained,
“… a short one-liner that suggested the US government has produced, through a secret grand jury, a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.”
The same article notes,
Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice-president of intelligence, and a former head of counterintelligence at the US State Department’s diplomatic corps, wrote in an email, “Not for Pub – We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.” Burton and others at Stratfor showed intense interest in WikiLeaks starting in 2010, showing intense dislike for Assange personally. Burton allegedly wrote: “Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.” According to another leaked email, a Stratfor employee wanted Assange waterboarded.
This from an intelligence company that explicitly touts as one of its key qualities that it is “independent” with “no ideology, bias or agenda”.
Interestingly, emails exchanged within Stratfor clearly indicate that the charges against Assange in Sweden were completely fabricated.
As the Guardian notes,
“Statfor belongs to an extensive industry. In Top Secret America, a new book by Dana Priest and William Arkin of the Washington Post, the authors reveal that there are literally thousands of so-called intelligence analysts hawking equally dubious information to the federal government.
By its very nature, of course, such information is secret and often protected by government order. Nothing short of a major congressional investigation will be able to drill down into this intelligence-industrial cartel to assess not just the quality of the information and the way it was obtained, but whether or not any of it serves the public interest – or the very opposite. That is, unless Anonymous or WikiLeaks gets there and does the work first.”
The following article flags just a few of the emails dealing with Sri Lanka from the Global Intelligence Files. No effort has been made at redacting any personal information (names, emails, mobile numbers) simply because this information is public on Wikileaks, and already indexed by Google. Excerpts are published verbatim, and readers are strongly encouraged to click through to the source material and read in full the emails cited.
The dissident website Colombo Telegraph has been at the forefront of publishing US cables sourced from Wikileaks pertaining to Sri Lanka. Likewise, it is our hope that other media, activists and anyone interested in how organisations like Stratfor operate will go through in finer detail the tranche of Stratfor emails on Wikileaks, and dig up content that is vital for the public record.
General interest in Sri Lanka
Stratfor’s interest in Sri Lanka (in the tranche of emails on Wikileaks) ranges from as far back as the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. In 2005, when there were reports of a US Marines deployment in Sri Lanka to help with humanitarian aid, Stratfor was interested in confirming this information.
When in June 2010 the Daily Mirror website published an article about a possible buildup of the LTTE in Venezuela, Stratfor’s interest is piqued. Reginald Thompson asks, “I’m not really sure why Venezuela would actively allow the Tamil Tigers to regroup there. Are these exiled Tamil Tigers after their military defeat last year or what?”
There is interest in how the domestic conflict can play out with the Tamil communities in other countries.
As far back as February 2009, Stratfor is interested in what post-war Sri Lanka will look like,
“What makes this Godforsaken place tick? Now with less war! Seriously, while the war is not exactly over, it is time to think about what an ended war would mean. Wea**ve already sketched out the road ahead, but its time to talk about what this island means in a world when it can actually participate in international affairs. A Sri Lankan monograph if you will.”
In response to this submission, someone else from Stratfor, in the same email thread, notes,
“we can sketch out sri lanka’s geopol potential, but this war is nowhere near over. dont listen to the rhetoric of the army when they say it’s over. SL is going to be heavily preoccupied with the Tamils for a long time to come, now even more with economic turmoil hitting”
Sri Lanka’s Economy
Two emails from February 2009 deal (see here and here) with what Stratfor thinks that Sri Lanka is “looking at a loss of remittances totaling $3.4 billion, or nearly 13 percent of GDP, from an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million emigrants.” At the same time, Stratfor also thinks that “For the first time in decades, the government in Colombo has the opportunity to defeat the insurgency, not only militarily but also by assimilating rebel Tamils and their sympathizers back into society through economic development and political engagement.”
In May 2009, Marko Papic from Stratfor wrote,
“I don’t pretend to know anything about Sri Lanka… but I’m thinking that perhaps a new way to look at the island is in order. Thus far we have written most of our stuff on what the end of the conflict means security wise and for the future of the Tigers, but what about geopolitically ane economically.”
This same email has a detailed economic analysis of Sri Lanka, which avers, inter alia,
“But before Colombo can think about seriously entertaining other foreign suitors, it has more to do at home. While the level of hostilities has dropped dramatically, the civil war in Sri Lanka is far from over. The Tigers are a resilient and innovative force, and even though Colomboa**s military campaign has deprived the Tamil rebels of their conventional warfare capabilities, the Tigers can still regroup and carry out insurgent attacks, including suicide bombings, mortar attacks, raids and other types of operations that use improvised explosive devices. In addition, the Sri Lankan government now faces the challenging task of figuring out how to balance dominant Sinhalese political interests with a national security imperative to further integrate the country a**s Tamil population to deny the Tigers a strong support base.”
And goes on to note,
“Though Sri Lanka is privileged with a number of geopolitical fortunes, it will be a while before it develops the attention span to realize its potential.”
The same email thread has Reva Bhalla from Stratfor saying,
“People are still more likely to invest in India than sri lanka. SL still has a ways to go before it can become some sort of a financial hub”
Post-war Tamil diaspora and LTTE in Australia
In an email dated 21 October 2011, Chris Farnham, Senior Watch Officer at Stratfor notes that Australian “[Counter Terrorism] laws are a mess and the political will to take care of them is simply no (sic) there.” He goes on to say,
LTTE has a significant presence in Australia and carries out a lot of fund raising here. There may even be enough of them that are concentrated that they can affect elections in marginal seats.
India, China, the US and Sri Lanka
Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to UNESCO and France, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka in a recent article (The Garrison State Delusion) posed a scathing critique of the Rajapaksa government’s foreign and strategic policy vis-à-vis China, the US and India. In this article, he averred,
“It is… highly improbable that China would bruise its relations with India over anything but its own core interests within its own sphere of influence. The rules that the competing and co operating Asian Big Powers play by is that neither China nor India will step on each other’s toes within their respective spheres of influence. Sri Lanka just isn’t important enough for China to do so.”
Regarding the US, he noted,
“Today, Sri Lanka is flying blind in Washington, to the degree that in 2008 and in 2012, Colombo was one of the few capitals on the planet that was not only expecting but actually hoping for a defeat for Barack Obama and operating on that assumption. Relying on AIPAC assessments and reports from Sri Lankan expatriates does not make for intelligent evaluation.”
Finally on India, he says,
“Colombo also fails to comprehend that India is an open, dynamic democracy in which public opinion about events in Sri Lanka — public opinion in Delhi and not just Chennai — can impact negatively on India’s stance.”
Though it is unclear who is commenting, someone from within Stratfor, in response to an email outlining U.S. President Barack Obama begins a four-day visit to India November 2010, states the following,
“But more importantly, be really careful on the comments with China. We do not need to adopt wholeheartedly the unabashed China threat position. Obviously the two have competing interests and frictions are growing, but we also have to be cognizant of the fact that China has not embarked irreversibly on a path of outright confrontation and neither has the US, and historically these two do not really have much reason to be dire foes. We will sound like the Hoover Institute if we emphasize the threat and ‘collision course’ endlessly and don’t have a nuanced approach to the very careful way that US and Chna manage their relations.”
The former Ambassador’s analysis, two years after Stratfor’s exchange, strongly suggests that the Sri Lankan government’s reliance on China as a bulwark against growing international pressure and scrutiny, its disdain of India and its love-hate relationship with the US is a recipe for isolation and intervention – precisely that which the Sri Lankan government so violently opposes and decries.
Wick Gankanda, John Kerry and Stratfor
In February 2009, someone called Wick Gankanda, writing as a US citizen, penned a letter to Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (John Kerry, presently the US Secretary of State) which was published in the Island newspaper. The letter castigated the LTTE, and didn’t express a single word of care, concern or condemnation of the Sri Lankan government’s own human rights violations across a range of theatres, from civilians in and around the battlefield to independent media and journalists.
The same individual writes to Stratfor in May 2009 about a recently released report on Sri Lanka by the intelligence group. We learn that (at the time) he is a Senior software engineer for IBM Rational Software and WebSphere Enterprise Technologies. In his email, Gankanda notes,
“We are so impressed by this report that currently we are surfing your Website to find out how we can make a donation to STRATFOR. The Sri Lankan Diaspora regularly funds a wide range of global intelligence/defense/foreign policy/cultural/conflict analysis institutes including Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, Sri Lanka Foundation in Los Angeles, the Mackenzie Institute in Ontario, Canada and the Fowler Museum at UCLA (Southeast Asian cultures/Masks of Sri Lanka exhibit & Dance) in Los Angeles.”
Note that Stratfor’s report, which is still available on the web, does not make a single reference to human rights. This lack of a rights based perspective, and the implications of marginalising rights in the pursuance of a scorched earth policy to end the war, does not seem to factor in Stratfor’s analytical compass. Small wonder then that the response to Gankanda’s email focussed on how much of was disseminated (“This piece is being Twittered all over India. Wild deal.”) and what riches it could possibly bring its authors (“Does this qualify Stick and I for matching Aston Martin’s courtesy of Stratfor?”).
In September 2007, there is an interesting exchange within Stratfor, started by Reva Bhalla, on “finding a good source on the LTTE in Sri Lanka — someone who could provide information on the LTTE’s current capabilities and strategy.”
Reva goes on to suggest that Stratfor needs to “look into pro-tamil sites and blogs as well. you’d be surprised…many of these groups are very eager to talk ifyou approach them the right way.”
Rohan Gunaratna comes up as a strong recommendation in this email thread. Was Gunaratna – an individual with whose credentials as an expert in terrorism have been seriously questioned and with a flair for the tastelessly dramatic – contacted by Stratfor to provide it with expert analysis?
Possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, and high level military contacts
Mark Koenig‘s currently Assistant Director for Governance and Law at The Asia Foundation. It is unclear whether his current employers or CV notes his association with Stratfor. In 2008, he applied for the position of East Asia Analyst.
Mark is the co-author of Institutionalizing Community Policing in Timor-Leste: Exploring the Politics of Police Reform published by The Asia Foundation. It is unclear if The Asia Foundation knew that Mark was talking about the report with Stratfor colleagues as early as January 2009.
But this just sets the stage for a remarkable exchange between Mark Koenig and Marko Papic of Stratfor.
In one of his first emails to Marko in this exchange, Mark makes the following assertion,
“so the military has been given geographic targets to meet each day. does not matter how many people they do or do not kill or who those people are as long as their geographic progress continues. the military is taking big losses in the fighting but since the government has been killing journalists recently and blocking press access to the warzone nobody is reporting on it. lots of civilian casualties too, but thats no surprise. the timing of the gaza bs was great to distract the international eye for a few weeks, it let the government really go buckwild with the shelling.”
Marko’s response is as interesting,
“Dude, Sri Lanka! That is freaking awesome! Keep sending me your insight, I’m forwarding it to Reva. She says she has some high ranking military dude as her contact there, but I think he may be feeding her the “we are winning!!!” crap.
Of the questions that arise, the most obvious are what the Sri Lankan military is doing providing information to Stratfor, what the basis of this information was, the nature of the information exchanged and with what frequency, and how this information was used by Stratfor.
Mark’s response to Marko, notes, inter alia,
“also this push to end the war is 100% political. the government now is in power because of security. there are fewer attacks in the south and the war is being won in the north/east. from what i understand though is that if it is about running an economy or peacetime stuff people prefer the opposition. so the unless the gov is winning on security they are losing political ground.”
End of war in Sri Lanka
An email thread from April 2009, featuring Reva Bhalla and others from Stratfor, is particularly revealing for what the organisation thinks about the end of war in Sri Lanka,
“The Sri Lankan government is well aware that it is going to receive a good amount of backlash from the international community, particularly foreign donors who are helping ease Sri Lanka out of its current economic turmoil, for the civilians caught in the fray in this military operation. Nonetheless, the loss of civilian lives be a tolerable price for Colombo to pay if it means stripping the LTTE of its territorial strongholds and of its ability to fight as a conventional.“
Emphasis ours. There is further discussion on the militarisation of “what has been a docile diaspora” in the US and Canada.
International journalists and Stratfor
As Wikileaks notes,
“Stratfor did secret deals with dozens of media organisations and journalists – from Reuters to the Kiev Post. The list of Stratfor’s “Confederation Partners”, whom Stratfor internally referred to as its “Confed Fuck House” are included in the release. While it is acceptable for journalists to swap information or be paid by other media organisations, because Stratfor is a private intelligence organisation that services governments and private clients these relationships are corrupt or corrupting.“
It is in this light that we must critically consider emails dealing with meetings and communications with, for example, Peter Apps and Bryson Hull from Reuters, both extremely well known international journalists who have been in and reported extensively on Sri Lanka, during and after war.
In September 2011, in setting up meetings with the Reuters journalist, Peter Apps is described as “my best Reuters contact” by Kyle Rhodes, who handles Public Relations and Communications for Stratfor. We wonder what this means, and what the precise nature and length of the relationship with Stratfor has been?
A year before this, Bryson Hull, writing to Stratfor from his official Reuters email account as Bureau Chief, Sri Lanka and Maldives, introduces the Reuters Bureau
Chief for the Andean region and another individual who deals with “oil, politics and mayhem”. They are introduced as “journalists of the first class”. Bryson’s long-standing relationship with Stratfor is clearly revealed in how he addresses his recipient, Reva Bhalla, who he calls an “ace-in-the-hole analyst” and goes on to say,
“She is a whiz on South Asia and we had a very successful relationship during the end of the war in Sri Lanka and during my travels in South Asia.”
Again, what is the precise nature of this “successful relationship”, how did it come about, what did it entail and did Reuters HQ know about and endorse this?
Stratfor’s revealing argot
The emails published on Wikileaks by Stratfor employees were never meant to be seen beyond the organisation. Now that they are public however, the expression and tone employed in the email provide insights into the mentality of the staff. Some examples have been published above.
There are others.
Take for example this revealing exchange in response to an email by one someone who appears to be a subscriber to one of Stratfor email listservs, which has an expression that is overtly, unashamedly xenophobic (dealing with India).
New words that are meaningless, like “awesomeliciousness” are frequently coined and used in these emails.
A final example comes from Stratfor’s Marko Papic, who in response to an email by Mark Koenig states,
“Dude… are you saying you are responsible for the assassination of a journalist? Dude… that is just cold.
And yes, I am laughing because the end bit sounds like something out of a fucking george orwell novel about the Raj! Hahahhahaha… fuck it. Enjoy the privileges afforded to the white man on the subcontinent!”
Given what may yet be discovered from the tranche of Stratfor emails (and Wikileaks is, at the time of writing this, still releasing new material), the content above could pale into insignificance as more details emerge about how the organisation and its staff, informants and consultants acted on Sri Lanka and interacted with key actors, before, during and after the war in particular.
Stratfor’s world is different to the one we inhabit. In it, routine and overtly robust analysis as a high value commodity requires information to be acquired first, and preferably, exclusively. The resulting network of relationships and patronage across sectors, countries, groups and governments is revealed through these emails.
Who in Sri Lanka worked with Stratfor? Which organisations, including government agencies, ministries and departments, knowingly or unknowingly employed its consultants and staff? Why are journalists who have written on Sri Lanka so closely known to, and working with, Stratfor staff? Is there a money trail connecting those who gave information on Sri Lanka to Stratfor, and will this be revealed in future releases on Wikileaks? As importantly, who in Sri Lanka’s mainstream media can and will take up an investigation into the complex networks and relationships between Stratfor and key actors in Sri Lanka’s politico-military apparatus, already strongly hinted at in emails released? Given Stratfor’s reach, and the Sri Lankan government’s proclivities towards the freedom of expression, will such a piece make it to print?
Ask the questions. Demand the answers.