Among the millions of other leaked Stratfor emails are some that reveal dubious financial practices, including an apparent insider trading scheme with Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz, who joined Stratfor’s board of directors and invested “substantially” more than $4 million in the scheme, called StratCap. “What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments,” wrote Stratfor CEO George Friedman in September 2011. StratCap was designed through a complex offshore share structure to appear legally independent, but Friedman assured Stratfor staff otherwise: “Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral… It will be useful to you… We are already working on mock portfolios and trades.” (StratCap has been due to launch in 2012, though that could now change.) [emphasis added]
I wrote about Stratfor/Wikileaks here. The StratCap documents are here. They reveal plans by Stratfor chief executive officer George Friedman and colleagues to establish an event arbitrage and global macro fund that would trade on the basis of Stratfor’s geopolitical and strategic intelligence. Friedman and colleagues envisioned a $US25 million fund with a 10% equity investment from Stratfor: small for global macro but possible for a boutique event arbitrage or special event fund. The emails deal with the fund’s offshore structure; the service agreement; the role and compensation of Shea Morenz; and Stratfor’s role to provide StratCap with actionable intelligence.
“From where I sit, this deal is dead,” Friedman wrote on 23rd July 2011. The deal show-stoppers included Friedman’s discontent with attorney Bruce Herzog‘s handling of the service agreement and anger over a $US200,000 fee (“for Bruce’s clumsy attempts to undermine the process”); an immediate tax liability that impacted on the initial investment capital; potentially adverse effects on Stratfor’s publishing business and working capital; and the potential for Shea and StratCap to bankrupt Stratfor through demanding potentially unlimited strategic intelligence. These show-stoppers made the deal non-viable: it exposed Stratfor to credit and transaction risks.
Friedman explained in his 23rd July 2011 email to Stratfor colleagues:
I can imagine easily a scenario in which StratCap’s demands outstrips Stratfor’s means to the point that StratCap would hold Stratfor in default and even push it into bankruptcy with StratCap the major creditor. Nothing in the course of the negotiations gives me the slightest hope that Bruce would not do this in a heart beat and that Shea wouldn’t let him. I regard the proposed service agreement as a threat to the survival of Stratfor as a company under Don and my control. [emphasis added]
Friedman notes: “I have no intention of being the Chairman of a failed investment fund . . . I will not be the public image of StratCap, ridiculed for the failure of an enterprise that was built to fail.” (A reference to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’s influential management book Built to Last.)
StratCap may have run into other problems if the fund had launched. In 2002, Goldman Sachs paid a $US110 million fine to separate its sell-side research from Goldman’s trading activities. So did dotcom era analyst Henry Blodget. Morgan Stanley paid $US125 million in fines though analyst Mary Meeker escaped prosecution. It’s possible that Friedman and Stratfor may have faced similar fines or regulatory threats if they had proceeded with the StratCap deal.
Yesterday the activist site Wikileaksprepared to publish 5 million emails from the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. Anonymoushacked Stratfor on 24th December 2011 and gained access to client passwords, databases, and internal emails. Wikileaks claims the emails: “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.”
The leak prompted some hilarious and insightful responses from political pundits. “That @Wikileaks thinks publishing @Stratfor emails matters is a big compliment for Stratfor, biggest sign yet that Wikileaks is clueless,” tweeted Dan Drezner, and then he wrote a Stratfor/Wikileaks critique. “Statfor is on the mild end of the scary shadow CIA/stodgy think tank spectrum,” observed Dan Murphy for The Christian Science Monitor. “A friend who works in intelligence once joked that Stratfor is just The Economist a week later and several hundred times more expensive,” notedThe Atlantic‘s Max Fisher.
I briefly subscribed to Stratfor so am probably on the leaked email/credit card list. I found many of Stratfor’s weekly reports to inflate threats. I got Friedman’s first book America’s Secret Warduring the book buy-up for my PhD but found it to be sensationalistic. Several Stratfor analysts contacted me whilst I edited the alternative news site Disinformation and claimed to be ex-psychological operations people.
I seriously considered developing a private intelligence capability on two occasions.
The first time was at Disinformation in 2000, I pitched a subscriber service to publisher Gary Baddeley that would do for the nascent conspiracy industry what Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood does for the United States entertainment industry. I also had in mind the subscriber services that do 5-8 page summaries of business books. Baddeley wasn’t interested and the nascent conspiracy industry evaporated after the September 11 attacks.
The second time was at the Smart Internet Technology CRC (SITCRC): I scoped out a project for Canberra firm The Distillery and looked at the major international and Australian firms that provided market intelligence on information technology trends. I proposed a market intelligence capability for the Smart Services CRC successful bid that would use strategic foresight and strategic intelligence methods. However, this remained scoped out work only for the unfinished Disruptive Internet project, although I did trial the methods in a public blog for a month. I left the CRC in March 2007 due to infra-team conflict.
During preparation for my PhD studies I considered several topics. One was on design patterns and counter-terrorism. A second idea was ‘The Markets for Political Risk: An Analytic View’ modelled on the research of Deborah Avant (The Market For Force) and Andrew Lo (Hedge Funds: An Analytic Perspective). I outlined the historical precursors to Stratfor (RAND, Royal Dutch/Shell, and Kissinger & Associates); found six market segments; considered risk arbitrage, securitisation and trading applications; and began to develop contagion/rumour models. I noted that Friedman “may cultivate ’boutique mystique’ as reputational capital.” In 2009, I began reading the hedge fund and trading literature, and decided it was easier to develop a personal capability for market arbitrage and trading (reflected on during an October 2011 visit to Tokyo’s Stock Exchange). In March 2011, I began a part-time PhD on the strategic culture debate and counter-terrorism studies (2011 initial proposal PDF).
Stratfor’s chief executive officer George Friedman is scheduled to speak at SXSW Interactive 2012 in Austin. I’ll definitely be attending.
On 27th February 1998, my then-girlfriend/initiatrix/constant and I saw our first episode of J. Michael Straczynski’s science fiction series Babylon 5: the season three finale ‘Z‘ha’dum’. I was unfamiliar with the five-year narrative arc of Straczynski’s series, its characters, and world. The episode seemed to be about betrayal, the evolutionary dynamic of chaos versus order, and the Tibetan Bardo Thodol. I had studied script-writing and decided to take some notes. At about 8pm, I went to the home office of our house in Brynor Court, Preston, Melbourne (Australia) to write. I started in Microsoft Word with the B5’s open credits. The imaginal document then began to change, similar to Ericksonian hypnosis, Jungian depth psychology, and automatic writing. Ninety minutes later, I was exhausted, and The Book of Oblique Strategies was the result.
Oblique Strategies refers to Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s 1975 oracular, aleatory deck. I used readings from this deck in Disinformation’s daily newsletter from 2000 to 2008. Joe Nolan interviewed me about this period. I’ve written about Eno’s 2009 ‘Scenius’ talk and what researchers can learn from him. I’ve also commented on Alfred Hermida’s ambient journalism and its creative implications. But the document isn’t an Eno pastiche. It isn’t an attempt to copy Crowley’s Book of the Law. I wasn’t on a grandiose ego trip: I knew of the ‘magus of the week’ phenomenon on the alt.magick and alt.satanism newsgroups and I didn’t found my own organisation. I was struggling to make sense of cryptic, dense, multi-layered information with multiple meanings and significances. John Lilly likened such experiences to the ‘supra-self meta-programmer’ that can reshape the Self. The first hermeneutic ‘analysis and commentary’ document came to 50 pages. The 2011 commentary is about 30 pages and remains confidential.
Most poignantly, a section foreshadows the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror (GWOT). ‘Dakshineswar’ = both the Kali worship centre of Dakshineswar, India and ‘War Shines Da(r)k’. ‘I return Home in the Year of the Fire to unleash fiery Helter Skelter’ = the 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks and the ensuing confusion. (The internal representation of these lines was an image of fire seen from space: probably the influence on me of the 1982-83 nuclear war scare.) Bush announced the GWOT on my birthday — 20th September 2001 — as I was in-flight to attend author Howard Bloom’s wedding in New York City. The document thus has an underlying, consistent and self-generative metaphysics, ontology, cosmology and epistemology that emerges with hermeneutic analysis. I later discovered that others like Zeena and Nikolas Schreck had their own experiences with Kali and war archetypes at a similar time-period. Whilst studying counter-terrorism in 2005, I discovered that cyberculture had also influenced Shoko Asahara and Aum Shinrikyo cult members. Elsewhere, I have explored the moment that the GWOT emerged and the initial media reactions to it.
Australia’s current Prime Minister Julia Gillard has decisively defeatedKevin Rudd in a caucus leadership challenge 71 to 31 votes. The past week in Australian federal politics has been a fascinating case study in China’s 36 stratagems. Rudd’s initial resignation announcement exemplified ‘stomp the grass to scare the snake.’ His trip from Washington DC to Brisbane seemed like ‘leisurely await for the laboured’. Gillard’s counter-attack was ‘borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul’ (on the Australian Labor Party’s history and election chances) and ‘shut the door to catch the thief’ (gaining the numbers to defeat Rudd). Now, Rudd probably faces only one option: ‘If all else fails, retreat’ . . . to write the tell-all autobiography and do foreign policy consulting . . .
Hollywood is, in some ways, the model lottery industry. For most companies in the business, it doesn’t make economic sense to, as Google does, put promising young applicants through a series of tests and then hire only the small number who pass. Instead, it’s cheaper for talent agencies and studios to hire a lot of young workers and run them through a few years of low-paying drudgery. (Actors are another story altogether. Many never get steady jobs in the first place.) This occupational centrifuge allows workers to effectively sort themselves out based on skill and drive. Over time, some will lose their commitment; others will realize that they don’t have the right talent set; others will find that they’re better at something else. [emphasis added]
Davidson’s thesis is that this “economic lottery system” pushes talent to the top. He cites Hollywood actors and directors, and Big Four accountants who survive the ‘up or out’ system to make partner (William D. Cohan has interviewed the Wall Street losers). Davidson connects tournament theory — the study of individuals who have relative advantages in salary and wage negotiations — to disruptive innovation (PDF), globalisation, technology and other mega-trends that are creating a ‘race to the bottom’ dynamic. How can individuals cope with these changes? “In a lottery-based economy, you need some luck, too; now, perhaps, more than ever,” Davidson advises. “People should be prepared to enter a few different lotteries, because the new Plan B is just going to be another long shot in a different field.”
For Davidson the “economic lottery system” model is the New Hollywood. The reality is a little more complex. Classical Hollywood’s studio production system flourished from the 1930s until the ‘go go’ Sixties when the modern conglomerates collapsed. For a brief period from 1968-73, independent producers flourished before the studios fought back with the blockbuster film, new marketing, distribution, and control of ancillary revenue streams. A similar pattern occurred in the 1995-2000 dotcom period (PDF) in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, and London. Ben Eltham and I found in a 2010 academic paper that Australia’s film industry fluctuated depending on a mixture of Australian Government intervention, available labour, and international tax arbitrage. Eltham and I both read Nikki Finke’s influential blog Deadline Hollywood.
History also differs on the New Hollywood exemplars that Davidson selects. “Barry Diller and David Geffen each started his career in the William Morris mailroom,” Davidson observes. Tom King’s biography The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood (New York: Random House, 2000) details what actually happened over this six month period in late 1964-early 1965 before Geffen became secretary to television agent Ben Griefer (pp. 46-52). Geffen lied to WM’s Howard Portnoy that he was Phil Spector’s cousin. Geffen lied about having a college education and persuaded his brother Mitchell to write a letter and cover this up. When they met, Diller “thought Geffen was a rather odd duck for using his vacation time to work in the company’s other office” (p. 50). Geffen networked with agent Herb Gart, “stalked” New York office head Nat Lefkowitz, and got his break from Scott Shukat. Geffen relied on chutzpah, hard work, networking, and having a career goal: “signing actors.” No wonder that Geffen hated King’s biography.
These qualities are essential to Davidson’s “occupational centrifuge.” When academics ask me about their Dean’s budget and resource allocative controls, and why universities are now like Davidson’s “economic lottery system”, I suggest they invest time in watching the film Moneyball (a film in part about tournament theory), and understanding the performance and value creation goals of private equity firms (the mental model of consultants who possibly advise the Dean).
I haven’t finished the academic journal articles on those ideas yet . . .
“Alex James Burns is pleased to announce the birth of a baby 15 years in the making! Health Staff went Live today – far from finished, but well on track. Lovely to hear that Seek made a $60.6 million ½ year Net Profit – up 27% on last year. We’d be happy with 10% of that haha. Just Google health staff – I’d appreciate any feedback.”
“In many areas of our research there is no community interest in the outcomes until much further down the track,” Sheil stated. There is, however, significant community interest where academic publications are publicly and affordably accessible. For many people, the publishing and distribution model is Apple’s iTunes store and Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book software; Google Scholar (to search for academic publications); or a free site like Scribd.com. Many people are still not yet used to academic research being publicly accessible.
“In the humanities and many other areas it can be difficult to get published,” Sheil notes. Humanities is an area in which the ARC’s ‘original creative works’ category serves an important purpose. The economics of Australian publishing has led some universities to pursue e-presses. The academic blogging debate noted that other, non-journal avenues are increasingly being explored — areas which are not included in the ARC’s definition of academic publication.
“And what do you do about research for which the main form of publication is books?”, Sheil asks. This is an issue for publishing contracts. Mainstream and major academic publisher books are still more accessible to the community than many academic journals are. Book prices compare more favourably to the high prices charged for a single journal article. Many publishers now have lower-cost e-book versions.
I differ on Sheil’s final comment: “It’s not that hard for a scientist to get papers into some sort of repository that’s open access.” In fact, academic publishers place restrictions on repositories: only allowing the author’s final version sent to the publisher rather than the final journal version, for example. I’ve noted previously that the internet used to be a freer place for academic publishing; that open access publishing enhances peer review; and that academics currently sign-over control of their intellectual property to the major academic publishers in order to get published (and to get recognition from university promotions committees and their peers). This enables publishers to use a ‘walled garden‘ approach and to charge a high price for an individual article. The authors and their universities usually never receive a portion of these future revenue streams. In contrast, book publishers can give academics a royalty stream, and creative industries such as music have rights agencies and different approaches to the underlying intellectual property.
Sheil raises some important issues and problems that need further debate. However, the NHMRC has a more progressive approach.
Australian National University professor Hugh White and the Lowy Institute’s Sam Roggeveen have each reflected on Cornall-Black; Australia’s understanding of Asia; diplomacy versus intelligence; and the value of open source intelligence (in deference to US grand strategist George Kennan). Kate Grayson and I responded separately to White and Roggeveen. White also responded to Roggeveen. I will probably respond to White tomorrow. This is an unfolding, interesting debate.
The so-called fourth generation of strategic culture frameworks in international security — long-term, culturally transmitted factors that shape decisions on the use of force — have focused on understanding adversaries, combat learning and policy relevance. Leading scholars include University of Reading’s Patrick Porter and the American Enterprise Institute’s Thomas Donnelly. Foreign Policy‘s Zygmunt Dembek and Dean Cheng has compiled a list of “the readings that provide insight into the philosophies and tactics of our enemies, past, present, and perhaps future”: a useful primer for understanding potential adversaries and their strategic culture.
John Overdurf is an interesting neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) trainer. He recently posted a recording of an NLP introductory session held in Zagreb, Croatia, in September 2010. The session features Overdurf’s ‘All You Are Is Change’ routine; a Milton Erickson story; a discussion of nominalisation (turning processes or verbs into things or nouns); and Overdurf’s personal interpretation of psychology and the quantum zeno effect. Overdurf’s presentation has some seamless metaphors, nested loops, anchors, timelines, and other NLP techniques.