6th March 2012: SXSW 2012 Sabbatical


I’m taking a sabbatical over the next 10 days to visit Austin, TX for SXSW Interactive 2012 with Rosie X. I’ll be meeting University of Texas at Austin professor Jeremi Suri about his work; and having face-to-face chats with Disinformation‘s publisher Gary Baddeley, and Austinites Roy Christopher and Don Webb. I’m looking forward to the session with Stratfor founder George Friedman: read my analyses of the Wikileaks leaked emails and the planned hedge fund StratCap. In the meantime, you can read my body of work to-date.

28th February 2012: Wikileaks & Stratfor’s Emails

Stratfor in December 2011


Yesterday the activist site Wikileaks prepared to publish 5 million emails from the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. Anonymous hacked 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,” noted The 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 War during 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.


During my postgraduate studies I studied under David Wright-Neville, Andrew Newman and Philip Gregory, and wrote essays on Ulrich Beck‘s world risk society (PDF); Rupert Murdoch’s use of game theory (PDF); considered the developments circa 2002 for news publishers (PDF); explored the collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management (PDF); outlined the post-September 11 changes to intelligence services (PDF); and evaluated DARPA’s Terrorism Information Awareness system (PDF).


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.

25th November 2011: Reconstructing Disinfo.com Dossier Archives

I recently started a Google Scholar personal profile. I spent a day importing most of my academic publication history from the past decade. (There are a few gaps, such as some unpublished work I did on Clayton Christensen and Google for the Smart Internet Technology CRC in 2006-07. I’m reworking that material for peer reviewed journal articles.)

The biggest challenge was what to do with my Disinformation material, which was never peer-reviewed nor published in an academic journal.

I edited the site on a daily basis in two stints: November 1999 to August 2002, and April 2003 to February 2008. I took over from co-founder Richard Metzger who had launched the site on 13th September 1996, and Russ Kick took over from me in the interim, before launching his Alternewswire project. The first period is archived here whilst The Wayback Machine has a snapshot of Disinfo.com’s historical evolution here.

21C publisher/editor Ashley Crawford put me in contact with Metzger in mid-1998 after an RU Sirius profile. Metzger suggested I write some dossiers – partly as a therapeutic outlet to get over 21C‘s print demise and a messy relationship break-up. I emailed him profiles of Anton LaVey, George Gurdjieff, memetic engineering and space migration. When Razorfish acquired The Disinformation Company, Metzger and publisher Gary Baddeley tapped me to edit the site whilst they worked on the Disinfo Nation series for the United Kingdom’s Channel 4. 2000 and 2001 were my most productive years.

By mid-2002 I was burnt out and had turned to archival material from my La Trobe University student newspaper Rabelais, 21C and other sources. I also experimented with event-driven news reportage using lessons from information visualisation, values systems theory, media studies and political science. One day whilst drafting a dossier on the philosopher Peter Ouspensky I realised that I just couldn’t write anymore. Metzger and Baddeley had watched the content decline and reached a similar conclusion.

When he took over the daily editing responsibilities, Russ Kick brought a different, current issues sensibility to the site (Metzger excelled as a curator which he continues to do at his new project Dangerous Minds). My 2003-2008 period shifted away from writing original material to daily news coverage, as I completed graduate school and worked full-time as a researcher for the Smart Internet Technology CRC. Baddely wanted the site to be more blog-like and user-driven. I wrote a final editorial message to Disinformation’s readers that summed up the new user-driven direction, which the site continues with today.

I never kept a daily list of the specific dates that dossiers were published on. We lost several dossiers during site transfers. The early content management platforms did not have the functionality of today’s WordPress and Movable Type blogs. For instance, there were no version control or  rollback features, so articles may have been published at earlier dates than the current site version might suggest. From 1998 to 2002 I did compile an editorial master list of possible topics for the freelance contributors to explore, keyed to an old site topic structure: the Disinformation archives are thus only one of several possible sites that could have eventuated over the 1998-2003 period.

I am reconstructing a timeline of rough year dates, in order to get the bibliographic and citation data of the Disinformation dossiers and articles archived in Google Scholar (and possibly into Swinburne University’s research bank). The initial printout of the relevant dossiers and articles comes to 5 pages — larger in size than the academic research I’ve subsequently done. The material varies from excellent to failed experiments and deadline-driven messes.

It feels strange to re-engage with this material for archival and citation purposes — it feels like another lifetime ago.

PhD: Academic Publications & Scholarly Research History

For the past five years I’ve been working on ‘draft zero’ of a PhD project on counterterrorism, intelligence, and the ‘strategic culture’ debate within international relations theory and strategic studies.

The project ‘flew past me’ during a trip to New York City, shortly after the September 11 attacks, and whilst talking with author Howard Bloom, culture maven Richard Metzger, Disinformation publisher Gary Baddeley, and others. An important moment was standing on the roof of Bloom’s apartment building in Park Slopes, Brooklyn, and seeing the dust cloud over Ground Zero.

The ‘draft zero’ is about 240,000 words of exploratory notes, sections, and working notes; about 146,000 of these words are computer text, whilst 80,000 is handwritten (and thus different, and more fragmentary).

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll write about the PhD application process, and the project when it gets formally under way, to share insights and ‘lessons learned’.

For now, here’s a public version of my CV and academic publications track record (PDF).

This is part of the background material prepared for the target university’s formal application process. In the publications section, the letter and numbers relate to Australia’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) coding for the annual, institutional process of Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC); and the 2010 final rankings of peer reviewed journals for the Australian Research Council‘s (ARC) Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) program. Universities and research institutions in Australia use the ARC, ERA, HERDC and DEEWR codings for bibliometrics, inter-institutional benchmarking, and to inform the strategic formulation, development and review of research investment portfolios.