The remarkable thing about the Stratfor Wikileaks flap is what it says about America 2001-2011. A hyper-militarized society conditioned to fear the outside world, prostrate itself before ‘the warfighter’ and venerate the clandestine inevitably would create a Stratfor-like entity.
This is exactly why places like The Atlantic get it precisely wrong. Here, the The Atlantic smugly assures us, the -in-the-know-Atlantic-reader, that George Friedman and others (some of whom the Stiftung knows) built a fairly significant cash flow from nothing based purely on ‘marketing.’
Something more than ‘marketing’ is revealed by Stratfor’s significant cash flow. (Friedman after all makes more money than Newsweek/TheDailyBeast. We’d be interested in seeing The Atlantic’s numbers). Corporate intelligence subscription newsletters have catered to Wall Street and executives for decades. Still, Friedman’s achievement building a business from nothing to today’s enterprise is a fact.
How did it start?
First, Friedman and others began when open source intelligence (i.e. reliance on public information/non-clandestine collection) was still largely derided by the Intelligence Community. Some today probably get this intellectually. What can’t be conveyed are the culture and its baleful influence. Using Google back then was in fact an innovation.
Second, George started out gathering an initially eclectic but wide range of contributors who brought expertise and contacts not always available to the pre-9/11 Intelligence Community. That was the market he sought to attack. Before 2001 the Community suffered from internal ossification, pre-occupation with internally developed product and often was out of touch. Even Sandy Berger bemoaned this state.
Having said all that, Stratfor is what you know it to be. How did it prosper over the years? Compete with the post-9/11 staggering budget bubble for war, intelligence and security? One would think the overwhelming trebling of Community budget, proliferation of private intelligence companies and DoD’s expanded intelligence roles would blow a corporate newsletter out of the water.
Nope. Best thing ever. War and a militarized foreign policy meant Stratfor, like any outside product, could never compete with the policy decision loop. Still being perceived as being a part of it all is lucrative.
Hence the derisive ‘marketing’ jibe. Yet if marketing is important, what was the product George sold people and companies? A sense of participation. Like Rock ‘N Roll Fantasy Camp.
But it’s too easy to write off Stratfor as just a wannabe pretender (like The Atlantic and everyone else does; we have here,too). Certainly Wikileaks milks Stratfor for publicity.
Stratfor and its relative success are a minor mirror for our times. Like a party favor for a society still celebrating the clandestine, the secret, the exclusive, the operator. It won’t be the last.