Fun and Games With Stratfor

APD and DPS collaborated with private ‘geopolitical intelligence
firm’ – including bomb demonstrations and undercover surveillance

from One of the murkier and more forbidding aspects of the post-9/11 world
has been the massive growth of what’s become known as the “intelligence
industrial complex.” Simi­lar to its sibling, the “military industrial
complex” (as it was called by President Dwight Eisenhower), the
intelligence industrial complex is a national and international web of
numerous partnerships between government and various private corporate
entities of all shapes and sizes.
In a major 2010 report by The Washington Post
on “Top Secret America,” investigators summarized, “Some 1,271
government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs
related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about
10,000 locations across the United States.” That was four years ago;
despite federal budget cuts, this quasi-“defense” economic sector has
continued to grow.

Based on the broad figures provided in annual federal budgets, from
2001 to 2012, spending on “homeland security” has quadrupled. During
that time, the federal government has persistently outsourced
intelligence work, as government employees routinely carry their
security clearances into the private sector. (The Post estimated
that 854,000 people – or roughly the total population of Austin – held
“top-secret” security clearances nationwide as of 2010.) Consider just
Booz Allen Hamilton, former employer of National Security Agency
whistle-blower Edward Snowden and the company where he accessed the
documents he leaked. According to a U.S. General Services listing of
government contractors, BAH maintains extensive connections with
government agencies and provides a variety of services, including
intelligence gathering and analysis, worth in 2012 more than $4 billion.

However, you needn’t travel to Hawaii, where Snowden worked, to find
examples of overlap between government, law enforcement, and private
intelligence. You don’t even need to leave Austin.

The Stratfor Hack

On Dec. 24, 2011, activist Jeremy Ham­mond completed several weeks of
work hacking the computer files of Austin-based global intelligence
company Strategic Forecasting, Inc., better known as “Strat­for.” Soon
afterwards, several of the company’s emails and many of its subscriber
credit card numbers were released on the Internet. By February 2012, the
material made it to the website of Wikileaks, which gradually began to
release more emails. An early release revealed a connection between
Stratfor and the Texas Department of Pub­lic Safety, concerning the DPS
surveillance of Occupy Austin. (See “Strange Bedfel­lows,” Feb. 3,
2012). Those documents reflect that a Texas DPS agent was providing
undercover intelligence information on Occupy protesters not only to his
state agency superiors, but to private firm Stratfor – although neither
the company nor the DPS would provide any additional information or
comment on the relationship, and DPS claimed at the time that it
couldn’t verify the existence of any undercover agent.

On Nov. 15, 2013 – the day Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in
prison for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (and after holding
them back during Hammond’s trial) – Wikileaks posted on its website the
rest of the Stratfor emails. The Wikileaks website now includes posts
of more than five million Stratfor emails, dating from July 2004 through
December 2011. It’s an imposing data file, and has steadily revealed
more about the inner workings of the intelligence industrial complex.

Asked by the Chronicle for comment on the additional emails, a
Stratfor spokesman referred to the company’s standard response,
originally attributed to founder and chairman George Friedman: “Some of
the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies. Some may be
authentic. We will not validate either, nor will we explain the
thinking that went into them. Having had our property stolen, we will
not be victimized twice by submitting to questioning about them.” (See
“Stratfor’s Web,” March 9, 2012.)

Boys and Their Toys

On its website, Stratfor describes itself as “a geopolitical
intelligence firm that provides strategic analysis and forecasting to
individuals and organizations around the world” – in other words, a
high-tone foreign policy think tank – and it regularly issues news
bulletins and analytical essays to its subscribers. But the hacked
emails (which Wikileaks dubbed “The Global Intelligence Files”) reveal
another, much more local aspect of the privately owned company. The
emails reflect that Stratfor has cultivated relationships with members
of the Austin Police Department and the Texas Depart­ment of Public
Safety for the purpose of gathering locally based “intelligence” –
specifically, surveillance of protest groups – that one would presume
(perhaps naively) would not normally be shared beyond immediate law
enforcement circles. In addition to the sharing of confidential
information about local activists, the emails also reflect several
examples of trainings or demonstrations provided to Stratfor by APD

For example, throughout August 2011, a number of Stratfor emails
discuss an APD demonstration for Stratfor employees using live
explosives near Austin-Bergstrom Inter­national Airport. In an internal
Stratfor email dated Aug. 27, 2011, with the subject line “weekly,”
Stratfor Vice President Fred Burton announced blissfully: “The highlight
of the week was the Austin Police Department (APD) Bomb Squad ‘special’
training session for Stratfor staff. A six-man team augmented by the
Austin Fire and EMS set off a wide variance of explosive charges for our
group, to include ANFO [i.e., ammonium nitrate/fuel oil]. The staff got
a chance to feel, smell and touch ‘real’ explosives; and feel the
energy output when bombs are detonated (called a blast wave). The sound
and color of the various explosives will enable the team to better
understand attack scenes from as they say at Foggy Bottom [i.e., the
U.S. State Depart­ment] ‘dispatches afar.’ We also examined the blast
seats (craters). Several said it was the best damn training they have
ever received at Stratfor. We also had a little bit of fun (or panic)
when two brush fires were started. … Man ‘ole man was it fun.”

(Burton’s personal notions of amusement are already notorious from
earlier email releases, as when he speculated on the possibility of the
U.S. killing or torturing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at
Guan­ta­namo, and reminisced about the good old days at the State
Department when political assassinations were not so controversial.
Here’s Burton (April 27, 2010), musing nostalgically on Bolivian
President Evo Morales and then Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: “Back
in the day, we would have been planning [Morales’] (and Chavez’s)
helicopter ‘accident.’ Guess I’m getting old, I think it’s best to keep
these lads around for comic relief.”)

In addition to the oddity of APD blowing things up for the
entertainment (or “understanding”) of a private company, the brush fires
mentioned by Burton (and apparently extinguished by the Austin Fire
Department, which was standing by along with EMS) occurred during a
countywide burn ban, and the worst year of the current severe drought –
indeed, less than two weeks before the great Bastrop County fire.
Seemingly oblivious to these conditions, Burton emailed Stratfor
employees the day of the demonstration, flippantly warning: “If anyone
calls from the arson squad, we were never there. … Admit nothing, deny
everything, make counter-accusations. (CIA Bombing School motto).”

But the live explosives demonstration, while undoubtedly “fun” for
Burton and his colleagues, was also – according to an email sent before
the demonstration to Burton from APD Senior Officer Robert Nunez – “law
enforcement sensitive” (the phrase routinely used by APD brass to
classify information as confidential). Nunez advised Burton, “Photos are
ok, no video … we don’t like seeing any bomb squad stuff on any
social media sites.” Asked for comment recently, Cmdr. Nick Wright of
APD’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal division explained via email, “Live
explosive demonstrations are very rare,” and contrary to Nunez’s earlier
warning to Burton, Wright later added that “no law enforcement
sensitive information is shared.” Nevertheless, Burton was thoroughly
pleased with the demonstration, writing to Stratfor employees three days
after the demonstration: “The folks are kind enough to cook off
whatever we want to see.”

Earlier this month, the Chronicle asked APD the purpose of
this exercise, and received a response that essentially echoed Burton’s
internal Stratfor emails. Cmdr. Wright explained, via email: “The
explosives demonstration was a familiarization training for Stratfor
analysts so they better understand the intel they processed around the
globe regarding improvised explosives and their capabilities.” Wright
added, “The demonstrations are part of the regional explosive awareness
training mission performed by the Bomb Squad for various law enforcement
and governmental agencies. Stratfor was considered a partner NGO
(Non-Governmental Organization) and U.S. Government contractor in the
global war on terrorism through its activities in the global
intelligence field.”

Team Building

The Stratfor emails reflect that watching APD personnel ignite
explosives was believed to be of crucial importance to the “analytical”
work of Stratfor staffers. According to an internal email dated Aug. 24,
2011, the day of the demonstration, Stratfor employee Sean Noonan
informed Burton and others, “I’m hop[ing] all of you that thought this
was just for fun and games understand how important this is to us
tactical analysts understanding what we are doing.”

In another email, Officer Nunez provided Burton with a list of six
APD officers, including himself, who attended the demonstration, adding
“We appreciate the cooperation and open communications.” It’s unclear
why Stratfor would need a list of APD officers who were present, but
another Stratfor email offers at least one hint – the eagerness of APD
personnel to take part in the theatrics – and perhaps, eventually, to
have an opportunity to join the Stratfor “team,” in the long-standing
tradition of mutual interests between uniformed police forces and
private security firms.

According to an Oct. 2, 2011, email, Strat­for employee Jen Richmond
wrote Burton: “James Stanesic – the detective that has helped me out so
much – texted me today and said he heard a rumor that we were
collaborating with the APD. I told him that we were but that I didn’t
know the specific details. He said: ‘I want in.’ You know I can’t
recommend him enough, so whatever we are doing, I highly suggest him
being on the ‘team.’ He’s one of the best cops I’ve met.”

Intel ‘R’ Us

And this “collaborating” and “cooperation” extended beyond explosives
and beyond APD. Numerous emails reflect the sharing with Stratfor of
undercover information on local activist groups.

For example, an email dated Dec. 5, 2011, sent from APD officer J.J.
Schmidt was forwarded to Burton by APD Lt. Tom Sweeney: it contains
information about an Occupy Austin march to Chase Bank at 221 W. Sixth
that took place on Dec. 8, 2011. Schmidt’s email contained APD’s
confidentiality notice; despite that warning, Burton was told, “It is
unclear how many people will be in attendance. It appears that the bank
is the target of the protest, however, there are a few other offices of
concern at this location.” However, Sweeney added, “[w]e don’t expect
trouble.” One possible “office of concern” would be that of Stratfor
itself, also located in the Chase Bank office building. In another
internal email regarding a different march, Burton shares similar
information that came “from an LE [Law Enforcement] intel source.”

When asked about APD’s policy regarding informing businesses about
the activities of protesters, Wright responded (somewhat at
cross-purposes), “APD does not have [a] policy [of] informing businesses
when protesters are expected. However, if there is a public threat to a
business then it is the Austin Police Department’s duty and obligation
to let the businesses know.”

APD was not Stratfor’s only source for information on activists.
According to a Dec. 14, 2011, email, DPS Agent David Dud­ley provided
Burton with “research” on Occu­py Austin, environmental activist group
Deep Green Resistance, and local organizers LoveATX, whose website lists
their goals as “develop holistic culture” and “unite for progress.”
Dudley wrote ominously to Burton that LoveATX “has a website that seems
all warm and fluffy, but ….” He includes a two-and-half-page research
document by an unnamed author (possibly Dudley himself), titled: “‘Deep
Green Resist­ance’ Joins Forces with ‘Occupy Well Street.'” “Occupy Well
Street” was the name given by Occupy to activism concerning natural gas
“fracking,” and the document mainly recounts anti-fracking protest

After numerous requests, DPS would not comment on Dudley’s activities
nor his relationship with Stratfor. A spokesman would only confirm that
“David Dudley is a Criminal Investigations Division agent stationed in

One person mentioned in the Dudley email is Occupy Austin participant and 2012 City Council candidate John Duffy, who told the Chronicle
via email, “Seeing your phone number in [APD] documents is a bit
worrisome, because it makes you wonder if they are listening to your
calls. … It just seemed so disproportionate to what Occupy was doing.”

Punching Stratfor’s Ticket

The dubious relationships among Strat­for, APD, and DPS remain
unexplained to this date, and none of the parties are eager to discuss
the subject. APD describes the bomb demonstration as “an attempt [by
APD] to stay well informed,” but the department also confirmed that
“there are no legal contracts, agreements that document this
relationship” with Stratfor – unlike a direct government contractor that
might at least be bound by contract terms.

DPS had even less to say, and in the absence of more information –
unlikely to be forthcoming – it remains unknown how Stratfor came to
receive the access it has to the state law enforcement agency. Equally
troubling, it’s also unclear under what legal authority a now
acknowledged DPS agent was providing undercover intelligence directly to

Stratfor VP Burton’s own brief stint at the DPS, in 2009, as
Assistant Director for Intelligence & Counterterrorism, likely
played a role in establishing Stratfor’s network. According to Burton’s
“weekly” email about the live explosives demonstration, “You simply
can’t pay (nor get in) this kinda training without having the right
tickets punched.”

In that context, Burton was apparently not shy about returning agency
favors, as suggested by law enforcement personnel clamoring to join his
“team.” He’s also listed on the board of directors of the Greater
Austin Crime Commission, an organization of mostly local businessmen and
a few public officials devoted to “public safety.” In that capacity, he
reports in an Oct. 2, 2011, Stratfor email string that he met with the
ACC in “executive session” (presumably the executive committee of the
board), after he was asked “to help with a councilman trying to reduce
police head count. … I was asked to help articulate why the police
should not reduce their manpower.”

Council Member Bill Spelman, also of UT’s LBJ School of Public
Affairs and an expert on modern police staffing, will no doubt be amused
to discover that his perennially quixotic efforts at City Hall to bring
rational limits to the public safety budget were the subject of such
high-level strategizing at the Crime Commission. As for Stratfor, in the
wake of these emails, it’s easy to guess at least one reason why
onetime Maryland cop Burton would want to ensure a steady supply of
Austin police officers: more undercover intelligence for the company,
and more potential recruits for the “team.”

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